Halachic Debate: Is there kosher sefira music?

I am not a learned guy, sure I pasken for myself, can leaf through a mishna brura and try to talk in learning with any folks who may be interested, but I do not write halachic diatribes. However, I do have some interesting friends who I’ve always offered to post anything they may write if it was interesting and pertained to a bunch of semi-disenfranchised quasi frum folks who needed real halacha l’maisa and not the stuff that merely says assur because it’s untznius (that seems to be the new excuse for all rulings) Below is a halachic debate about the issue of music during sefira and whether or not the whole accapella thing is really acceptable or not.
Guest post by YH
The main point of the write-up was to clarify the whole music issue during Sefira and 3 -weeks, and to blow the lid on the silly notion that akapella is halachically ok. I’m totally cool with being not religious,  but what pisses me off is when people distort the religion. It’s just not intellectually honest and it’s downright wrong. So I felt compelled to write.
 (basic)HALACHIC SOURCES: A and B
A)Shulchan Aruch, Siman 560 se’if 3- chapter that discusses the laws/customs of making year-round reminders of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash:
    R’ Yosef Kairo rules that “instruments and all types of song and all things that make instruments heard” are forbidden(1). Rama‘ there says that’s only for those that listen all the time like kings(2), or during a feast that’s not seudas mitzva (weddings etc. are mitzva)  So basically, Ashkenazim, who follow Rama‘, seem to be ok, at least occasionally, to listen to and play music, provided it’s not during a feast.  The apparent problem would be for Sefardim‘, and when music is played at non-mitzva banquets and stuff like that.
 B)Shulchan Aruch, Siman 551- chapter that discusses the laws of the 3 weeks- a mourning-over-the-Temple-period between Shiva-Asar-Bitamuz and Tisha-Be’avand Siman 493- chapter that addresses customs during period of Sefiras Ha’Omer:
    During these periods it is customary to do or not do certain things such as haircuts and weddings. The Magen Avraham in both chapters writes that he feels that “dances and circles/drums(mecholos)”(3) are also forbidden. 
 These are the basic sources you need to know.  So to be clear, section A delineates the source addressing year-round memorials of the Bais Hamikdash, and section B delineates the statements made specifically regarding 3 weeks/Sefira periods. 
 What would seem to come out based on section A above, is that Ashkenazim at least can always listen to music, including live shows, and including during the 3 weeks and Omer/Sefira periods. But based on section B above, during the latter 2 periods it would also seem, based on the Magen Avraham, that parties with music and/or dancing would not be proper.
 However, I was informed by a very big rabbi, who was told by an even bigger European rabbi (R Yaakov Kamenetzky), that the custom in Europe was for the Jews to accept upon themselves theyear-round stringency of R’ Yosef Kairo, cited above about not listening to or playing any music, butonly during these 2 periods  as they are already times when Jews keep a modicum of sadness/introspection. Hence, the custom of many to “not listen to music during Sefira and 3 weeks“.
  There are also those that base this no-music custom on the Magen Avraham’s statement about these 2 periods in which he is against “dances and drums”,  to include all kinds of music. Seeminglyone can question that as being a stretch..
  Where much of the confusion circulates is regarding “akapella”. Akapella is basically choir music wherein no instruments are used  and often the noises produced by instruments are replaced with mimicking vocals. Some Jews, although I question if any knowledgeable, rabbinic ones are among them, argue that since the whole restriction on music is on “instruments”, akapella is totally cool !!   Frankly, and as you may deduce based on the sources, this appears to be either imprecise understanding of the halacha or just plain ignorance.  If we are to be religious Jews, and follow the laws and customs as codified in Shulchan Aruch and similar sefarim etc., then how could this claim have any validity ??:
 1.In the source for no instruments, section A, the S.A. also says “kal minei zemer” (all types of song), so it would seem not to be limited to instruments and include plain vocals as well. So if you say music is assur during 3 weeks/Sefira then akapella is also !
 2.Even if it is only instruments(4), this restriction doesn’t seem to apply ever unless it’s during a feast  according to Ashkenazi/Rama tradition, as that law is regarding year-round practices and not related to Sefira/3 weeks. So all music should be mutar always, certainly not just akapella !
 3.Even if you say that the rule only applies to instruments, and we have accepted the Sefardi/R Yosef Kairo year-round restriction upon ourselves only during the 3-weeks/Sefira periods, how could you argue that listening to guitar is different than listening to digitalized, computerized voice that sounds exactly like a guitar ?!! Can you even think that when they made the rule about not hearing musical instruments they meant it super literal, leaving room for any mock instrument possible ??!
 4.You could argue that our contemporary music players are the equivalent of what once was only possible through instruments. So even playing a CD or iPod song of just voices is like playing an instrument.
 5.If you base this practice on the Magen Avraham’s statement which is only germane to 3 weeks/Sefira, then there is definitely nothing to stand on, because he says “dances and drums”, soif you extend this to music then all music is wrong, not just with instruments !!
 But, this halachic banter does leave room for 2 possibilities, the way I see it:
1. If you observe a no-music-listening policy during 3-weeks/Sefira based on section A, as keeping with R’ Yosef Kairo’s ruling but circumscribing it to these 2 periods of the year,  then one can arguethat listening to real choir music or even akapella, but just where they sing, would indeed be ok  since only instruments were forbidden. Such albums are actually made in the Jewish music market. BUT, the cool new Jewish akapella stuff- “special for Sefira and 3 weeks”, which is replete with contemporary digital effects that make it sound virtually like real instruments seems to be a totalhalachic scam. To be fair, the whole idea of no music is certainly among the lighter halachos, not to imply a disrespect or weakened observance of course. But in as much as these customs are observed, let them be observed !
2. One can argue that only live music is prohibited, as the sources from section A and B seem to imply that. The advent of music players does change the scene. This is an entire separate discussion and not directly relevant here. Bear in mind though that in as much as you observe a level of mourning for the 24,000 Torah students or for the Bais Hamikdash there are nary any reminders or practices to do to commemorate these periods save the few things we do have. Not listening to music could certainly be a strong reminder of the spirit of the time, and if you listen to “akapella” you might ask yourself What do you have left to keep the spirit of the law ?
  So, in conclusion, my not-so-humble opinion is that either you listen to music or you don’t. Both stances seem to have reliable halachic weight. But if you don’t, then it certainly does not seem that the popy, rocky, garage-band-software-touched-up “akapella” music that is so popular in our community is Kosher.
   But, of course- the obvious disclaimer, I ain’t no Rabbi and you should consult with one before acting. I’m just sharing some halachic knowledge with minimal, if no, subjectivity. (I hope)
 Sincerely, respectfully,
                      YH
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