Tuesday, November 12, 2019

One of the privileges of serving in rabbanus is the tremendous volume of simchas I am fortunate to attend. To be able to watch children grow and achieve milestones and watch families flourish is a very special zechus.

It also gives me insight into communal trends that are common at simchas, some positive and some negative. While others have written and spoken about the excessive amount of money spent on simchas, I want to point out a different issue. I recently was at a simcha and after just a few short minutes turned to my wife and said, “I need to leave.” Not because of the food, or the people present, but solely because of the music. The music was blaring so loud my head and chest were literally pulsating from the noise. We left and came home and I was physically nauseated the rest of the night.

While certainly not the first time I’ve noticed the ridiculous noise levels at simchas, this time I forgot to bring my ear plugs. But think about it: why should people need to bring ear plugs to a simcha?

Look around at the next chasuna you are at; how many people are holding their hands over their ears? Walking out of the simcha hall? Sitting at the table yelling in order to have a conversation?

The Gemara in Bava Kama (85b) teaches us “chirsho, nosein lo d’mei kulo,” someone who makes another deaf, distinct from someone who blinds another and pays the value of the eye, does not just pay the damage for the ear, but the full value of the person. Clearly we have a hyper sensitivity to loss of hearing in halacha. Similarly, Rabeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar 2:12) writes that the ear is the most significant organ in the body. These and other sources in our rich halachic literature got me thinking. Who should be chayav, responsible, if damage is caused to someone from the excessive noise at a chasuna? The band that is playing? The one in control of the sound specifically? Maybe the baal simcha who is hiring them? Or maybe they should all be patur, free of any monetary obligation, because people should just be responsible for themselves and simply walk out? Or perhaps most likely, maybe we can’t prove the damage or determine who should pay, so no one pays, but it is still forbidden, assur, to cause. I don’t have the answer, but the issue is a real one.

Perhaps one will counter with: Can one wedding really cause a loss of hearing?

My father is an otolaryngologist (ENT), and growing up sensitized me to making sure that the volume, when listening to tapes on my Walkman (read iPod if born in the 21st century) was not too high.

Why? What’s the danger?

The CDC explains: “Loud noise is particularly harmful to the inner ear (cochlea). A one-time exposure to extreme loud sound or listening to loud sounds for a long time can cause hearing loss. Loud noise can damage cells and membranes in the cochlea. Listening to loud noise for a long time can overwork hair cells in the ear, which can cause these cells to die. The hearing loss progresses as long as the exposure continues. Harmful effects might continue even after noise exposure has stopped. Damage to the inner ear or auditory neural system is generally permanent.”

“The average person is born with about 16,000 hair cells within their cochlea. These cells allow your brain to detect sounds. Up to 30% to 50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in your hearing can be measured by a hearing test. By the time you notice hearing loss, many hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.”

Isn’t the solution simple? Can’t the bands simply lower the volume? Yes, if they wanted to. On many occasions I or my wife have gone over to band leaders and shown them (noise meter apps are readily available) the dangerous decibel levels they are reaching and asked them to lower the volume. The response often is to fiddle with some buttons to give the appearance of lowering the volume, sometimes to actually lower the volume, and one band leader, more than once, laughed and refused and replied, “This is what the young people want.”

His words reminded me of a person I once saw in shul covering his ears during davening. I couldn’t understand why. He learns every day, he takes his davening seriously; why would he cover his ears to shut out the beautiful sounds of davening? He must have seen the quizzical look on my face and he explained to me that when he was younger he would go to rock concerts; he loved it, but for decades he has been suffering from tinnitus, ringing in his ears, as a result of damage to his ears from those concerts and it’s at its worst during the singing of davening. How awful!

And this highlights a particular challenge in sensitizing people to this danger, because the effects are not necessarily immediate; you may think everything is fine, while in fact over time the effects build up and become magnified.

How loud is too loud?

The general consensus is that any sound above 85 decibels can be dangerous, but the louder the sound, the shorter the acceptable level of exposure time. For instance, research indicates that at 85 decibels, eight hours is an acceptable time of exposure. However, a 100-decibel sound is only safe for a maximum of 15 minutes. By the time you reach 103 decibels that time is cut in half and again cut in half to under four minutes at 106 decibels (see chart; credit: dangerousdecibels.com).

I would never claim this is the most pressing communal concern we are currently grappling with, but it is certainly concerning and seems to be one of the easier ones to fix.

I’d like to make three simple suggestions:

1) Rabbanim who are mesader kiddushin should point out in a pre-chasuna meeting, as my mesader kiddushin, Rav Mordechai Willig shlita, did, that the band should be told in advance that the sounds should not exceed 85 decibels.

2) Baalei simcha should take responsibility on an individual basis and tell the band to keep the sound level below 85 decibels and insist that if it is pointed out to the band that it is too loud, the band agrees to lower the sound.

3) Some bands will claim it needs to be loud to be lebedik and tell the baalei simcha, “You’ll see it will be much better if it’s louder.” Music has the power to be uplifting, but what a sad state of affairs if decibel levels determine the quality of the simcha. I would go so far as to suggest people include in their contract with the band a penalty clause if the music (on a mutually agreed-upon-before decibel meter) exceeds a certain level.

Hopefully with sensitivity to the serious ramifications of the unnecessary volume at simchas we will preserve our hearing and merit hearing the sounds of the shofar gadol that will herald the geulah b’mheirah v’yameinu, amen.

By Rabbi Ari Zahtz