Chareidi Music and Non-Music

IN-DEPTH FEATURES

Chareidi Music and Non-Music

by Rabbi Ephraim Luft
Part I

“If the Rosh Yeshiva knew where this song came from, he’d throw us out of here!” whispered one of the musicians in the middle of a wedding.

Chillul Hashem!” shouted one of the guests, but his protest could not be heard over the loud music.

“Is this a chareidi wedding or a discotheque?” asked a number of guests.

The chareidi wedding, that was once a means to receive spiritual chizuk, has today been turned into a show to provide cheap entertainment and to advertise the latest hit songs of the chareidi pop singers. Instead of hearing warm Jewish melodies that uplift the soul, we now hear wild, noisy songs, disguised in frum clothing by using holy words from pesukim or tefillos. And of course the volume is set at an unbearable level so that the majority of the guests either are forced to stand outside or to leave the wedding with a headache.

Why do the bands insist on playing like this? Who is it that forces them to imitate the sounds of a discotheque? If most of the guests and even the baalei hasimchah suffer from this, why is it not possible to demand that they play in a respectable manner fitting for a simchah shel mitzvah?

Chassidic Rock

Just ask any non-religious guest at a wedding where all the modern “chassidic” songs come from and they will answer without hesitation — “it’s rock music!” This is music that has already corrupted two generations of young people, and is now being forced on us by unscrupulous people who have learned from the lowest of goyim the way to make lots of easy money at the expense of the souls of our children, Rachmono litzlan.

Many ignorant people say that it has always been acceptable to copy the style and even the melodies of the goyim for use in Jewish music. It is even permitted to use non- Jewish melodies in our tefillos, as has been stated in the Pri Megodim and Birchei Yosef. If so, they ask, why can we not continue this practice and use the modern style of music that the goyim listen to?

The answer is that not all music is kosher and respectable. There is music that was written for kings and nobility, and there is also music written for the lower segment of society.

In earlier times, most of the non-Jewish music was respectable and could be used for singing with holy words. Even simple peasant music was clean and fit for playing at Jewish simchas. But in modern times, with the development of recording and radio and the entertainment business that catered to the masses, a new purpose was found for music — to arouse the yetzer hora.

It is not a coincidence that the young generation in America began to rebel and discard any ideas of morality and respectful behavior exactly at the time that rock and roll music was introduced. Therefore we must take care to avoid this type of rebellious music that promotes bad influences, and it is obviously absurd to set a rock song to words from holy sources.

What is Rock Music?

Let us hear what non-Jewish sources had to say about this music when it first appeared in the 1950s:

“The rock n’ roll school in general concentrated on a minimum of melodic line and a maximum of rhythmic noise, deliberately competing with the artistic ideals of the jungle itself.” (Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, 1955, p. 470.)

“It appeals to the very base of man, brings out animalism and vulgarity.” (Newsweek, 23.4.56, p.16)

“Rock and roll inflames and excites youth like jungle tom- toms.” (Variety, 23.4.56, p.32)

(It was pointed out to us that one of the sources used was from a racist publication so we have removed it. It was not essential to any of the points of the article.)

Rock and roll “represents some kind of change in our standards. What has happened to our concepts of beauty, decency and morality?” (President Eisenhower in a public statement, 1956. Quoted in Garland Encyclopedia of World Music vol. 3, p.355)

Rock and roll “is the most brutal, ugly, desperate vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear. Rock n’ roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons, and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd — in plain fact, dirty — lyrics . . . it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.” (Frank Sinatra at 1958 Congressional hearings, New York Times Magazine, 12.1.58, p.19)

“According to Allan Bloom (in his book The Closing of the American Mind) rock and roll is indeed no more and no less than the savage and primitive rhythm of darkest Africa.” (From Present Tense: Rock and Roll and Culture, Ed. Anthony DeCurtis, p.47)

And finally in the article: “Why They Rock ‘n’ Roll — And Should They?” by Gertrude Samuels, in New York Times Magazine, 12.1.58, p.19:

“What is this thing called rock ‘n’ roll? What is it that makes teenagers — mostly children between the ages of 12 and 16 throw off their inhibitions as though at a revivalist meeting? What — who — is responsible for these sorties? AND IS THIS GENERATION OF TEENAGERS GOING TO HELL?”

Maybe we should be asking the same question.

Rock Music Conquers the World

Rock and Roll spread like a plague in a short time. The craze for the new type of music was reported worldwide. “Czechoslovakia and Poland want American jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll is Warsaw’s favorite.” (New York Times, 25.2.57)

By the mid 1950s the effects of the singers and their immoral music could be seen in the behavior of American youth. Religious groups, local governments, police authorities and white citizens councils began to denounce rock and roll, connecting it in an unholy alliance to race, immorality and delinquency.

In March 1957, fearing the effects of the “hedonistic, tribal rhythms” of rock and roll music, Chicago’s Cardinal Stritch banned popular music from all Catholic-run schools. He later called a press conference to educate parents about the negative effects of rock music on their children.

Public performances by rock singers were banned in many American cities, but the young people demanded their democratic rights to behave like animals, and only countries with totalitarian governments such as Russia, Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Egypt succeeded in banning the new form of teenage rebellion.

Although the music of the Western World in earlier times included no similar type of immoral music, we do however find warnings in the writings of the ancient philosophers of Greece and China about the bad moral effects of certain types of music.

Aristotle (Politics 1339a, 15-20) said that there exist nobler strains of music and meaner ones, sensual rhythms and rational ones, discord and harmony. The base soul delights in more primitive rhythms whereas great souls delight in harmonic order and gravity of theme. Similar opinions were held by Plato, Pythagoras and Confucius.

Many laboratory tests have been made to show the influence of music on the growth of plants. Those exposed to respectable music are observed to grow faster than usual, whereas the ones exposed to rock music have their growth stunted and eventually die.

Researchers have also shown that wild rock music affects blood pressure and heartbeat, changing it somewhat to conform to the rhythm of the music itself. It is not a coincidence that many rock musicians die from heart attacks in their forties.

The Origins of Rock and Roll

Last winter, I received a visit from Mr. Philippe Ayache, a chareidi teacher of music from Strassbourg, France, who came to discuss with me all of the present day problems of the modern “chassidic” rock and roll. He asked me to print the following conversation and bring it to the attention of the rabbis:

“When I was a music student in the Conservatory in Strassbourg, I studied counterpoint and fugue under Professor Pierre Yves Meuge. He is a religious non-Jew and an expert in Baroque music.

“I once asked him whether Rock and Roll is music. `If you consider that noise is music,’ replied the professor, `then rock and roll is also music!’

“I asked him why he thought so lowly of this music. He asked me, `What is rock?’

” `It is a kind of music that started thirty (today fifty) years ago,’ I replied.

” `You are mistaken!’ said the professor, `Rock music was born with man. It has been in existence for thousands of years! Look at the primitive people in Africa — they are still playing rock music.’

” `I will explain to you what is `rock.’ In all music there is a melody and a rhythm. In conventional music the melody is always the main factor and the rhythm is secondary to it. In rock music however, the principal force is always the rhythm, and the whole purpose of the rhythm in this music is just to waste time.’

“He continued to elaborate on this: `Why did people make such music thousands of years ago? For two reasons. First, it was made for idol worship, because music with a strong beat causes bodily expression [and makes the body overcome the mind]. The influence of this makes the listener into a completely different person. This is the music that is called today “rock”! [It should be noted that Rashi brings an opinion in the name of the midrash in parshas Bereishis that Yuval invented musical instruments for the purpose of idol worship.]

`The second reason was to arouse immoral behavior.’ [This is the opinion of the Malbim about the intention of Yuval.]

“We therefore see,” said Philippe Ayache, “that this non- Jewish professor arrived by himself at the same explanations that we received from our rabbis on the intentions of the originator of music!

“The professor continued to explain that modern rock music is just more advanced by using modern instruments such as the electric guitar, etc. But in reality it is a continuation of the primitive music that was made thousands of years ago.

“I questioned the professor’s explanation from a modern song of the Beatles called `Yesterday’ that is not at all indecent. He answered that this song is not a rock song since it has a delicate flowing melody and does not contain a strong beat. The music of the song is respectable. The only thing wrong with it is its words. When the tune is the dominant factor, then it is generally not rock music.”

Mr. Ayache then began to speak about the pitiful state of chareidi weddings where the musicians degrade pesukim and divrei Torah when they play all the music in this style. It is without doubt a great chillul Hashem! Unfortunately, most of the public does not sense the spiritual danger that is hidden in this type of music that causes the body to overcome the mind.

The Warnings of Rabbis of Earlier Generations

We should ask: If there is such a spiritual danger in certain kinds of music, why do we not find warnings from the rabbis of previous generations?

The answer is, as was explained previously, that the problem hardly existed in European music over the past thousand years. We only find mentioned warnings against shirei agovim — love songs, and the major problem of these songs is in the words.

This is mentioned in the Mishnah Berurah (siman 560 in the Shaar Hatzion 25 in the name of the Maamar Mordechai): “The Sheloh and other mussar seforim have already warned not to sing shirei agovim to a baby, because this puts in him a bad nature. And besides this there is a prohibition against love songs and indecent language that arouse the yetzer hora. One who guards his soul should distance himself from this and warn his household about it.”

We do find in the gemora (Chagigah 15) about the effects of a Greek song on Elisha ben Avuyah, that influenced him to become an apikores.

We also find bad types of music discussed by great rabbis who lived in Arabic countries, such as the Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Haprishus ch.5): “Distance yourself from anything that may bring you to rebel against G- d and leave His mitzvos, from any kinds of songs and tunes and laughter and rejoicing that will disturb you from mitzvos and good deeds.”

And Rabbi Chaim Falagi zt”l wrote the following in Kaf HaChaim 13, 6: “Would that the singers refrain from singing Kaddish and kedushoh to the tunes of the goyim in the makam, that anyone who knows them receives evil thoughts. This is despicable and cannot be accepted. Its absence is better than its presence.”

Who Controls the Music at Weddings?

After we have clearly explained that rock music, also commonly referred to in frum circles as “chassidic music,” is treif and that it is totally unsuitable to be heard at any Jewish wedding, we must ask: Who is it that is forcing the bands to play this type of music?

A number of modern bands were presented with this question in an interview in a certain magazine, and they all answered that it is the disc jockeys of the so-called religious radio stations who decide which songs are popular, and this is what they assume that yeshiva boys want to hear.

It is in fact a tremendous insult to the yeshiva bochurim to even claim that most of them even listen to such empty music, and certainly it is only a small number of boys who waste their time listening to these radio stations. We must also not forget that the majority of the guests at a wedding are over thirty, and most of them feel sick when they hear the latest treif rock songs made by “chassidishe” singers whose only connection to true chassidus is usually the yarmulke on their head.

In addition to the songs written by religious individuals, it should be known that recently it has become acceptable to steal the latest hit songs from the top Israeli or American rock stars and “convert” them by changing the words to make them acceptable to the religious public. Most of the people don’t know the source of the songs and are fooled to think that they are from “our people.” This is just another proof that there is no difference between chareidi rock and chiloni rock. The only difference is the words.

We must beware of all the singers who are sprouting today like weeds, and are trying to pass off their goyishe songs as Jewish, and are trying to fool us by their frum appearance. Some of them even learn in kollel.

But one can hear from their songs that they are very far from being bnei Torah. We must realize that holy words do not make treif music kosher, but rather the opposite — the unclean music defiles the words.

The Committee for Jewish Music

Several months ago, I presented the above information to HaRav Nissim Karelitz and asked what should be done to improve the situation. He told me that a committee should be made to supervise the playing of music at simchas, and after taking advice from several other important rabbis, the Committee for Jewish Music was formed, consisting of a group of bnei Torah from Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim who all have experience in the field of music and understand the subject fully.

A special committee of rabbis who have an understanding of music was also made to advise the new Committee for Jewish Music, and a meeting was held in Bnei Brak on the 27th of Tammuz to make a list of guidelines regarding the music to be played at weddings. The members of the committee of rabbis are: HaRav Mordechai Gross, HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, HaRav Eliezer Dunner, HaRav Mass’oud Ben Shimon, and HaRav Aharon Mittelman.

The Chosson is Like a Slave

We must ask ourselves why is there such a demand specifically for this impure type of music? Is it true to say that most of the chassonim want to have a disco wedding?

The answer is no. Most bochurim do not want to hear wild music, but they are under a lot of pressure from a handful of bochurim who do not take Yiddishkeit seriously and set the style and the fashions in the yeshivos. Anyone who doesn’t “keep up with the times” is mocked and looked at as not normal by these stupid boys who are themselves not normal.

We therefore find that today the chosson is no longer like a king at his wedding but like a slave to his friends who expect him to order a modern band that plays all the latest hits that their favorite radio announcers claim are worth listening to. These are the people who are in control of the bands at the weddings and who decide the popularity of each one. The fear of these boys is so great that many times even the baalei hasimchah have no power to tell the band how to play. Anyone who wants to know who these boys are who force their demands on the band and on the whole yeshiva, can see them at most weddings standing close to the band, reviewing their list of songs and making sure that nobody else comes to ask them to play something Jewish for a change.

This is the absurd situation that has been allowed to prevail. The solution is very simple. Most people cannot stand to hear all types of modern noisy music. Others do not care what they hear. The only reason that a small minority is dictating how they should play is because hardly anybody stands up to protest it.

In reality we have a serious obligation to protest, since this is a matter of Chillul Hashem. We must not leave it to a few individuals or to the roshei yeshivos (who generally come only for a short time) to try to fight the battle alone. If your ears hurt — complain to the band! If they are playing songs that are made to be heard in a night- club — don’t be afraid to ask the baalei hasimchah to make them change to something respectable. And if the band does not even agree to listen to the people who are hiring them, make sure to give them support and don’t be embarrassed to tell the band that we wouldn’t think of taking them to play at our own simchas!

The Committee for Jewish Music already has a list of 28 bands who agree to play in a kosher Jewish style, and when there will be more public demand for this, many more will be asking to be included in the list.

There is one final point that has to be clarified — the claim of the bochurim that there exists a minhag that the chosson chooses the band. I have asked many rabbis and none of them know of such a minhag. Certainly it is not a zchus for a chosson to choose a treif band that causes his parents and family to suffer at their simchah. The greatest merit for the chosson and kallah is to honor their parents and allow them also to enjoy their wedding. In this way they will also make a kiddush Hashem by showing others how a Jewish wedding is supposed to be celebrated. “The chosson should give honor to his parents and they should order [a band] according to the Torah and the mitzvah,” writes HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner.

End of Part I. Part II includes the rules set by the rabbis and the Committee for Jewish Music, which can be reached at (972) [03] 6191973.

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