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


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.


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. Click here to see one letter from Rav Miller, and click here to see a second one, which was also signed by Harav Yaakov Forchheimer, posek in Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ.

{Dovid Bernstein-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. The opening paragraph is sooooo true. It is just sad to see that we as a nation cannot live without everything we think we need. Think about it for a second? Does it make sense to have a kosher product called bacon bits? Do we need it? What is the message we are sending our children when we bring that into our home.

    Do we need noodles on pesach? Bagel pizza on Pesach? Again what is the message we are sending our Children that they will give to their children (AKA Mesorah)? Even if it is 100% good Halachically still do we need it?????

    Is it the end of the world that we go 33 days without music that we must have these tapes? Again what is the message we are sending?

    If your answer is that the message we are sending is that if it is here in this world then it is here for us (Klal Yisroel) to enjoy then you missed the boat on what these Halochos are all about. You are then looking at it as these halochos of Kashrus, Chometz, Sefira are all about creating restrictions and we can get around those restrictions so we do so.

    The purpose is NOT to restrict. Rather it is to provide us the opportunity to realize that we are using this as an opportunity to become closer to Hashem by showing him that for these days of Pesach or these days of Sefira we are happy to put aside the norm and spend these days getting closer to you by altering our lifestyles a bit as a constant reminder. How lucky we are to have this.

    Take advantage!

  2. while I agree that we must be able to control our need for immediate gratification, the truth is that recent trends have been to assur everything that is permitted. Attempting to remove any physical pleasure and joy from life is not what Hashem wants, and those who drive people away from Torah altogether by making things difficult when they need not be, will reap the results of their actions.

  3. Why can’t we face up to the PSAK of the Gedoilim in Eretz Yisroel & others that the anisakai worm in fish is an issur di’oirasah with many lavvin? I hope isn’t if we can have certified as kosher thousands of products even for pesach, then we must be mattir everythong a yid wants to eat R”L.

  4. I think the issue of desiring to listen to acapella during sefirah and 3 weeks is a lot deeper. The point is that we fail to recognize the core signifigance of this prohibition. Lets say R”L these very people that feel they need the heter to listen to these tapes, if they were sitting shiva, would they have these tapes in the background, and would they run asking for a heter or would they feel the sensitivity of the moment and therefore refrain from even considering it as an option? I think that these people would not even think about it for a moment. But when we are supposed to be in a mindest of mourning during the 3 weeks and sefirah, they do not posess the same sensitivities. So the core issue is the lack of “gefeelt” for mitzvos and halacha.

  5. Reb Yudel,

    What is “everythongIn fact, what are you trying to say in your last sentence. It does not appear to be comprehensible English.

  6. IN REFERENCE TO HAGAON RAV MILLER SHLITA the saying of eli tzion is a nusach not a niggun With regard to the kinah bitzayse mimitzrayim which is sung in in areas of oberland and in parts of Germany and Lithuania [telshe]there in fact were ones who were against this practice see tsuvos Minchos Elozor

  7. Sefira is a confusing time and is very different from the 3 weeks. On one hand we have the counting of the Omer and the counting up towards Shavuous Zman Matan Toraseinu. It is a happy time. A time filled with excitement and longing. We can’t wait for Shavuous and to be Mekabel the Torah! On the other hand we have the Missah of 24,000 talmidei R’ Akiva and that requires some minhagey Aveilus. But certainly not to the extremes of the 3 weeks or 9 days. At the end of the day it really is a happy time.

  8. The idea of such music is needed in today’s community of being busy 24 hrs a day. Without accapella people will listen to the news or talk shows which are probably alot worse today then ever was. A constant glorification of the three cardnial sins are repeated over and over again Having people listen in a car to nothing is not practical and not going to happen. Real music in Sefira is better then anything else that will be listened to in sefira

  9. Would it be so shver to listen to a good shiur? There are 1000’s available for free download all over the internet on Torah websites!

  10. 1) Some people are biatzvus, perhaps for them there is more leniency. Also if the songs bring one to ruchnius/yiras shomayim.

    2) The fact that they are recorded and not live, also is a tzad lihatir.

    I am not saying we should ignore the above, just saying that there are other things to take into consideration as well.

  11. not everything has to be mutar. thats why when we go to a hotel for pesach, i limit my children to which products we take from the 24 hour tearoom. that way they wont grow up spoiled.

  12. Daniel, #11, you are 1000% correct! I, for one found some nice talk shows to hear here, mostly while driving, and there when for much of the year I listened to music. Negina is an avoida sh’blave! A cappella is sometimes so hartzig

  13. When people decry all the new Pesach products we have today that mimic the chometz originals I wonder – were our Bubbies remiss when they made “lukshen” for Pesach? Did any rabbis back in Europe decry the attempt to make a chometz look-alike item for Pesach? I think not …