Chareidi Music and Non-Music – Part II

IN-DEPTH FEATURES
Chareidi Music and Non-Music

by Rabbi Ephraim Luft

Part II


The first part described the roots of modern rock and roll music, that is very different from the music played during most of recorded civilized history. Modern music emphasizes the rhythm and not the melody. This appeals to the lower forces of human beings. Newsweek wrote in 1956, “It appeals to the very base of man, brings out animalism and vulgarity.” It is music that was made for idol worship and immoral behavior. 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.

Several months ago, 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. The members of the committee of rabbis are: HaRav Mordechai Gross, HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, HaRav Eliezer Dunner, HaRav Massoud Ben Shimon, and HaRav Aharon Mittelman.

The Meeting of Kosher Band Leaders

After the compilation of the rules for weddings, it was decided to bring them to the attention of the kosher band leaders in order to receive their agreement and approval. A meeting was set up in Bnei Brak on the 8th of Av between the band leaders and the members of the Committee for Jewish Music as well as a number of important askonim. The decisions were clear and unanimous.

The band leaders all said that they were capable and wanted to play according to the rules that had been made, but they were in danger of losing a lot of business if they did so. They explained clearly the present situation, that the bochurim reserve for themselves the right to choose the band, and any band that does not play in the modern style is not popular in the yeshivos. They claim that this is the reason why we are forced to suffer at weddings, to hear unbearably loud and coarse music.

The band leaders requested to bring this information to the roshei yeshivos. They said that only if the roshei yeshivos demand that the chassonim choose a band that plays according to the new rules will it be possible to improve the situation.

The Pied Pipers of Brooklyn

Of all the things that the yetzer hora has managed to smuggle into the chareidi public, probably his greatest success is modern “chassidic” music. After all, many people think, what harm can there be in a song?

Maybe after all that has been said here, people will realize that these songs can do a lot of harm. The kosher singer Abish Brodt (in an interview that appears here, and originally in the Hebrew Yated, Tammuz, 5761) said that it is this music that opens the door for many young people to leave the Torah world. Parents and educators must be aware of the great influence that modern music has on children, and protect them from hearing those songs that are far more dangerous than songs that our rabbis warned against hundreds of years ago.

The power of the chareidi pop stars and the respect that they receive from young people is also a very serious problem. Cheap entertainers who make themselves look like bnei Torah in order to sell their songs to a naive public are being advertised on every street corner, and many young people are led to look up to them as much as we look up to gedolei hador, Rachmono litzlan.

We must realize that they are not our people. Anybody who has a feeling for music can sense in their songs that they are immoral people. This is not surprising if one knows who they take as their examples and what low types of people they work with in the corrupt world of rock music. The non- Jewish and Israeli papers have already compared the most famous chareidi singers to the likes of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and other immoral personalities. To them that is a compliment, but to us the opposite.

The success of the Committee for Jewish Music depends on the response of the public. We have already received much support and encouragement from many important rabbis and roshei yeshivos, but the public must also take this matter seriously and stand up for the honor of Hashem Yisborach and the honor of the Torah, in order to ensure the spiritual welfare of the next generation.

Parents and teachers must be careful to guard their children from a young age from all the bad influences with which we are being bombarded, and they must take care what kind of music they are exposed to. Anyone who cannot distinguish between kosher music and treife music should take advice from people who do understand the difference.

For advice and help on the subject of music at weddings, etc., please phone 03-6191973.

The following letter was written by Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in 5748:The Rambam writes (Hilchos Lulav 8:14): [The Simchas Beis Hashoeva on Succos] “was not celebrated by ignoramuses or by anyone who wanted, but by gedolei chachmei Yisroel and Roshei Hayeshivos and the Sanhedrin and the Chassidim and the elders and men of good deeds. These were the people who danced and clapped and played [the music] and rejoiced in the Mikdosh during the festival of Succos. But all of the people came to see and to listen.”

We learn from this that seeing and hearing a simcha shel mitzvah means to see and hear the simchah of gedolei Yisroel and the chassidim and elders that is all kedushoh, and this arouses a spirit of holiness that comes from a simcha shel mitzvah.

And from this we should understand how careful we must be to avoid the opposite of this, that is, to see and listen to the music of reshoim even at a simcha shel mitzvah. But we must make sure that the whole execution of the simchah should be from a holy source, and even if they change slightly the words or the music, tumah should not be acquired by changing it to kedushah, and we should distance ourselves from these songs.

The hosts of simchos must request and make conditions with the musicians that they play only songs and tunes from holy sources and not chas vesholom the opposite.

May it be that we will merit speedily to an everlasting simcha from the building of the Beis Hamikdash,

Nissim Karelitz.

(The letter was also signed by HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, and HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg.)

(Musaf Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Matos 5751, pp.14-15)An Interview with Reb Abish Brodt, Ba’al Menagein

“It is a Dance of Corruption of the Feet, not a Song of the Heart”

Reb Abish Brodt’s pleasant voice is well-known to lovers of authentic Jewish music. His songs are the highlight of the American Agudas Yisroel’s annual convention, where he conducts hundreds of participants in stirring song at the communal melaveh malkoh. His voice and songs pierce our hearts.

As a matter of principle, Reb Abish keeps the number of his performances to a bare minimum. This modest individual feels honored to praise Hashem through song.

One who does not ordinarily listen to music should, nevertheless, take heed of Reb Abish’s pertinent words. His message is most significant. Reb Abish is deeply worried by the current trend of imitating foreign cultures and the resulting dangers.

What is the danger of today’s “Chassidic music”?

I heard from one of this generation’s great talmidei chachomim that the golus of our generation is the golus of “Let’s be like all the nations.”

In each generation, our nation has faced spiritual danger. There were generations of avodoh zorah in all types of disguises. There were generations that had other problems. The problem of our generation, nehiyeh kechol ho’amim, is the poison of the Maskilim that still lingers. They wanted to appear like gentiles. Be a Jew at home and a man on the street, was their motto. Even the assimilated Jew’s temple attempted to mimic the appearance of a church, R”l.

It has expressed itself in each generation in different forms. In the past, they tried looking like a non-Jewish intellectual, a man of the West. They produced the pioneers of Western `culture’ in all areas of the entertainment industry. Jews!

However, Jews with yir’as Shomayim do not try to appear as non-Jews.

True, but it certainly has had an impact. The street’s evil influences, unfortunately, have infiltrated our camp. Every foreign object is trying to make itself kosher by donning a yarmulke. This is especially prominent in today’s music. It is alien music, even if one attaches words from the mekoros.

How has today’s pop-music succeeded in infiltrating?

There are many musical compositions that have influenced Chassidic music via the secular world. Their ear gets used to raucous noises. As a result, they produce the compositions that they produce.

About them, we cannot complain. However, how could this pass through the sensitive ear and the fragile regesh of a tzibbur yireh Shomayim? How could the tzibbur not reject this? Some of them are yeshiva-educated, yet they make alien music. The damage is enormous.

Can you give an example of the damage?

Certainly. At the shul where I daven in the United States, we do kiruv for groups of kids that have gone off the derech. They need lots of compassion, so we give them support. They asked me to sing a bit for them.

Which song did they request? Tashmi’a lonu es Ovinu Malkeinu — with the familiar, old and gentle tune. This music speaks to the heart.

When I spoke with these teenagers, I became interested in how they fell to where they were. I heard a variety of reasons. However, one of the things that kept repeating itself was surprising–even if it didn’t personally surprise me: It started with “Chassidic” music!

They attended concerts. Practically speaking, it is impossible to maintain rules of separation at such events. And the music itself, the street music, was their first push into the street.

We’re talking about bochurim who had no previous connection with the outside world. This music connected them to the street. Their ears got adjusted to its noises. Afterwards, they discarded the pesukim and they started listening to the original. From there, they fell rapidly. This music simply broke the barrier between the chareidi public and the street, and choliloh, many became its tragic victims!

How does it break the barrier?

Once upon a time, when a bochur entered a record and tape store, there was a clear difference between kodesh and chol. Whatever belonged to us was Jewish.

Today the distinction is broken. There are melodies that have been taken from the worst places, from sources of tumoh. In Moscow for example, I met a baal teshuvoh who worked at the American Consulate. He said about a particular song, “This is a song of a neo-Nazi group!”

Their music is steeped in hatred and soils one’s soul.

Nevertheless, didn’t previous generations of gedolei Torah and Admorim take melodies from non-Jews?

True. We aren’t on the level to be able to analyze the positive aspects of their songs. But one does not need an especially musical ear to identify songs of prikas ol. Such a song moves the body, causing a person to dance in an alien way for bnei Torah.

When a song is from the innermost chamber of our souls, it moves the body in a swaying of gentle deveikus, of the beis medrish. People close their eyes, they see that this raises them spiritually.

At chasunas for example, when the song is alien and not from our circles even if the song’s words contain pesukim, you see all the adults disappearing from the dance circle. It’s impossible to participate in it. That says it all.

It’s a dance of corruption of the feet, not a dance of the heart. One sees that it originates from the outside, not from the beis medrish. Let’s not allow it to invade our sheltered communities.

Are the negative influences attributed only to the music, itself?

No! Everthing surrounding it also has influence. You could see how the so-called necessity for a “star performer” has developed. This is a need for something that came from the outside, that has entered the walls of the beis medrish. That, in its own right, is very serious. How much more so when the need for them is based upon something negative.

Unfortunately, religious `pop-idols’ are gaining recognition. Young kids who are not appropriately inoculated against this are trying to imitate these same images and their actions. Sometimes, there are concert goers who act in a despicable manner. We must put an end to this.

This is definitely nehiyeh kechol ho’amim, even if they try to disguise it with a yarmulke. Afterwards, you see its effects upon the bochurim. Their souls are drowning from the consequences. We see it from how they walk, and in their singing. They forgot the true song, the melodies of the heart.

What’s your opinion regarding children performing in choirs?

Once a father came to me with his son who had sung in such a framework. He boasted of his son who “possesses an incredible voice.” When I saw the child, I didn’t stop praying that this child should not become damaged from it, choliloh. I feared that after his period of singing, nisim will be required for him.

What damage does this cause?

On stage, it’s impossible to sing like an ehrliche Yid. The children who sing, impersonate the so-called star performers. Even after the song has finished, you see children bloated with ga’avoh. This accompanies them throughout the day. But in what does he pride himself?

Ga’avoh is always forbidden, but this particular ga’avoh stems from something posul.

You generally see a child who has become conditioned to act for external responses: for the applause, for the praise, for instant gratification. Later, when his voice changes, the adolescent will be left in an empty vacuum. His spiritual world will be lacking because of this. Nothing will remain, even from his deceptive praises. It clearly endangers his physical well-being, not just his spiritual well-being.

Reb Abish, what do you consider to be Jewish music?

Jewish music is something that arouses the neshomoh and not the body. Even shirim of simchoh need to fit this definition. Many of these songs are appropriate.

I try to visualize for myself the nigun in the Beis Hamikdosh, as much as I am able, according to my level.

Imagine a man surrounded in fear, for he needs to bring a korbon chattos. He comes to the Mikdosh, knowing that he must do teshuvoh. He hears the song of the levi’im, which touches a sensitive nerve. This penetrates his soul, which arouses him. He begins to cry, to be awakened, to return.

Afterwards the shechitoh, kabboloh, zerikoh, and teshuvo and kaporoh. He then hears the sound of a happy shir. His soul is gladdened by the fact that he has atoned, that he has merited to do teshuvoh. The melody helps him keep in step with proper spiritual feelings.

We aren’t on this madreigoh, but when a person sings, closing one’s eyes and concentrating on the words, he feels a longing, a yearning. Thus he arouses himself.

One can only feel this if the melody is not alien and disturbing. If one were to think and have kavonoh. This should be the feeling, like a shaliach tzibur, like a person who is over lifnei he’amud. “Know before Whom you are standing.” Know before Whom you are singing!

The Following Statement and Rules Were MadeA Jewish wedding is a simchah shel mitzvah. Therefore we are obligated to be careful at our simchos not to copy the goyim by making a celebration of light- headedness and frivolity by playing loud, wild music that is made specifically to arouse the yetzer hora. It is quite obvious that it is forbidden to play that type of music at any Jewish simchah.

To our great dismay, many bands have brought the sounds of the non-religious street into chareidi weddings in recent years and, even worse, they play today the songs of chillonim and goyim. In addition to this, they play even the kosher songs in a modern style that is full of chutzpah and rebellion, Rachmono litzlan.

Therefore, it is a mitzvah for everybody who cares about kvod Shomayim to order a kosher band that will play in a respectful manner suitable for a simchah shel mitzvah. And since most of the public does not understand what is kosher and what is posul, the Rabbis shlita have decided to make a committee to supervise this matter and provide advice to the musicians and the public in order to guard the purity of the music played at weddings and all other simchos.

The following rules have been made with the agreement of the Rabbonim shlita and with the advice of chareidi experts in music:

1. The Songs. Songs of goyim and chillonim are not to be played, even with holy words. Similarly, songs of a rebellious nature are not to be played, even if they were written by chareidi people, such as all the songs that are made in the style of cheap street music.

2. The Style. Even the traditional songs must be played in a Jewish style and in a respectable manner fitting to the holy words, and it is not at all permissible to play in the style of the porkei ol.

3. The Instruments. The quality of the music is influenced by the instruments that are used. Unfortunately, most bands use instruments that are especially made to play wild music, and have no place in respectable music. It is recommended to play only with respectable instruments, or at least to take care to play respectfully, that is, not to distort the sound of the electric guitar, and to refrain from playing wild abnormal rhythms on the drums.

4. The Drums. It is necessary to take care that: 1] The sound level of the drums should be less than the main melody; 2] Not to play wild rhythms.

5. The Volume. It is forbidden to play at a volume above 90 decibels, and any band that plays louder should be rebuked. It is advisable to demand that the musicians not use ear plugs.

6. It should be stressed that only the person who pays the band has the right and the responsibility to decide what or how to play, and nobody else has the right to request anything else without the permission of baalei hasimchah.

Shmuel Eliezer Stern
Mordechai Gross
Sariel Rosenberg
Eliezer Halevi Dunner
Massoud Ben Shimon
Aharon Mittelman

The following details were added by the members of the committee to explain the above guidelines:

1. The Songs. Recently songs have been taken from the non-religious media and “converted” by changing the words to pesukim etc. These songs creep in by means of the “religious” radio and by demand of irresponsible youth. They find their way to the weddings of bnei Torah, together with other wild rebellious songs written by “religious” singers. Regarding the songs of the chareidi pop stars that are generally songs of chutzpah and rebellion, the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner wrote: “We are obligated to distance ourselves from this, as they mix the posul with the kosher and the kosher is also profaned.”

2. The Style. In order to understand how a band can change a pure Jewish song into a pop song, one should pay attention to the way they play the song before the chuppa and note the difference in the way it is played by the band and the way the guests sing it outside. By adding a few small changes to “jazz up” the melody, it is transformed into a different song and is now unsuitable to accompany the chosson and kallah to the chuppah. This is how most kosher songs are played today in order to adapt them to the modern style and by doing so they lose all of their spiritual content. Therefore it is extremely important to choose a kosher band whose musicians can play according to these rules.

3. The Instruments. The electric guitar is made only for use in rock and pop music and it has no place in any form of kosher music. It is possible to play it in a respectable way and there are a few avreichim who do so, but the musicians who play this instrument in the way it is really made to be played spoil the whole kedushah of the wedding.

The same problem exists with the saxophone, referred to 80 years ago as “the devil’s flute.” Everything depends on the musician. It is possible to play it in a respectable manner or in a coarse vulgar manner. Therefore it is preferable to request that the clarinet should be used instead of the saxophone. (The baalei simchah should know that it is their privilege to decide which instruments they want to be used.)

Other points that should be mentioned: not to amplify the low bass tones more than normal, and not to use weird electronic sounds or distortion.

4. The Drums. Also, the modern set of drums was created for playing non-kosher music. Therefore it is important to avoid drummers who do not understand how to play in a suitable style. It should be known that the definition of rock music is when the rhythm is the dominant factor over the melody. Therefore the drums and all percussion instruments should not be as loud as the other instruments. And especially at weddings in Yerushalayim, they must be careful not to make the rhythm of the drums louder than the singer. [It should be noted that the function of the drums is only to accompany dancing, as is mentioned by the Malbim, Yeshayohu, 24:8].

5. The Volume. Medical experts say that prolonged exposure to noise levels over 90 decibels damages hearing and general health. The noise problem can be solved, bezras Hashem if every wedding hall will be required by law to install a noise meter that will disconnect the electricity when the noise exceeds this limit. The noise level should be measured from the place where the people dancing come closest to the speakers. Where it is not possible to measure the sound level, the band should be told that they are to fix the volume according to the judgment of the baal hasimchah, and they should be warned that if they do not listen when told to reduce the volume, they will not be paid.

6. The Singer. The status of the singer at weddings today is very problematic since most of them try to imitate the frum rock idols both in the way they sing and in the way they move and dance while singing and in the way they pronounce the words. If they do this it is better to ask them not to sing.

All of these guidelines certainly apply when playing inside a beis hamedrash at a Hachnosas Sefer Torah or Simchas Beis Hashoeva.

*

A list of kosher bands has been sent to the roshei yeshivos, and can be obtained from the committee. It is also recommended to sign a contract with the band to ensure that they will listen to the instructions of the baalei hasimchah and since, they are generally preoccupied with other matters, it is advisable to appoint a responsible person to supervise the band throughout the wedding. A contract can be obtained from the committee [telephone: 03- 6191973].

The committee has received the support and blessing of many gedolim and a letter has been sent to the roshei yeshivos requesting them not to participate in any wedding unless it has a kosher band that plays according to the above rules in a manner fitting for a simcha of bnei Torah. The letter was signed by the committee of rabbis and by the Geonim: HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkovitz, HaRav Nissim Karelitz, HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, and HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira.

So What’s So Treif about My Music?by Rabbi D. Blaser

Most of today’s gentile pop music is written specifically with the lowest of intentions. The melodies, rhythms, beat and backing are all purposefully put together to encourage the lowest base emotions. The “modern frum sounds” we dance to at our weddings are modelled on this sewerage.

Non-technical Musical Analysis for the Layman

The Tune’s Introduction

The first thing one hears on most tapes is a swirling and snappy opening — the “intro.” Intro’s are to whet the appetite and build up expectation.

The mere pop tune alone has no real music weight or development. By this I mean that in old songs the melody is subtly changed and molded until it leads itself into a new melody. Even a simple old niggun will have some elements of this. However, a modern pop tune merely repeats itself like a sheep bleating.

Pop tunes are written to allow the star to show off his voice. Period. He learns it. He sings it. The sound mixers change it. The company sells it.

There is of course a limit to how many times you can repeat a tune. Thus pop tunes desperately need an intro to fill up the tape or time slot.

Generally, the modern frum sound’s melody is ultra-simple: two sections, each repeated. The first is usually lower, the second higher. The second generally has an “attractive,” very high, yearning or passionate sound to it before relapsing into the last notes.

Older tunes rarely go up so high. Usually an old niggun’s climax will settle a couple of notes lower. The higher climax produces a far more impassioned effect.

An Example

“Mi Ma” begins with a typical big band concert intro.

In the body of “Mi Ma,” every device is cleverly used to create a full use of the two brief snatches of actual tune. The composer and arranger is trapped because this style of music really has very few options. Pop music has no scope.

Sections of Mi-Ma

In “Mi Ma”, we first hear the lower melody. Now, to build up to a semi-climax, we have a bridge section using answering phrases. The first time this appears, it is soloist and chorus. On later repetitions, it is solo and brass, trumpets and saxes, rhythm and chorus etc. The notes go up as do our expectations and pulses.

The reason for this buildup is that the “big sell” of this number is the “Mi Ma” bit, the second section: high, impassioned and catchy. Now both the arranger and the singer do their utmost to make the most of the situation. The soloist puts enormous energy and effort into enlivening the melodic line. He slides dramatically into new sections, and swells and molds the shape of notes in the best traditions of the pop singer. Much thought has gone into this performance, as into, I am sure, all his work.

The Accompaniment

The arranger uses every attempt to expand his brief. He has the chorus singing a short counter melody; answering with a slightly risque “Wo-ho-ho”; using a hint of “teeny-bop” voice affectation in the “NA-na-na-na-NAH-na” build up sections; he alternates the use of instrumentation as far as possible.

In summary, within their genre, the Mi-Ma performers have done a really professional job for a pop tape. They would not pretend, I feel, that they are creating masterpieces, but rather good value for money entertainment.

The Jungle Beat

“Mi Ma” relies very heavily on its persistent, rock beat. Imagine it without the drums. Impossible! Without drums the tape would sound utterly empty. Thus rather than adding to and supporting the melody, we find that the percussion is a crutch. In this “Mi Ma” is no different from thousands of similar pop tunes.

The Slow Tunes

Our modern slow tunes are sad creatures. They must raise emotions merely with a sobbing refrain. There is just one tune, repeated. They imitate typical nightclub crooner’s tunes. They have two short sections. A low one and a high one. Usually string sounds will sob, swill around and shimmer tearfully. The second section will have a tear- jerking, almost hysterical higher part.

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