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Why Cant Jewish Women Sing?
Jewish women are not limited in any way from pursuing their musical inclinations and many express their talents through singing. Nevertheless, some may be unfamiliar with the reasons why there is a traditional Jewish prohibition against Jewish women singing in front of men. This is an important aspect of Jewish life and culture, and understanding the reasons behind this prohibition can help to foster respect for this religious practice.
Jewish law and custom mandate that a barrier be maintained between men and women in order to prevent any distractions or temptations from disrupting the religious environment or relationships between men and women. This principle of separateness is known as “kol isha”, or “the voice of a woman.” Out of consideration for men’s modesty, the singer’s gender needs to be identified in order to prevent the possibility of the voice of a woman being heard. For this reason, in traditional Jewish services, it is not permissible for a woman to sing.
Though this law applies to religious services, there are ways that Jewish women can express themselves musically in public. There are a variety of mitzvot, or commandments, that women are allowed to perform, such as instrumental accompaniment, providing vocal support, or even singing without words.
For instance, often times choirs will have women performing vocalizations to help with the musicality of a piece without having to sing lyrics. Similarly, a female cantor will often utilize a form of chanting known as niggunim, or melismatic vocalizations, instead of singing words. This allows women to enjoy the full scale of their musical capabilities without compromising traditional laws.
In addition to performing in choirs, some argue that there are additional cultural implications that prevent Jewish women from singling in public. For example, many believe that a woman’s voice is intrinsically related to her sexuality and therefore, in accordance with Jewish modesty laws, should not be publicly expressed.
Proponents of this belief argue that the way in which a woman’s voice is used—particularly when singing—is inherently suggestive and that the notion of a woman’s voice as being attractive reinforces the idea of women being objects of men’s desires. This is why some argue that there is a need to maintain a “kol isha” in order to prevent any temptation.
Jewish women should not be discouraged by the idea that they are limited in their vocal expression. Rather, women should recognize the cultural and religious importance of the “the voice of a woman”, and explore different ways in which they can fulfill their musical desires without compromising Jewish law. Whether it’s utilizing vocalizations or accompanying instruments, there are plenty of opportunities for Jewish women to draw from their vast vocal talent.