Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond AppleLarry Brandt

Q. Why does Jewish law object to women singing in front of men?

A. The rule derived from the Talmud (Ber. 24a etc.) is "kol b’ishah ervah" – "A woman’s voice arouses (desire)".

I will come back to the "b" in front of "ishah", but let me first address your main question.

It is not only Judaism that has a problem with female voices. A French writer, discussing the opera and its music, says, "She who sings must die". Female characters in many operas do die by the time the performance ends. The idea seems to be that the more rapturous a woman singer becomes the more she enters another realm.

Men both want and don’t want to hear the female voice, and several religions, not just Judaism, seek to control it.

The halakhic objection applies especially during religious worship and especially when the singer is both seen – the "b" in front of "ishah" indicates "with the (sight of) the woman" – and heard.

Though many translations render "ervah" as "lustful" or "impure", deriving it from "ur", "to be bare", I recommend a translation which links the word with a verb that means to awaken or arouse.

There is a form of this verb in "L’chah Dodi" when we say "Hit’orari", from a root which is also spelled "ayin-vav-resh", to wake. The passage calls upon Zion to awaken at the coming of the Messiah.


Q. Why does Judaism not expel Jews who refuse to believe?

A. We believe in the right, not the duty, to believe.

Belief has to be genuine and cannot be foisted upon you. Inability to believe should never be regarded almost as a hanging offence.

Doubt must be allowed for. Hopefully one will work through the doubt and come to belief, but not everyone will.

It has been said that if human beings had no choice but to perceive God and, in the terminology of the Torah, they had no possibility of hardening their heart, then faith would not be faith because it would not have arisen in our heart but would be forced upon us.

Rabbi Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com