One of the boys in our group (let’s call him Linus) was the kind of guy you might remember from your high school days: He was good at completely platonic friendships with girls.
Not particularly hot-blooded or attractive—in fact, he was kind of scruffy and pockmarked—he was comfortable with and accepting of the female personality; he was good-humored and never sleazy.
In other words, he was totally harmless.
(And no, it wasn’t because he was secretly attracted to his own gender.)
For girls, this made him safe and comfortable to be around.
Anyway, we were seated in the auditorium when the first singer plodded onto stage.
We stared at her a moment and then exchanged nonplussed looks with each other.
With a solid build and hardly any neck, she looked like Mr. Potato Head in maroon blouse and a denim skirt. Her armpit-length straggly brown hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in ages.
(Yes, I know I sound catty, but there is a point to all this, so please bear with me.)
She also wore no makeup, which is unheard of when performing on stage.
She slouched in front of the microphone, a morose and bored look on her face.
It was announced that she would be singing, “You are My Sunshine,” one of my favorite childhood songs. I fully expected the cute, light-hearted jazz rendition, à la The Andrews Sisters, although I wondered how this despondent-looking singer would pull that off.
But then she closed her eyes and started humming.
And her head started lolling around with abandon as if it might just roll off her stumpy little neck at any moment.
(And yes, that was kind of shocking and grotesque.)
But her humming…
That was the sultriest humming I’d ever heard and her voice was absolutely captivating—even as a hum.
I looked around to see if I was the only one affected and noticed everyone else gaped-mouthed and looking around for the same reason I was. The boys were either frozen in place or squirming and trying to suppress their sheepish smiles.
Linus was leaning forward, his eyes and mouth frozen wide open.
Then the singer’s head rolled backwards and her mouth dropped open as the melody bloomed out of her throat.
It was amazing.
At that, Linus grabbed the arm of the girl sitting next to him and said, “I MUST HAVE THAT WOMAN.”
Wide-eyed, she looked at him and said, “Okay, Linus, but I’m not her!”
The performance continued and when it ended, the singer slumped back into her morose persona and we gave her a standing ovation.
The guys were all looking at each other with little embarrassed smiles like, What the heck just happened? How’d SHE do THAT?
Linus recovered enough to turn to me and say, “You have to help me find a way to meet her. Come with me backstage.”
The point is that people sometimes get worked up about the limitations Judaism places on women’s behavior when men are around. And the halachic insight that “kol isha erva” (“a woman’s [singing] voice is unchaste”), which leads to the prohibition of women singing in front of men and of men listening to a woman singing, is one such limitation that some people find unnecessarily repressive.
Note: "Erva" is the same word used to refer to body parts that need to be covered (whether male or female), a married woman's hair (which needs to be covered), and a woman's voice, particularly her singing voice.
(Interestingly, these same people rarely find Judaism’s strict limitations on men’s actual thoughts—in addition to the limitations placed on their behavior—to be repressive.)
But there is clearly a certain power in a woman’s singing voice that is so strong that it can move male emotions in a certain way, even if the rest of the package isn’t there (as in the case of the morose, greasy-haired singer above)—and even if it’s just humming.
And that’s all I wanted to say.
(P.S. Some Hebrew words are so complicated to translate properly. If anyone has a better translation for “erva,” I’d be very grateful.)