The Shulhan Aruch, based on a ruling of the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, Spain-Egypt, 1135-1204), maintained that after the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash it is forbidden to listen to instrumental music at any point during the year. In his view, this is forbidden even for the purpose of a Misva, such as the celebration of a wedding or in giving praise to the Almighty. The prevalent practice, however, is to be lenient in this regard, based on the ruling of the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Poland, 1525-1572), who held that this prohibition applies only to music played for luxury and enjoyment, such as the music played in royal palaces. People today are thus lenient and allow instrumental music in the context of celebrations and the like.
However, during the three-week period between Shiva Asar Be’Tamuz and Tisha B’Ab, it is forbidden to listen to music even in the context of a Misva. Hacham Ovadia Yosef held that this prohibition applies not only to live music, but also to music played on a radio or audio player. Listening to or singing music without instrumentation is permissible.
The question arises as to whether children’s summer programs must discontinue their musical activities during the three weeks. Many programs include music – both live and recorded – as part of their daily routine in order to keep the children focused and enthusiastic. Must these musical activities be suspended during the three weeks?
Hacham Ovadia Yosef (listen to audio recording for precise citation) applied in this context the Gemara’s ruling allowing people to listen to music as part of their work routine. For example, sailors and those working in agriculture would often have music playing to keep them energized and focused. Since this music is played to ensure efficient work, rather than for enjoyment, it is permissible. Similarly, Hacham Ovadia ruled, summer camps may play music for little children– even live music – if this will assist them in properly managing the program by keeping the children cheerful and disciplined.
Summary: It is forbidden to listen to music for enjoyment during the three weeks between Shiva Asar Be’Tamuz and Tisha B’Ab. This applies to both live and recorded music. However, summer camps may play music for little children– even live music – if this will assist in managing the program properly by keeping the children focused and cheerful. Listening to or singing music without instrumentation is permissible.