6/28/2007

Kol Castrato

If you haven’t heard yet, there has been a furor recently over the refusal of certain Hareidio stations to play the music of a young male vocalist from Netanya whose voice sounds very feminine. Gil discussed the issue from a halakhic perspective. I would add another issue to the mix – what if the singer is a gender-reassigned man, such as Israeli singer Dana International. If it’s an issue of an ‘intrinsic’ issur, then there should be no problem (unless you hold like the Tzitz Eliezer that gender reassignment actually changes the halachically-recognized gender as well). If it’s about hirhurim (sorry, Gil), then it should be prohibited.

The current situation is indeed laughable. At an earlier time, I may have gotten bent out of shape about it, but now I just think it’s comical. It’s almost like I’m watching a different religion. Maybe I am.

The issue has come up before in jest. R’ Zev Leff, a very popular Rav and lecturer in the English-speaking community in Israel (and who was recently honored by the OU Israel Center), currently has some sort of condition in his vocal cords which make his voice sound falsetto – you can hear it in one of his shiurim here. Although he normally leads several tefillot from the amud in Moshav Matityahu, this year he begged off because of his condition, saying in jest that it would be Kol Isha.

Of course, there used to be an entire class of men whose voices were engineered to sound feminine – the castrati – although many insist that their voices had a quality that was sui generic. It is no longer legal to engineer castrati. The last castrato lived long enough to make recordings. You can judge for yourselves how feminine he sounds here and here. I wonder if there are any teshuvot about listening to castrati sing.

The issue of recorded Kol Isha can itself be deconstructed out of existence. First of all, as this whole issue shows, there are women (like Cher) who sound like men, and men who sound like women. Furthermore, voices can be digitally altered to sound deeper or higher. At what point does the voice cease to be the woman’s voice? Other than a live performance (or, as many contemporary responsa rule, a recording where the listener can recognize the voice of the woman), it would seem that there is no issue of Kol Isha. That’s my take, anyway.

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