Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kol Isha Apologetics

[And Barzilai said to the King]: I am eighty years old this day, can I discern between good and bad? or can your servant taste what I eat and drink? or can I still listen to the voice of singers and songstresses? - 2 Samuel 19:36

Judaica Press commentary:
songstresses - While hearing a female singing voice is considered an impropriety (Talmud Berachot 24a), Targum Jonathan Ben Uziel seems to indicate that these female entertainers did not actually sing but only played musical instruments. See Talmud Succah 51a where it is indicated that the term "mishorer" applies not only to one who sings but also to one who plays a musical instrument. D. Cohen, in his "Notes on II Samuel" (Hadorom, Nisan 5732), suggests that perhaps these songstresses were pre-menstruate, when their voices were not yet considered sexually stimulating. See also Responsa of Seridei Eish, v. II. [I believe that R. Weinberg's responsa permitted mixed singing due to the inability of distinguishing male & female voices, and felt that leniencies should be made as a response to inroads made by the Reform movement. - FH]
For additional biblical references to women singing in the presence of men see here. Not surprisingly, exegetes universally rely on extreme stretch & kvetch apologetics rather than admit to the obvious - that the prohibition of kol isha was a much later rabbinic decree rather than a precept based on biblical sources.

4 comments:

Mark said...

Good post.

I noticed that the link you have fails to mention the following source in Ecclesiastes 2:8
כָּנַסְתִּי לִי גַּם-כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב, וּסְגֻלַּת מְלָכִים וְהַמְּדִינוֹת; עָשִׂיתִי לִי שָׁרִים וְשָׁרוֹת, וְתַעֲנֻגוֹת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם--שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת.

Frum Heretic said...

Thanks for that reference; it's especially interesting for two reasons.

First, שָׁרִים וְשָׁרוֹת is the exact terminology as used in the 2 Shmuel.

Second, the historical-critical approach dates Kohelet to at least 400 years after the death of Solomon (see Kugel's HTRTB, p 513-14). So it seems that kol isha wasn't a problem in 600 BCE.

I don't have any commentary on Kohelet at hand. I'd be interested in how meforshim treat this pasuk (and am willing to bet that they make all kinds of apologetics for King Sol even though we know that he violated Torah prohibitions. See also Whip Him Good.)

Mark said...

Yes, I'm familiar with Kugel, so this is important. You probably mean about 400 BCE, since 600 BCE was still First Temple Era, and that would not explain the Persian terms in Kohelet. 400-450 BCE is about the time Kugel sets it if I remember correctly. And as to your second point, I haven't found the classical commentators dealing with this, though this may be to the general obscurity of Kohelet as compared to Samuel.

Frum Heretic said...

Yeah, I mistyped and said 600 BCE instead of late 6th century BCE (per Kugel). The return under Cyrus the Great dates to 537 BCE.