P’sak from Rav Yisroel Belsky and Rav Shlomo Miller On Acappella Music During Sefirah

Thursday April 28, 2011 9:22 AM - 31 Comments

rav-yisroel-belsky-rav-shlomo-millerQ: A cappella albums - singing without instrumental accompaniment - are becoming more and more common, especially during Sefirah and The Three Weeks when we are noheig not to listen to music. Is it halachically permissible to listen to a cappella music during these times of the year?

Harav Yisroel Belsky shlit”a: Lately, it has become a trend to take every possible pleasure that one can think of and figure out ways to make them permissible at all times. Whether it is the imitation of non-kosher foods, making all chometzdike delicacies kosher l’Pesach, or other similar things, we find this attitude now more than ever. People cannot live for one minute with compromising on pleasures that they are used to or wish to experience. Often, the heteirim to permit such activities are, at best, based on very weak reasoning.

One such example is the desire to listen to music during Sefirah and The Three Weeks. It has become a trend to produce “Sefirah tapes,” referred to musically as “a cappella“. The wide acceptance of such tapes has not been with rabbinic approval. Indeed, many of the gedolei rabbonim have ruled that one should not listen to this type of music during Sefirah and The Three Weeks. Unfortunately, because the music albums are being sold in the stores, people think that they must be glatt kosher. If they aren’t acceptable, people say, why would a Jewish store sell them?

A Cappella

There are basically three types of a cappella.

One is where the musical sounds originate from human voices but the natural properties are digitally modified with computer software to attain quality of sounds that are not humanly possible, thus making it sound more like regular music. Such a cappella is halachically not viewed as being any different from regular music.

There are other forms of a cappella which sound very similar to regular music, although no digital modification is done to the voices. These types of a cappella should also not be listened to during Sefirah and The Three Weeks, as will be explained shortly.

The third type of a cappella is where regular songs are sung by an individual or choir. There is nothing halachically objectionable about listening to such a cappella during Sefirah and The Three Weeks.

To properly understand this topic, it would be helpful to briefly relate some technical information provided by experts in the music industry as to how a cappella music is created.

Digitally Modified A Cappella

Every sound is made up of many different sound waves, each at there own frequency. The individual frequencies and the velocity of each sound wave give each sound its unique tonal properties.

There is a process called equalization whereby one can alter the natural balance of frequencies. Equalization is used on almost every recorded sound we hear. It is most commonly employed to shape a sound, bringing out its own properties better. However, equalization can also be used to create a special effect. For example, a click with one’s mouth, or a chhhh sound, can be equalized to sound like a drum. If the tonal balance is changed beyond the capabilities of what a human can do, then the music can no longer be considered human sounds, but rather computer-made sounds, and would be prohibited during Sefirah and The Three Weeks.

A second modification made is to the pitch of the notes. A bass guitar can play notes almost twice as low (two octaves lower) as a human voice can go. Therefore, in order to simulate the bass notes, some album producers lower the pitch of the notes beyond the capabilities of the human voice. This process of transposing the notes down an octave or more would also change the status of these notes from vocals to computer-generated sounds, and would be prohibited during Sefirah and The Three Weeks.

One can also record a person sounding individual notes (e.g. an individual drum hit, a trumpet sound, etc.) and transpose it in one’s computer to every possible note and play back these notes using an external controller, such as a keyboard. One can now play this “voice” as an instrument on a keyboard and technically stimulate a “one man band”, although the sound of each key on the keyboard originated from human voices. This process, which is called “sampling”, would definitely change the status of the notes, and make them prohibited during Sefirah and The Three Weeks.

A third modification made is to the timing of the notes. The rhythmic structure of all music can be charted on a grid. The most common breakdown would be charted in eights. That means that each rhythmic hit would take place at exactly one interval of eights. It is not humanly possible for a musician to play 100% on the grid. This slight imperfection is what gives live music its human feel, as opposed to machine music which sounds much more rigid. It is even harder for a person to create a rhythm with his mouth, and keep it perfectly on grid. Many albums take the rhythmic parts and digitally place them exactly where they belong on the grid. This process is called quantization. Though this does not change the sound of the voice, when used in combination with any of the above processes it would give the sounds more of a status of music.

Unmodified A Cappella

There is a common misconception that music is ossur during Sefirah. Nowhere in Hilchos Sefirah or the halachos of The Three Weeks does it mention that there is a minhag not to listen to music. All that is mentioned by the earlier poskim is that there is a minhag to abstain from rikkudim u’mecholos, dancing.

If so, where does the entire issue of not listening to live or recorded music during Sefirah and The Three Weeks come from?

It appears that although there was no specific minhag not to listen to music, there was a minhag to abstain from things that bring about an excessive amount of enjoyment. Furthermore, technically, due to the churban Beis Hamikdosh, music should be forbidden all year round. However, there are certain kulos which we rely upon. It is during Sefirah and The Three Weeks that we have accepted upon ourselves not to rely on these kulos and practice aveilus in this regard. Music has this power more than most things that people do for enjoyment. Music can take someone out of this world, so to speak, and make him forget, at least temporarily, all his worries and problems. Thus, whether the music is live or recorded, it produces this effect, which is contrary to the minhag. A cappella that sounds very similar to music is also included in this minhag and should not be listened to.

Some rabbonim feel that once it sounds like music and is being played from an electronic device, that, too, renders it a musical device which is forbidden.

Some others take it a step further and maintain that any music that stimulates the desire to dance - even mere vocals - are forbidden. Be that as it may, if the sound of the a cappella is identical to ‘regular’ music, it should definitely be avoided.

Choirs

A cappella music that was not modified at all, and sounds like a group of people singing, would be permissible.

It is interesting to note that the word a cappella literally means, a - in the style of, capella - a chapel. In a chapel, they have only a choir singing with no musical instruments (other than a pipe organ which blends together very well with the voices). The harmony of the choir is meant to produce the musical affect. This is where the concept of a cappella stems from.

*****

Harav Shlomo Miller, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Avreichim of Toronto and head of the Bais Horaah of Lakewood, has also stated his opinion that listening to a capella music during Sefirah is forbidden. A letter from Rav Miller was also signed by Harav Yaakov Forchheimer, posek in Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}

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31 Responses to “P’sak from Rav Yisroel Belsky and Rav Shlomo Miller On Acappella Music During Sefirah”

1. Comment from Halacha
Time April 28, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Beautiful article.

Perhaps people will actually know that this acapella joke has got to stop.

Thanks

2. Comment from Old time Lakewooder
Time April 28, 2011 at 10:05 AM

What’s about the more serious issues of opening a metal cap on a soda bottle on Shabbos & mezoinois rolls which should be hamoitzi?

3. Comment from Avi
Time April 28, 2011 at 10:45 AM

On the other hand, some poskim are meikal. Being that we are talking about a minhag one can certainly rely on them (and hamachmir, tavo alaiv beracha). There are also heterim for certain types of music (e.g. classical) as well as for background music. Not to mention people who need music to calm down (there is a whole field of therapy called music therapy).

4. Comment from eli
Time April 28, 2011 at 10:53 AM

If someone R”L is sitting shiva and they choose to have a acapella Cd playing during shiva, one would certainly question his sincerity of mourning. Why is this any different? To watch people try and faneigel themselves out of aveilus is just shameful. And mind you, the stores and distributors that sell it are the most to blame. They are causing others to disregard the feeling of aveilus.

5. Comment from T
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:21 AM

2 your kidding right? Obviously yesh al
Mi lismoch in these heteirim.

6. Comment from AJ
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:29 AM

to eli: the level of Aveilus During Sefirah is not the level of Aveilus of Shiva. IIRC the Shulchan Aruch Regards the Aveilus of Sefirah as “Aveilus Ketzas” and specifies only two Issurim — Haircuts and Marrying. Later Acharonim add the element of Rikkudim and Mecholos. That is why this is different.

7. Comment from Chaim
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Regarding Eli’s comment: B”H we are not sitting shiva and to compare the minhag of not listening to music during this time which has know halachic origin to it, is plain wrong. Personally, I don’t listen to this music, but I know some great people who were maykil with recorded music, so A-Capela would certainly be acceptable to them.

8. Comment from aaa
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:48 AM

kumzitz in the rain in the cd to buy no shtick def muter its like a cntada beatiful job

9. Comment from Gregaaron
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:49 AM

@Eli:

Sure, you can not shower during the entire sefirah, as well as wear ripped clothing and not leave your house (which is just as well considering that you won’t be showering). But for the rest of us, who generally don’t feel that sefirah is on the level of sitting shiva, please do not make such comparisons.

10. Comment from Telzer
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM

Since it is after-all only a minhag and acapella was not around when the minhag was taken on - there is good reason to say (as we do by all minhagim like hilchos aveilus, kitniyos etc) ain lanu elah HA-minhag and no more.

Derech agav, I personally heard from Maran Hagaon Rav Mordechai Gifter Zt”l that aside from classical music (which can be considered “music”) & chassunah music, “all the rest is just ‘raash’ noise! And is therefore not assur!” :)

11. Comment from pepe
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:54 AM

def kumzitz in the rain no shtick great buy for anyone makpid on sefra

12. Comment from A jew trying to behave
Time April 28, 2011 at 11:55 AM

To Old Timer:
If you decide on something that it is more seroius that doesn’t change things.
And by the way learning a little will be very helpful.

13. Comment from y
Time April 28, 2011 at 12:14 PM

kumzitz in the rain is the way to go

14. Comment from music to the ears
Time April 28, 2011 at 12:37 PM

the whole entire year we should not be listening to music due to the churban but we are not makpid are we?!! then what is the difference now? maybe it’s not a problem for us to listen to music in our times?

15. Comment from DerNister
Time April 28, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Can someone please direct us to a source that provides any information at all about the 24,000 students of R. Akiva reported to have died during this period? With the exception of the Gemara in Yevamot, is there any other talmudic source that they existed?

16. Comment from anonymous
Time April 28, 2011 at 12:53 PM

music isn’t where it comes from, music is what it sounds like. If a witch were able to create music through witchcraft, would you say its not music because no instruments were used?

17. Comment from anonymous
Time April 28, 2011 at 12:56 PM

It is interesting to note that the word a cappella literally means, a - in the style of, capella - a chapel.

doesn’t cappella mean choir in yiddish?

18. Comment from BBJ
Time April 28, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Kumzitz in the Rain is really beautiful and according to this article absolutely kosher. The songs are mostly slow and without any altering. The songs are also not so well known which makes it even better. Looking forward to Vol. 2

19. Comment from MW
Time April 28, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Classical music, at least the kinds that don’t make you want to get up and dance, is a very good option, especially as background music.

Much more mistabber (as a hetter) than digitized or a capella, which is just a trick.

20. Comment from A jew trying to behave
Time April 28, 2011 at 2:55 PM

“is there any other talmudic source that they existed?” (Quote from # 15)
Sounds that you’re doubting their existence. You must be a Nister that the Chasam Sofer described; “those that deny nistor beniglo deny niglo benistor.”

21. Comment from Emusing
Time April 28, 2011 at 3:07 PM

R’ Belsky in his assessment of our non-compromising attitude couldn’t be more true, unfortunate, and unsavory. It is not an attitude towards searching for Heterim alone, but in general a cancer to the very perpetuation of Yahadus. It is an all encompassing attitude that masks itself in the guise of certain Heterim.

22. Comment from G
Time April 28, 2011 at 4:47 PM

Yala Yala Yalili

23. Comment from Anonymous
Time April 28, 2011 at 5:20 PM

halacha is halacha

go matzav

24. Comment from yy
Time April 28, 2011 at 6:59 PM

that cd - a kumzitz in the rain is pretty kosher and really a beautiful cd. its availible all over and its done really well with some top jewish stars soloing!

25. Comment from Yossi
Time April 28, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Rabbi Belsky said: “If they aren’t acceptable, people say, why would a Jewish store sell them?”

Excellent question! The answer is, that the “Jewish” (LOL) stores don’t care! They are beholden to the almighty dollar & as far as they are concerned, Halacha can go fly a kite! They have been selling treifa/Kefiradika books/seforim for years & nobody says boo! It is a terrible situation!

26. Comment from Anonymous
Time April 29, 2011 at 12:50 AM

#19 MW,

I’ve seen Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z’tz’l quoted as saying that classical music is totally ok during sefirah. My own rav agreed and pointed out that Rav Soloveitchik z’tz’l would defer to Rabbi Shlomo Zalmon on many halachic matters.

27. Comment from Avi
Time April 29, 2011 at 5:29 AM

Emusing, I suggest that you go to a few Halacha shiurim tolearn to rules regarding deciding in matter of doubt - whether as to the facts or where there is a machloket among the poskim.
BTW, some say that many of the more machmir practices of Ashkenazim, both regarding the Sefira peiod and the Three Weeks were taken on in later periods because of the constant pograms and expulsions in Europe. In fact, many persecutions took place during the Sefira period because one of their major holidays occurs around Pesach and was a time for even more fiery anti-Semitic sermons as well as drunken “celebrating”. Some say that this is also the origin of the minhag not to learn on a certain night - it was too dangerous to go to the bet midrash and who except the wealthy had seforim at home.

28. Comment from Rav Amram Goan
Time April 29, 2011 at 8:10 AM

i have always heard from my rebbeim shlita that even if it would be mutor but imagine if it was avalus for a relitive lo aleinu would the avel want to listen to this type of music? here we are being misavel on how bad we are now do to the death of talmiday r akiva col shecain one shouldnt listen to this or any type of music

29. Comment from Sender
Time April 29, 2011 at 11:57 AM

In the times of the Mishneh, they had instrumental music at funerals. See Mishneh Kesubos, 4:4:

“[A husband] is also under the obligation of maintaining and ransoming [his wife] and providing for her burial. R. Judah ruled: Even the poorest man in Israel must provide no less than two flutes and one lamenting woman.”

30. Comment from Yeshiva Bochur
Time May 1, 2011 at 12:11 PM

To the lomdim that quote about instruments at a funeral:
Do you thing they also danced at funerals singing “hava nagila”?
If you don’t know plain teitsch of a mishna it’s better to learn it from a talmis chochom.

31. Comment from Sender
Time May 2, 2011 at 12:46 AM

Sorry, they had instrumental music at funerals. The mishnah says so. A flute, or chalil in Hebrew, is a musical instrument, no two ways about it.

As to what music was played, I would assume that it was meant to evoke sadness and crying, just was the sound of the lamenting woman, or mekonenes in Hebrew.

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