Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Music during the three weeks

Yesterday we explained that 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, we refrain from buying, building etc (see this).  

What about playing music or listening to music during these three weeks? 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 played for the bride and groom and in many other joyous occasions since Talmudic times or earlier.  

The rabbis also referred to playing music in relation to mourning. A person who is in mourning for his father or his mother cannot play, listen to music or attend a celebration where music is played for a a whole year. A mourner might attend, for example, the religious celebration of a Bar Mtzva, but it will not be allowed to participate of the Bar Mitzva's party if music is played there. 

The rabbis of the Talmud also referred to music in regards to mourning for the Bet haMiqdash. in Mishne Tora ta'aniot 5:12-15 Maimonides enumerates a list of restrictions that the Rabbis established after the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash. Among those restrictions, he says (5:14)    וכן גזרו שלא לנגן בכלי שיר וכל מיני זמר וכל משמיעי קול של שיר אסור לשמוח בהן ואסור לשמען מפני החורבן..." The Rabbis forbade playing musical instruments and any kind of music in remembrance of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash.

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. We will explore the viewpoints of two contemporary rabbis. Tomorrow B'H we will review the opinion of rabbi Eli'ezer Melamed.