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Elul 5, 5773

Listening to Secular Music


Rabbi David Sperling

Question:
Is it permissible to listen to non-Jewish songs? If so, what is permisible? Is listening to the Beatles permissible?
Thanks in advance!

Answer:
Shalom,
Thank you for your question. Music is a very important part of our lives, and certainly it is worthwhile examining and thinking about the music we choose to listen to. There could be several problems with non-Jewish music which we will take one by one.

Firstly there is the problem of idol worship. We are commanded to totally distance ourselves from idol worship, and this certainly includes listening to music written for, and used in, any form of idol worship. While there are major halachic discussions about what other religions are considered idol worship, and also what constitutes forbidden music (i.e. whether it is only forbidden if you understand the words, or even just the tunes etc) - I think that everyone would agree that it is advisable to choose other music rather than listen to other religions' music for recreation. So I would avoid Christian Gospel music, as well as Hari Krishna music.

The next problem could be men listening to female singers. In general men must refrain from listening to female vocalists. While many men are careful to make sure they do not listen to women singers at all, there is good halachic grounds for those who are lenient and listen to female vocalist in recorded music (especially when they do not know the singer personally). This lenient practice is wide-spread and you may certainly rely upon it.

The biggest problem with secular music is the lyrics. Many times the words to secular songs are inappropriate. I was asked on this site about listening to love songs. (http://www.yeshiva.co/ask/?srch=1&cat=&search_in=2&q=music)
Here is what I wrote, which I think will answer your question also :-

"The prohibition to listen to inappropriate lyrics does not stem from the fact that they are put to music. Rather, there are two separate laws that relate to this issue. The first is "nivul peh" or dirtying one's mouth. Singing songs (or listening to songs) that have rude words, or inappropriate content, is in violation of this law. The second prohibition is that one is not allowed to excite their sexual urges (outside of the framework of one's relations with their wife or husband).

The definition of what is "nivul peh", whilst open to some degree of change from place to place and generation to generation, can basically be defined as any speech that would not be used in polite society. The Talmud goes so far as to say that one should even go out of one's way to use a more cumbersome sentence, rather than use negative language - for example, in parshat Noach it talks about the "animals that are not pure" rather than just saying "the impure animals" because it is nicer not to mention "impurity". Even though one is not technically obligated to go to such lengths - it is certainly forbidden to use vulgar language.

On the other hand, the definition of what "excites the sexual urge" differs from person to person. We find in Tanach and Talmud references to many and varied things that could, potentially, lead one astray in this area - and nonetheless they are mentioned. This is because we assume that a regular person learning Torah will turn their mind to holy thoughts, and not be enticed to lewdness. This being so, every case must be examined by itself, and in relation to each person. For example, when I was younger there was a famous song with the words "I wanna hold your hand". Obviously this was referring to a man who wanted to hold his aging mother's hand to give her comfort in her old age. As such, this song never led me astray to licentious thoughts. But I could imagine that there were those who misunderstood the meaning of the song and started thinking forbidden thoughts. Those people should have refrained from listening to this song.

So, in answer to your question, if the song has no vulgar or inappropriate words, and the thoughts expressed in it do not lead you to improper thoughts, then it is permitted.

However, this does not mean it is desirable. As one ascends towards a more holy life, one will find oneself wanting to immerse their whole being in G-dly pursuits. This will certainly influence what books they read, music they listen to, and places they frequent. I doubt that the music of the Beatles, even the ones with totally "kosher" content, such as "Yellow Submarine", would be considered good spiritual food for a tzaddik. On the other hand, one must remember that spiritual growth must be undertaken step by step, and for many people listening to "Yellow Submarine" is a step in the right direction - especially if it is in place of listening to vulgar songs, or even if it just lets them relax and "be normal"."

Blessings.


The question "Listening to instrumental or relaxing or music for meditatio" was asked following this question.
The question "Reading Secular Books" was asked following this question.
The question "Non-Jewish music in languages that you dont understand" was asked following this question.
One personal question has been asked following this question.


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