Monday, May 01, 2006

Bands, Loud Music, and Torah Law: Don't Let M'u'sic Make you Sick!

Above: A detailed diagram of the various components of the human ear.

Music has been used throughout Jewish history to make people happy, often to strengthen their service of HaShem. In the Beis HaMikdash (Jewish Temple in Jerusalem), in the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah (celebration for the drawing of water), there was much celebration and music. In fact, many Levites were present to play instruments to add joy to the occasion. If one listens to the proper type of music, in the proper way, one can come closer to HaShem, just as the Jews did by listening to the music in the Beis HaMikdash. However, listening to inappropriate music, and even otherwise appropriate music in an inappropriate manner, causes one to distance one from HaShem. How? Read on!

What is classified as "inappropriate music"?

If one listens to the typical band/orchestra, the decibel (dB) level could easily reach 125 decibels. 125 decibels is "enough to cause permanent hearing loss in a fairly short time". That is, after one exposure to a typical length performance, attendees can be suffering permanent hearing loss. So, apparently many performers prefer the imagined "loss of income" over the likely loss of hearing (temporary or permanent). These performers often feel that their livelihoods are at stake if they do not play loudly enough to "satisfy" the attendees.


1) In the Talmud, we learn as follows:

"...If he makes him deaf, he pays his (the victims') entire value" (Bava Kamma 85b).

RaSH"I comments on the above that one who causes another deafness has to pay the entire market-value as a deaf person "is not fitting for anything". The Talmud discusses other types of bodily damage, listing the fine of the damager as significantly less than the punishment of one who inflicts deafness upon another. Rabbeinu Yonah says, the person is no longer worth anything when he is lacking his bodily function of hearing. Meaning, hearing is such an essential component in a person's existence that lacking it takes away a significant part of his value (assuming his value on the market, his total value).

2) In Torah law, if one causes injury to oneself (as well as to another), they transgress "bal tashchis d'gufo". "Bal tashchis d'gufo" is the prohibition for one to cause any type of injury or damage to oneself or to another. Examples of transgressing this prohibition is smoking and playing loud music.

3) "Chovel B'Chavero": This is the prohibition of one who "causes damage to another".

4) "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha": The Torah commandment to "love your fellow as yourself". One is obligated to act toward another in a way that demonstrates consideration for the other person. When one plays loud music that potentially damages another's hearing, he/she is transgressing the Torah commandment of "love your fellow as yourself".

5) "Chillul HaShem": "Profaning the Name of G-d" - When a Jew transgresses the Torah by misrepresenting the Torah, especially in a way that potentially brings others (both Jew and non-Jew) to look upon them, and, consequently, at the Torah way of life in a disdainful way, they commit the severe sin of "profaning the Name of G-d". When Jewish bands play music at an unhealthily loud volume, they misrepresent the Torah. People may look down upon Torah law for "allowing" such loud music. The Torah actually prohibits such loud music for a number of reasons (at least some of them are mentioned here).

6) Theft (according to the Torah): Aside from stealing by damaging hearing, a band can transgress the Torah prohibition of theft by refusing to lower the volume of their music. If the people who hire the band request the band to lower the volume and they refuse, only to walk out of the simcha (celebration) rather than play less loudly, they are stealing from those who hire them.


Above: A diagram of how sound enters the ear.

Recently, society has accustomed itself to especially loud music. This, in light of the fact that the hearing health care community has been aware for over 100 years of the damage caused by loud noise. Nonetheless, bands often play at 120-130 decibels. At such high levels of sound intensity, the music can cause damage, either temporary or permanent. The U.S. government, under OSHA's (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) mandatory occupational noise standard, declared that exposure levels may never exceed a ceiling level of 115 dB. (Encarta) According to Brian Fligor, an audiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, "Noise-induced hearing loss develops so slowly and insidiously that we don't know it's happened until it's too late." According to Marshall Chasin, director of auditory research at the Musicians' Clinic of Canada, "Over the last twenty years, environmental noise has doubled each decade, everything is louder -- phones ring louder, movies are louder, construction noise is louder. And rock & roll is a big part of it." The dangers of loud music are only beginning to be accepted by the public. In San Francisco, an ordinance was passed recently that requires venues to provide attendees with free earplugs. (Rolling Stone)

Above: The diagram on the left is a picture of someone with undamaged hearing. On the right, someone with damaged hearing, likely a result of being exposed to excessively loud music. (Picture courtesy of

Noise-induced hearing loss affects both the quantity and the quality of sound. Understanding human speech becomes difficult because words become indistinct. Excessive sound exposure damages hearing by over-stimulating the tiny hair cells within the inner ear. There are between 15,000 and 20,000 of these microscopic sensory receptors in the cochlea (coke-lee-ah). When these hair cells are damaged, they no longer transmit sound to the brain.

Above, a diagram of the inner ear, including the cochlea. When the hairs in the cochlea are damaged, there is no way to reverse the damage; hearing loss is permanent.

According to Greg Flamme, a committee member of the National Hearing Conservation Association, the following are four symptoms that indicate hearing damage:

1) Tinnitis (high-pitched ringing in one's ears)

2) Sounds seem “too quiet”

3) It is difficult to understand one who is speaking quietly to them

4) The ears feel “plugged up”

After hearing a loud band for a few minutes, I have experienced at least three of the four symptoms. I got earplugs that lower the decibels by 30, and, nevertheless, the “music” still sounded loud even while wearing the earplugs. If the band, which played in an indoor basketball court, was playing at 120-130 decibels, then the earplugs cut it down to 90-100 decibels, still an unsafe level of noise to be exposed to (though .1% of the intensity of the true level of the music). Bands generally play between 119 dB and 140 dB. Often those sitting right by the speakers experience 140 dB, while those sitting in the back of the audience experience 120 dB. This dB level, even in the back of the room, is of sufficient intensity to cause long-term hearing damage after one typical attendance, often permanent.

The maximum time that one can safely listen to music at 100 dB is one hour. If one listens to 100 dB for two hours, they need to give their ears a 16 hour break to avoid permanent hearing loss. (BBC Health)

NIHL (Noise Induced Hearing Loss) is hearing loss induced by loud noise which can either be temporary or permanent. This hearing loss can be brought on by one time noise or multiple exposure to loud noise. A person is born with 15,000 to 20,000 hearing cells. There are special hairs in the ear that transmit the sound to the brain. Once these hairs are damaged by loud noise, the damage is permanent. Unlike other types of hair, these hairs do not grow back. Temporary hearing loss is known as “temporary threshold shift” which generally disappears after 16 hours. Oftentimes, people experience symptoms of hearing loss, but do not notice much of a difference in their hearing in the long-term. However, permanent hearing loss often is painless and comes gradually. ( After continued exposure to loud noise, people turn the volume higher, not recognizing their hearing loss, only to further negatively affect their hearing.

Noise, beginning at 85 dB (busy city traffic), can cause hearing damage after prolonged exposure. As the sound intensity increases, the safe amount of hearing time significantly decreases.

The difference in intensity of sound (dB) can be best understood as follows:

An individual who talks at the level of normal conversation speaks at about 60 dB. Ten people who speak at 60 dB registers at 70 dB, 100 people at normal conversation levels register at 80 dB, etc.

If one experiences the above symptoms, they have been exposed to an unsafe sound intensity.

Each day, one may be exposed to varying lengths of decibel intensity before experiencing permanent hearing damage. To give one an idea: For bands that play at 120 dB, one should not listen for more than 7.5 minutes a day, while if the music is 130 dB (the equivalent of a stereo on high), one should not listen for more than 110 seconds a day. NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) estimates that it is unsafe to be exposed to 120 dB for more than about 10 seconds per day. OSHA calculates the permissible exposure time by halving the permissible time for every 5 dB increase (beginning at 16 hours for 85 dB), while NIOSH standards halve the permissible exposure time for every 3 dB increase (beginning at 8 hours for 85 dB) - click on the acronym for more information.

Hearing loss has steadily increased. From 1971 to 1990 individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 experienced an increase in hearing loss of 26%; those between 18 and 44 had a 17% increase in hearing loss and associated problems. A survey in California shows that hearing impairment in people in their 50s increased 150% between 1965 and 1994. (National Academy on an Aging Society) Noise Induced Hearing Loss is the most common occupational disability.

According to Dr. Robert Sweetow, director of audiology at the University of California, San Francisco, hearing loss is insidious and one may not notice the damage until it is too late. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that, “According to federal government safety standards, workers should not be exposed to noise above 90 decibels for more than eight hours. For every five-decibel increase, the permissible exposure time is cut in half. Although the recommended safe duration for exposure to 120 decibels is seven and a half minutes, many rock concerts lasting longer than an hour reach and maintain that volume level. Some hearing care professionals feel that these permissible levels are still too high.”

Approximately 28 million Americans, almost 10% of the population (295 million) experience hearing loss. Loud noise is the cause of hearing loss in 10 million citizens, or one out of every thirty Americans. Hearing loss is becoming such an epidemic that projections point to 78 million Americans suffering from such a disability by 2030. (Newsweek) Hearing loss not only affects the elderly. In fact, one study shows that approximately 5.2 million children in the U.S. between 6 and 19 suffer hearing damage, many of whom suffer as a result of amplified music (14.9% in that age group suffer hearing loss). To put this percentage in perspective: Approximately 15% of people between 45 and 65 suffer hearing loss. If hearing loss is on such a rapid increase, no wonder hearing loss is set to get significantly worse (now it is already very bad). That is, unless this crazy spiral of hazardous music is stopped and put in reverse. According to the American Tinnitus Association, 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), 12 million of whom seek medical attention due to the severity of the tinnitus.

The potential damage from one-time exposure to amplified music (such as from bands) is very real. Exposure to sound levels of 116 dB for any period of time is unsafe (Newsweek); 119 – 140 dB is the typical sound intensity from a rock band, according to the House Ear Institute. This is comparable (or louder) than putting a chainsaw right near the ear. The difference between those who listen to loud music and those who work with chainsaws is that the workers regularly wear hearing protection, whereas few of the people that expose themselves to loud music opt for earplugs.


1) "Hearing loss is caused mainly by aging": False.

True: Hearing loss is cumulative. It is more typical for loud noise to cause permanent hearing loss.

2) ""Sound Engineers" know what they are doing. Therefore, the volume they set the music is not at dangerous levels for hearing.": False.

True: About 99% of "sound engineers" have no training in acoustics and sound reinforcement. In addition, operation of potentially very damaging sound systems does not require any sort of qualification. With regard to sound intensity (dB), about 99% of these "sound engineers" do not measure the intensity of the music, rather judging "by ear". It is hard for one to accurately judge by ear the sound intensity. Many of these "sound engineers" have significant hearing loss as a result of being exposed to the loud music so frequently. Therefore, they may increase the volume to a very dangerous level so that it will "sound good" to their hearing damaged ears.

In 1986, testing of "night spots" in Halifax showed that in 64% of "night spots", patrons exposed to 1 hour of music suffered hearing loss. Patrons listening to 4 or more hours of music suffered hearing loss in 95% of "night spots".

3) Many band players claim that they need to play loud in order to satisfy potential customers. Someone told me that at a recent wedding, the parents of the bride and groom went over to the band to complain about the excessively loud music. The band refused to lower the volume and threatened to walk out in the middle of the wedding (with hundreds of guests) rather than play more quietly. They claimed that word would get around that they should not be hired because they play "too quietly". This claim that their livelihood would take a turn for the worse is PATENTLY FALSE.

True: Of course there are some people (who are reckless) and enjoy their music loud (especially those who have self-inflicted hearing damage). However, most people (and audiences) notice little difference between music played at 85 dB and 100 dB. However, in terms of hearing damage, the difference is vast; 100 decibels has 32 times the destructive power than 85 decibels. Many bands that play at weddings (chasunas) play at around 125 dB - 10,000 times the destructive power.

So, in light of the above, how could people enjoy loud music? Read on.

4) Most people who go to social events (night clubs, weddings, etc.) enjoy the loud music: False.

True: When people come to social events such as weddings, though they spend some time dancing, they spend much of the time talking to their friends and/or relatives (assuming they can hear each other). A great deal of these events is spent conversing with others. In fact, oftentimes people are disrupted from carrying on their conversations because of the excessively loud music. One of the clear signs of dangerously loud music is when people have to shout to one another in order to be understood. Shouting in someone else's ear only further causes damage to one's hearing.

Note: The source for the above misconceptions can be found by clicking this link.


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