Thread: Jewish Music
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Unread 01-21-2002, 10:56 AM   #9
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Here's a fascinating response to the article from Beis Moshiach, written by Moshe Yess ("V'Hu Yigaleinu ...") in 5757:

By Divine Providence I read this article ... one day after my children asked me if they could listen to a new Jewish tape which featured loud, screaming, heavy metal electric guitars shaking drum beats .. while also being coupled with lyrics that express Holy matters. Music .. such as this obviously falls into those categories defined by the author as "junk music," and "foolish songs," to use her terminology.

While I am certainly not qualified to be considered a historian of Chassidic music, nor a judge of what is truly Chasidic music, I would like to share some anecdotes and comments which I believe are quite relevant to the issues she raised.

The first time I personally heard the Alter Rebbe's niggun was after some 16 years of playing non-Jewish music professionally in CA. My immediate reaction was one of terror. My neshama instantly and intuitively knew that this song was Holy. It became immediately self evident to me that one would not put such a song into a jazz setting for art's sake, ch'v.

As a new returnee to Judaism 18 years ago, who happened to be a musician by trade, it was of great importance to me to learn what was Kosher music. I was instructed by my Rabbi in yeshiva from a rather detailed teshuva in Igros Moshe of R' Moshe Feinstein z'l, on the topic of kosher music. I have attempted to follow this teshuva in my years of composing and performing Jewish music. Please note that I am obviously not a posek. What I am about to express is my personal understanding of this teshuva, and therefore my understanding carries no religious authority whatsoever.

It seems to my understanding of this teshuva, that the music which the the author calls "junk and foolish and mud-bound," is kosher. But the music's kashrus is not the matter at hand. The main issue is its influence on the Yid listening to it. Does it keep him or her in the mud or take one out of the mud? As Chassidim we always look to our Melech for instructions and standards. Therefore, I wish to share this true event which I was directly involved in.

Upon arriving in a certain country for concert performances some years ago, I was informed by a member of Anash in that country, that the rav of the Lubavitch community had made a takana that Anash should only listen to Chabad niggunim. This takana directly affected the concert turnout for which I was contracted. A concerned letter was faxed to the Rebbe MH"M explaining the circumstances and the words "Chasidishe niggunim," were part of the text of that letter.

I was informed that the Rebbe MH"M had circled these two words and had put a question mark after the circle. The concert did occur, but with much controversy and quite some displeasure expressed amongst Anash about the takana. Music which had been accepted and listened to for years was suddenly under a kashrus review.

To provide further background to this matter, I will now relate my experiences upon the start-up of the Megama Duo. American style folk, country, and rock music had been harnessed with a Jewish outreach message. While the popular response was overwhelmingly positive within and without of Lubavitch, there was a certain segment of the Orthodox community in Eretz Yisrael which decided to call the rosh yeshiva of where we were learning, and they demanded our immediate ouster from the yeshiva, demanded the immediate termination of our performances, and sadly, the threat of cherem was also raised and I believe even actualized against us.

The self appointed music police of this community had decided that songs like My Zaidy, Dollar Bill, and David Cohen's bar mitzva were deemed not only "junk" but treif to the extent of justifying the cherem. By the standards of their community (or themselves?), only music that blatantly fell into a category of what I call with respect "yay dee dai," was kosher, or worthy to listen to. "Yay dee dai," was sung by their Eastern European zaidies and tattis and hence, everything else was treif.

I personally received haskama and three brachos from the Rebbe MH"M for the creation of a rock and roll band for the secular market which also includes, as of yet, non observant Jews. Even the name, "Burnt Offering," was approved. Additionally, I heard from Rabbi Avi Piamenta, that he and his brother Yossi too had received bracha to do rock music within the Jewish market for the purpose of connecting to those Jews using a musical language and format they relate to.

Should the author decide to purge her Chasidishe home of for example ... MBD, Avraham Fried, Journeys, the Marvelous Middos Machine, the Piamentas etc. as her personal preparation for Moshiach's arrival, then I sincerely respect her personal chumra in this matter and I praise her for it. But when she thereafter attempts to purge all of Lubavitch of this "fit for the Roman masses only" music she calls "junk" and "foolish music," I become amazed and quite alarmed. Why?

For starters, many of the present standard Chasidic niggunim were originally of non-Jewish folk song origin according to my understanding. These tunes were "chapped" for kedusha and only after popular acceptance were then deemed Chasidishly appropriate.

This seems to be the origin and derech of some of our Chabad music standards. Additionally, I was taught by a Breslaver Chassid (in his Rebbe's name) that because "we left our harps upon the willow trees in Bavel" - the harps (symbolizing Jewish music) were left hefker - and were taken by non-Jews, we now are therefore attracted to some remaining sparks of kedusha which fell from our music via the harps into some of their music. The Rebbe MH"M "chapped," the French National Anthem I believe, for reasons I won't even speculate about, as they are beyond my grasp, obviously.

I again, respectfully ask the author to consider this next matter. I was recently overwhelmed to literal tears when I was informed that a tune which I composed this past year and which was performed and produced in conjunction with Avi Piamenta, was sung in 770, Beis Chayeinu, on Simchas Torah past, by all present.

Does this song, not being from her Zaidy's generation, fall as well into the cateogry of "junk music" too? Or was in "junk" before Simchas Torah, but thereafter it is now Chasidish? The central point I am leading up to is the matter of personal taste in music and the music's influence on people.

I personally hold niggunim like "tzama lecha nafshi to be in the highest category of kedush. What I don't hold by however, is an elitist dynamic which may develop around one's love, attachment, and respect for these songs, to the exclusion of all other apparently kosher and accepted Jewish music. What the author calls "junk music," may be the only Jewish music that someone less fortunate, someone without Chabad niggunim in their upbringing, may find spiritually uplifting and meaningful. Chabad niggunim may literally be too high or even currently too foreign for some of these people to even relate to.

To the best of my knowledge, the Rebbe MH"M stated "shira v'zimra will break the darkness and bring refuah." I do not see any explicit or implicit reference to Chasidishe music exclusively in these holy words of our Melech. To the contrary, based on the above-mentioned haskama and brachos relating to Jewish rock, it seems to me that rock and roll has its chelek to play in and on the road to the third Beis Ha'Mikdash we find ourselves on. There are l'havdil, some 5 billion non-Jews. They too will eventually grasp, I am certain, the unprecendented joy of this unfolding redemption. I do not believe that they are capable of expressing that joy other than in the music of their own culture whic is certainly not Chabad music.

In conclusion, may I humbly suggest that publicly promote chumros in ahavas Yisrael and tzedaka and the like. I am of the opinion that for many of us baalei teshuva, the vildkeit of Jewish rock music will be the only fitting vessel for the "vildkeit of joy" we are destined for in immediately seeing our Melech again. If the author wants to prepare for and leave this terrible galus with only chasidishe niggunim, then more power to her. But I respectfully ask her: Please do not possul my own or anyone else's exit listening music out of here as this is not a directive from our Melech but rather her own personal choice and standard.

And if by chance, my cloud to Eretz Yisrael passed hers, and I happen to be "heavy metal," Jewish music listening, rocking out of my keili ... at 120 decibels ... with earthquake sized drum beats noch ... in delirious, screaming fuzz toned, feedbacked ecstasy ... singing Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach ...or anything else she personally deems as plebian and mud-bound, for that matter ... please, please, please do not deny me the option of using this musical vehicle for my personal expression of joy and hiskashrus, because it doesn't suit her personal tastes or personal chasidishe musical standards. I find her suggestion, while truly sincere and well-intentioned, to be more machmir than our Melech's.

Last edited by Jude; 01-21-2002 at 03:23 PM.
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