- Question: [Wednesday, 24th Iyar, 5782]
Is it permitted for one to listen to Niggunim with musical instruments during the period of Sefiras Haomer or Bein Hametzarim? I have heard numerous times from people that it is permitted to do so being that Niggunim is not music, and that many Rabbanim hold that it is permitted. Is there any truth or basis to this, and practically may I be lenient? On one occasion, my daughter who was on a Shabbaton a few days before Tishe Beav for hundreds of Chabad high school girls, told me that the staff put on blasting music, Niggunim, on the loudspeakers inside of the hall and all the girls danced for hours to the Niggunim. When she asked her counselor how it was allowed, she responded that the “Rabbanim” said it’s okay because it’s Niggunim. Is there any truth or basis for this and who are these Rabbanim?
It is a Jewish custom, which is Torah, not to listen to music, including Niggunim, during Sefira or Bein Hametzarim, whether live or recorded, unless it does not contain musical instruments [i.e. only vocal/singing], or one is doing so for an exterior purpose such as to keep one awake while driving, or during exercise, or on occasion in private to lift one’s personal downtrodden and melancholy spirit, in which case all kosher music is allowed to be listened to and not just Niggunim. It is certainly forbidden to play Niggunim with dancing during the above period on behalf of groups of people including students and campers, and those who do so do not have upon whom to rely, even if they do so under the claim that it helps electrify the mood of the participants. So is evident from all the Poskim, and so was the Rebbe’s opinion, and the so-called statement that “many Rabbanim” permit it, is baseless, and I have yet to locate such Rabbanim or verify if their words are reliable. It is most disturbing to hear that such a thing was done only days before Tishe Beav to an official multistate Chabad high school Shabbaton, and certainly Rabbanim are to protest this and inform the organizers of their error.
The negation of such a source in Poskim: I have heard this rumor many times as well, that Rabbanim permit listening to Niggunim with even musical instruments during Sefira and Bein Hametzarim, and I’ve always been puzzled by such a “Heter” as I do not see any basis for it at all in the Poskim. I’m not aware of any Poskim who differentiate between Niggunim, or Hasidic music, versus any other music, and there is also no sense or reason to differentiate in the two. The argument that Niggunim is not considered music is similar to saying that Chulent is not considered food and therefore may be eaten on a fast day, and is completely baseless and preposterous. On the contrary, from the words of the Poskim which some have quoted as a source for this ruling, can be deduced the exact opposite. Some, in defense of the allowance to listen to Niggunim, have quoted Poskim who write that slow Niggunim which break the heart are permitted to be listened to. However, in truth they are referring to singing these Niggunim with one’s mouth and are not referring to musical instruments at all. There is certainly no source from any of their words to permit listening to fast and Simchadiki Niggunum.
The negation of such a logic to differentiate: In truth, there is no reason to differentiate even between slow and fast Niggunim, as all music has a power of Simcha, and singing a soulful Niggun also gives one Simcha, it is just a different type of Simcha. In Chassidus it is explained that some people enjoy fast music while others enjoy slow, depressing music, and each one has a different pleasure, and it is this pleasure of music that we diminish in during the period of mourning. Just as we do not differentiate on a fast day between sweet and sour foods, so too we do not differentiate between sweet and melancholy music.
Do such Rabbanim who are lenient actually exist? While I have also heard people say that there are Rabbanim who permit listening to Niggunim during Sefira etc, I have yet to find such Rabbanim, or hear from them any basis for their Heter, or as to what their Heter refers to. On the contrary, all the veteran Rabbanim that I have spoken to regarding this have told me that they are not aware of any such Heter. Recently, it was publicized in the name of Rav Eli Landa Shlita that he is part of the list of so-called Rabbanim who permit listening to all types of Niggunim during Sefira etc, even with musical instruments. I was puzzled by the suggestion that he would say such a thing, and therefore contacted him myself to verify whether this is true and as to the basis for it. Rav Eli Landa responded to me that it is completely false, and that he never gave such a Heter neither during Sefira or Bein Hametzarim, and on the contrary he has for years spoken against the so-called allowance. He then related to me a story that happened in Kefar Chabad in the early 50s with the first Rav of Kefar Chabad, Rav Shneur Zalman Garelik, for which we see how history repeats itself regarding spreading false allowances in the name of Rabbanim. At that time, Rabbi Landa was a counselor in the Gan Yisrael camp which was run in Kefar Chabad during the period of Bein Hametzarim. One day, one of the staff members put on Niggunim music on the loudspeaker. Rav Landa who was puzzled by this, questioned the individual as to what he was doing, as it is forbidden to listen to music during Bein Hametzarim. The individual responded to him, “what do you want from me, the Rav [Rav Garelik] gave us a Heter to listen to Niggunim.” Rav Landa who accepted the response of the individual as true made no further issue with it, as if the venerated Rav of the Kefar said it’s okay who is he to argue. A few days later he was sent to Rav Garelik with a question on behalf of the camp, relating to a totally different issue. After he finished asking his question, Rav Garelik turned to him and asked him that before he answers his question he has a question for him in return, and Rav Garelik then asked him as to who allowed them to play Niggunim and music in the camp and as on what basis they are doing so? Rav Landa, was taken aback by the question and responded that he was told that Rav Garelik himself was already asked and had said that it is allowed. Is this not true? he asked the Rav. The Rav then told him that in truth he was asked a question by a specific person in a specific scenario as to whether that person may listen to the Niggun of Rav Michel of Zlotchiv, and he responded to him in that scenario that he may listen to it. Seemingly, they took my Pesak in this matter and evolved it into a general allowance in my name to listen to Niggunim, and even fast Simcha Niggunim, during Sefira and Bein Hametzarim. In truth, no such Heter exists. Rav Landa concluded to me that he is shocked by the rampant leniency in this in our circles, and that even the Chareidi radio stations are particular not to play Niggunim with musical instruments during Sefira and certainly he never stated that it is allowed, as he himself believes that it is not allowed.
Practically, one may not rely on hearsay regarding any Halachic matter, and if he is told that a certain Rav permitted something, he should first verify with him directly as to the accuracy of the allowance, and even then he should only follow the Pesak of his personal Rav, and not go Rav Shopping for Heterim.
The Rebbe’s opinion: It is clear from various testimonies as well as public talks of the Rebbe, that he did not hold of such an allowance to listen to Niggunim during Sefira, if they have musical instruments. So can be understood from the fact the Rebbe stated that even the children’s rallies which usually has Niggunim played by them, must be done in a way that is permitted according to all, without any questions in the matter, hence negating the playing of music. Furthermore, Rav Groner related to me that the Rebbe had personally instructed him on Lag Baomer after sunset to visit the wedding halls and tell them to stop playing the music. Hence, we see that even by a wedding that was started on Lag Baomer, in which many Poskim permit the wedding to continue with music even past sundown, nonetheless the Rebbe took a stringent approach and prohibited it. Likewise, Rav Groner related that one time the Rebbe passed by 770 during the period of Sefira and heard the Mivtza tank playing Niggunim. The Rebbe turned to Rabbi Groner and said to him in astonishment, “do they not know that is forbidden to listen to music during Sefira?” And the Rebbe then directed that they should only put on vocal Niggunim without any musical instruments.
Sources: See regarding not listening to music during Sefira or Bein Hametzarim, whether live or recorded: Aruch Hashulchan 493:2; Igros Moshe 1:166; 3:87; Minchas Yitzchak 1:111; Kinyan Torah 2:99; Yechaveh Daas 3:30; Mishneh Halachos 8:188; Az Nidbaru 10:23; Piskeiy Teshuvos 551:13; 493:4; See regarding listening to slow Niggunim, and certainly to play them with musical instruments is forbidden: Moed Lekol Chaiy 10:19, brought in Kaf Hachaim 551:41 that even by singing of the mouth it is better not to sing even slow Niggunim which break the heart, although from the letter of the laws permitted; Yechaveh Daas 6:32; Shevet Hakehasi 1:189; Piskeiy Teshuvos 551:13 that the above allowance is only to sing without musical instruments; Nitei Gavriel Pesach Vol. 3 53:11; See regarding the Rebbe’s opinion: Likkutei Sichos 37 p. 122 “In order for the rally to be permitted according to all it should be connected to a Siyum Misechta.” See regarding the allowance to listen to music for ulterior purposes and not for the sake of joy: So is understood from all Poskim who rule a musician may play for gentiles due to that for him it is not for pleasure. [See P”M 551 A”A 10; Kitzur SH”A 122:1; Ben Ish Chaiy Devarim 5; Biur Halacha 551 “Mematin”; Kaf Hachaim 551:39; Igros Moshe 3:87; Kinyan Torah 2:99] So is also understood from M”A 560:9; and Sota 49a regarding the allowance to sing during laborious work in order to hasten their work ability. One may thus listen to music for therapeutic purposes: See Shevet Halevi 8:127 “Especially the women who do so to remove their depression, and it is permitted” [however it is unclear if he refers to during the year or even during Bein Hametzarim, although, in truth the reason of the Heter should apply during all times]; See Mahrahm Shick Y.D. 368; Piskeiy Teshuvos 493 footnote 36; Chelkas Yaakov 1:61 and 3:98 regarding Shabbos; See Sefer “Eileh Heim Moadaiy” 3:63-65 for a discussion from Poskeiy Zemaneinu on this matter