Is anyone aware of any halakhic opinion regarding the playing of musical instruments, guitar for example, in shul on a weekday, not Shabbos. Does it have the same religious stigma and opposition as having an organ in shul did at the beginning of the reform movement? Is it still seen as a move towards the practices of other religions?

  • This question is slightly ambiguous, especially when viewing the comments on some of the answers. What does "playing of musical instruments... in shul" refer to- during services? during ritual observences (Havdalah, weddings, bris milah etc?) holding a kumtzis or concert inside of a shul? These are three very different issue with different contemporary application (R' Shlomo Carlebach's havdala isn't proof that instruments could be used during mincha, for example.) Which question are you specifically asking?
    – Binyomin
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 9:48
  • @Bimyomin I'm willing to assume had a temple in Germany during the reform played an organ for havdala, the religious orthodox would have protested. So as mentioned, in regards to the stigma, where does guitar sit. Ideally the answers should be post reform, I thought that was obvious, but apparently it is not.
    – user6591
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 9:55
  • I understood you were referring to contemporary practice "post reform" but I wasn't clear on which point was your focus. The issue really has three sub-sections: 1) music in a shul at all nowadays is generally accepted (most places will allow guitars etc. for a kumtzis) 2) For havdala and the like it's generally tolerated for "kiruv" situations (similar to r' carlebach) though not part of mainstream. 3) During services themselves (shacharis/mincha) it's more frowned upon. It sounds like your question wasn't so much "shul" as much as "sevices" correct?
    – Binyomin
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 10:14
  • @Binyomin a good answer would address all situations. I don't think there is a need to split this into three different situations. Btw, are the kumzits sessions taking place in the actual shul or in the social hall?
    – user6591
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


In describing the synagogues of Bavel in the Twelfth Century, R. Petachia of Ratisbon wrote as follows:

בחולו של מועד אומרים המזמורים בכלי שיר

On the half-holidays they recite the psalms to the accompaniment of musical instruments,

(Travels of Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon p. 46-47)

It seems like the rabbinic authorities there allowed this, and no objection by R. Petachia is recorded in the travelogue.

  • +1 This is interesting for sure. Certainly in a larger discussion of the topic. But the question is really about musical instruments in the last few hundred years. Had R' Pesachya seen them playing organs I doubt it would have changed the opinions in Europe during the reform.
    – user6591
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 23:10

See this article. Excerpt:

The classic Talmudic source on musical instruments is the Babylonian Talmud (rabbinic text finished in the year 500 and edited until approximately 650 C.E.), tractate Beitza 36b, in which the rabbis explain that the rabbinic prohibition is based on the concern that one might end up fixing the musical instrument if it became necessary.

In the nineteenth century, when Reform congregations started playing instruments during synagogue services, Orthodox rabbis issued strong directives against this practice. Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), the rector of the famous Hildesheimer yeshivah, explains the evolution of this prohibition in his responsa Melamed Leho'il (first part, Orah? H?ayim, chapter 16). He writes that the Rabbinic Court in Hamburg published a series of letters by different halakhic authorities under the name of Eleh Divrei Habrit in 1819 in which they all prohibited playing musical instruments (particularly the organ) in the synagogue even if the instruments were played by a non Jew. This was a reaction against the Reform synagogues' custom of playing instruments during services.

He notes that the halakhic authorities were not clear about playing musical instruments on weekdays. Some of them did not address the issue and might have allowed it, while others permitted playing instruments during weekday services. Other authorities cited definitely prohibited this practice. Noting that Jews are not permitted to follow Gentile practices, in 1820, Rabbi Abraham Lowenstein, the head of Emden's rabbinic court, prohibited playing an organ in the synagogue on Shabbat, Holidays and weekdays because we are not permitted to follow the Gentiles ways.

Beginning in 1863, many rabbis relied upon this proscription, and in fact the Hildsheimer Yeshivah in Berlin ordained rabbis on the condition that they would not serve in synagogues with organs (in any service. Organs were singled out as both churches and Reform synagogues used this instrument). Rabbi Hoffman asserts that the musical instruments in the Temple were not like the organ. Moreover, he noted that the organ used in the Al Tnai synagogue in Prague was played before Shabbat started. He provides three explanations for prohibiting instruments at synagogue services: a) Not to follow the Gentile practice b) Not to follow the heretics' ways c) Not to forget our grieving for the Temple's destruction

My added commentary - Shlomo Carlebach often played his guitar during Havdallah in the shul. I've asked elsewhere about this.

  • thank you. This is very nice. I didn't specify which service because I wanted to start with the basics. In reality the case I am dealing with is in fact havdala! Please feel free to ask that question and lets see what turns up. What years did R' Shlomo play during havdala?
    – user6591
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:20
  • @user6591 If your question is specifically about havdala, you should edit that in.....IINM, R' Shlomo played during havdala for a long time, there are many recordings of it -- search youtube.
    – MTL
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:29
  • @Shokhet Like I wrote before I wanted to know the basics. Next step will be other religious funcions like havdala, birchas hamazon, etc. If DanF or someone else doesn't ask it, I guess I will.
    – user6591
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 16:35
  • @user6591 judaism.stackexchange.com/q/66379
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 22:37
  • @msh210 I was pretty certain that I had a comment with a link to this question, on Friday. But I don't see my comment, currently. Any idea what may have happened?
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 23:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .