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Rabbis Against Concerts

By Daniel Treiman

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I’m a little late to the game on this one, so I’ll summarize in brief: A couple weeks ago the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia published a statement from 33 ultra-Orthodox rabbis — including some of the American haredi community’s most respected figures — prohibiting attendance at a planned charity fund-raising concert at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater.

The concert was to feature Lipa Schmeltzer (see above video), a Hasidic singer who is reputed to cause some young ultra-Orthodox Jews go a little bit wild with his mix of traditional Jewish music and contemporary pop influences. The rabbis who issued the ban warned that the concert would have led to “ribaldry and light-headedness.”

The 11th-hour ban came as a surprise to organizers, who canceled the concert, reportedly at significant cost. Schmeltzer also pulled out of a planned performance in London.

The ban has generated a fair amount of outrage in the ultra-Orthodox community. Some are warning of a backlash against the rabbinic leadership. Rumors are flying that some of the ban’s signatories were manipulated by zealots.

Perhaps the rabbis fear Lipa Schmeltzer for the same reason that the powers-that-be once feared a certain foursome from Liverpool — namely, modern music and authority (particularly of the authoritarian variety) don’t always mix.

The concert controversy has garnered plenty of press in the past few days:

See the articles from The Jerusalem Post, JTA, The New York Times, The Jewish Press and The Jewish Week.

It also has the Orthodox blogosphere buzzing:

On Blog in Dm, “Hasidic Musician” rails at length against the ban (and has some thorough coverage of the controversy’s genesis).

Hirhurim’s Rabbi Gil Student writes that while there “could very well be an halakhic problem with such a concert,” a ban simply alienates people and “serves to undermine rabbinic authority in a large segment of the Charedi community.”

Over on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein examines the issue of when it is permissible to adopt non-Jewish cultural styles (Schmeltzer has been criticized for drawing on contemporary music) and offers some interesting answers to a bunch of reader questions on the concert controversy.

Meanwhile, the indefatigable foe of ultra-Orthodox excess who runs the blog Failed Messiah goes to town.

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Ruth Thu. Mar 6, 2008

These kind of strict decrees from Charedi rabbis --which faintly echo the laws laid down by Reverend Moore (played by the brilliant John Lithgow) in the great 80s film FOOTLOOSE--are startling to more secular Jews, and understandably so. One tends to associate both cultural and religious Judaism with a love of music, from Chasidic niggunim to Tin Pan Alley to, well, performers like Matisyahu and Schmeltzer. And doesn't Psalm 150, after all, encourage us to: "Praise the Lord with lute and harp; Praise the Lord with drum and dance"? Couldn't one argue that any burst of music and rhythm--and the natural joy that grows out of that--is a manifestation of such holy praise? But this seeming contradiction in values is something which we outside of this community (which the NYT calls downright "secretive")might fail to fully grasp. It is disconcerting, though, to wonder how this ban might depict the general Jewish community to the outside world.

DK Thu. Mar 6, 2008

I don't like to speculate on the profound decision making of "The Great Ones," whose wisdom we mere mortals cannot fathom, but it could be the hip-hop influences they specifically object to:

Alexander Diamond Fri. Mar 7, 2008

So I guess that's pretty much the story on our so-called free will. It's free only if the rabbi says it is. So who came first, G-d or the rabbis? It's this kind of mullah mentality that has kept me out of synagogues and away from religious Judaism for most of my adult life. And I suspect that it has had a similar effect on several million of my co-exreligionists.

rjbz Thu. Apr 17, 2008

That's a cheap copout. There is an alternative. Its called Masdorti or Conservative Judaism. A lot more integrity there. Note: I did not say it was perfect.

Dena Silver Mon. Dec 8, 2008

Unbelievable chutzpah of the rabbis! Sad for those who trust the rabbis.

Serenia Fri. Feb 27, 2009

Hmm, very cognitive post. Is this theme good unough for the Digg?

Shimon de Valencia Thu. Jul 30, 2009

Ah here we go again. Back in the 14th century it was the evils of polyphonic music - yes guys, our revered Rabonim banned polyphonic music as inappropriate in post Temple times. Then when it became obvious that we were not going to listen to them (a family of Venetian Rabonim actually composed music, and went to England and were court composers for Henry VIII), they banned certain classes of musical instruments. Ernst Bloch would have been issued a cert if Karet for his works by these authorities. When will we embrace modernity, face the future and heal the endless little imposts of power that have wounded our people for so long. Bring on the Paradigm Shift.

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