This question was inspired by the comments (now deleted) under another question.

My sister in Williamsburg Brooklyn noticed that Orthodox male strangers were glaring at her for unknown reasons while she was on the subway or the bus. It is now clear that they had a problem with her singing to her small children on the subway. Her son has special needs, he is largely nonverbal, and he sometimes has seizures. When she sings to her children, her only intention is to soothe them (especially in the event of a seizure) and keep them calm and quiet. As a mother traveling on NYC public transportation alone with her children sometimes at night, she was intimidated and felt a bit threatened by these men glaring at her.

Obviously, everyone is entitled to feel however they want to feel, and these men are free to believe whatever they wish. But it is possible to feel something without causing distress to another person. It is possible to keep your feelings to yourself, or to share your feelings with likeminded individuals. I am wondering if Jewis custom, practice, law, etc, has anything to say on this issue:


Someone who may or may not be Jewish is doing something that would generally (in the broader society) be considered inoffensive in a public place, but is or may be a violation of Jewish law. Most people in the broader society, including the person doing the activity, don't know of the law in question and think the activity is normal. An Orthodox person in the same area believes that this activity is problematic.

Is there justification for the Jewish person to cause discomfort or distress to strangers in response to an unintentional and inadvertent offense? What sources are applicable to this issue?

Note: This question is not about kol isha; it is about the response.

  • 3
    Wad, thank you for the edits to the question. I've made a few further tweaks to make it clear that your question is about how the men responded, and not really about the halachic status of the singing (which I believe you've asked about in a separate question now). After editing I cast the fifth reopen vote. Unfortunately, most of the answer below is about kol isha (hearing women's voices), not about your question, so that answer is in need of an edit. Aug 20, 2015 at 18:04
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    @MonicaCellio I appreciate your help, and I wholeheartedly agree with you on the issue of the existing answer. It needs to be reworked, but I would think that the OP should do that.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 20, 2015 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


Just by way of background: Kol Isha, or literally the voice of a woman, is a law that falls under the category of Sneas, or modesty. It was designed by the Rabbis to keep men from lusting after women due to man's nature to lust. It is a serious issue for observant men, which is probably why they reacted. It can be very difficult to avoid looking/listening.

The law of Kol Isha does not apply to a non-Jew. We do not live in a Torah society, we are supposedly governed by non-religious secular civil government. A subway is a public place run under civil law not Torah law.

As Jews we are the "chosen" people, we are supposed to be "a light unto the nations." That behavior is clearly not acting the way we're supposed to act. I think that men should be able to keep their lust under control.

The answer to your question is a resounding NO! It's not acceptable to treat somebody that way. I can give many halachic examples of how horrible it is to embarrass somebody that completely overrides any sneeyas issues that would arise in this case.

  • Comments about the post's (prior) claims regarding Kol Isha have been moved to chat.
    – Double AA
    Aug 20, 2015 at 0:06
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    @JMFB there was quite a bit of activity on this question (edits, now-deleted comments, closure and reopening), which you might have missed. The core question is about the men's reaction, not abut kol isha itself (which is covered on another question). I've made an edit to focus this more, and I encourage you to add the sources you mention in your last paragraph, which would strengthen this answer. Thanks. Aug 20, 2015 at 18:21
  • @MonicaCellio in your opinion. However the OP who was really upset at the reaction he got here didn't understand the laws involved. He thought it was misogynistic and that it's incredioulous that we have a different set of rules for jews and non-jews. I was in chat with him explaining it over in sci/fi. After trying to explain it in chat I decided to just post an answer here. If you don't like my answer downvote it. But I want it to stand. I can go through it and add citations for the various laws, but I don't have time right now. I'll try to do it later tonight if I have the time.
    – JMFB
    Aug 20, 2015 at 23:41
  • @MonicaCellio I framed the answer for the OP, not for you or anybody else. It's important especially when issues are sensitive like this to give a full, thorough, and thoughtful answer. It doesn't really matter what you think the question should be, it matters what he wanted to ask. You can always VTC or downvote it, but he asked a valid question based on his experience. It's definitely relevant to explain "Kol Isha" in this case. He was asking as much about his sister as he was about the men on the train. His sister did nothing wrong, and the men can always remove themselves if they want.
    – JMFB
    Aug 20, 2015 at 23:45
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    @JMFB, nearly 100% of the people who will read SE content are not the OP. We are creating a repository of Q&A about Judaism under the SE rubric, not hosting a free-form discussion board. Once editing has settled down, the only relevant expression of the OP's intent is the text of the question post. The question in the post is not specifically about Kol Isha, so answers to it are not the place for a long disquisition about that topic. I don't understand why you're fighting over this when you can just post an answer to the actual Kol Isha post.
    – Isaac Moses
    Aug 21, 2015 at 14:40

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