My Photo

Upcoming Events

  • Esther Kustanowitz - Consulting & Freelancing
    Whether you need a content plan, communications strategies, or a social media orientation, I can help you. Reasonable rates available - contact me at esther.kustanowitz at

@EstherK on Twitter

Become a Fan

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

« Typo of the Day | Main | A Celebrity-Related Announcement »


David Kelsey

A friend of mine, deep in his ba'al tsuvah world, once noticed that he could hear the women in the ultra-Orthodox nursery singing to the children.

He asked his Rosh Yeshiva if that was a problem, as it was "kol Eisha".

The Rosh Yeshiva said,

"I don't think that's what the Rabbis had in mind."


Performing for an exculsive audience can really enhance the exerience. I'm part of a performing arts society that broadcasts gigs to live radio. Our first venue had a maximum capacity of 75 people, including bands and volunteers. When we moved to larger venues the quality of the performances dropped. It was the sense of exclusivity that made for such dynamic shows. The audience felt like they were part of something special. The bands picked up on that excitement and by and large delivered stellar performances.

Seems to me that this kind of thing would have the same effect. For me any tradition that re-inforces the "Men are incapable of self-discipline around women" stereotype is to be questioned, but then I'm not religious so what do I know? It's good to see that there could be a postive outcome from such a rule.

I also wonder if broadcasting live to radio would violate the rule? Might be a way to reach a larger audience.


"In the religious Jewish world, women are barred from singing in front of men."

That's just the problem!

Women are not barred from singing in front of men anywhere or anytime. Men are barred from hearing women sing (note that this prohibition is only live)! Women who choose not to sing in front of men might do so because since men are not permitted to listen, singing before them is like "placing a stumbling block before a blind person."

Then, of course, there are some people who regard women as second-class in Judaism and say that women can't sing before men instead of the other way around. But that isn't so.

An interesting story, if I could remember who did it, but I can't and I'll say it anyway, is that there was this great rabbi who walked home with a talmid (student). When the approached his house, he walked up the path to his door and then immediately turned around and told his talmid that they should go for a walk around the block. When they got back home, the cleaning lady was leaving and once inside, the rabbi explained to the student who kept asking, that when he came close to the door he heard the cleaning lady singing to herself. Rather than embarrass her by asking her to stop, he simply went for a walk around the block since the obligation not to listen to a woman sing is, of course, his. Those are the rabbis more very-religious Jews should be emulating.


"But for some reason, in talmudic literature, there is only concern that the women's voices might seduce men into impure thoughts, whereas women getting worked up over a hot chazzan would clearly never happen."

I'm sighing just thinking about it. This one year I was at a shul, gazing over the balcony at the chazzan. His voice was so captivating. Guys' voices can be seductive too. I know from experience.


"But for some reason, in talmudic literature, there is only concern that the women's voices might seduce men into impure thoughts, whereas women getting worked up over a hot chazzan would clearly never happen."

No, it's not that it wouldn't happen, but that there's no reason why we should worry if it did. After all, the prohibitions on men are basically a geder (fence) to keep them from -- to put it delicately -- sinning. Women don't have to worry about that.


Apparently the prohibition does not apply if one is in the middle of shlikhus (I think this is the proper term here.) To wit, I was at a recent Golem performance at a street fair on Madison Avenue. The sponsor was the Workmen's Circle and a number of Jewish organizations had booths, in addition to the bra guy and the used makeup guy one usually finds at these things. Mmm, mozzarepas. Anyway, a trio of young Lubavitchers worked the crowd, at least the part that mattered, the men. Hey what if I needed Shabbes candles? They came right up to the guy I was standing next to to ask him if was Jewish, not even glancing at me. Whatever. Anyway, Annette's singing (Annette Ezekiel is the lead singer of Golem) apparently had no sinful effect on these particular men, as the dudes continued to hustle after their "customers" as she sang. They even took the time to approach the stage and ask one of the musicians if he was Jewish. In the middle of a song. My friend theorizes that they weren't obligated to leave if they weren't actually listening to the music, because they were working the whole time. Does anyone know if that's true?


I think in modern times you get much more stimulation just by walking on the street or taking public transportation somewhere especially on a weekend. So they could say you can't take a train on Sunday in the summer bec. many women are dressed for the beach. So it reduces a man to an unrepentant animal. I don't like this whole rule and I think it became more strictly enforced in the past few years, because, people seem to enjoy finding new ways to portray their strictness so that they are really guilty of Yuhara, a kind of false religiosity, haughtiness,where coming up w/ new rules is the name of the game, actually how it flows is that a Rabbinic org. like the OU or Augah will announce the application of the rule, often based on right wing pressure, and then people take sides right or left. Since the right is stronger, because it is easier to take the rights position, as an act of piety. My problem w/ all this is that it is so selective and class based. They would never touch something like that these people have gentile nannies in their homes raising the children, but they pick on something that is beneign in today's society, that hearing a woman singing is going to cause what, while going to a beach or even riding a train that is OK. No of course you will say that the person has no choice but to ride the train. OK maybe. But even when you segregate them in special busses, they stare out the window, I know that.
For me, hearing a woman sing does nothing as compared to those weak moments when I might stare at someone attractive wearing skimpy summer clothes. Yes if the woman is also wearing such atire and gyrating, that might be different, but we are talking of a Bas Yisroel who would be appropriately dressed. And all this application of this rule does is antagonize women a little more, so I just don't get the logic.


Personally, I find this issue personally repugnant. It's another one of those halachot meant to keep people separate from one another. And I've heard different opinions as to whether this prohibition applies to secular music only, and not to religious singing. Here are some of my experiences:

A local kosher restaurant (Pas Yisroel, Chalav Yisroel) plays Israeli and other "world" music, sometimes sung by female vocalists. Many people feel the kol isha prohibition applies primarily to live music and recorded is borderline okay. In any case, the hip haredi crowd generally ignores the music and enjoys the atmosphere. One day, a young, very serious-looking bocher approached the proprieter and asked him to turn off the music or he would sit in his car to eat. Never mind that the place was packed and everyone else was enjoying themselves. He was obviously the most pious one in the room. The flustered owner turned off the music.

In another case, my husband was asked to provide his sound system for a female B-T performer at a local community center. He asked her to sing into the microphone to check the sound levels. She just stared at him. He asked her to talk- you know, "check, one, two...". Again, a blank stare. He then asked her to try out the guitar mike. Another blank stare. She finally strummed a simple chord. Totally silly.

However, at a local Chabad house, the rabbi has occasionally asked me to start a song. I feel weird doing that in a Chabad setting, so I've always politely refused. However, I can't help but wonder if the rabbi has a very low opinion of my voice.

This sentiment was echoed at a local shul where my daughters and I were the only women in attendence one wintry shabbat. We sat off to the side of the women's section. I was singing in a teensy-tiny barely audible voice, and I was hissed at. Maybe I should try voice lessons...


My roommate chimes in with the fact that there is a theory based on sci studies that show that men process the singing voice of a woman differntly (on a more gutteral level to use his terminology) than women do. We women process the voice of a man singing in a certain part of our brain.....


Love this really cool blog ...

The whole point of women not doing things to attract attention in front of guys is for not interfering with their spiritual advancement.

Unfortunately - religious people doing all the traditional stuff - in this day and age that doesn't cut it - we're the most sophisticated generation to ever inhabit the earth so -hello - you can keep doing all that stuff with your hands and feet and following halachot (my whole family is religious by the way and they get this from me all the time) - but you're not really advancing anywhere.

Maybe you feel good about yourself that you're doing everything you've ever been told to do but those instructions written in the bible were written by kabbalists - and kabbalists have left our generation a much more advanced set of instructions and guidelines - a whole scientific method for us to pursue very systematically. The stuff in the bible was meant for the simple souls that inhabited the earth thousands of years ago (that was us too but that's another story).

So even though I've been extremely anti-religious since moving to Israel at the age of 12 - nowadays for all intents and purposes if you see me you will think I'm religious because of the way I dress and behave (my family LOVES it they don't care why I'm like this now) - that is because my husband is in the core group in Israel that broadcasts the live morning lesson to the world every day from 3:30 to 6:00am (that is also broadcast on Israel's karma channel - that's a recent development).

And yes - we don't break out in song or dance next to the guys because the GUYS are the issue - their increasing connection is drawing the light and benefitting the entire world - and we don't want to do anything that will detract from that important cause.

I live near Bnei Brak and behave when I'm there(if I break out in song and dance there some people may have heart attacks!) - I do it out of respect for the place - not because I think I'd be distracting these people from anything important except counting the number of mitzvot they did in this world on a particular day. Kabbalah is about performing eternal mitzvot that connect you with eternity - not stuff with your hands and feet.

Sorry if I rambled on .... and of course I'm sure I've offended some very nice people here - sorry about that too :)



J, don't worry about offending people here. We're very open. In fact, if there's anything to worry about, it's me offending you by my ridiculing Madonna's acceptance of Kabbalah, which I assume bears little or no resemblance to the kind of approach has.

You wrote: we don't break out in song or dance next to the guys because the GUYS are the issue - their increasing connection is drawing the light and benefitting the entire world - and we don't want to do anything that will detract from that important cause.

But for me, the concept that this is solely a man's role is not acceptable, which is why I've largely chosen to attend Modern Orthodox (liberal) or traditional Conservative congregations wherever possible: because there's an adherence to tradition, but a respect for the voices and contributions of women. And what has always bothered me is the lack of parity: we have to be careful and restrict our movements or self-expression not to distract the men, but the men don't have to restrict themselves from anything. That perpetuates the feeling that Judaism is a man's world; there's a role for married women who have a home and children to raise, but not for single women, who are shoved behind the mechitzah and treated as a problem/distraction/evil posse of seducers.

Yes, I've got issues with traditional Judaism. But I'm working on them...

I've been through Bnei Brak on my way to Petach that Coca Cola sign, which seems like so much of an anachronism or malaprop amidst the Haredi population...


Hi Esther!

Thanks for the response and warm welcome.

Little or no resemblance is an understatement ... :)

"But for me, the concept that this is solely a man's role is not acceptable"

Please believe me if you encountered the real thing you'd feel differently. I used to be the coolest macho macho woman on earth - I was the 2nd female sniper instructor in the IDF, I've been skiing from age 2 - I used to lead the NY night skate (rollerblading with 80 people) through Times Square every Tuesday night, I am a top marketing consultant in Israel and a major part of my job is explaining to high-profile men how what they're doing is all wrong, I sailed across the Atlantic at the age of 12 with my crazy father for 3 weeks in a 28-foot sailboat from Nova Scotia to Ireland on our way to making Aliyah ... are you getting the picture? I'm as tough as they come.

But in the place where I am spiritually (thank God for bringing me here)- I am willing for the 1st time to take a back seat because my husband and I together form a vessel for receiving the light - his role is to go study with the group to draw the light - and my role is to make everything around him as convenient as possible for doing that. Because we can only receive the light through supporting a male partner. And after discovering the true source of fulfillment in this world, nothing else really matters to me. All this didn't happen overnight mind you - I'll admit it was a bit of a process and really not easy for me since I'm used to calling the shots. There are women in our worldwide group whose mates are not into kabbalah - but everything they do is geared toward supporting the general (male) group or individual males in their particular group. They are the issue - but our role is just as important as theirs - without a woman keeping things on keel they are completely lost. I'm only talking about authentic kabbalah studies of course which are very intense.


Glad I haven't offended you yet, but keep reading and I'm sure we'll get there. Maybe even right now...

we can only receive the light through supporting a male partner.

I'm glad that "after discovering the true source of fulfillment in this world, nothing else really matters" to you, but it is exactly this kind of statement that I just don't think will ever resonate with me. In fact, it makes me angry, because it points to Judaism as a lifestyle in which women on their own are nothing, and only as support structures for men can they find their purpose and meaning. While I do FULLY support the fact that men and women should support each other, and that in committed relationships we do find a greater purpose and meaning, I resent the implication and the feeling that without the man there, I have no function.

I see myself as more than just an ACE bandage, and in the construct you've set up here, it doesn't sound like that is possible. Am I misunderstanding you?


You are understanding me perfectly but you're talking about traditional Judiasm that finished serving its purpose here hundreds of years ago and I'm talking about something way way far beyond that - the simplest way I can think of explaining it is that it's like comparing nursery school to a PhD. Or gardening to nuclear science.

If I was in the traditional Jewish environment (like my niece who just made Aliyah from Montreal - she just left here a few minutes ago for her dorm at Bar Ilan) - if you're applying it to that then of course I'd also be pissed to hear stuff like that.

I'm talking about the ultimate form of spirituality available in this world - yes it is based on the bible and Judiasm - but the secret has been buried deep within those legend-like stories for thousands of years and was only meant to be revealed to all from 1995 - that's OUR generation. The last greatest kabbalist to grace the earth (who wrote the commentary on the book of Zohar) Ba'al Ha'sulam, left material and a complete method specifically for our generation. For men, women, children - everyone has access nowadays to this method for attaining the light. But the best way for us to get it as women - is through the men.


This ultimate form of Judaism, is still the same for women, that there are these rules and laws, that make no sense. Josia, w/ all due resect, you are changing the words but the concept is the same.
For example this Kol Isha thing. I don't like the fact that the man, has to be looked at, as some type of horny creature who cannot restrain himself, if he hears a woman singing. And if he is such an HC, then by just looking at a skimpily clad woman in summer clothes, this will cause the same issue for him. So he has to deal with it in a more wholesome way. And I also think it cuts both ways nowadays, there are just as many horny women looking for a quick score, imo.
And even if not, why can't the man show some composure. It is like why allow a man to have a hammer he might break into your house. I can see where some women cannot accept this whole entire concept, no matter how you try to explain it away as you are.
Like for instance, there are many nights that I would like to be intimte w/ the wife, but she doesn't wish to. Do I get all enraged and go out and plunder? No, I recognize that this is a situation of perhaps disappointment, and I move on.
What is the big deal? I will tell you what the big deal, it is things like this that is causing us to lose our Esthers.


Hi Jobber -

First of all - good luck with the job search - have you tried I can send you an invite if you want.

About your comment we're talking about apples and oranges here but you're right it all basically comes down to the same thing - that women are distracting to men. However, I'm talking about guys who study kabbalah - who are completely aware that their egoistic desires are increasing and growing daily at a breakneck speed - because that is the whole point of kabbalah - getting to the highest degree of your will to receive so you can correct it.

Here is something I posted in answer to a question I got that I hope will explain a bit where I'm coming from -" Why is it that a woman can't fully talk to me about Kabbalah?"

Just like you can't get advice on how to change a tire from a woman. You can - but it will aggravate the crap out of you. And apart from that a man talking to a woman is completely different than a man talking to a man - there are tons of distractions along the way - you know what I mean. And it's really important to get this stuff as clean as possible. If you speak to her you hear her voice, if see her your thoughts are drifting to all kinds of things and the worst is if you're talking to her on the Internet :) - then your imagination is really running wild.

And by the way - if you get into Kabbalah
a) your wife will probably worship the ground you walk on because you would be bringing her a kind of filling that is unattainable through any other means in this world.
b) your desires for physical pleasures will alter drastically when you discover that there are pleasures millions of times more fulfilling available to us

Drew Kaplan

Hoping to contribute two pieces of information into this discourse, the first of which is in reference to Lyss's posting, that there maybea difference in the way men and women hear each other.
The second is that Shmuel's dictum (that a woman's voice is a nakedness), which appears twice in the TB (Ber. 24a & Kid. 70a), doesn't appear to be regarding singing, especially in the context in which Rav Nahman uses it in the latter source. Furthermore, the Berakhos mention is in a discussion of things which hold back saying of the Shema.
In any event, it's not clear what the deal is with men not supposed to be listening to women's voices.

The comments to this entry are closed.