Many poskim hold that there is no difference between listening to live music and listening to music on the radio, or by way of any other electronic device; both are forbidden during Sefirah (until Lag B’Omer) and the Three Weeks. It is permissible, though, to listen to a cappella songs via electronic music players (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137, Yechaveh Da’at 6:34). Some forbid even this, because the device is considered like a musical instrument (Tzitz Eliezer 15:33, Sheivet HaLevi 8:127).
On the other hand, some authorities hold that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments during these [periods of mourning] does not apply to listening to music on the radio or any other household, electronic device. The rationale being that listening to music this way is not as festive as is listening to it live. Furthermore, nowadays, everyone listens to music on electronic devices regularly, and since it has become so routine, the festiveness and joy associated with listening to music has disappeared. This is similar to singing without musical accompaniment, which is permitted during the Omer. In addition, a distinction should be made between joyous songs and regular songs. Only regarding joyous songs is it logical to prohibit household devices, but one should not prohibit regular music – and certainly not sad tunes – during the mourning period of the Omer. One who wishes to act leniently may rely on this opinion and listen to regular and sad songs on a household, electronic device. He should not, however, listen to them loudly, because the force of the sound that fills the room generates a certain atmosphere of jubilation.
Apparently, everyone would agree that a driver who is worried that he might fall asleep at the wheel may listen to music in order to keep himself alert. 1: In Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137 and O.C. 1:166, [R. Moshe Feinstein] is inclined to rule strictly, forbidding one to listen to musical instruments throughout the year, [as a sign of] mourning for the Temple’s destruction – all the more so, during the Omer period and the Three Weeks. And even though [R. Ovadyah Yosef] permits one to listen to music [throughout the year], he forbids one to listen to instrumental music on the radio and the like during Sefirah and the Three Weeks (Yechaveh Da’at 6:34). (In private conversation, however, he allowed Arutz Sheva [to play music], to ensure the continued [broadcasting] of Torah-oriented shows.) The author of Minchat Yitzchak (1:111) concurs. R. Auerbach and R. Elyashiv, as well, forbid one to listen to music on the radio (Shalmei Mo’ed, p. 453). The authors of Tzitz Eliezer (15:33) and Sheivet HaLevi (8:127) forbid even a cappella songs. See also Piskei Teshuvot 493:4.
However, the arguments indicating a lenient ruling are strong. First of all, musical instruments do not necessarily denote joy. See Shabbat 151a, which [mentions the usage of] flutes in funeral elegies. Similarly, the Pri Megadim allows one to play music [during the Omer] in order to make a living, and his ruling is quoted in B.H. 551:2. The Maharam Schick (Y.D. 368) discusses the distinction between joyous tunes and sad ones, stating that sad tunes are not forbidden during times of mourning. (However, he forbids teaching music to certain children during their year of mourning, because they learn music only for egotistical reasons, not in order to make a living.) Anyway, we see that only joyous songs are forbidden. The wording of the Rambam in Hilchot Ta’anit (5:14), where he deals with the prohibition of playing music after the Destruction, also indicates this: “In addition, [the Rabbis] decreed that we refrain from playing musical instruments and [engaging in] all types of song… It is forbidden to rejoice in them or listen to them, because of the Destruction.” According to this, it seems that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments relates mainly to happy songs, which go along with dance, but regular songs – and certainly sad ones – are permitted. The author of Responsa Chelkat Ya’akov (1:62) brings up another point: listening [to music] via electronic devices is not included in the decree (or custom of mourning), because these devices did not exist [when the decree (or custom) was originally established]. Now, perhaps when these devices were rare, listening to them was a festive activity, and that is why many poskim disagreed with him. Nowadays, however, listening to music players is routine and uneventful; therefore, it is not included in the custom which forbids [listening to live music]. My father, my teacher, agrees with this viewpoint. R. Shmuel David writes likewise in Techumin (vol. 13). See also below, 8:4. And since the entire prohibition is based on a custom, the halachah follows the more lenient opinion in cases of doubt. This is how Arutz Sheva conducted itself during the mourning period of the Omer, broadcasting regular songs and avoiding songs that were meant for celebrations and dancing.
Everyone agrees that it is forbidden to attend a concert, even if the songs being performed are regular or sad ones, because the very act of coming together for a concert is festive and joyous. In my humble opinion, the same is true of listening to neutral songs at a high volume: they become somewhat festive because of the force of the sound. According to all opinions, a driver may listen to music in order to keep himself awake, both because [listening to music while driving] is not so joyous and because of the possible danger to life. Even the stricter poskim agree that one who suffers from depression may listen to music, in private, as cited in Hilchot Chag B’Chag 7:39. ]
- The following poskim forbid [listening to music on electronic devices ↩