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If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem


Rabbi David Samson

18 Elul 5762
Is listening to music permissible during the Three Weeks before the Ninth of Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple?
During the period known as the Three Weeks, before the Ninth of Av, certain customs of mourning are observed in keeping with the tragic events surrounding the siege on Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the Temple. During this time, weddings are not held, shaving is forbidden, we don’t say the ‘Shehecheyanu” blessing on buying a new garment, along with several other prohibitions. [1] Regarding the question of whether a person can listen to music or not, the halachic response is based on the Magen Avraham, who states that singing and dancing are prohibited during this period. [2] The Minchat Yitzchak extends this concept to the playing of musical instruments. [3] However, a musician who makes his living playing music is allowed to play for non-Jews. [4] Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky differs, saying that listening to music is allowed. [5] He mentions that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein permitted listening to classical music as background music. Along the lines of this leniency, one may listen to sad music, and religious or Hasidic type music. In addition, soothing music is permitted. [6] According to his opinion, these types of music can even be heard in a live performance. The Chelkat Yaacov states that devices like radios and tapes, which didn’t exist at the time of the original rabbinic ruling, can be used to listen to music up to the first day of Av. [7] (These rules apply to the Ashkenazi communities. Spharadi communities are generally less stringent until the week in which Tisha b’Av falls.) The reason for the various prohibitions surrounding the Three Weeks is to awaken in our hearts a deep and conscious grief over the great tragedy that befell our nation. Since the Temple was destroyed, and we were exiled from our land, the Jewish People have been in a semi-state of mourning. A Psalm of King David states, “When the L-rd returns the outcasts of Zion, we will be like those who dream. Our mouths will then be filled with laughter, and our lips with joy.” [8] This means that our joy can only be complete when we return from our exile amongst the gentiles and become an independent nation in our land. Citing the above verses of the Psalms, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai teaches that it is forbidden to completely fill one’s mouth with mirth in this world. [9] That is to say, a Jew is not allowed to be one hundred percent happy. Rather, even at his happiest moments, under the wedding canopy, for example, he is to remember that the Temple has been destroyed and feel the loss of our national kingdom. This is the source for the custom of breaking a glass during the marriage ceremony. [10] The Talmud states that from the time that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s student, Raish Lakish, heard his master’s teaching, laughter never again filled his mouth. Referring to the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish nation, Jeremiah’s prophecy says that G-d is weeping: “My soul shall weep in secret for your pride.” [11] In a discussion in the Talmud, Rabbi Shmuel bar Yitzhak explains that “pride” is the pride of the Jewish people, which in their downtrodden state has been stripped from them and given over to the gentiles. Rabbi Nachami states that “pride” refers to the pride of G-d, which has been disgraced due to the destruction of His Heavenly Kingdom. [12] Rabbi Shlomo Aviner explains that fallen pride of the Jewish people and the fallen pride of G-d are one. [13] G-d cries because Israel’s national framework is shattered in exile. The Jewish People no longer have a kingdom, an army, a judicial system, and an economy of their own. We are scattered, downtrodden and oppressed among the nations. Since the kingdom of G-d appears in this world only through the life of the Jewish people, when we are debased, the grandeur of G-d is debased with us. Exile is the greatest desecration of G-d that there is, as the prophet Ezekiel states: “When they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, These are the people of the L-rd and they are gone out of his land.” [14] The honor of G-d and the honor of the Jewish people are one. [15] Thus, we mourn not only over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, but also over the honor of G-d that has been tarnished among the nations because of Israel’s fall. This year, may the words of the prophet come to pass: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her all of you who did mourn for her.” [16] As the Talmud teaches, “All who mourn for Jerusalem will merit to see its great joy.” [17] ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Shulchan Oruch, 551:17. 2. Magen Avraham, 551:10. 3. Minchat Yitzhak, Vol. 1:111. 4. Pri Magadim, Ashel Avraham, 551:10. 5. Tachumin 21:67. 6. Responsa, Shevit HaLevi, Vol. 6:69. 7. Chelkat Yaacov, Vol.1:62. 8. Psalms, 126:1-2. 9. Berachot 31A. 10. Shulchan Orach, Orach Haim, 560:5. 11. Jeremiah, 13:17. 12. Chagigah 5B. 13. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Tal Hermon, Moadim, Pg. 298. 14. Ezekiel, 36:20. 15. Tanne debe Eliahu Rabbah, 4. Messilat Yesharim, end of Ch. 19. 16. Isaiah, 66:10. 17. Taanit 30B.
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