A Measured Reaction

Aside from my initial knee-jerk rant on the subject of the latest ridiculous music ban, there are a lot more things that I want (need?) to say on the subject.  I thought, perhaps, the best way to handle this would be to intersperse my thoughts into the text of the Jerusalem Post article reporting the ban.

Musicians who use rock, rap, reggae and trance influences will not receive rabbinic approval for their CDs, nor will they be allowed to play in wedding halls under haredikosher food supervision, according to a new, detailed list of guidelines drafted with rabbinical backing that differentiates between “kosher” and “treif” music.

This is very interesting.  Setting aside for a moment the propriety of deciding what music is “kosher,” what I think is terrible and overreaching here is that we’re now going to lump in kashrusof food with kashrus of music.  A few weeks ago, one of the Rabbis of my shulspoke at length about Agriprocessors, and leaving the rabbis who determine kashrus out of the business of their hiring practices.  He was adamant that they are there simply to tell us if the meat is kosher, not to be moral police.  “That isn’t their training,” he said, “that’s not their job.”  At the time, I wondered aloud to a friend if that Rabbi had the same reaction when the local Va’ad HaKashrus in my town told several establishments that the waitresses would not be allowed to serve in pants.  If they didn’t wear skirts, the stores would lose their hechser.  I wondered if the Rabbi gave an identically impassioned speech at that time against a similar “moral police” approach.  Of course, this wonder was rhetorical, because I know he didn’t.  Again, I am left to wonder: are they there to determine kashrusand nothing else, or are they the full moral police of everything.  Because, Rabbi, withall due respect, you can’t have it both ways.

The guidelines, which are still being formulated, also ban “2-4 beats and other rock and disco beats;” the “improper” use of electric bass, guitars and saxophones; and singing words from holy sources in a disrespectful, frivolous manner.

I noted this in my other post: I think it’s completely asinine to make certain rhythms and instruments the basis of what’s kosher and what’s not.  Totally and completely ridiculous, and such a false attribution to any actual Jewish law.

“Michael Jackson-style music has no place in our community,” says Mordechai Bloi, a senior member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, an organization based in Bnei Brak that enforces what it sees as normative haredi behavior.

The existence of this organization boils my blood, but this man’s statement belies his own limited knowledge: Michael Jackson hasn’t been relevant on the music scene in years.

“We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats.

Does it bother anyone else that our purported “leadership” are such vicious racists?  Because it bothers me tremendously.  I hate knowing that if I ever wanted to run for office, I would have a “Reverend Wright” problem.  Wonderful, thanks.  And by the way, any frum Jew who bashes Obama or holds Wright’s statements against him is a hypocrite.  Thanks.  Classical music (even if it was composed by anti-semites) is ostensibly OK, but if it’s African, then forget it?  That’s plainly ridiculous and racist.  No two ways about it.

We haredim want to protect ourselves from what we see as negative foreign influences. We are trying to maintain our own authentic music styles. We admit that times are changing, but we are trying to stay loyal to our roots.”

What?  “Authentic”  A second ago you said “Bach or Beethoven.”  Bach was an 18th century German Christian who composed sacred music for use in church services.  Good to know that he’s “classy” and “authentically Jewish” and “loyal to our roots.”

[snip]

Calls by rabbis to boycott a business, to take to the streets to demonstrate or to vote for a particular candidate are taken seriously.

Sad as it is, this is true.  The chareidi community is a bunch of sheep that follow the commands of the leaders without thought.  No matter how ridiculous.  Simply sad.

Enforcers of modesty rules working with rabbinic support have harnessed the buying power of the haredi community to put pressure on bus companies, cellular phone operators and other firms. Egged, Dan, Superbus and other bus companies now offer haredi customers separate seating on buses for men and women; cellular telephone operators provide harediclients with cellular telephones that have no access to Internet, SMS, “fancy” ring-tones or telephone numbers with sexual content; and companies such as El Al and Shefa Shuk, a grocery store chain, have suffered from boycotts after being accused of desecrating Shabbat.

My god, the list of utter inanity that these people focus on instead of dealing with real problems is staggering.

Similarly, enforcers of haredi norms are monitoring, supervising and censoring the haredipop music scene, with Luft spearheading the campaign. Lufthas already issued a list of “kosher” and “non-kosher” bands and musicians. He said that dozens of yeshiva heads have agreed to refuse to come to the wedding of a student who hires a non-kosher band. Halls with haredi kashrut supervision who host non-kosher bands run the risk of losing their supervision, and hence their clientele. Companies that help promote haredi concerts expose themselves to the danger of a consumer boycott.

See above for my thoughts on kashrus of food being tied to music.  In case that wasn’t clear: it’s utterly ridiculous.

Luft said that music is just part of a much larger problem in haredi society.

Music is causing poverty?  Please explain.

“We see that the same people who are involved in the treif pop scene are also the ones in the unapproved news media, in the so-called religious radio stations, in film and in advertising,” said Luft. “All of these things come together to demoralize haredi society and to lower the spiritual level of our youth.

Oh, not real problems.  Fake, contrived problems.  Advertising is the greatest threat to Judaism and chareidi society.  “Lowering the spiritual level.”  As long as the spiritual level remains high, apparently, our youth doesn’t need to eat.  Good to know.  That’s save on the grocery bills.  I’ll just have Mrs. G give my kids “spiritual feeding.”  I’m sure they’ll come to appreciate it when Child Services puts them in foster care.

“This is an issue that people over 30 understand very well what I am talking about and those under 30 have more difficulty understanding,” Luftcontinued. “This music is pushing into our community a generation gap similar to one created by the rock music of the ’50s in the US. The whole idea is that there are types of music that have no place with respectable people. Respectable people listen to decent music and immoral people list to indecent music, and it does not make sense that a community that has high moral standards should be listening to this type of music.

By the way, this paragraph is so revealing.  This is a guy who just doesn’t like the music that his kids listen to, and has way too much time on his hands.  So instead of fighting for control of the radio on road trips, he goes and bans the music completely.  This is not a mentally healthy person.  He went on, by the way, to shake his fist at the reporters asking him questions and revealed that the next ban would be aimed at “those damn kids.  Get off my lawn!!”

“The influence of music has a very profound effect on people in general. It has been proven that rock music has a very negative effect on people and on animals and plants, while classical music has a very positive effect.”

Plants?  Rock music has a negative effect on plants?  Does this guy listen to himself?  Does he want people to take him seriously?  Because I think he’s a crackpot.

Over the past several years haredi activists have enlisted almost all the major rabbinical authorities to stifle a burgeoning haredi pop music scene.

Good thing, too.  Because there are no other problems to address.

[snip]

Menahem Toker, a popular haredi DJ who was reportedly fired from Radio Kol Chai under pressure from haredi activists because he promoted “treif” shows, said that the blanket prohibition against all shows is doing more harm than good.  “Maybe a lot of people will listen to the rabbis and stop going to shows altogether,” said Toker. “But there will be tens of thousands of people who, deprived of a kosher option, will end up going to mixed shows. And not just to frum, wholesome performers like Fried and Elbaz, but to secular performers also. So maybe in a way the anti-pop music activists have won a victory. But they also lost because they have not offered a kosher alternative.”

This is a fantastic point.  I fully agree that without any realistic outlet, this will cause more harm than good.

Sources in the haredi music scene who spoke off the record for fear they would hurt their relationship with the rabbinic representatives said they doubted the rabbinic establishment would succeed in their newest crusade against CDs.

This is a good start.  Now, would someone have the cojones to come out publically and attach their name to some doubts?  I hope so, and I hope so soon.

“There are certain types of music, such as rap and reggae, that are disgusting and have no place in our community.”

Yeah, let’s close out with some more racism.  Goes down smooth.

I just want to point out that a couple of years ago on this blog, I had an ongoing discussion about the holiness of music, and it was posited at the time (and argued with by me, btw) that a song composed originally as a rock or pop song but taken and “turned” into a Jewish song was made holy by virtue of this change.  This is, apparently, not true.  It’s the beat, the instruments and the black people involved in the original recording that make something unholy, and it stays that way forever.

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4 responses to “A Measured Reaction

  1. Amazingly well done.

    I’m curious, though: Why didn’t you politely point out to the Rabbi that preached to his pulpit his clear contradiction?

  2. Mike – thanks. The reason I didn’t speak directly to the Rabbi was that I didn’t think I could do so politely, not did I think it would be respectful to call out the Rabbi in a public place (ie: shul).

  3. Great piece. I know it was an aside in your post, but I disagree with your Obama/Revered Wright comparison. It would be analogous if you davened in a shul where Mordechai Bloi was the rabbi. If you sat in his shul and sat through these type of speeches for 20 years, then yes, it can be assumed that even if you do not agree with his views, you didn’t disagree with them enough to daven somewhere else. The mere fact that another jew has these views doesn’t imply you have the same views. The same is true for Obama. If Louis Farakhan makes a ridiculous statement, it isn’t, nor should it be, held against Obama just beacuse they are both black. The fact that Obama is a weekly attendant of a congregation where Reverend Wright routinely makes hate speeches (as found all over the internet) and never thought to pray somewhere else is an entirely different animal.

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