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Several mourning practices are observed between Pesach and Shavuot, a period known as sefira or Sefirat Ha’Omer.1

The primary reason for this is to recall Rabbi Akiva’s students, who perished during these days due to a mysterious plague. There are four views as to when the plague killed Rabbi Akiva’s students, and by extension, when to observe the sefira restrictions: (a) during the entire 49 days of the Omer, (b) until the 34th day of the Omer, (c) until the 33rd day of the Omer, (d) for 33 (or 32) days during the Omer, excluding Pesach, Shabbat, and Rosh Chodesh.2

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Common Ashkenazi custom is to observe the mourning practices from Pesach until Lag B’Omer,3 although there are also several other customs. Some observe the restrictions for the entire sefira period as per the Arizal. Others observe the restrictions until the 34th day of the Omer. Yet others only begin observing them from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the 3rd of Sivan.4

We are also taught that the sefira period is when those in Gehinnom are judged and reevaluated.5 It is also the season when G-d decides what the world’s annual wheat supply will be. The Crusades took place during this time as well.6 Therefore, for these and other reasons, an atmosphere of mourning is in order.7

Although there is no mention of any restrictions on listening to music during sefira in any of the early halachic codes, it has become a widespread custom8 to refrain from doing so.9 While all authorities agree that it is forbidden to enjoy live music during sefira, opinions differ as to whether this extends to recorded music. Most authorities rule that there is no difference between live music and recorded music and that both are equally forbidden during sefira.10 In fact, many such authorities even forbid listening to a cappella music.11

It has been suggested that modern-day appliances and other music-making devices that did not exist at the time that the restriction was instituted, such as radio or CD player, are not subject to the music restriction.12 Many authorities permit listening to recorded music in the privacy of one’s home if not being able to do so would result in one being sad or depressed.13 It is permitted to play children’s music for their enjoyment.14 One whose livelihood depends on playing or performing along with live music is permitted to do so during sefira.15

The issue of not listening to music during sefira originates with the Magen Avraham, who writes that one may not dance during sefira. Many authorities have interpreted or extended this ruling to include listening to any music, since dancing is closely associated with music.16 Others limit the restriction to music that leads to dancing. According to this approach, it is permitted to listen to background music while driving, since it cannot possibly lead to dancing.17

Rabbi Mordechai Willig holds that there is no true prohibition against listening to recorded music during sefira since there is no mention of such a ban in any of the early codes. He argues that while it is true that one may not engage in excessively joyous activities (including dancing), listening to recorded music doesn’t arouse the same sense of excitement and joy that dancing does. Accordingly, he rules that one may listen to recorded music.18 This is also the ruling of Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch.19

While the more normative approach is certainly to ban all music during sefira, those who feel the need to listen to music around the house or while driving have whom and what to rely on.

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  1. Mishna Berura 493:2.
  2. Yevamot 62b. See Biur Halacha 493:3.
  3. Rema, OC 493:1.
  4. OC 493:2.
  5. Kaf Hachaim, OC 493:6.
  6. Taz, OC 493:2.
  7. Kaf Hachaim, OC 493:6.
  8. Igrot Moshe, OC 2:137; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 493:8.
  9. Aruch HaShulchan, OC 493:2; Igrot Moshe, OC 1:166.
  10. Az Nidberu 8:58; Minchat Yitzchak 1:111; Igrot Moshe, OC 1:167, 2:137, 3:87; Tzitz Eliezer15:33.
  11. Shevet Halevi 8:127; Salmat Chaim 4:21. See also http://matzav.com/p’sak-from-rav-yisroel-belsky-and-rav-shlomo-miller-on-acappella-music-during-sefirah-2.
  12. Chelkat Yaakov 2:64:2. With thanks to Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, who provided me with the source.
  13. Hilchot Chag B’chag, p. 63; Halichot Shlomo, Moadim 2:11:14.
  14. Vayevarech David, OC 65; Halichot Shlomo, Moadim 2:11, n. 53.
  15. Igrot Moshe, OC 3:87.
  16. Aruch HaShulchan, OC 493:2; Igrot Moshe, OC 1:166; Yechave Da’at 3:30.
  17. Eileh Hem Mo’adei, Sefirat Ha’omer, pp. 402–24; Mekadesh Yisrael 65.
  18. Cited at http://www.bknw.org/uploads/5/9/9/5/5995719/music_during_sefirah.pdf. See also She’ilat Shlomo 1:214.
  19. Siach Nachum 35.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.