Monday, March 03, 2008

Are all Things Goyish Evil?

There are more than a few people that take the position that anything that comes from secular sources is inherently evil. This attitude can be summed up by someone who challenged me in the following way:

Please reflect that there may be an opposite legitimate point of view, which sees a danger in the culture of goyishe music to bring goyishe lifestyle into their homes and for them that is detrimental to their way with which they serve G-d and live their jewishness.

(Using the term 'Goy' or 'Goyish' is very distasteful to me as it is usually meant in a pejorative sense. But since it was asked in this manner I will respond in kind.)

I do see their point of view. I just profoundly disagree with it. In fact I'm not even sure that's what they are really saying. It is probably an erroneaous intepretation of what they say and do in these types of bans. To paint everything 'Goyish' as evil is anathema to Torah. It counters many of the Gemarah’s own sayings. Of course the Gemarah also contains references that seem to support the contention that 'Goyish' things are evil. But it's all about context and the specific moral lesson being taught. The Gemarah will often exaggerate to make a point. Hence they might say all when they don't mean all. Or maybe only in a certain contexts: all.

The truth is that one should never take an all or nothing approach. There are good Goyim and there are bad Jews. There are also good things which bad Goyim do that are bad things which good Jews do.

An Oved HaBorei - one who understands that he is put on this earth to serve the Creator - is supposed to learn what actually is good and what actually is evil and then take good and reject evil wherever one finds it. Being an Oved HaBorei doesn’t mean that one must eschew all things that are not directly sourced in the Torah: MiKol Melamdei Hischalti.

Rock and Roll is a good example of that. Much of it is bad and is everything the rabbinic establishment says it is. But there is a whole host of Rock and Roll that is good... some that teaches good values… some that picks up one's spirits with a lilting tune and a happy ‘feelgood’ message. Some of it brings out emotions of love for one's wife, or the joy of children, or the sorrow of longing for a lost loved one. By bringing out a positive disposition or any real emotion, one can serve God in a far better way then by denying oneself opportunities to do so.

Rock and Roll is not all just music that brings out the basest elements in us. That the Gedloim might characterize it that way is in most cases probably because they haven't listened to enough of it to make individual distinctions between songs.

In the case of Lipa Shmeltzer they are attributing guilt by association. They feel that if Rock and Roll is all evil, then using its tunes in parody the way Lipa does just conjures up the same base reactions. So of course they Assur it.

Someone awhile back mentioned a story told to him by a very Charedi Mechanech here in Chicago. He was highly respected in the Charedi world. I say ‘was’ because he is no longer with us - having succumbed to cancer. When he used travel by car to his parents in Detroit, he passed the time listening to the Beatles.

The same is true of another brilliant Talmid Chacham and Mechanech at HTC who spent hours in the in front of a Gemarah humming those tunes while he pored over every Rishon and Achron he could find on the particular Sugya he was learning.

Many people my age who are now Charedi Klei Kodesh (in Chinuch or in Kiruv) grew up listening to Rock and Roll. It didn't hurt them one bit. They had normal healthy lives growing up in an American environment while attending Charedi day schools, Charedi Yeshiva high schools and then Charedi Yeshivos Gedolos. When those of my friends who took this track and I get together occasionally we will reminisce about old times and talk about some of the great songs of the 50s an 60s. Of course they will never admit to this publicly - but that's because they would become ostracized in the Charedi world that they are now a part of.

The bottom line is the following: To say that there is a danger in the culture of ‘Goyishe’ music bringing a ‘Goyishe’ lifestyle into their homes is typical of the ‘all or nothing’ Charedi mindset. Everything is black and white. No shades of gray. Another great example of this kind of thinking is the internet: Internet = evil = ban.

But the proof against that are those of my friends who are top notch Klei Kodesh yet grew up listening to that music and still like it.

And by extension, I dare say that no one ever went off the Derech simply by going to a Lipa concert. Those one can point to who did... were probably already there. If one wants to prevent these kids from leaving the fold they ought to be looking at the real causes, not the means by which those already off the Derech finally choose to show it.