Ask the Rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Songs and Music

Questionable Content in Non-Jewish Music


Rabbi David Sperling

Shevat 24, 5778
Hi Rav Sperling, I have read all your responses on this website about listening to non-Jewish music and they have been extremely helpful to me, but I am still unclear on part of the halacha. I’m trying to fully grasp the halachos so that I can apply them to my music library to determine which songs halachically I need to delete. 1) I understand that there is an issur of nivul peh, which refers to swear words and vulgar content. I also understand that there is an issur of listening to music that leads you to have improper thoughts (that "excites the sexual urges outside of the framework of one’s relations with their husband" as you put it) and that this is subjectively defined by each person. What I’m unclear on though is if there is an additional issur against all songs that subtly reference sex or people looking sexy (rather than just casual references to love) even if they don’t bring you to improper thoughts? An example of this would be the lyric "Dirty looks from your mother, Never seen you in a dress that color, Not invited but I’m glad I made it." I would imagine that most people are not turned on by these lyrics (meaning they are not lead to "improper thoughts"), but the lyrics are saying that the singer’s glad he gets to see this woman looking so sexy. Is this assur to listen to? Another example would be a singer saying, “As I’m layin’ down with you every night, I can’t help but fear that you’re going to break up with me soon.” Again, that lyric doesn’t "excite the sexual urges," but it does reference the fact that she’s lying in bed with a man she’s dating (essentially she’s having pre-marital relations). Is this assur to listen to? 2) In the same vein, I’ve learned that one may not listen to lyrics that are contrary to Torah values, which includes songs about drugs, sex, and crime. A song that is pro-homosexuality would fall under this category, but what about a lyric referencing drinking in excess (e.g., “Please wait, I needed 3 or 4 drinks just to say this”)? I would imagine that a song about driving on Saturdays would not fall under this issur, so is this prohibition simply against listening to music where non-Jews discuss their violations of the 7 mitzvos bnei noach? My first example above is about a man enjoying the sight of a certain woman. The Gemara says a man may not even stare at a woman’s pinky if it’s in order to derive sexual pleasure from it, so obviously what the man in the song is doing is assur for a Jew. However, he’s not Jewish so is such a lyric not equivalent to him singing about driving on a Saturday? Both are permitted to non-Jews but forbidden for Jews. The second lyric, on the other hand, references pre-marital relations, a violation of the 7 Mitzvos Bnei Noach. Basically I don’t know what this halacha is prohibiting exactly.…which is why I’d appreciate if you could please more clearly define this prohibition of “listening to lyrics contrary to Torah values.” Perhaps it is connected to the prohibition in Question 1, perhaps not. Many Many Many Thanks!
Shalom, Thank you for your question. Rather than write to you a clear cut technical answer, allow me to suggest a different approach for you to consider. In general, in issues such as these, which relate to creating an environment for inner growth and a healthy spiritual welfare, the halachic rules should be approached as guidelines. By this I mean that as opposed to the laws of milk and meat in Kashrut, where the status of a spoon can be determined by clear halachic rules, the laws surrounding moral and spiritual growth are more subtle. The halachic rules, in these cases, should be seen as general guidelines that each individual will need to take honest responsibility to apply to their own life. With this in mind, perhaps you should approach the question of which songs you may want to listen to not from the technical halachic question of “does this song violate law a,b or c?” or “I got permission from my Rabbi that this song is allowed” - but rather from the more general (and admittedly much harder) question of “is this music good for my spiritual work?”, or “is this music in line with where I am in my present religious growth?” Of course, the only person who can answer such questions is yourself. So, after having learnt that there are halachic rules about clean speech, arousing sexual passions, and not listening to things contrary to Torah values – you need to apply this guidelines to yourself in your present stage of life. As you grow you will find (we hope) that you will be drawn to higher and higher levels of personal holiness, and this will find expression in the types of books you read, and music you listen to. I hope this is of some help - Blessings.
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