Why can't women sing in front of men? And further - why is there a double-standard whereby women can listen to men singing? Shouldn't we have the same law for men and women?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
You are asking very good questions. First let's be honest with ourselves and see if there is any differences between men and women, and if there are, how would it affect this particular prohibition.
Would the fact that the overwhelming majority of illicit mediums are produced and geared for men illustrate anything? Or the fact that the bulk of those who participate in these forms of diversion happen to be from this same gender? Or that almost all sexual offenses are perpetrated by men?
Psychologists attribute man's stronger sexual drive to many factors. The nature of their hormones, the constitution of their psychological disposition and their physical makeup are but a few of the explanations given. Whatever the case may be, the fact that men are generally more aggressively driven after their sexual impulse than women, is an uncontested fact no matter how you approach it.
Men and women have different criteria for sexual arousal. Hearing a woman sing is sexually arousing for a man. (By sexual arousal I mean that he is thinking of her in terms of her physical dimensions as opposed to her spiritual qualities.) While it might be hard for a woman to imagine such a thing, the Sages are very in tune with human nature - and this rule has been observed by Jews for thousands of years.
So with this in mind, when the Torah sets up barriers to protect society's moral fabric, the emphasis was placed to counter the reality of man's weaker character in these areas. Hearing the pleasant melody of a women singing is just one way a man could become aroused, therefore he should avoid this medium, given that we are obligated to refrain from exposing ourselves to erotic situations. (Maimonides - Isurei Biah 21:1, based on Leviticus 18:6)
You could argue that on one level, we've lost a sensitivity to the sensuality of a woman's voice. But I think any honest man would admit that on another level, it's still very much there.
For this reason, a woman is not permitted to sing in front of men who are not her immediate relatives. According to many authorities, this begins from around when a girl turns 11 (Igros Moshe O.C. I 26). Men should not listen to women singing because it can lead to impure thoughts. (Mishnah Berurah 75:17) The source is from the Talmud (Brachot 24a): “A woman's voice can be erotic, as it is written, 'For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.'” (Song of Songs 2:14). Some authorities permit listening to a woman's voice when the listener does not see the woman and does not know what she looks like (Yabia Omer I O.C. 6).
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were female seductresses who lured sailors with their enchanting voices. Now that we are “enlightened” is there no need for these safeguards? I wish that were true. But we see the media influence has created an atmosphere where sexualization and objectification of women is stronger than ever before.
Women, on the other hand, who are stronger then men in this area, are not prohibited from hearing men sing.
But, you ask: Why should women suffer restrictions simply because men can't control themselves? The answer is that we are all in this together. We all have to do our share and help each other out. Believe me, it is ultimately to women's advantage to keep things from getting out of control. It serves both men and women to avoid situations which lead to promiscuity.
For a comprehensive summary of these laws in English, I suggest chapter eight of “Modesty – An Adornment for Life” by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk (published by Feldheim).