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Sotah, 48

SOTAH 47, 48 - have been anonymously dedicated by a very special Marbitz Torah and student of the Daf from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.


QUESTION: The Mishnah teaches that when the Sanhedrin ceased to convene, the Chachamim prohibited song at celebrations, like the verse says, "They do not drink wine with song" (Yeshayah 24:9). The Gemara in Gitin (7a) cites a second verse and learns from there that the prohibition of song applies not only to musical instruments but to vocal song (with no musical accompaniment) as well.

The wording of our Mishnah, and the verse which provides the source for the prohibition, imply that the prohibition applies only in a Beis ha'Mishteh, during a party or celebration, or while drinking wine. However, the Gemara teaches that "an ear that hears song shall be cut off," and that if there is song in a house "then destruction is at its doorstep." The Gemara continues and says that even "the song of the weavers" (which accompanies them while they weave) is prohibited. These statements imply that there is a blanket prohibition against song which applies even while one is not dining. How are these Gemaras to be reconciled?


(a) TOSFOS in Gitin (7a) quotes a Yerushalmi which says that a person should not arise in the morning and retire at night to the accompaniment of song. Tosfos writes that we see from there that listening to song on a frequent and consistent basis is prohibited even while one is not dining. According to Tosfos, these Gemaras that prohibit music in the house (and not only in a party) might be referring to people who are constantly listening to music. The song of the weavers was sung on a constant basis, for an extended period of time each day.

(RASHI, in DH Batel Zimra, writes that when Rav Huna decreed that song is prohibited, he prohibited it even in one's home. However, it does not seem that this decree endured.)

(b) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Ta'anis 5:14) seems to rule that although singing without musical accompaniment is prohibited only while drinking wine (like Tosfos says), nevertheless listening to music being played by instruments is prohibited at all times. The Rambam would explain that the Gemaras which prohibit listening to song even in one's home and not while dining are referring to song with musical instruments.

This prohibition of musical instruments at any time seems to have been a later enactment than the one mentioned in our Mishnah. The RI'AZ (see the following answer) implies that this is the prohibition to which the Mishnah later (49a) refers when it says that "Irus," a type of musical instrument, became prohibited after the invasion and conquest of Vespasian.

(c) The RI'AZ cited by the SHILTEI GIBORIM on the Rif in Berachos (Perek 5) rules even more stringently. He writes that the song of the weavers, and any song which is sung out of frivolity and is intended to lighten the heart, is always prohibited, because it draws a person towards bad deeds and character traits. Song is only permitted when it serves a specific purpose and is not simply for entertainment.

The TOSFOS RID seems to explain that the prohibition of song even without musical instruments is not related to the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash; even while the Beis ha'Mikdash is standing, frivolous song is prohibited. This is the explanation for the statements in our Gemara that deprecate listening to song.

Why, then, was it necessary for the Chachamim to prohibit song at parties, when the Sanhedrin ceased to convene? It seems from the Yerushalmi (cited by the HE'OROS B'MASECHES SOTAH) that as long as there was a Sanhedrin, the members of the Sanhedrin would oversee the celebrations and ensure that people would not be drawn to sin. Even though song was a objectionable practice, it was not necessary to officially prohibit it while the Sanhedrin convened, because they would keep it in check. After the Sanhedrin lost power and could not appoint overseers, it became necessary to make a general prohibition against song so that people would not be drawn to sin during celebrations.

The Ri'az adds that the Chachamim later made an additional decree prohibiting "Irus," which refers to musical instruments such as tambourines and harps. If song was already prohibited even without musical instruments, then what did this additional decree add? The Ri'az explains that song without instruments is permitted for a purpose, such as to soothe a baby when the baby is going to sleep, while song with an instrument is prohibited even for such a purpose.

(d) The RAMBAM in Teshuvos (#224) cited by the TUR (OC 560) writes that it is prohibited to sing at any time, even without musical accompaniment (not like what is implied by his ruling in Mishneh Torah, as cited above in (b)). According to the Rambam, it is obvious why the Chachamim in our Gemara attributed such punishments to those who listen to song at any time.

The reasoning and source for the Rambam's ruling are not clear. It is possible that he rules like the Tosfos Rid, who rules that song is prohibited at all times because of frivolity. However, the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah writes that the prohibition of song was because of the requirement to mourn for the Beis ha'Mikdash. When he prohibited song in his Teshuvah, it is likely that he also prohibited it out of mourning, based on our Mishnah.

Why, though, would the Mishnah mention that song is prohibited during celebrations if the prohibition applies at all times? The VILNA GA'ON (on the Rambam, Hilchos Ta'anis, ibid.) explains that the main objective of the Chachamim was to prohibit song at celebrations. The reason the Chachamim prohibited song at all times was in order to ensure that no singing would occur at celebrations.

Why was it necessary to prohibit the musical instrument called "Irus" at a later time if song without an instrument was already prohibited? The Vilna Ga'on explains that the "Irus" was a primitive form of musical instrument which did not make a melody by itself (such as a bell or tambourine), and thus it was not prohibited by the first decree.

HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 560:3) cites the words of the Rambam in Hilchos Ta'anis ((b) above), who says that singing without instruments is prohibited only while drinking wine, and singing with instruments is prohibited all of the time.

The REMA cites the opinion of TOSFOS and RASHI ((a) above) who are even more lenient and rule that both singing with instruments and singing without instruments is prohibited only while drinking wine or when one does it frequently and consistently.

The MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 560:13) cites the BACH who sides with the more stringent opinions that singing is prohibited at all times, even without musical instruments (like (c) and (d) above). In the SHA'AR HA'TZION, though, he permits singing to lull a baby to sleep (like (c) above). RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN zt'l (Igros Moshe OC 1:166) writes that although he considers the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch to be the primary Halachic opinion (and it is permitted to sing without instruments when not dining and when not done regularly), nevertheless a "Ba'al Nefesh" should be stringent and conduct himself in accordance with the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah.

(All of this refers, of course, to songs which do not contain any form of profanity or immorality. Such songs are prohibited at all times, even when just spoken and not sung.)

The Poskim cite the RIF in Berachos (Perek 5, citing the Ge'onim) who rules that the prohibitions of song after the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash apply only to "love songs" and songs describing beauty. Songs of praise to Hashem and songs describing Hashem's kindness are permitted even during celebrations and while drinking wine, and even with musical instruments. The Rema adds that it is also permitted to play songs for the sake of a Mitzvah, such as in order to make the Chasan and Kalah rejoice.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (101a) states that it is prohibited to compose a song from a verse in the Torah. The Rif in Berachos (ibid.) cites this Halachah. Although the Shulchan Aruch does not record this Halachah, the MAGEN AVRAHAM (as cited by the Mishnah Berurah (560:14)) records this Halachah and says that even at the Shabbos table one should not sing songs composed from verses, unless the songs are accepted songs that the Jewish people are accustomed to singing.


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