The Jerusalem Ban Against Music
1. The Rabbis of Jerusalem, in the second half of the nineteenth century, declared a self-imposed prohibition upon the Jewish community in Jerusalem, (not in the rest of Eretz Yisrael), forbidding the use of instrumental music at weddings, with the exception of drums to keep the beat for the singers.
2. Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l (Salmas Chaim 77) writes that the custom was first instated by Rav Meir Auerbach, (author of Imrei Binah, 1815-1877). He writes, “I heard that the Imrei Binah enacted the prohibition, and someone who is not concerned about it and denigrates it will suffer harsh retribution.”
3. The reason for the ban is a bit unclear. The Sefer Beis Chasanim writes that the decree was created during a terrible plague in 1865-1866 that killed many people including some of Yerushalayim’s finest talmidei chachomim. To find out why Hashem was punishing the city, one of the great rabbanim made a sha’alas chalom (a procedure which allows a question to be asked while one is sleeping). In his dream it became revealed that the cause of the plague was due to a lack of respect for the Kosel Hama’aravi. Because of that, Harav Meir Auerbach zt”l and the other elders enacted a decree that no musical instruments should be played at Yerushalayim weddings. Within a few days of enacting the decree the plague ceased. Rav Tuviah Freund shlit”a, in his Sefer Shalmei Simcha (48) says that he asked the ziknei and chachmei Yerushalayim, including Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv zt”l, about why there is no documentation of this event, (the plague itself is well documented, but no one recorded how it ended), and they told him that the main reason for the decree was due to modesty. Due to the novelty of musical instruments in Yerushalayim at the time, women and girls would draw near to get a better view and this sometimes led to mixing of men and women. To put an end to this, Rav Meir forbade music altogether. Although the Maharil Diskin seems to imply that this custom is in remembrance of the churban, Rav Freund explains that this rationale is in addition to the considerations of modesty.
4. The sefardim in Israel never accepted this ban. Therefore the sefardic custom is to allow for music at weddings in Yerushalayim. (See Shalmei Simcha ibid. and Yalkut Yosef Nisuin page 181)
5. It is unclear whether the ban was only instituted in the “Old City” of Yerushalayim, within the old city walls, or whether all of Yerushalayim was included. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
עיין בספר שלמי שמחה הנ”ל שהביא מפי השמועה שדעת הגרשז”א זצ”ל והגרי”ש אלישיב זצ”ל לאסור כלי זמר בנישואין גם בירושלים החדשה. אכן כתב לו הגר”א נבנצהל שליט”א שדעת הגרשז”א זצ”ל לפעמים להלק, ולכן יש לשאול שאלת חתם. וכן בספר ישמח לב ס’ רנ”ז הביא מפי השמועה מהגרי”ש אלישיב זצ”ל שלא גזרו אלא על עיר העתיקה אכן שוב הביא שמועה אחרת להיפך, וצ”ע. וע”ע בשו”ת חמדת צבי ס’ נ”ב.
6. The poskim discuss whether the ban was only instituted against live music or whether it included cassettes or cds:
Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l was asked whether one may play music using a record player in Yerushalayim. He rules that one may not. It would seem that according to Harav Sonnenfeld zt”l all music, both live and recorded, is banned in Yerushalayim. (See Tzitz Eliezer 15:33) This is also the view of Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l.
Harav Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l permits recorded acapella music (just vocals). It is unclear, however, whether he also permits all forms of recorded music.
Harav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l rules that all forms of recorded music are permitted. (Shalmei Simcha ibid.)
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