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A Woman's Voice

A Woman's Voice


I have always loved to sing, especially Jewish prayers, and I'd love to lead the singing of the Friday night prayers at my synagogue. I know that this is not traditionally approved of, and it makes me feel a little like a modern day Yentl.... However aren't there women in the Torah that sing, such as Deborah and Miriam? I want to honor the Jewish tradition, but at the same time there are no men in our synagogue who can sing with the same effect upon the congregation.


As human nature stands today, the reasoning of the sages of the Talmud is still very apparent: Men listening to a woman's voice -- especially a woman that they know and can see -- are not necessarily carried to spiritual heights, but unfortunately often in the opposite direction. Women don't seem to understand this -- they seem to have very high opinions of us. But even at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, when all the people were at a great spiritual high, even then, Miriam took the women aside to sing separately from the men.

In a society where relations between the sexes is unbounded and extra-marital relationships are the norm, in such a context a woman singing in shul may not stand out. But in a society where marriage is holy and jealously guarded, a woman singing in public is a precarious crack in the dam.

Perhaps you know this Halacha already: Even though Judaism celebrates the love between parents and children, you're not supposed to hug and kiss your kids in shul. The reason? Because the shul is a place for love of G-d and any other expression of love will distract from this.

I have to admit that I, personally, would not be able to pray with proper concentration in a situation where a woman is singing with a beautiful voice. If you will excuse my bluntness, there isn't room in the heart for both G-d and the other feelings that that would arouse.

My daughter loves to sing and so do her friends. They get together and sing nigunim (Chassidic melodies) for hours. They make concerts on occasion for women only. It is beautiful to see teenage girls getting together without the competition over who is impressing the guys. To them, it is purely a spiritual affair with music.

Soon will be the days of Moshiach when G-d will remove all that is negative and base from the heart of man and we will all sing together a new song.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (29)
June 22, 2014
Men - learn to control yourselves!
This is a terrible justification for keeping women in "their place", and it isn't even logical!
First, why is it ok for women to hear men singing? Aren't women equally capable of being aroused by men's voices? Or doesn't that count?
Second, it ignores gay people (or maybe you think they don't exist...) - ie, gay men could be aroused by men singing, and gay women by women singing.
Next, the usual argument for restricting women's rights in the community - men are so easily aroused, they are controlled by testosterone. So let's restrict women! Make them wear wigs and not sing in public, tell them how thick their pantyhose need to be. That's what I call punishing the victim. Restrict the lives of women and live in gender apartheid instead of learning the discipline of controlling your own desires, a far more difficult path.
As much as I love Judaism and appreciate Chabad, I would never choose the ultra Orthodox path.
April 25, 2013
I am Jewish and I knew there would have to be a sexist statement somewhere in that answers. Really upset.
Shalom Israel
June 21, 2011
double standard
Interesting that for homosexuality the Rabbi said "one HAS to control its impulses" and be not gay - So why chassidic man are not able to do so, and just by listening to some feminine voice singing they will going crazy and forget about everything else? So much study, so little control over your animal soul...

The vibrations of a voice (any) resembles the very life force that created us, and Hashem would not give women talent and a sweet voice for singing beautiful melodies, if it was not meant to be heard by everybody.
Hashem does not give wings to snakes.

Devora the prophetess sang a song of praise to Hashem together with Barak the son of Avinoam. According to the simple reading of the text, Devora was married to Lapidot and not Barak.
ilana Krauss
August 8, 2010
Women singing
Soon will be the days of Moshiach when G-d will remove all that is negative and base from the heart of man and we will all sing together a new song.
That comment is a cop-out. We must change to bring the days of Moshiach, not wait for the days to change us. It is up to you to learn to control yourself. What do you learn by hiding from yourself and your inability to control your urges?
Ms. Dixie Porter
July 27, 2010
Good Question!
Rabbi, would Jewish men prefer women to wear burkas?? Orthodox women already wear wigs and snoods and long skirts/dresses and sleeves, lest anything show that might cause a man to be distracted.

Hmmm, I wonder why G-d is not distracted by women ... He gave us so many attributes that tempt the lowly man, eh.

Man was made to care for all the creatures that were here first ... and then Woman was made to care for all of them! Not as a slave, but as the ONLY one able to care for everyone, usually to the detriment of herself.

A Man's world, a Man's religion ... so Man's rule??

Just because Men are usually physically stronger, doesn't mean that Women are weaker!! There are lots of men who should cover up and be stopped from showing off everything.

I'm blessed to have a husband who cherishes all of me, as I do him. Partners for Life.
San Diego, CA
July 26, 2010
Re: Good Question!
Thank you, Rabbi, for the clarification.
Los Angeles, California
July 26, 2010
Re: Good Question!
Let's put this back in context, please. This is what I wrote:

"I have to admit that I, personally, would not be able to pray with proper concentration in a situation where a woman is singing with a beautiful voice. If you will excuse my bluntness, there isn't room in the heart for both G-d and the other feelings that that would arouse."

We are talking within the context of attempting to focus on prayer. Go find me any spiritual guide who will tell a man to meditate on something transcendental while listening to a beautiful woman's voice--and I will show you a charlatan. It doesn't happen, anywhere in the world.

The rule has a yet larger context, that of societal norms. The rules of modesty are not simply laws between individuals, they are meant to fashion and moderate a society. A society where gender-related beauty is a private matter is a far more stable society than one where such things are flaunted. That makes a lot of sense--as long as it is done sensibly.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
July 25, 2010
Re: Good Question!
I wonder if an excess of separation of the sexes can create a prolonged adolescence? To really feel helpless when hearing ordinary singing seems outside the bounds of what one might expect from a mature adult. Also, if that really is so irresistible, why is it ok to hear a sister or a mother?
Los Angeles
July 25, 2010
Re: Good question!
But you do admit that it's men that I'm insulting, not women.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
July 24, 2010
Good question!
"It seems there is a wide-spread fear of women's voices

Is it the voice that scares men? Or is it their sense of helplessness before their own hormones and Pavlovian response? asks Rabbi Freeman.

To me, the amazing aspect of the myriad rules in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community guiding relations between men and women is the assumption that adults cant control their physiological responses to sexual stimuli. Hear a woman singing? Feel a little stirring? Next thing you know: intercourse!! No time for the impulse to pass through ones brain!

How insulting! Surely G-d has given men the wherewithal to control their impulses.

Do we have instances of uncontrollable impulses? Of course. We call it rape, and we recognize it as criminal. We do not build huge bodies of rules and regulations to control every bit of human behavior 24/7: we handle crime when it occurs.
Susan Klee
Berkeley, CA
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