Previously on Hilchot Pluralism:
- Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part I
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part II
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part III
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part IV
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part V
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part VI
I wrote in Part III:
I'm also not going to solve the issue of instruments on Shabbat. A service either uses instruments on Shabbat or it doesn't; I can't think of any other options. Some people attend minyanim like Kol Zimrah, where the leader is playing instruments, even though they personally wouldn't use instruments. But I can see how that wouldn't work for everyone. I suggested a "live and let live" approach in Part II using the example of writing on Shabbat, but I can see how hearing instrumental music as an integral part of the communal prayer that you're participating in would be much more conspicuous and harder to ignore than being in the same room as someone who is writing.
And Desh wrote in the comments to Part I:
Nothing comes to mind right now for a potential Part II. But I hope that some future Part addresses kashrut again, giving an alternate method. Because I really hope that the two-table method hasn't "solved" the kashrut "problem"; something about being "finished" with an aspect of pluralism feels unsettling to me.
In that spirit, I'm going to revisit the question of musical instruments, now that I've learned more about this topic. Of course, no universal elegant solution has presented itself since the publication of Part III; it is still the case that an event either includes the use of musical instruments on Shabbat or it doesn't (and the proposed alternative solutions merely involve finessing the definitions of "musical instruments" and "Shabbat" around the edges, but don't get at the root issue). However, I hope to provide some tools to improve the discourse, and along the way, reach some more general principles about pluralistic communities.
In a recent post about musical instruments on Shabbat, I wrote:
This post is similarly intended to move the pluralistic discourse forward and help us be explicit and honest about the bases for our principles and practices. To this end, I am proposing three useful distinctions that we should heed when we're having these conversations.
Of course, people may have all sorts of reasons for their practices, including aesthetic preferences, mimetic traditions, logical arguments, and cultural/denominational/communal identities. My goal is not to invalidate those reasons, but to knock them off their “halachic” high horse. The intended result is that when we’re discussing questions about musical instruments on Shabbat — in distinguishing one community from another, or talking about where we will and won’t daven, or determining policies for our pluralistic communities — we’ll have to be explicit about those aesthetic preferences, mimetic traditions, logical arguments, and cultural/denominational/communal identities, rather than simply playing the “I’m halachic and you’re not” get-out-of-jail-free card.
Playing Instruments vs. Hearing Instruments
Rabbi Ethan Tucker of Mechon Hadar has posted a document that includes a number of sources on the issue of musical instruments on Shabbat, and shows that halachic objections to musical instruments on Shabbat have historically fallen into two paradigms: shema yetakein (lest one come to fix an instrument) and hashma'at kol (making noise). Now halachic texts are not themselves sources of authority for pluralistic communities whose constituents do not share a metahalachic framework. (Does this mean that the stages of pluralism are meta-metahalachic frameworks?) However, I bring this up because these two paradigms are a useful categorization of the larger set of objections to musical instruments on Shabbat, whether or not they label themselves as "halachic" (a label that isn't so useful anyway in pluralistic communities where it has multiple meanings).
Classically, shema yetakein is the idea that music on Shabbat is problematic because of the possibility that it will lead to fixing an instrument (and whatever this means exactly, it is presumed to be something that is problematic on Shabbat). More generally, we can understand this paradigm as encompassing any objections to musical instruments that are based on playing the instrument: playing an instrument will lead to work or other activities that are unacceptable on Shabbat, or is itself work or otherwise an activity that is unacceptable on Shabbat. These objections are from the point of view of the person playing the instrument.
Hashma'at kol is the idea that Shabbat should be a day free of noise (or certain types of noise). More generally, this paradigm can encompass any objections to musical instruments that are based on hearing the instrument. Even someone who is ok with other types of noise on Shabbat might object to musical instruments, because the experience of hearing musical instruments is different from the experience of hearing other sounds.
Therefore, someone might object to musical instruments on Shabbat based on playing, hearing, both, or neither. ("Neither" means that this someone doesn't object to musical instruments on Shabbat. In this case, s/he doesn't need to give a specific reason for his/her non-objection, since in the absence of a reason otherwise, it is assumed that something permitted on weekdays is also permitted on Shabbat. The exception is if someone explicitly or implicitly accepts one of the reasons against musical instruments on Shabbat, in which case s/he needs a reason for why that reason is overridden.) Before we enter into pluralistic dialogue on this issue, we should each consider for ourselves which of these four categories we fall into.
Let's look at some examples of how this could play out in a pluralistic community.
In community A, everyone in the community objects to playing instruments on Shabbat. In this case, the question of whether musical instruments may be played on Shabbat in this community is a moot point, because no one is going to play them anyway even if the community permits it. As a result, in this singular case (and as we'll see, only in this case), people's views on hearing instruments are also moot, because there's not going to be any music to hear. (We'll set aside the possibility that people from outside the community would be brought in to play music, and assume self-sufficient communities.)
In community B, everyone in the community is ok with playing and hearing instruments on Shabbat. This is simple: in this community, instruments may be played on Shabbat, and there's no problem.
In community C, some people (call them Rachel) play and listen to instruments on Shabbat. Other people (call them Leah) object to playing instruments on Shabbat, but don't have a problem with hearing instruments on Shabbat. In this case, Rachel can play, and Leah can listen (or at least be in the same space), and there's no problem. This reduces to the writing-on-Shabbat example from Part II.
Community D is where things get complicated. Rachel is still around and plays instruments on Shabbat, and there are other people (call them Bilhah) who object to hearing instruments on Shabbat. And thus we have the irreconcilable situation described in Part III. The End. But now let's take a step back from the precipice and note that the variable that makes all the difference between community C (where a Stage-3 pluralistic solution is simple) and community D (where a long-term Stage-3 pluralistic solution is impossible) is constituents' stances on hearing instruments. Stances on playing instruments have no practical effect (except in the singular case of community A): communities B and C (which differ only on this axis) are able to have identical instrument policies.
This is important for communities that are attempting to tinker around the edges to come up with a creative solution. If these communities are looking for a pluralistic solution -- and that doesn't only include communities that identify explicitly as pluralistic, but communities that use any form of pluralism (even Stage 1) in their discourse, such as "We want to accommodate different practices in our community, and therefore we don't have instruments on Shabbat, since this allows everyone to participate", as opposed to non-pluralistic discourse (not that there's anything wrong with that) such as "We want to establish uniform standards of Jewish practice for our community, and therefore we don't have instruments on Shabbat, since we have decided that this is a communal value" -- then the question of whether and under what circumstances it is ok to play instruments on Shabbat is utterly irrelevant. If no one in the community thinks it's ok, then we have community A, where there's no demand for an alternate solution, so the conversation isn't happening in the first place. And if some people in the community think it's ok (as in communities B, C, and D), then this is only relevant to anyone else insofar as they have concerns about hearing instruments, as we said in Part II: "If Shimon's practices are contrary to Reuven's values, Reuven has no basis to prevent Shimon from carrying out Shimon's own practices, except to the extent that this interferes directly with [Reuven's participation in the community]." This is equally true even if we're not looking at instruments as a general class, but looking individually at specific types of instruments or specific circumstances under which instruments are played.
What this means is that any distinctions based in the shema yetakein paradigm -- for example, allowing only non-tunable instruments, or insisting that instruments not be tuned on Shabbat -- have no place in pluralistic discourse. It is to be assumed that whoever is playing an instrument will grapple with these issues on his/her own, or not grapple with them, as s/he sees fit, and it's no one else's business. On the other hand, distinctions based in the hashma'at kol paradigm -- distinguishing among instruments based on what they sound like -- are fair game. For example, there may be a basis for distinguishing between percussion and non-percussion instruments, because the experience of listening to them is clearly different (though if we're talking purely about the hashma'at kol paradigm, then it's not obvious which is more acceptable than the other; this is in the ear of the beholder), or between electric and acoustic instruments. On the other hand, there is no basis for distinguishing between a tunable drum and a non-tunable dumbek, or between a regular guitar and a hypothetical non-tunable guitar (manufactured perhaps by Mechon Zomet), since it's inconceivable that these distinctions make a difference in the experience of the listener.
In short, if Rachel wants to play an instrument, and Bilhah doesn't want the instrument to be played, then it has to be because Bilhah doesn't want to hear it, rather than because Bilhah doesn't want Rachel to play it.
This leads us to a corollary (which is a stronger version of axiom #2 in Part II): living in a pluralistic community necessitates suspending the principle of kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh (all Jews are responsible for one another). Instead, you have to take responsibility for yourself, and let other people take responsibility for themselves. If this isn't possible (for a given set of positions on a given issue), then you're not meant to be in a pluralistic community (or a community that is pluralistic on that issue and includes that set of positions), as we have said in Part VI. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Instruments on Shabbat vs. Instruments in Prayer
The question of playing/hearing instruments on Shabbat (which might be in a prayer context or a non-prayer context) is different from the question of playing/hearing instruments in prayer (which might be on Shabbat or on a weekday). These questions are often conflated because prayer on Shabbat is a core activity of many of our communities, but really they're separate. (Though fewer people would object in theory to instruments in weekday prayer than to instruments in Shabbat prayer, it's a question that comes up less because, outside of special events, weekday minyanim are more likely to be hurried and with fewer frills.)
A common set of objections to musical instruments is based on prayer aesthetics. Fine. That's an important conversation to have (and even among those who think that instruments are ok, there are better and worse ways to utilize instruments in prayer), but it should be acknowledged that this isn't a Shabbat issue. If your objection to instruments is based solely on prayer aesthetics, then 1) you shouldn't have a problem with non-prayer use of instruments on Shabbat, 2) to be consistent, you should be equally opposed to instruments in weekday prayer. On the other hand, if you think instruments are ok in weekday prayer and not in Shabbat prayer, then you should look for a reason other than prayer aesthetics to explain your position.
Fundamental Opposition vs. Aesthetic Preference
When we have an open Stage-3 environment, we can be honest about the basis for our personal positions. Are they based on fundamental principles or aesthetic preferences? The answer to this question, which is different for each person and for each issue, can also inform our discourse.
And I'm not saying (as it might appear on the surface) that one is always more important than the other. To be sure, there are cases in which aesthetic preference is less significant. For example, if some people in a community prefer raisin challah and others prefer sesame-seed challah, then there are a whole host of solutions -- have both kinds available every week; alternate every week; decide on one and let everyone else deal with it; compromise on plain challah -- and in the end, it doesn't matter that much. On the other hand, as we showed in Part VI, there are cases in which aesthetic differences are significant enough that they make a pluralistic solution not worthwhile even if one is possible. Indeed, we can all think of cases in which an aesthetic mismatch makes us uninterested in participating in a given community even if there is no principled objection on paper.
Differences in principles and values lend themselves more to the kind of rational analysis that characterizes the Hilchot Pluralism series. Aesthetic differences can defy this kind of analysis, and are both more bridgeable and less bridgeable.
So let's see how this applies to musical instruments.
This situation is asymmetric, because as I said in Part III, no one holds a mandate for musical instruments as a principled position (unless they've been backed into a corner by Stage-1 discourse), though they might have a principled position against a permanent prohibition on musical instruments. In the short term, the pro-instrument position is primarily based on an aesthetic preference, not that there's anything wrong with that.
As for the anti-instrument position, there are some people who won't take part in any event in which musical instruments are used on Shabbat for principled reasons (or if they do, then it's with the understanding that their identity is not represented in that community and they are there as a visitor), and there are some people who have an aesthetic preference against instruments (whether Shabbat aesthetics, prayer aesthetics, or both). For the former group, there is a good chance that we reach the insoluble situation that we started with. For the latter group, there might be more flexibility or there might not. It depends on the specific individuals and the specific community.
For communities in which the presence or absence of musical instruments is an important part of their communal identity, they've chosen not to be Stage-3 pluralistic on this particular issue, so there's nothing to discuss. For individuals whose aesthetic preference for the presence or absence of musical instruments is so strong that it's a dealbreaker, there's also not much to discuss; these individuals will be limited to participating in some communities and not others. May many diverse communities flourish.
Other possibilities arise if the community takes no single stand on the issue, and individuals see instruments vs no instruments as a preference but not a dealbreaker. For example, Tikkun Leil Shabbat alternates each time between instruments and no instruments, and most regular participants go to both styles of services, even if they like one better. This is possible in a specific context in which certain conditions are met, and wouldn't work in other contexts.
The point is that, in Stage-3 discourse, we should be honest about our motives. We shouldn't claim a more extreme position than we actually hold in order to shift the goalposts in our direction. On the flip side, we should also be honest about saying that a given development would make us less interested in participating in something, even if we can't claim a principled reason for it.
Coming in Part VIII: I don't know. Maybe something with an actual concrete solution?
All was well.