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I read Igros Moshe forbids listening to music with idolatrous intent. What are some sources, if any, that allow listening to, or playing/performing Christian classical music, such as Bach's or Handel's oratorios? And what about Christian music without words, or words exclusively from Tanach?

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  • shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/…
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 11:24
  • Ty. Anyone giving other sources would also be greatly appreciated. Maybe it's not the best translation, but it seems very contradictory. It first says one must not listen to music composed for idolatry, and then near the bottom implies that Christian classical music can be listened to.
    – Dovid
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 12:50
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    Welcome to MiYodeya Dovid and thanks for this first question. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 3:19
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    My wife is a former Christian. She was shocked how much Ashkenazi music is just Christian music but slightly altered and with different words. Sepharadim also borrowed local Arab hits and incorporated it into their liturgy. I can only imagine these halakhot forbidding Christian music is a response to seeing how much appropriation has already happened and is an attempt to stop the flow
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 17:45
  • @Aaron not sure how true this story is but here it goes, the Rebbe of Ropshitz (or so I remember) said that after the destruction of the בית המקדש the leviyims Shira was disbursed between other nations but they are still holy and that is why some of them found there way back to the Jewish kehillos
    – Yoreinu
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 11:30

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I couldn't find a specific source, but the following may be relevant.

One of my Rabbeim once explained to me regarding classical music that "music is not mekabel tumah". However, if there are identifiable religious connotations then it may be problematic. For example, if you listen to a famous religious choral work (Bach's Mass B minor or Mozart Requiem, etc.) but replaced all the words with "lah lah lah", then although the narrative of the words is gone, the essential nature of the piece may still remain when you listen to it. I would imagine that the images and feelings that the piece evokes changes from person to person and would make a difference as to whether it may be permissible or not.

Having said this, there are several classical (small 'c') music forms which almost always comprise a religious (Christian text) element, e.g., Requiem, Mass, Chorale, Hymn, Motet, Gregorian Chant, etc.

There are two sides: If you are a musical expert and can tell the precise form of the music from the structure, tone, etc. then you may be able to directly identify if you are listening to a religious work. You may even come to associate a particular melody with the precise words as they correspond to the Christian bible, for example. On the other hand, if you are ignorant of classical music entirely, there may be no Christian connotation even to works that have an explicit religious nature. The same music will affect different people differently.

A final decision regarding the matter is best left to the individual person, their situation and probably in discussion with a Rav that they are acquainted with.

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