Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Onan’s real sin and Kol Isha

Fudge, in her song of songs post (which I strongly recommend that you read), linked to the same rabbinic source to which I had linked when I wrote my “Damned if we do and damned if we don’t” series. (I’m too lazy to link to each post—you can find the links in this summary post.) But, looking again at the source material, I spotted something in the rabbinic text (t’shuvah/response?) that I hadn’t spotted at the time.

The Parameters of Kol Isha

by Rabbi Howard Jachter

. . .

The Source of the Prohibition
The Gemara (Berachot 24a) states, “The voice of a woman is Ervah, as the Pasuk [in Shir Hashirim
2:14] states ‘let me hear your voice because your voice is pleasant and appearance attractive.’” Rashi explains that the Pasuk in Shir Hashirim indicates that a woman’s voice is attractive to a man, and is thus prohibited to him. Rav Hai Gaon (cited in the Mordechai, Berachot 80) writes that this restriction applies to a man who is reading Kriat Shema, because a woman’s singing will distract him. The Rosh (Berachot 3:37) disagrees and writes that the Gemara refers to all situations and is not limited to Kriat Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the Kol Isha restriction applies to both Kriat Shema (Orach Chaim 75:3) and other contexts (Even Haezer 21:2). The Rama (O.C. 75:3) and Bait Shmuel (21:4) clarify that this prohibition applies only to a woman’s singing voice and not to her speaking voice.

. . . all recognized Poskim agree that the prohibition of Kol Isha applies today.

There is, however, considerable disagreement regarding the scope of the Kol Isha prohibition. For example, the question of its applicability to Zemirot [religious songs sung at Sabbath meals] has been discussed at some length in the twentieth century responsa literature. . . .

Recordings and Radio Broadcasts
Twentieth Century Halachic authorities have also debated whether the Kol Isha prohibition applies to recordings and radio broadcasts. . . .

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 1:6) and Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Aseh Lecha Rav 3:6) adopt a compromise approach to this issue. They permit listening to a female voice on the radio only if the listener is not acquainted with the singer. They both rule strictly, though, even if the listener once glimpsed a picture of the singer. Rav Ovadia rules that the prohibition applies even if the singer is not alive.

Rav Chaim David Halevi asserts that there is absolutely no basis to permit Kol Isha merely because the woman is singing into a microphone. . . . Rav J. David Bleich (Contemporary Halachic Problems 2:152) notes that no recognized Halachic authority rules that the use of a microphone alone mitigates the prohibition of Kol Isha.”

Whoa, wait a minute: Rav Ovadia rules that the prohibition applies even if the singer is not alive.” ???!

Men are so obsessed with women that listening to the singing of even a dead woman is prohibited as a potential turn-on???!

Maybe my commenters can help clarify the issue.

Let's start here:

Blogger Renegade Rebbetzin said...

Shira -

As you requested, I have read your two posts and all of the comments. Re "Kol Isha," my hubby (the rabbi) and other males I know have absolutely told me that in certain circumstances, a woman's singing voice IS alluring, regardless of what she is wearing, and sometimes even when he can't see her at all. It may not be true for your husband, but I suppose everyone is different. (I personally find some *men's* singing or even speaking voices to be alluring, myself - Russell Crowe's speaking voice, for example, especially in "Master and Commander..." Sigh.)

And of COURSE men as a group have poor self-control (no offense, guys - I know it's not true with every one of you, and that we ladies have no idea how difficult it is to BE one of you)! That is quite obvious and has been proven throughout the ages, and as the wife of a congregational rabbi as well as a general person in society, I can PROMISE you that it remains true today. Why did Chazal expect women to bear some responsibility for keeping men in line? First, as was commented, men are also held quite responsible in halacha for keeping THEMSELVES in line. The reason women are expected to help out, I believe, is, for one, that Chazal were smart enough to trust women to do their part more than they trusted men. And for another, why SHOULDN'T we help out?? If we know it creates difficulty for men to remain faithful to their wives, or even to remain focused on their own lives and work - or on God, spirituality, and holiness - when we engage in certain behaviors or expose parts of our bodies, then what's wrong with making it easier on them? Do we WANT to cause difficulty? Don't we care about each other and want to raise our collective spiritual awareness as a people?

“. . . back to kol isha for a second - there's another matter that we shouldn't disregard when discussing issues of tznius, etc. and why the onus for the preservation of the purity of Jewish men may sometimes fall on women, and that is the very real and very serious prohibition against hashchatat zera (wasting sperm). The problem with arousing the poor guys is not only that we will preoccupy their thoughts or endanger their marriages - it's that sexual fantasies, not only sexual behavior, can create very serious halachic problems for men in a way that they simply don't for women. And as fellow Jews, we SHOULD be concerned to help safeguard them against that.

. . . “

Fri Oct 15, 01:00:00 AM 2004

And let's continue here:

Blogger alex said...

“. . . . in general, Halacha governs process, not result. The books of Jewish law cover the laws governing us, and how we find loopholes for them. . . . .

With the in mind, the end result is considered, but the Halachah governs the means. So, we can't prohibit Onan from not impregnating Tamar, but we can require him to "lie with her" (obligation of husband to wife) and prohibit him from spilling his seed. As long as he engages in intercourse, observes Niddah, and doesn't spill seed, it is in Hashem's hands if she gets pregnant.

So, the interpretation of the story AND the Halachot gives us a situation where a man can't refuse his wife children, because he has to sexually perform and not destroy seed.

Turning it into simple masturbation makes the story seem less poignant, but focuses on a legitimate path to Halachah, because we can't just require someone to be a good person, we need to turn it into clean and actionable instructions, which is what the Sages did.

So I don't think that your observation is wrong, and the story illustrates how disgusting the behavior is. However, since we can't govern the intent, only the actions, we structure the laws to prevent transgressions that would do this.

Shabbat Shalom, Alex

Fri Dec 07, 04:26:00 PM 2007

Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Alex, I understand your point. But there can sometimes be drawbacks to discussing actions rather than intent. Let's just say that this particular law can be very rough on single men who observe the additional law of shmirat n'giah (not touching any woman who is not a family member), and leave it mercifully at that.

Sat Dec 08, 11:35:00 PM 2007

Blogger Batya said...

The pshat, words, are very clear. It's not one of those confusing things, though the fist son/ who died may be the one with the big question, becaue no reason is given.

Sun Dec 09, 06:37:00 AM 2007

Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Batya, indeed, the p'shat is very clearly that Onan was punished for refusing to try to impregnate his wife. It's a pity that the legislation resulting from this sin ended up dealing with, shall we say, a man taking matters into his own hands, instead. I think that this is one instance in which legislation concerning action rather than intent created other challenges.

Sun Dec 09, 02:07:00 PM 2007

Jewish law forbids men from taking their sexual needs into their own hands, but, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no such prohibition for women. When one has no spouse or one's spouse is not available, and/or it’s not a permissible time, women are not forbidden to relieve sexual tension, but men are, all because of that selfish Onan. And when you can’t scratch an itch, you might not wish to be reminded that you have one.

Of course, the same applies to Orthodox women who love to sing--they, too, have an itch that they can't scratch, as Fudge pointed out in her song of songs post. And therein lies the dilemma: Halachah/Jewish religious law limits the right of self-expression of half the Jewish people because of the sexual urges of the other half.

Okay, we'll politely ignore the fact that I couldn't figure out how to get this entire post into the same font and size, but what the heck did all that copying and pasting do to my template, that the formatting of my previous posts seems to have changed?


Blogger Tzipporah said...

And of COURSE men as a group have poor self-control (no offense, guys - I know it's not true with every one of you, and that we ladies have no idea how difficult it is to BE one of you)! That is quite obvious and has been proven throughout the ages,

Oy. Anytime someone starts talking to me about things that have been "known" or "proven" and uses the phrase "throughout the ages" I shudder.

Really? So you're really an expert on the psychological life of men in 14th century Africa, as well as 19th century Shaker communities? or do you just mean, you've read lots of opinions from people in a particular cultural/historical tradition agreeing that such-and-so is a "natural" or "unchangeable" trait of certain people?

Because, you know, some of us know lots and lots of decent men who have no problem restraining themselves in all sorts of situations that others seem to find overwhelmingly lusty. Couldn't possibly be your cultural practices ENCOURAGING this tendency, could it?


Thu Feb 05, 01:42:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Couldn't possibly be your cultural practices ENCOURAGING this tendency, could it?" Tzipporah, I discussed your question before, in my post A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?, asking "Is the issue that men living in certain right-wing Orthodox communities have so little contact with women, particularly those outside their own families, that they have limited “immunity,” and can get “sick” at the least exposure?" (I recommend that you read the the comments to the linked post.)

Thu Feb 05, 10:40:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oops, sorry for confusing you--the quote "Is the issue that men living in certain right-wing Orthodox communities have so little contact with women, particularly those outside their own families, that they have limited “immunity,” and can get “sick” at the least exposure?" actually came from this post.

Sun Feb 08, 09:52:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Maggie Anton said...

Perhaps these Jewish men have such poor self-control because they've been taught, over and over, that women's voices will cause an overwhelming sexual response. And because they have so little exposure to women's voices, unlike most modern men, like my husband and other male acquaintances, who hear women's voices all the time and easily restrain themselves

Mon Feb 09, 09:30:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Maggie, that was pretty much the thesis of my "Self-fulfilling prophecy" post.

Commenting on that post, Dilbert disagreed, saying: "The people who are extending the rabbi's fences to impregnable fortresses are responsible for a group of people who grow up with absolutely no contact with females, except their mother and sisters(if they have any). They identify females as 'other', since they have no significant experience with them. This also is not creating a self-fullfilling prophecy, only socially mal-adroit males, who poorly understand the opposite sex."

With due respect to Dilbert (who, in his blogging days, was often a voice of reason among the commenters here), maladroit males don't account for the prohibition against a man listening to a woman sing, though. A belief that men have little resistance to women under almost any circumstances seems to be the motivating factor behind the prohibition.

Tue Feb 10, 03:26:00 PM 2009  
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