Sources For Listening To/Not Listening to Non-Jewish Music

What are sources for it being allowed to listen to non-Jewish music and sources for it being prohibited?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Igrot Moshe Yore Deah vol 2 no 111 states:

1. Music (with or without words) performed to honor a religious diety is prohibited.
2. Music with words of religous praise are prohibited even when performed in a secular setting. No distinction is made regarding language or comprehension.
3. Religious music without words of praise in a secular setting (aside from any problems associated with music in general) is permitted but R. Feinstein calls it a "davar mechuar" - an ugly/disgusting thing. The instruments used cannot be instruments generally used for religious purposes.

In addition, in responsa #56, R' Feinstein prohibits listening to Christian religious music.

The Mishnah Berurah (53 s.k. 82), based on the Bach (Shu"t Bach haYeshanim 127), says it is permissible to listen to the song unless it was composed for\is primarily sung in Christian religious services.

Halachipedia - Listening to Music (especially the "links" section) for the Halachot of listening to music in general.

Rambam's Commentary on the Mishna, Avot 1:17. Loosely translated and explicated here: http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter1-17.html

• I have not confirmed these sources (yet). I highly recommend that you look up the originals instead of relying on my comments. – Shmuel Dec 4 '11 at 11:07
• Forgive my ignorence, but when you quote Mishnah Berurah (53 s.k. 82) what does s.k stand for? – El Shteiger Jan 19 '15 at 2:58
• @ElShteiger s.k. stands for seif katan (סעיף קטן). That's what the numbers in Mishna Berura are called; the Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch) is arranged by siman (סימן) and seif. – Shokhet Jan 25 '15 at 6:01

Forget non-jewish music- the Shulchan Aruch prohibits hearing any music! However, there are Heterim to listen to music through recordings for sephardim. And ashkenazim have many heterim as well.

This entire post is adapted from Through Music and Song, by Rabbi Elysha Sandler, in which he discusses the deeper aspects of music. In chapter 8 (p. 85-97), he discusses this very point, of being selective of what music one listens to. All emphasis placed in quotes are mine, and are meant to highlight the main points for those who don't wish to read through the whole thing.

The tune

Hachsharas Ha'avreichim 9 (written by the Rebbe of Piasetzna):

Behold, we see great singers and musicians whose hearts are distant from HaShem, without belief and heart, Heaven spare us; and even among idol-worshippers there are musicians. For music is nothing but a form of exposing of the soul and its feelings. Yet, there is no determining what a person will do at the time that he brings out this feeling, and what he will accomplish with the part of his soul that has now become exposed.

Just as there can be two joyous people, one channeling his joy to increase his service of HaShem, while the other just becomes wild, so, too, when it comes to music - one of the keys to the soul, to arouse it and its feelings. It is possible for a person to open his soul and to have some of it come out, yet not only does he not do anything with it, he instead sullies this portion of his soul, whether it is with joy-filled wildness or with the broken-heartedness of depression and despair. This could lead him to fall from his former trust and belief and to do things that may not be done, Heaven spare us.

In Rabbi Sandler's own words:

Therefore, if a person listens to music and song from a musician whose essence is good and pure, he will connect with it and absorb sparks of that goodness and purity into his own essence and being. It will become part of who he is and, perhaps subconsciously, influence him for the better.

Unfortunately, the converse is true as well. If a person listens to music from a musician or singer whose essence is not good and pure, then he will connect with that music and absorb sparks of decadence and impurity into his own essence. It will infiltrate and become part of who he is, and even subconsciously, influence him for the worse. One must therefore be exceedingly selective with the music and songs one listens to, and ascertain that it emanates from a person whose essence will have a positive influence on one's own. (p. 87)

The Rebbe of Modzhitz takes this a step further (Imrei Sha'ul, Inyanei Zimrah V'simcha 41):

My grandfather from Zvohlin, zt"l, used to say, "A person is taking a heavy responsibility upon himself when he makes song heard. For the elevation of the soul and its descent are dependent on music. It all depends on the musician, what he is playing and how he is playing it.

He doesn't just limit the musician: he also limits the song and even the instruments!

Rav Nachman of Breslov succinctly remarks (Likutei Maharan 1:3):

Behold, when one hears music from a wicked musician, it becomes difficult for him to serve his Creator. Yet when he hears it from a kosher musician, then it is good for him.

R' Yaakov Moshe Hillel even cautions that not only the musician, song, and instruments be appropriate, but even the composer (Vayeshev Hayam 2:7):

it is my humble opinion that any tune that was composed by a non-Jew or a Jewish sinner, even if it was not originally accompanied by lyrics - neither of promiscuity nor of idolatry - should not be listened to, and certainly should not be sung or played, for "the force of the workman is in his works."

He proceeds to use this basis to reject the claims that a Jewish singer may take a non-Jewish song and adapt it, thus "purifying" it. However, songs originally non-Jewish that have crept into Jewish society should be permitted:

Regarding songs which stem from the songs of the [non-Jews] of decades and centuries ago, of which we do not know their lyrics nor their scheme, it is beyond the realm of our authority to forbid them. Even the issue of "the effect of the workman is in his handiwork," which should be of concern, is also possibly a non-issue, since they have become sanctified by us over many years, and the memory of their corrupt, lustful source is all but forgotten; they no longer around and remind of those despicable things. It thus appears that there is no basis to forbid them.

(My comment: It seems important that he emphasizes the fact that their origins have been forgotten, as otherwise, the composer's spirit lives on and influences the listener.)

It's for this reason that when Sha'ul's servants sought out a musician, they looked for one who had good character traits (Shmuel 1:16:18):

And one of the youths called out and said, "I have seen a son of Yishai from Beis Lechem who knows how to play music, is of great strength, of profound understanding, a man of stature, and HaShem is with him."

The lyrics

And we haven't even begun addressing the lyrics. Even when not part of a song, decadent speech is bad enough (Shabbos 33a):

Due to the sin of obscenity of the mouth, many calamities and harsh decrees are renewed, young Jews die, orphans and widows cry out - and are not answered!

Combine it with music, and the results can be catastrophic (Reishis Chachmah, Sha'ar Ha'ahavah 10):

Songs whose lyrics consist of desire and vulgarity cause the soul to become separated from being bound to eternal life. ... Indeed, some people of low worth are drawn after these low songs and destroy their souls.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) lists one who reads "outside books" as one who loses his Olam Haba. What are these outside books? The Bartenura explains:

Included in this category is one who reads...songs of lust and desire, for they contain neither wisdom nor benefit, and are nothing more than a waste of time.

(Presumably, he's referring to poetry, but the point still stands; adding a tune shouldn't detract from its danger.)

With all of this background, it's no surprise that, as Rabbi Gabriel and Avraham noted, Chazal banned music altogether after the Sanhedrin was disbanded (Sotah 48a). As the Yerushalmi explains (Sotah 45a):

Said R' Chisda, "At first, the fear of Sanhedrin was upon them, and they did not use words of vulgarity in their song. Now that the fear of Sanhedrin is no longer upon them, they do use vulgarity in their song."

(As an aside, this could explain Avraham's comment that today things are different. At least in Jewish music, vulgarity is no longer an issue, though non-Jewish music, for the most part, would seem to remain under this ban.)

For one last point, Rav Zilberstein (Barchi Nafshi, Shemos p. 422-423, and Torascha Sha'ashu'ai, p. 212-213) records the following story:

There was once a bachur who attended Beis Midrash Gevo'ah in Lakewood, who suddenly was overcome with a desire to convert to Christianity. Try as they might, nobody could dissuade him, including the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler.

Rav Aharon enlisted the help of the Kopishnitzer Rebbe, who asked Rav Aharon to verify how the bachur set his alarm clock. Turns out, the most accurate clock he could find was the Church clock across the street from his dorm room that rings every hour on the hour, and so he had set his clocks according to the Church bell.

Solution: The Rosh Yeshivah bought the bachur a new alarm clock that he personally set based on the Yeshiva clocks, and the Talmid remained in Yeshiva with an urge only to stay with Yiddishkeit, not to stray from it.

Poskim

R' Moshe (EH 1:96) ultimately paskens that listening to music played by a rasha is not an issue of perpetuating the name of the wicked. However, depending on the type of wickedness, a ben Torah should avoid listening to it nonetheless, even if it's technically mutar.

Yabi'a Omer 6 (OC 7) permits songs with impure sources, provides that the words are switched. Contrast to Vayeshev HaYam, quoted earlier.

Rav Moshe Stern (Be'er Moshe 6:74), as well as Rav Menashe Klein (Mishnah Halachos 6:108) are much stricter, and hold that listening to music by a Rasha is even worse than using his Seder Torah!

TL;DR: Music can be an incredible boost to your neshamah, but it can also be an incredible detriment. Be careful how you use it, even if you hold it's permissible.

As I said, this post merely adapts the chapter and its main points. Other sources brought down are Rav Ahrele Roth, Shomer Emunim, Ma'amar Tzahali V'roni 6; Rav Avraham Schrorr, Halelach Vehalibuv 5761, Shemini 2; R' Yisrael Elya Weintraub (quoted but unsourced), Kuzari 2:64-65.

if I remember correctly, first of all music in general is forbidden because we are mourning for the bet a micdash. but we are lenient on music that are basically pesukim or praises to hahsem, specially in wedding and such.

maran in shulhan aruch posek and I think in ialcut iosef he simply says that today is different

• The English version of Yalkut Yosef on the Arba Ta'aniyot has an introduction explaining the hashkafah behind only listening to music that is of religious value. Unfortunately, I can't quote it because I don't own a copy. Maybe someone else can??? – Chanoch Feb 23 '11 at 2:49
• I have a copy, but it is some pages long, you sure you want me to copy everything? – Avraham Mar 12 '11 at 20:21

See the Rashi on the Gemara !אחר מאי? זמר יווני לא פסק מפומיה in :חגיגה דף ט"ו that says that Acher (אלישע בן אבויה) went off the Derech because he was listening to Greek music - and he should have refrained because of [Aveilut on] the Churban.

• Is music nowadays considered greek music? – El Shteiger Jan 19 '15 at 2:40