Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kol Isha

This past shabbos I was a guest at my friend’s shabbos table, and as I sat there enjoying the meal, the host suggested that we sing zemirot. Since she is female, this was a hint to the males at the table to begin singing. All the guys present, however, were too shy to start singing. Although in the end one of them started and we all joined in, I could not help but feel slightly envious of guys, who can start singing whenever they want to without worrying about violating halacha. In some situations I am the leader type, and if it had been only females at the table, I would have had no problem starting the singing, loudly and fervently (as I often do). This is not the first time that I have been in a situation like this before.

Before I go further I feel obligated to point out that although some poskim say that women are permitted to sing together with men for davening and zemirot etc., most men (at least in my circles) would feel uncomfortable if a woman starting singing in front of them, even if it was just a zemirah for shabbos. I personally feel uncomfortable, from a halachic standpoint, singing in front of men when my voice can be audible, even if it’s just zemirot. If I’m in shul with over 100 people and everyone is singing Lecha Dodi, for example, I have no problem singing. But at a small shabbos table, I would sing along, but try to be more careful about being heard.

Starting zemirot at a shabbos table is one example of a situation where Kol Isha is difficult for me. When I say difficult, let me clarify, I don’t mean that I’m tempted to violate halacha. It’s more comparable to a situation where you’re in an amusement park on a hot summer day and you see some non-Jews eating delicious looking ice cream cone. Part of you is like, “Wow, I really want that ice cream! I’m sweating so much and it looks so cold and good!” Despite that thought, you are never even tempted to go up to the ice cream stand and ask for your favorite flavor.

Another situation in which Kol Isha is difficult is that secretly, I would love to be a chazan and lead davening. There are certain tunes in davening that I love, and instead of sitting there on the women’s side trying to send telepathic messages to the chazan of what tune I hope he’ll sing, I wish I could be the one choosing the melodies and putting my heart into every syllable. But Kol Isha isn’t the only halacha stopping me from that. But I’m OK with the fact that I will never be able to lead davening. It would not be Tznius for one thing, and singing in front of so many people would be way too intimidating for me anyway.

Luckily most of the time Kol Isha is not a problem at all, and I find appropriate means to channel my love of singing. The bottom line is that almost everything in life has pros and cons and the positive aspects of keeping Kol Isha outweigh the negative ones.


  1. SternGrad, maybe you and I are so similar because we're both ENFJs. Because I often find myself agreeing with your posts and feelings.

    I often feel the same way. B"H I'm able to carry a tune, and although I don't think I have an incredible singing voice, I've been told I do. I'm often tempted to just start singing at a Shabbat table, kumzitz, or be a chazzanit. Of course, I wouldn't due to tzniut reasons.
    I especially wish to be a chazzanit when the chazzan isn't doing such a good job. For example, singing kedusha. I LOVE when kedusha has a melody and isn't just "mummble mummble...mummble..."

    During seminary, I went to one of the Rabbi's homes for Shabbat. All of his kids were already married and out of the house, so it was just him and his wife and some of us gals. He and his wife sang a zemira together -- he with his deep voice, and she with her high pitched voice. After they finished singing, he smiled and said "we have a harmonious marriage!"

    I thought it was adorable and told myself that no worries, in the zchut that I don't sing now, b"H I'll be able to zemirot with my husband. I wish the same for you :)

  2. Sefardi Gal- I thought it was interesting that you're an ENFJ too because I find myself agreeing with your posts and feelings a lot too!

    I completely agree with you about Kedusha and wanting to take over when the chazan isn't doing a good job! I always get excited right before kedusha, hoping they'll do good tunes, and if they don't I am so disappointed.

    Cute story about your Rabbi and his wife. Singing zemirot with my husband is one of the things I'm looking forward to when I get married.

    "in the zchut that I don't sing now, b"H I'll be able to zemirot with my husband." Amen!!

  3. I'm confused - you're concerned about violating Kol Isha but at a small shabbos table where you will be heard (unless you are whispering to yourself) you cab sing?

    As a black hat guy, I can tell you that it really upsets me when girls sing zemiros or shir hama'alos at the table even when it is with a lower tone. It shows no respect for what I believe in with regards to my position on Kol Isha and where I have no choice but to listen.

  4. Anonymous- If the shabbos table consisted of only a few people and only 1 or 2 people were singing, then I would not sing.

    If there are 15 people at the shabbos table, and all of them are singing loudly, then I believe it is OK to sing, as long as my voice can not be distinguished from the other voices at the table.

    I agree with you that girls/women should be more respectful and refrain from singing in front of men. Even though it is essentially a man's mitzvah (men are not allowed to listen to women sing, but women are NOT told that they are not allowed to sing in front of men), it is considered Lifnei Iver, putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person, as if I were to sing in front of a man, I would cause him to violate the prohibition of hearing a woman sing.

  5. You're right. It's a slipperly slope. If there is a chance that a guy could be able to hear my voice, or if I'm not sure, then I will sing quieter so that he can't hear, or I will not sing at all. But in cases where it is obvious that I will not be heard, I do not think it's necessary to take on chumras when it is difficult enough to restrain from doing something I love, namely singing. I will do whatever I need to do to follow Halacha and do what Hashem wants from me.

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  7. I have no idea why you removed my post - but as it is your blog it is your right. My post did not contain any bad language or anything inappropriate. It was critical of your apporach. Life after Stern means welcome to the real world. People are not going to agree with you and there will be plenty of people that look down upon you (whether they are entitled to or not). People are not going to be looking out for your best interest. You need to learn how to deal with those people, not pretend they don't exist.
    If you go about removing posts because the post is not lovey-dovey and criticizes your approach, then you are not interested in dialouge and an exchange of ideas. Hence, discussion with you becomes pointless and I will no longer comment on this blog.

  8. Anonymous-

    I'm sorry!!! I didn't mean to delete your post. I was trying to delete my post because it accidentally posted it twice, and accidentally it deleted your post and I couldn't get it back. :(

    I appreciated your commenting and love to hear different points of you, especially if they are different than mine, because I already know my own point of view. I believe strongly that everyone is entitled with your opinion.

    As you see from my comment, I was even agreeing with what you were saying- that it is a sliperly slope and if I'm not sure then I don't sing.


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