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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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Hope January 27, 2017

Thanks Doriel and Marnyv- finally, some sense! Reply

Doriel Kingsport, TN USA January 25, 2017

singing to Hashem How about singing to Hashem and Hashem sings back by letting the shekhinah sing, ring and zing through the ethers. Doesn't matter who, bird song, angel song, human voice, male or female, a deer's whispering, the streams murmuring - Hashem is looking for Love of Hashem, purity of heart, purity of intention - sing with the angels and be free, sing Kabbalos Shabbat, sing Shalom Aleichem, malaiki ha shalom Reply

Marny San Diego via January 29, 2015

I think I've got it!! Let Jewish men wear earmuffs so they can't hear anyone singing, except for themselves inside their larger head. If they can't contain themselves, then put earplugs on their smaller head.

Women! Sing out ... G-d gave us voices and brains and the ability to give Life to another human being.

Hope to see this posted. With all due respect, of course, to all people. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn January 28, 2015

G-d created men with natural desires. This is so that they should desire women and want to be fruitful and multiply. There are rules to help men save those desires for an appropriate relationship. Praised be G-d for sharing this incredible G-dly knowledge with us mere humans.

You don't agree with these rules? You don't have to. G-d decides what rules are in the Torah. Reply

Hope UK 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. Reply

Anonymous April 25, 2013

Prayer I am Jewish and I knew there would have to be a sexist statement somewhere in that answers. Really upset.
Shalom Israel Reply

ilana Krauss 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. Reply

Ms. Dixie Porter 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? Reply

Marny San Diego, CA via 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. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, California July 26, 2010

Re: Good Question! Thank you, Rabbi, for the clarification. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman 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. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles 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? Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman July 25, 2010

Re: Good question! But you do admit that it's men that I'm insulting, not women. Reply

Susan Klee Berkeley, CA 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. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman July 23, 2010

Re: Women singing is dangerous in many cultures "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? Reply

Anonymous San Diego, CA via July 23, 2010

A Woman's Voice I'm grateful that circumcision is for males only.

But don't understand if it's women singing that is offensive or singing that is offensive.

How can singing prayers be proper? Do women have to speak prayers, while men can sing them via trope?

Is a woman allowed to sing in her home? Or must she be mute when men are around? Reply

Susan Klee Berkeley July 22, 2010

Women singing is dangerous in many cultures In the story of the Odyssey, the ancient Greek Legend, Ulysses, the hero of the story, had his sailors tie him to the mast of his ship when they passed through the area of the Mediterranean where the [women] Sirens sang because he would be tempted to jump into the sea to follow them. Along the Rhine, there are maidens who trap sailors by singing. In Japanese folklore, there are mermaid-like creatures who use their songs to lure sailors to a watery doom. In some areas of Iranian culture, also, women's songs are considered dangerous . . . It seems there is a wide-spread fear of women's voices . . . Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY July 22, 2010

Reform Judaism? Reform Judaism is an oxymoron. Judaism is, was and will be. How can anyone be so arrogant as to assume that they can reform G-d's Will? Reply

forced to be anonymous. paramus, NJ July 20, 2010

women singing This is outside the realm of chabad, but in reform Judaism, women cantors (many of whom are frustrated opera singers) have become the norm. this was not true years ago - even in reform Judaism. how do you explain it? can both be considered Jewish? Reply

Anonymous Spring Valley, NY/USA January 25, 2010

Kol B'Isha Is humming audibly considered Kol B'Isha? Reply

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