BEN HAMETSARIM: Music during the three weeks

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As we have explained, during the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Ab, we keep certain customs of mourning. We do not celebrate weddings, do not recite Sheheheyanu; some do not shave, etc.

What about playing music or listening to music during these three weeks? The answer is not a simple yes or no, and ultimately, it depends on every community’s tradition.

In the following lines, we will explain the different views on music and mourning on the three weeks and beyond.

In Jewish sources, playing music is one of the highest expressions of happiness. When the people of Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds (aka the Red Sea) and saw that they were finally free from their Egyptian masters, Miriyam, Moshe’s sister, led the people into singing and playing musical instruments expressing thus their joy and happiness. Music was also played for the bride and groom and in many other joyous occasions since Talmudic times or earlier. Jewish tradition also referred to playing music in relation to mourning. A person who is in mourning for his father or his mother, for example, cannot play, listen to music or attend a celebration where music is played for a whole year. A mourner might attend the religious celebration of a Bar Mitsva, but he or she will not be allowed to participate in the Bar Mitsva’s party if music is played there.

With all these elements in mind, we should now ask ourselves: since music is an (or “the”) expression of happiness and music is avoided in times of mourning, are we allowed to play or listen to music during these three weeks?

There are several opinions on the matter, and as we said, it ultimately depends on each one’s traditions.

We will explore the viewpoints of two contemporary rabbis from Israel. Today we will see the opinion of rabbi Eli’ezer Melamed and tomorrow, that of rabbi Obadia Yosef z”l.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Penine Halakha, Zemanim, 141-146) explains that not all music should be banned during these days.

In the opinion of rabbi Melamed, the original rabbinic restriction which forbids playing music in remembrance of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash, applies whenever music is played in an environment of celebration, and/or when music invites to dancing (weddings, Bar Mitsva, etc.), or at a live concert.

He also explains that not all music is “celebratory” music. Classical, inspirational music or background music in a shopping mall or a gym is not related to “celebration” or to “happiness”. The same could be said about music lessons, a National Anthem, etc.

Apart from non-celebratory music, there is also melancholic music. The Talmud relates that in ancient Israel sad or melancholic music was played in funerals with a flute which brought peoples’ minds into a mood of grief (Shabbat 151a).

Based on the distinction between these three types of music Rabbi Melamed says that one should avoid listening only to celebratory music during the three weeks. Until the beginning of the month of Ab, one could listen to inspirational or non-celebratory music, and then, from that day until the 9th of Ab, only melancholic Jewish music could be allowed. The Israeli religious radio Arutz Sheva (www.inn.co.il) follows this criteria.

(To be continued…)