Can Orthodox Jews Watch Fireworks on the Fourth of July?

Boston Pops Also Questionable During Solemn Three Weeks

courtesy of boston pops

By Doni Bloomfield

Published July 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

When, in the course of Jewish events, it becomes necessary for one people to both be Orthodox Jews and patriotic Americans on the Fourth of July, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires a bit of explanation.

About every three years, American Orthodox Jews are faced with a painful dilemma. The Fourth of July, our independence day, coincides with the Three Weeks, a mournful period commemorating the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. That defeat led to the loss of Jewish independence for about 2,000 years.

This unfortunate coincidence brings with it more than a few mixed emotions.

As Rabbi Yossi Brackman of the Rohr Chabad Center in Chicago asked me: “If someone had just lost a parent, would they go to a fireworks show?”

But, as with most Orthodox commemorations, there’s more than bruised feelings to consider: there are also some major commandments involved. Most relevant for Fourth is the Jewish ban on listening to music during the Three Weeks, as the Religion News Service noted earlier this week.

The ban would appear to prohibit observant Jews from going to the kind of outdoor concerts and fireworks displays that Americans of all faiths flock to on Independence Day.

Not so fast. It turns out that different rabbis have different feelings about the definition of “music.” And therefore, they have different ideas about whether, just as an example, it might be A-OK to attend a fireworks show if the Boston Pops or Bruce Springsteen happen to be playing at it.

The intention of the listener is what matters, says Rabbi Aaron Mehlman of Congregation Ohav Shalom in Manhattan, As usual, things get a little fuzzy in the transition from the law codes to the concert halls.

“If your primary intent is [to see] the fireworks and an old fogey band is playing the Stars and Stripes, that’s probably not an issue.” There are some borderline cases though: “if there’s a hip headlining band, and in the back of your mind that’s why you’re going, that’s more of a problem.”

As for recorded music, Rabbi Mehlman says, that’s perfectly fine. Rabbi Brackman mostly agrees: “I’m not sure if you happen to hear live music you have to run away,” he added.

Other rabbis take a much harsher line.

Technically, “listening to music is forbidden…all year,” writes Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz of Yeshiva University. And while one can be lenient about music most of the year, “there is strong reason to argue that we should never be lenient during the [T]hree [W]eeks” because of our mourning for the destruction of the temples.

Lebowitz adds that “the overwhelming majority of the [authorities] assume that recorded music has the same status as live music.”

In other words: Don’t play that Pandora God Bless America playlist. Turn off the Hendrix. And forget about Bruce and the Boston Pops, whether or not you’re really going for the fireworks.

Rabbi J. David Bleich, also of Y.U., noted that authorities differ as to whether recorded music was banned, but thought there was good reason to avoid fireworks either way: You could be doing something productive with your time rather than sitting on the roof watching siss, boom and bah.

“It’s bittul Torah [time not spent studying],” he explained.

Lebowitz did mention an important exception to the music ban: singing during a meal in celebration of a joyous occasion may be permitted. Brackman, too, said toasting a recently engaged couple is an exception to the general ban on celebrations — “we don’t want to discourage people getting engaged,” he said.

When asked if we want to discourage life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Rabbi Brackman, who grew up in London, hedged. He declined to see the analogy between getting engaged to be married and declarations of American independence.

Still, the rabbi conceded he might go to see the fireworks, anyway. After all, it’s the Fourth of July.

Doni Bloomfield, a student at the University of Chicago, is a Forward summer fellow. Contact him at bloomfield@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.