ה׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ח (October 25, 2017)

Sanhedrin 101a-b: The Appropriateness of Jewish Music

Jewish music – with themes based on biblical verses and voices – has found a significant place in the daily life of the modern-day Jewish community.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Gemara on today’s daf appears to reject the use of biblical passages when composing music.

Our Gemara teaches a baraita: He who recites a verse from Shir HaShirim and presents it as a type of song, and one who recites biblical verses inappropriately at a party, brings evil upon the world, because the Torah girds itself in sackcloth, and stands before the Holy One, blessed be He, and laments before Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thy children have made me as a harp upon which clowns play.’

The baraita continues: He replies, ‘My daughter, when they are eating and drinking, what shall they occupy themselves with?’ To which she replies, ‘Master of the Universe! If they are knowledgeable in the written Torah, let them occupy themselves with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; if they are students of the Mishna, with Mishna, halakhot, and aggada, if students of the Talmud, let them engage in the laws of Pesaḥ, Shavu’ot and Sukkot according to the upcoming holiday.’

In conclusion the baraita teaches that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar quotes Rabbi Shimon ben Ḥananya as saying that when a biblical passage is quoted appropriately – in season – then it brings good to the world, based on Sefer Mishle (15:23).

It appears from the conclusion of the Gemara that great respect must be shown to biblical passages, and when used in song or conversation it is essential that the holiness and spirituality of the biblical text be maintained. When sung or discussed appropriately, however, not only is it permissible, but it is a positive thing to do.

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