1 Tammuz 5760
I go with a few friends every so often to visit old people in retirement homes. There are men and women there. Some are Jewish and some aren’t. One of the ladies asked us to sing for her, but there were men in the room. I made up an excuse at that time, but I still would like to know if it’s okay to sing if the men are in the room. If a man asks us to sing, could we? The reason I think it’s a potential question, is because they are old and sometimes not well, so does that make a difference? I’ve asked my rabbeim, and they all say, “I can’t answer that question, and I don’t want to give a heter either.” Why do they all say that?
Thanks for your question. However, I really can’t answer it, and I don’t want to give a Hetter either – JUST KIDDING
I’d like to start with your second question first, and then go back to your first one. “Why do they all say that?” I really can’t be sure why these specific Rabbis have chosen to take this avenue regarding this specific question without talking to them, but perhaps it is for the following reason. In Halacha there is a concept of “Halacha V’Ein Morin Kein”, i.e. there are certain things that are permitted, but we don’t discuss them publicly, and sometimes aren’t Mattir even privately if someone asks, because it is inevitable that people will misunderstand, and/or abuse the Hetter. Often this is done in a case where there are many details, and the Hetter hinges on one small detail, but people might not realize it and on their own apply it to cases where it shouldn’t be applied. Other times this is done in case where it is an issue about which people have a difficult time being objective, and there is a fear that if we allow this their Yetzer Hara will cause them to rationalize and they will abuse the Hetter, and apply it in cases where it ought not be applied. There are also cases where the Halacha really depends on the pure intention and thoughts of the person. In this case, although a certain individual may be able to have the proper thoughts and for him this act is permitted, how can we publicize that it is allowed when there are people who may not have this ability who will hear of the Hetter and also engage in this? Here too, many Poskim will not come straight out and say it is permitted for some and not for others, rather they will “abstain” from the question, as you have evidently experienced.
That having been said, let’s examine some of the issues involved in your question.
It is forbidden for a man to listen attentively to a woman sing, and derive pleasure from hearing her voice. According to some Poskim (Sdei Chemed, Pri Megadim, Chofetz Chaim) this is an Issur MiD’Oraysoh, and according to others (Chayei Adam) it is an Issur MiDerabbonon. Health and age have no bearing on this prohibition. The prohibition for a woman to sing in front of men is because of Lifnei Iver, she is causing him to sin by listening to her, if he does not know that it is forbidden.
Consequently, it would follow that if a man would ask a woman to sing for him, it would be forbidden for the woman to do so, even if he is a very old man. However, if you are singing for a woman, and a man happens to be there, it isn’t clearly forbidden, since it isn’t certain that the man will be paying attention to the singing, and deriving pleasure from the woman’s voice. It is certainly preferable to avoid this situation if possible, as you skillfully did. However, if there would be a need, e.g. you sense that the woman is depressed and this is the best way to cheer her up, according to Halacha it would be permitted to sing in such a situation. This is especially true if a few women are singing together in a manner that none of their voices are clearly discernible.
I recently spoke to Rabbi Moshe Heinemann Shlit”a about the issue of teenage girls or women performing in choirs in old age homes when men are present. He said that if the event was advertised as “For Women Only” and men show up, the women or girls who perform are not violating “Lifnei Iver” and they may perform.
Rabbi Aaron Tendler