Kol Isha – Difference Between Men and Women
Rabbanit Rachel Weinstein
I have 5 wonderful children that I try to raise to be ovdei HaShem. I've taught them about kol isha, in terms of what the Halacha says but when they ask why men can't hear women but women can hear men I'm at a loss. I haven't yet heard an explanation which makes sense to me. Do you have an explanation that works for you?
The issue of kol isha is one that troubles many these days. I will share some thoughts but by no means assume that my thoughts will give a satisfying answer. I’m not sure that there is an answer that is fully satisfying in these “post modern” times.
Kol Isha is one of four examples of what the Gemara calls “Erva” loosely translated as promiscuous (often translated as nakedness). The four are a woman’s voice, a handbreath of uncovered flesh that should be covered, the shin of a woman and a woman’s hair. These four are considered “Erva”.
The Rishonim discuss what exactly is prohibited – being exposed to these four in general or specifically while reciting the “Shema”.
They also discuss what “Kol” the Gemara is referring to. Does every sound a woman utters constitute “Erva”? According to the Rashba and other Rishonim this includes speech, although most poskim (Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 21:1) say that only hearing the singing of a woman is prohibited. More recently there have been discussions as to whether all song is included in the prohibition (see the links at the end of the response).
But why is the prohibition unbalanced? The Gemara clearly deals only with the exposure to the female voice, flesh, and hair as problematic. There is no mention of male flesh, hair and voice.
Our modern ear is uncomfortable with this violation of equality, but the Gemara, Rishonim and Acharonim all accepted this naturally.
The assumption that we are concerned with male attraction to women and not vice versa was just an accepted fact until very recently. Has the reality changed? Or has our perception of reality changed? I don’t think there is a conclusive answer to this question. But I do think that the wisdom of the ages, the sages of many years, should not be brushed away as irrelevant.
I think that an important component of this answer is the honest truth that you don’t fully understand this Halakha. And it’s ok. I too have Mitzvot and Halakhot that I don’t understand and have trouble relating to. Although we strive to understand as much of the Torah as we can, we know there are commands that we accept despite the fact that we don’t fully comprehend them. I believe that as a parent it is very important to be honest and admit that. At the same time, I feel that the message that our commitment to Torah includes doing things we don’t understand is a very important one. Discussing Halakhot that we don’t feel comfortable with is an opportunity to touch on this idea.
I hope my thoughts were helpful, feel free to respond and ask any other questions.