“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 has to be set at an unbearable level so that the majority of the guests either are forced to stand outside or 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!”, the 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 will 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 is written for kings and nobility, and there also is 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 simchos, but in modern times, with the development of recording and radio and the entertainment business for 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 behaviour 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 from non-Jewish sources what they had to say about this music after it appeared in the 1950’s:

“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.”  [Encyclopaedia 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 will erode the entire moral structure of man….of spirituality in holy marriage….all the white man has built through his devotion to G-d.”   [The Southerner, March 1956, p.6.]

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 Encyclopaedia 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 space of time. The craze for the new type of music was reported world-wide. “Czechoslovakia and Poland want American jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll is Warsaw’s favourite.” [New York Times, 25.2.57].

By the mid 1950’s the effects of the singers and their immoral music could be seen in the behaviour 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 there can not be found in the music of the Western World from earlier times any similar type of immoral music, we do however find mentioned in the writings of the ancient philosophers of Greece and China warning on 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 proven that wild rock music affects blood pressure and heart beat, 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 in 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 Conservatorium 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. Firstly, 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 this 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 behaviour.’ [This is also the opinion of the Malbim about the intention of Yuval.]

“We therefore see” said Philippe Ayache, “that this non-Jewish Professor arrived by himself to 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 it is in reality 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, and 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. 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! And unfortunately most of the public do not sense the spiritual danger that is hidden in this type of music that causes the body to overcome the mind.

The Warnings of the Rabbis of earlier generations

We should ask, if there lies 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 agavim – love songs, and the major problem of these songs is the words.

This is mentioned in the Misnah Berurah, siman 560 in the Shar Hatzion 25 in the name of the Maamar Mordechai: “The Sheloh and other mussar seforim have already warned not to sing shirei agavim to a baby, because this puts in him a bad nature, and besides this it is forbidden to sing love songs and indecent language as this arouses the yetzer hora, and one who guards his soul should distance himself from it and warn his household about this.”

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

We also find mention of bad types of music from 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 Palagi zt”l wrote the following in Kaf HaChaim 13, 6: “Would it be that the singers refrain from singing kaddish and kedushah to the tunes of the goyim in the makam, that anyone who knows them receives evil thoughts. This is despicable and can not be accepted, and 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 “The 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 the Yeshiva boys want to hear.

It is 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. And we must also not forget that the majority of the guests are over thirty, and most of them feel sick when they hear the latest treife rock songs made by “chassidishe” singers whose only connection to chassidus is usually just 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 chilloni rock. The only difference is the words….

We must beware of all the singers who are sprouting up today like weeds, and are trying to pass off there 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 the treife music kosher, but rather the opposite – the unclean music defiles the words.

The Committee for Jewish Music

I presented the above information to Rabbi Nissim Karelitz shlita, and asked what should be done to improve the situation. He told me that a committee should be made to supervise the playing at simchos, and after taking advice from several important Rabbis, the Committee for Jewish Music was formed, consisting of a group of Bnei Torah from Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim who have all had 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 made in Bnei Brak on the 27th of Tammuz 5763 to make a list of guidelines regarding the music to be played at weddings. The following Rabbis were at the meeting: Rabbi Mordechai Gross shlita, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern shlita, Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg shlita, Rabbi Eliezer Dunner shlita, Rabbi Massoud Ben Shimon shlita, and Rabbi Aharon Mittelman shlita.

The following rules were made at this meeting:

A Jewish wedding is a simchah shel mitzvah, therefore we are obligated to be careful at all of 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 this type of music at any Jewish simchah.

To our great dismay, many bands have brought the sounds of the non-religious street into the 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 the 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 is able to 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 on this matter and provide advice to the musicians and the public in order that we should merit 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 Rabbis 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 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 do 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 there have appeared many songs taken from the non-religious radio that have been “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 shlita 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 kalloh to the chuppa. 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. It should be known that 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 those musicians who play this instrument in the way it is 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 played).

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.

  1. 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, Yeshayahu, 24,8].
  2. The Volume. Medical experts say that prolonged exposure to noise over 90 decibels damages hearing and general health. The noise problem will be solved, bezras Hashem when 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 judgement 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.
  3. 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 that they sing and in the way they move and dance while singing, and in the way they pronounce the words. If they do like this it is better to ask them not to sing.

[All of these guidelines apply especially when playing inside the Beis Hamedrash at a Hachnasas 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 over the band throughout the wedding. A contract can be obtained from the committee [telephone: 03-6191973].

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 made 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 askanim. 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 will demand that the Chassonim will choose a band that plays according to the new rules will it be possible to improve the situation.

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 set the style and the fashions in the Yeshivos, and 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, but rather like a slave to his friends who expect him to order a modern band that plays all the latest hits that their favourite 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, and 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 imbeciles are, who force their demands on the band 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 come into existence. The solution is very simple. Most people can not 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 against 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 tell 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 take them to play at our own simchos!

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 zechus for a chosson to choose a treife band that causes his parents and family to suffer at their simchah. The greatest merit for the chosson and kalloh is to honour their parents and allow them also to enjoy their wedding, and in this way they will also make a kiddush Hashem by showing others how a Jewish wedding is supposed to be. “The chosson should give honour to his parents and they should order [a band] according to the Torah and the Mitzvah,” writes the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner shlita.

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 through the modern “chassidic” music. – After all, 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 in the Hebrew Yated, Tammuz, 5762] says 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 the modern music has on children, and protect them from hearing those songs that are far more dangerous than the 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 naïve 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 this in their songs that they are immoral people. This is not surprising if one knows who they take as their example 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. How can we allow our children to listen to their music?

The following letter was written by Rabbi Nissim Karelitz shlita in 5748:

The Rambam writes: [Simchas Beis Hashoeva] “was not made by ignoramuses or 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 Sukkos, 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 simcha of Gedolei Yisroel and the Chassidim and elders that is all kedusha, and this influences 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 simcha should be from a holy source, and even if they change slightly the words or the music, tumah may 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 Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner shlita, and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg shlita.]

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 it is still necessary that the public also take this matter seriously and stand up for the honour of Hashem Yisborach and the honour 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 that we are being bombarded with, and take care what kind of music they are exposed to. Anyone who can not 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 [972] 03-6191973.

[This article was published in the English Yated Neeman on the 5th and 19th of Cheshvan, 5764, (31st Oct. and 14th Nov. 2003)].

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