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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Kol Isha

Why can't women sing in front of men? And further - why is there a double-standard whereby women can listen to men singing? Shouldn't we have the same law for men and women?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are asking very good questions. First let's be honest with ourselves and see if there is any differences between men and women, and if there are, how would it affect this particular prohibition.

Would the fact that the overwhelming majority of illicit mediums are produced and geared for men illustrate anything? Or the fact that the bulk of those who participate in these forms of diversion happen to be from this same gender? Or that almost all sexual offenses are perpetrated by men?

Psychologists attribute man's stronger sexual drive to many factors. The nature of their hormones, the constitution of their psychological disposition and their physical makeup are but a few of the explanations given. Whatever the case may be, the fact that men are generally more aggressively driven after their sexual impulse than women, is an uncontested fact no matter how you approach it.

Men and women have different criteria for sexual arousal. Hearing a woman sing is sexually arousing for a man. (By sexual arousal I mean that he is thinking of her in terms of her physical dimensions as opposed to her spiritual qualities.) While it might be hard for a woman to imagine such a thing, the Sages are very in tune with human nature - and this rule has been observed by Jews for thousands of years.

So with this in mind, when the Torah sets up barriers to protect society's moral fabric, the emphasis was placed to counter the reality of man's weaker character in these areas. Hearing the pleasant melody of a women singing is just one way a man could become aroused, therefore he should avoid this medium, given that we are obligated to refrain from exposing ourselves to erotic situations. (Maimonides - Isurei Biah 21:1, based on Leviticus 18:6)

You could argue that on one level, we've lost a sensitivity to the sensuality of a woman's voice. But I think any honest man would admit that on another level, it's still very much there.

For this reason, a girl from around the age of 7 is not permitted to sing in front of men who are not her close relatives. Men should not listen to women singing, because it can lead to impure thoughts. (Mishnah Berurah 75:17) The source is from the Talmud (Brachot 24a): "A woman's voice can be erotic, as it is written, 'For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.'" (Song of Songs 2:14)

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were female seductresses who lured sailors with their enchanting voices. Now that we are "enlightened" is there no need for these safeguards? I wish that were true. But we see the media influence has created an atmosphere where sexualization and objectification of women is stronger than ever before.

Women, on the other hand, who are stronger then men in this area, are not prohibited from hearing men sing.

But, you ask: Why should women suffer restrictions simply because men can't control themselves? The answer is that we are all in this together. We all have to do our share and help each other out. Believe me, it is ultimately to women's advantage to keep things from getting out of control. It serves both men and women to avoid situations which lead to promiscuity.

For a comprehensive summary of these laws in English, I suggest chapter eight of "Modesty - An Adornment for Life" by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk (published by Feldheim).

Why Marry?

I’m a happy single Jewish guy, and don’t personally see a reason to get married. I’ve been in very meaningful relationships, some of them long-lasting, which I feel gives me all I would want to get out of life and marriage. I don’t feel the need to go through all the hassle of raising children.

As you can imagine, my mother has me on a serious guilt trip, but I’m not planning to get married out of guilt. Am I wrong?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I am going to take the liberty of offering you some light rebuke. It’s not really about marriage you’re asking, but about the way you view life in general, and marriage is just one specific question which emanates from your worldview.

Between the lines of your question, it is apparent that your motivation in life is to “get” as much as you can out of life and others, not what you can give. You perceive raising children as a hassle which, in comparing investment versus reward, is not be worth it. You “get” all you need out of your temporary relationships without the investment implicit in an eternally committed relationship.

This weltanschauung is antithetical to the Jewish worldview. We Jews are enjoined to “Walk in God’s ways,” to emulate Him in all aspects of our lives. The Talmud explains that just as He is merciful, we, too, should be merciful, forgiving, and above all, giving. To give to others is to emulate God. Life is not about what one can get, but what one can give. When one is receiving, they’re not expressing their own lives in the fullest, since to receive doesn’t cause growth. Every time you give, you grow, and growth is life.

Furthermore, the more you take and receive without giving in return, the more you become selfish and self-centered, the opposite of Godliness and Judaism.

The Talmud says that “one only becomes complete with marriage.” One of the main reasons for getting married is to help each other grow through a lifelong process of emotional, intellectual and spiritual sharing and challenge. Marriage is also the ultimate framework for giving and receiving in a way which emulates God, and at the same time builds the world into a stable, joyous environment. All this is implicit in the verse, “It is not good for man to be ‘alone’; I will make a helpmate opposite to him” (Genesis 2:18). As long as a person remains single, it is not “good” – i.e. not only is the person incomplete, but the entire creation also lacks perfection. (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch)

The Torah says that through marriage, man and woman “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One meaning of this is the fusion of two halves into a unified whole, as the Kabbalah teaches that every soul is divided into male and female components before being sent to the world, and the match is the re-fusion of the halves into one.

Another meaning is through together having children they become one flesh. This fulfills the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Being fruitful doesn’t just literally having children. It encompasses realizing and actualizing one’s potential through sharing and challenge in marriage, in a way that one’s productive traits and talents ripen and produce pleasant fruits, multiplying an asset to the world.

May you become truly satisfied with your future true fulfillment through marriage.

Shabbos Goy

My husband and I are Christians and our neighbors are Orthodox Jewish. Sometimes on any given Saturday, our neighbors knock on our door and ask us to turn on the air conditioning, etc. We've always helped them out, not understanding the full reasoning behind this tradition.

We have a good relationship with them but we are curious as to how they must view us. Why is it okay for them to ask us to "work" during their Sabbath? Do they then consider us inferior because we are doing these neighborly favors?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are describing a phenomenon which is colloquially called a “Shabbos Goy.”

In essence, your neighbors should not be asking you to do things for them, which they themselves are not allowed to do on Shabbat. This is a Talmudic principle, as derived from the Torah which states that on Shabbat, "creative activity should not BE DONE for you" - i.e. even if you are only asking someone else to do it.

The only exceptions are: when there is a commandment to be fulfilled, great monetary loss, or a health-related situation. Air conditioning is considered health-related, because if things get too hot, people (especially the elderly, etc.) could faint or be exposed to other dangers.

Even in the above-mentioned cases, a Jew is only allowed to ask a non-Jew to do a rabbinic-level action. (Mishnah Berurah 307:19-24)

They certainly do not consider you inferior. Rather it is simple pragmatics: they are obligated in observing Shabbat laws that you are not. You can consider it a great kindness to be helping them out, just as any good neighbor would.

In recent times, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo, Martin Scorsese, and an adolescent Elvis Presley assisted their Jewish neighbors in this way.