It’s all a matter of taste!

“It’s like eating pizza!” he said. “Either you like it or you don’t! It’s all a matter of taste! ”

This is how a Ben Torah-musician pushed me off when I asked him whether it was the right thing to play rock music at Yeshiva weddings. I told him that I disagree. Is this not the music of the lowest of people who are steeped in immorality? Anybody who knows the source of the modern music is horrified to hear the same sounds emanating from a Yeshiva wedding. But of course, they tell you, it isn’t goyishe rock and roll – it’s called “Chassidic” music. Maybe they’ll be soon serving us “Chassidic” kosher bacon at weddings as well?

But maybe we are exaggerating. Maybe it is just a matter of association. Maybe if we didn’t realize the source of the music, we would even enjoy it? After all, those Bnei Torah who don’t know what a discotheque is are not complaining! They seem to like it – or do they? Next time you go to a disco wedding, take note who is dancing and who is standing on the side watching the boys. The avreichim today come to say mazel-tov and then disappear. They don’t know how to dance to the modern jungle music.

But still – who says that it is bad? Maybe it’s just a matter of taste…. like pizza? Who should we ask? Whose opinion should we ask on any matter if not Gedolei Yisroel?

“I run away from weddings!” says Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soleveitchik. “They are disgusting!” he exclaimed. – But maybe he says the same thing about pizza…..

“The secular street has managed to infiltrate into chareidi society by means of the music,” said Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapira.

All right, so we have to admit that we have bad taste – but who says we shouldn’t listen to it? For this we must ask the Poskim. The following is a letter from 14 years ago from Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz:

“There has recently started a trend to bring to a simchah shel mitzvah musicians who play songs from the goyim and porkei ol Torah, Heaven forbid. They also sing in a way that is contrary to the way of Yisroel saba, and by means of this they transform a simchah shel mitzvah to a simchah of frivolity, chas vesholom.

“Therefore we warn the baalei simchah who merit to marry off their children to make a condition with the musicians to play only songs from a pure source that are known among yerei Hashem, and also the performance of the music should be calm and modest. Songs from impure sources should not be heard, even if they add to them Holy words from pesukim or the words of chazal. Additionally, people should take care to hire only musicians who are G-d fearing and who listen to the voice of Chachomim.”

A matter of taste? ……. Or a matter of Yiddishkeit???

Like eating pizza? …….. Or like eating a Cheeseburger???

Following the ways of the apikorsim

Why is there a demand today to hear songs set to words from holy sources accompanied by a type of music that is the exact opposite of kedusha? The singers and band leaders claim that they are doing a big mitzvah, because otherwise the young people will turn to the world of goyishe rock music. I would like to know if any of these “experts” ever asked a qualified Rabbinical opinion on this subject.

Of course they will answer us by saying: “What do the Rabbis understand about music?” and we must ask them – should we rely on the opinions of Yeshiva dropouts like you? Let us hear what the Chazon Ish ztz’l wrote about such people:

“The system to divide the Torah into two different sections – decisions in matters of issur veheter as one section, and decisions in other matters of everyday life as a second section, and to accept the rulings of the Chachomim of the generation only in the first section, and to leave matters of the second section to their own free choice – this is the old system of the heretics of German Jewry who led the Jewish people astray until they assimilated among the goyim and nothing remained of them.”

“The artistic ideals of the jungle”

It is true that the Jewish people have always borrowed from the contemporary styles of their non-Jewish neighbours, but we must realize that we are not dealing here with respectable forms of music with any depth or spiritual value. We must realize that most respectable goyim also distance themselves from the cheap street music that is made for today’s rebellious youth. It should be noted that when rock and roll appeared in the 1950’s, there was a lot of opposition to it all over the world. Local governments, police authorities, and religious groups denounced the wild new music and many American cities even banned rock concerts. The leaders of totalitarian governments such as Russia banned it completely, as they understood that it would influence the young generation to rebel against them. Let us hear some quotes from books and newspapers of that time:

“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.]

“A noted psychiatrist described “rock and roll” music today as a “communicable disease” and “another sign of adolescent rebellion.” Dr. Francis J. Braceland, psychiatrist in chief of the Institute of Living, called rock and roll a “cannibalistic and tribalistic form of music.”   [New York Times, 28.3.56, p.35.]

“Strange things happen in the blood stream when a musical resonance coincides with the beat of the human pulse.”   [Conductor Herbert Von Karajan in the New York Times, 27.10.56, p.35.]

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.]

And from 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???

“The music has reached the gates of hell!”

Even the religious rock singers are expressing their disgust at new types of music that are being introduced to the chareidi public. “Today there are styles in the chassidic music that have no connection to chassidus,” says the singer Mordechai Ben David. “It is like being in the jungle. The kushim sing in a more refined way than they do. The words don’t make the song chassidic. Maybe it gives pleasure – like eating pizza, but there is no spiritual pleasure in it.” [From an interview in the Bnei Brak paper Kol HaIr 12th Tishrei 5764].

“Something has happened to the chassidic music in the past few years,” says Avraham Freed. “The truth is that today’s young singers have no red lines. I know that I have my limits that I will never cross….. The situation today has worsened to a point that very soon we, the singers and the public will have to shout – ‘The music has reached the gates of hell!’” [From an interview in the magazine Shaah Tovah, Erev Sukkos, 5764].

The singer Gidon Levine [in the same magazine] sums up the situation: “My problem is that the imitation of goyishe music is likely to bring a deterioration in our society, and particularly among the young people.”

These singers fail to mention that they are the ones who started this trend, and the younger singers are only taking an example from them. Let us finally hear what the “composer of the year”, Yishai Lapidos has to say about the subject: “I know many people who claim that today’s big singers introduced the disco beat and the rock. For example, Mordechai Ben David introduced rock and roll, Deady Groucher brought in the rock, Vindish with Boruch Hagever brought in the trend of ‘converted songs’. The song ‘Moshiach’ of Mordechai Ben David is in the style of real rock and roll, and there is not much difference between rock and roll to dance. The disco of all the big singers such as Werdigger, Freed and Deady have come from the American rock and roll and disco.” [From the magazine, Shiru Lo, Chanukah 5764].

“Even music can be intoxicating”

The subject is extremely serious. We all know the effects due to the influence of rock and pop music on non-Jewish society over the past fifty years. The entire deterioration of moral values has been blamed on the influence of the immoral pop stars and their indecent music. We must realize that music has a great power to influence society both in a positive and a negative direction. When Russia invaded Finland, the composer Jean Sibelius wrote his stirring work “Finlandia”. This piece of music had such an effect to strengthen the nationalistic feelings of the Finnish people that the occupying Russian forces banned it immediately. For the same reason, the song “Hatikva” was banned during the British occupation of Eretz Yisroel

We must also not underestimate the negative influence of bad music.

“Even music can be intoxicating,” wrote the American author, Henry David Thoreau 150 years ago. “Such apparently slight causes destroyed Greece and Rome, and will destroy England and America.”

It should be noted that the appearance of a decline in the music of a nation is not just a sign of moral and social decay, but has been observed as a direct cause of this as was the case in ancient Greece. This has been reported by Plato in his work Laws:

“Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong in music – that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their work and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges …. As it was, the criterion was not music, but a reputation for promiscuous cleverness and a spirit of law-breaking.”

These words are clearly understood in the light of today’s “modern” civilization, that has descended to the depths of immorality and indecent behaviour that has not been witnessed for thousands of years. To change the styles of traditional Jewish music is not a mere matter of taste. We must realize that “going with the times” means to blindly follow the corrupt modern society to Gehinnom. If we want our children to go in the ways of the Torah, we must distance ourselves from the modern popular music and from all the people who are responsible for bringing it into the Chareidi community.

Who is responsible?

This leads to a very serious question – why is there a demand today for a type of music that is the result and cause of a decaying society? And is the absence of real Jewish music due to a lack of demand for it? The answer is that the whole chareidi music industry is in the hands of people who have decided that this is what we deserve to hear. It is not always the singers who are to blame. Many of them are given orders by their producers and arrangers, and these are the people who should be blamed for deciding exactly in which manner the songs are to be sung, played and presented. We frequently find songs composed or sung by Bnei Torah that are more suitable to be played in a night club. This is because they have passed through the hands of an arranger who makes his own decisions in which style the song should be set. It is indeed a great insult to the Chareidi world that they decide that we should be listening to hard rock and heavy metal music. Who do they think we are?

How can we practically solve the problem? First of all there is a great need (and demand) to produce recordings of kosher Jewish music, both new and old. Unfortunately, the market is in the hands of irresponsible people, and this presents a great difficulty for kosher song writers and musicians to produce kosher songs as they are lacking sufficient financial backing to produce their own recordings. It is a great mitzvah to encourage the production of authentic Jewish music that will be able to replace the indecent forms of pop and rock music that are being forced on our public. A meeting was held on Rosh Chodesh Ellul last year in Bnei Brak of Rabbonim and askonim representing Gedolei Hador shlita to discuss the problems and effects of the modern music and it was decided there that since most people do not have the ability to decide what is kosher or not that there should be made available a hechsher on new discs. Information on receiving such a hechsher can be received from the Committee for Jewish Music in Bnei Brak: 972-3-6191973.

“WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION!”

“We don’t need no education!” This is the name of a song by the English pop group “Pink Floyd” that was heard at chareidi weddings in Israel. Of course they didn’t use the original words, and only those people who knew the song expressed their disgust when they heard it, but even if the words are kosher, does this justify the performance of such a song at a simcha shel mitzvah? These types of songs are made to promote teenage rebellion, and this is not only expressed in the words, but also in the music. Maybe it is possible to ignore the immoral influences of rock music by saying that most of the chareidi singers are not trying to promote such an image, but can we truly overlook the fact that the modern wild music encourages rebellion? They can add the most holy words to their songs, but the message that is received is still “We don’t need no education!!!”

Let us not be fooled by the frum appearance of the singers. Most of their music is still rock music and is not in any way “chassidic” or Jewish. Maybe some people will say that this is an exaggeration, but let us prove it to them from the song “Yidden” which managed to be a hit at chareidi weddings until people discovered that it was stolen from a German neo-nazi pop group. The original song was called “Genghis Khan”, and its lyrics glorify the deeds of the Mongolian butcher with that name. It won the fourth place in the 1979 Eurovision song contest, and was later used as a soundtrack for German pornography films. Why did people not realize the impure source of this song when they heard it? Because in reality there is very little difference between the songs written by the frum pop stars to those of the goyim. It is all rock and roll.

This is indeed a great insult to the whole chareidi public, but it is even a greater insult to Hashem Yisborach and the Torah when they set the words from pesukim to such crude music. We are not dealing with respectable music of goyim from previous times. There is no chareidi singer today who can honestly say like the German composer J.S. Bach, who wrote: “The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of G-d.” Rock music is made by the dregs of the modern permissive society and is made for the same type of people. It is not just a form of entertainment. It represents a certain outlook on life that is exactly the opposite of what the Torah demands from us.

“We are moving after their minds!”

Let us hear from the rock stars themselves what their aim is: “We are moving after their minds, and so are most of the new groups,” said Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in the 1960’s. Another rock star, David Crosby, also said the same: “I figured the only thing to do was to swipe their kids. I still think it’s the only thing to do. By saying that, I’m not talking about kidnapping, I’m just talking about changing their value systems, which removes them from their parents’ world very effectively.” [From The Rolling Stone Interviews, Arthur Barker, 1981].

Of course we can not say that the chareidi pop stars have such evil intentions – but is this not the final result of their influence? We are not dealing with singers like Carlebach, whose intention was to use his songs to bring young people closer to the Torah. Today’s frum singers make their songs for the sake of entertainment. Their only intention is to make money, and they ignore the terrible negative influence that they are bringing with their music that even if it is not intentional, it still takes control of the minds of the young fans.

Intoxicating music

This is the opinion of Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon shlita in his book Matnass Chaim pages 180-181: “We must understand the recent trend in the world to become addicted to songs in a way that makes people lose their senses as if they were drunk from wine, and that separates the mind from the rest of the body. The intention of most song writers in our time is to make themselves famous and entice their listeners by drawing their hearts and controlling their minds and fill all of their world with their voices. And through all their scheming, they influence the people to have a yearning for their type of songs so that the public will drink their songs with an immense thirst until they become literally drunk from them. These songs are spread around the world like an epidemic, until they reach the walls of the Beis Hamedrash! This certainly presents a great danger to Bnei Torah who need to flee from this like one who escapes from a fire, because even though songs can bring a lot of good when used in the right place and in the right proportion, but unlimited listening completely confuses the brain and causes the sounds to ring in his ears, and frequently also to sing them out loud.

“Furthermore, there is a far greater evil than this that Jewish boys follow the foolish ways of the goyim rachmono litzlan to praise, elevate, respect, and enlarge the reputation of their “idol” – the singer who controls their hearts and minds – and they adorn their names with all types of titles, and they refer to these singers and song writers with the utmost respect, that even if they are not heretics, still we are not meant to treat them as something holy!”

Modern day idol worship

It is the obligation of all of us to come to terms with this modern day form of idol worship. Besides the actual bad influence in the music, the chareidi rock stars are enticing the young generation to give them respect even greater than they give to Gedolei Hador, rachmono litzlan. We must educate our children that a singer deserves no more respect than any local chazzan, and in most cases far less than this.

Why do the singers and their managers try to portray themselves as idols? The main reason is for money. A successful rock star makes a lot more money than the best chazzan, even if he doesn’t possess a particularly good voice, and even if his songs are not that great. As long as he is given plenty of publicity, he can make a lot of ignorant teenagers believe that he is really something important. This can only be done with rock music. You can’t be a great chazzan unless you are really something special, but once you are idolized as a rock star, they will buy whatever garbage that you want to sell to them.

This is also the main reason why the chareidi rock stars insist on fighting the Gedolim by making rock concerts. In an age of digital recording and high quality equipment, there is no need for anyone to waste their time to go to live concerts. In fact, the level of the live performances is inferior to their recordings, and this is why they usually distort the singers’ voices with special effects so that people will not catch that they can’t sing in tune. So why do they bother to make these shows? Because the idol-worshippers are not satisfied just to hear him. They have to come and pay their respects to their hero and see him live, dancing and singing on stage.

“Like Michael Jackson”

Maybe some people think that it is an exaggeration to compare the frum singers to the degenerate non-Jewish rock stars, but this is exactly how the papers look at them when they appear on stage:

“Like Michael Jackson, throwing the microphone from hand to hand, and as an orange light illuminates his face, the crowd goes wild….” – This is how the German reporter, Peter Dantzik described a chareidi singer as he writhed around on stage — “I want to show my people that these bearded Jews are not the disgusting Jews that the Nazis pictured during the Holocaust.”

“The Chareidi Elvis Presley gave a Eurovision-like performance, slow and disco, in Yiddish and English.” – this is the description given of another chareidi singer by an Israeli newspaper.

“Rod Stewart couldn’t have done better. He uses all the standard techniques, including facial expressions, dramatic gestures of the hands; the audience is electrified.” – writes another Israeli reporter – “The Chareidi people have come to see the Chassidic idol.” [All these quotes are from Hamodia, 22 Kislev, 5752.]

It is not a secret that many of the chareidi entertainers do not only imitate their non-Jewish counterparts on stage, but also follow their ways in their private life. This is the influence that rock music has on people. There are even frum singers who have sat behind bars for immoral behaviour, and continue to receive the respect of their fans. They literally behave like Zimri and expect to be respected like Pinchas. It is time that we should not be afraid to put them in their place and treat them like Zimri.

Chareidi rock concerts

It has been publicized many times over the past thirty years that all of Gedolei Yisroel forbid to go to any kind of live performance of frum singers, regardless of the name they are given, even if there is completely separate seating. It is very unfortunate that every few years the Rabbonim are forced to remind the public that these shows are forbidden. Maybe the reason that people keep forgetting that there is a ban on them is because they do not understand why they are forbidden, and this requires explanation.

There are many forms of behaviour that are understood by everyone as being unsuitable for Jewish people, even if they do not involve transgressing any specific prohibition. For example, anyone who dresses like a punk rocker with a weird hairstyle and a ring in his nose, even if he keeps Torah and Mitzvos can not be regarded as a Torah Jew because he is associating himself with a lifestyle that is completely in opposition to the Torah way of life. Similarly, a Yeshiva boy who speaks like an illiterate pig farmer, can not expect to be looked at as a Ben Torah. These things are so foreign to us that everyone understands that to do them is simply to behave like a goy.

The Noda BeYehuda [Vol. 2, Yoreh Deah, 10] was asked by a rich Jew who had acquired a vast property with villages and forests, if it was permissible to go hunting animals with his “fire stick”. After discussing whether this was allowed because of causing pain to animals, bal tashchis, or endangering his life, the Noda BeYehuda concludes that he does not understand how such a question could be asked, as we only find that people like Eisov and Nimrod chose to hunt animals, and this is certainly not the way of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. He therefore advised this person to stay at home and not waste his time on things like these.

The Torah commands us not to go in the ways of the goyim. This includes not to copy their way of dress, hairstyles, and all sorts of matters that are distinctly goyish. The Torah gave to the Rabbis of each generation the obligation and power to decide what is considered as chukos hagoyim, and what is permissible. It is this separation from their ways that has protected us throughout the generations from assimilation, and we all know the fate of those who did not distance themselves from this. It has been decided by Gedolei Hador that rock concerts are an extreme example of a rebellious foreign culture, and we are obligated to listen to them.

Daas Torah

Let us not be fooled by all the advertising that is trying to entice us to see these cheap entertainers who refuse to accept Daas Torah and persist to encourage the public to rebel against the Rabbonim by attending their chareidi rock concerts. Let us not be fooled by the nice sounding names they give to their shows or the fact that they advertise that the proceeds go to tzedokoh and separate seating etc. It has already been ruled by all the Gedolim of Eretz Yisroel, America and England many times that these concerts are forbidden. The hallochic reasons for this ban have been explained clearly by Rabbi E. Falk of Gateshead in his book “Levushah shel Torah”, chapter 79.

One final point needs to be mentioned. In times like this, when our enemies are constantly looking and scheming to attack anything that is Jewish, chas vesholom, it is always a serious security risk to make public gatherings, especially when they are advertised well in advance. However, we trust that Hashem will protect us if we make these gatherings for the purpose of a Mitzvah. But if an event is organized in rebellion to Daas Torah, can we expect to receive any protection from danger?

In order to receive protection from Heaven we have to distance ourselves and our children from all this imitation chassidishkeit, which is really chareidi goyishkeit, and in this merit may we all be worthy to hear the songs of the Levi’im in the Beis Hamikdosh.

For more sources, advice or information on the subject of modern Jewish music, please contact me at 972-54-8460068,

Rabbi Ephraim Luft,

The Committee  for Jewish Music,

Bnei Brak.


Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l

LOOKING FOR OLOM HAZEH

There is a weakness in this country: people do not want to forfeit their olom ha-zeh; people want olom ha-zeh also. In previous times it was understood that olom ha-zeh belongs to Eisov. Jews knew they were different – that olom ha-zeh doesn’t belong to them.

But in America this is not so. The American atmosphere is one in which people do not want to give up their olom ha-zeh. Ways are found for koshering the olom ha-zeh so that no issurim should be involved, but in all ways the kosher olom ha-zeh is identical to the regular olom ha-zeh, except that the issurim are circumvented.

This is a grave error. We must realize that the whole concept of olom ha-zeh is treif. That a person should be involved in olom ha-zeh (even if no issurim are involved) is treif. The Torah requires of a Jew to have different desires, a desire to raise himself above the shallow existence of the vast majority and not to just live a lowly life of ephemeral desires with issurim removed.

As of late, a wave of concerts has spread itself across the Jewish community. Some concerts are given as private enterprises, some even for the benefit of Torah institutions, but the result is not that of people going l’sheim Shomayim. Rather the reason for going is the one stated, that people want olom ha-zeh in a kosher form. Going to the theatre and similar revolting places as a form of entertainment is understood by all to be forbidden. But as to the kosher olom ha-zeh of going to a concert – “Why not?” is the question asked.

Since people look upon this as being kosher, it is considered by some as being an obligation to go. People do not want to give up their olom ha-zeh. But it has gone too far. It is not a once-in-a-while happening that people attend to enjoy themselves, rather it has become a steady part of Jewish communal life. Much bitul-Torah is a result of these concerts. Besides this, the performers and entertainers take on a dimension of being leaders of Jewry. All these things have a very bad influence on the Jewish community.

But the order of things must be – bettering ourselves before we go to work on others. We cannot expect to uproot our entire olom ha-zeh at once. Perhaps we are not even allowed to uproot our olom ha-zeh entirely, for there are good things that must be done using olom ha-zeh. That is why HaShem created olom ha-zeh – for the good things to be done through it. But what we must realize is that olom ha-zeh is not the goal, it is solely the means. The goal of the ben-Torah must be to become great in Torah. The ben-Torah must also have a desire – the desire of “My soul thirsts for You!” A desire to become great in Torah! This is a kosher desire.

In addition there is also a kosher type of jealousy – kin’ass sofrim. If a friend of mine becomes great in Torah, I am permitted to be jealous of him. [Not a jealousy which brings to hatred. If one is jealous of another’s wealth, that can lead to hatred]. But this jealousy leads to wisdom. Other than this desire and this type of jealousy, looking for kosher olom ha-zeh is not good.

[Condensed by E.I.K. from an address held Adar I, 5733. Printed in Light Magazine, 12 Elul, 5737].

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