A Yiddishe Wedding?

By Rabbi Ephraim Luft

The following letter was printed in the Yated Neeman, 11 Av, 5752 under the heading “A Yiddishe Wedding?”:

“This is the season of weddings. Boruch Hashem, we are invited every evening to another wedding, and the mountain of invitations promises that every night we will be busy. But I would like to share a distressing experience that I had not long ago at a wedding in Bnei Brak.

“Going up the steps leading to the hall I already knew that I would go home with a headache. The volume of the music was unbearable! I couldn’t talk with my in-laws or with other relatives and friends, it was so earsplitting. I want, however to comment about something even more painful and fundamental to Yiddishkeit.

“After I accustomed (accustomed!) myself a bit to the heated atmosphere of the wedding hall, I immediately felt uncomfortable, as if I had come to the wrong address. Are these the songs, the rhythms, the dances that characterize our circle? Is this the type of simchah that brings Divine inspiration?

“A friend of mine, a baalas teshuvah, was standing by me, and, deeply shaken, blurted out: “This sight I know well from my past! It reminds me more of a show at a night club than a Yiddishe wedding.” And I, in my astonishment, ask with a heart full of sincere pain: Don’t the educators of the young generation: the Roshei Yeshivos, the teachers in the seminaries, and the parents, have the power to stop this sort of thing, that is spreading and destroying the best of us? Is it impossible to restrain the young generation?”

Writing with pain,

A Yerushalmi who cares.

12 years have passed since this letter was published, and nothing has changed. Some people try to find out in advance which band is playing, to decide if it is worth going to a friend’s wedding or not. Others always carry their ear plugs with them at all times. The question still remains – can nothing be done to make weddings at least bearable?

In reality, there is nothing preventing people from making a respectable Jewish wedding with normal music if they make sure to plan everything in advance. We have already explained the major problems that spoil the kedushah at weddings in the article “Chareidi Music and non-Music” [Yated, Cheshvan 5764]. We would like to present here advice and guidelines for parents who want to enjoy their own simchah and avoid the embarrassment that many bands and musicians cause to them.

Before we start, we must first be aware of the factors that make the atmosphere at weddings unbearable. These are: the volume and amplification, the style of the music, the songs, the instruments used, and pressure from a strong minority of weak bochurim who decide which bands their friends should order.

1. Choosing a Band

The most important thing to do first is to choose a reliable band who agree to do as they are told. Unfortunately, most band leaders are more interested in being popular in the eyes of the bochurim than playing what the baalei hasimchah want them to play, and even if they will agree to do as they are told during the first half of the wedding, in most cases it is impossible to stop them from turning the second half into a performance of the latest hits, played at maximum volume.

It is therefore important to book a band that can be trusted to take orders only from the people who are paying them. There is now available a list of kosher bands and musicians made by the Committee of Jewish Music, that is currently being used by most Yeshivos. The list can be obtained at [972] 03-6191973. However since everyone has different tastes and standards, it is also advisable to hear them playing first and not rely on recommendations of friends.

People should also be aware that it is their privilege to choose the instruments to be used. Many chareidi bands are forcing people to take a heavy metal or hard rock group, while traditional Jewish instruments such as the violin and clarinet are being forced into retirement, being replaced by the electric guitar and saxophone to make the music sound like the recordings of the modern pop stars. Some bands also embarrass the baalei hasimchah by employing non-religious rock musicians and sound men, whose appearance is very off-putting and who make the music sound like a rock concert. This is most common among the large bands made for expensive weddings, [and it should be known that since they are not permanent groups, they are not well rehearsed, and do not give a high standard of performance for the price paid].

It should also be pointed out that those bands that are infamous for playing in a disrespectful manner usually charge far more than kosher bands of the same size and quality.

2. Choosing a Hall

A major factor that affects the sound and volume of the music that many people are not aware of is the hall being used. Small or narrow halls or halls with low ceilings can be very problematic and require a responsible sound man to make sure that the amplification remains respectable. In a long narrow hall it sometimes helps to add extra speakers to reduce the volume. If the band leader is not cooperative in such cases, you may have to spend half the time outside the hall.

3. Sign a Contract

Never rely on the promises of band leaders, since from experience, most of them do not fulfill their conditions unless a contract is made stating that if they do not play as they are told by the parents, then they will not be paid.

4. Choosing the Music

It is important to review the list of songs to be played before the wedding and give instructions which songs the chosson and kalloh and their parents want to hear. It should be noted that that if the parents are not particular to check what is being played, they may receive some embarrassing surprises – not only a programme of the latest hits, chosen by the radio disc jockeys, but even non-Jewish hits from the Beatles and other disgusting creatures. People who are particular to hear traditional Jewish music should not ask to play “Chassidic” since today “Chassidic” music means rock and roll.

One band leader told me that the easiest way to cut out most of the modern radio songs is by finishing the dancing at 11:00. This is also a chessed to the neighbours of the halls, who suffer every night from late noisy weddings.

5. Appoint a Mashgiach

Since the baalei hasimchah are usually preoccupied with their simchah, and not able to pay attention to the music being played, it is advisable to appoint a responsible friend or family member to supervise the behaviour of the musicians at all times, and ensure that nobody else gives them orders to play undesirable songs or to raise the volume.

6. The Volume

The maximum noise level recommended by the Israeli Environment Ministry is 92 decibels. Measurements made this Lag B’Omer at eight Bnei Brak weddings found all of the bands playing at 110-115 decibels, and one of them reached 125!

It should be noted that exposure for more than seven minutes at 115 decibels causes damage to hearing. Since most musicians at weddings are not able to sense the high volume, as most of them have had their hearing damaged from continued exposure to their loud music, it is therefore the obligation of the baalei simchah to ensure that their guests do not receive damage from the high volume. They should therefore make it clear to the band leader, preferably in a contract, that if the volume is not lowered when they are asked by the baalei hasimchah to do so, they will not be paid. It is also worthwhile to demand that the musicians do not use ear plugs. Let them suffer from their own noise as well!

7. Weddings in Yerushalayim

Many people think that when making a wedding in Yerushalayim where musical instruments are not used, they do not have to worry about all of the points mentioned above. This is absolutely not true. There are many drummers today who play everything with rock rhythms, together with singers who provide all types of obscene vocal effects to make up for the absence of the electric guitar and the heavy bass, and of course they over amplify the noise so that the guests are forced to suffer. Therefore parents who want to make a respectable wedding with a drummer and singers should also be careful to take reliable people who play and sing with good taste.

Finally there remains one more important point that needs to be mentioned. There are many decent people who think that they are forced to let their children have a disco wedding, especially those who believe that there is a minhag that the chosson chooses the band. I asked this question to the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner shlita, and he wrote to me as follows: “The chosson should give honour to his parents, and they should order those who play according to the Torah and the Mitzvah.”

Most Roshei Yeshivos have already signed that they will not participate in the weddings of talmidim who order bands that do not play respectfully. It is therefore worthwhile for parents who find that their chosson is being pressured by friends to take a treife band to consult with the Rosh Yeshiva or Mashgiach and request their support.

It is also advisable when the other side does not care about the music, to stress to them that they are unable to sit at a wedding where rock music is being played, and if necessary it is worth offering to pay for the whole cost of the band to ensure that there will be no Chillul Hashem. In any case of dispute, ask Daas Torah how to act.

For further advice on making a wedding and choosing a suitable band, please phone 03-6191973.

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