Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is Madonna’s Music Jewish Enough?

Here we go again with another ban. This time it is a CD. Why? The music is not Jewish. Or to put it the way they did:

Since the disc contains melodies that are very foreign to us, and that should not be allowed to enter our realm, under Yiddish and Hasidic cover, we have contacted our Yeshiva students and informed them that according to our holy Torah, they are forbidden to market this disc and must put an end to its distribution immediately.

This once again shows that we have no Gedolim today as I see it. Ban ban ban! That's their answer to everything. As indicated by the following quote it is the road to salvation:

To their credit it should be stated that despite their great investments, they have taken the Torah upon themselves and have committed to us to accept the above…and in the glory of God they will be blessed and overjoyed in the happiness of Israel for the purity of what is holy and will experience happiness, peace and success.

Such rhetoric serves only to perpetuate fear, not in the Almighty, but in ‘Daas Torah’ which of course they are considered to be the most knowledgeable of. I realize of course that they do not see it that way and that they are all L’Shem Shamayim.

The problem is that being L’Shem and knowledgeable in Torah is not enough. There has to be knowledge of every facet of an issue in order to make a fair judgment about it. Furthermore, as I’ve said many times, bans cannot always be the solution to every problem.

This story was discussed yesterday on Areivim and one poster wrote the following:

Many years ago when my eldest son was in Mesivtha, the head of the school told the boys that they should not sing any Carlebach songs. My son went ahead and got copies of all of Reb Shlomo's tapes and became familiar with all of his music. It turned out that a number of the niggunim that this rabbi sang were actually Carlebach tunes. My son delighted in pointing this out to this rabbi!

This was followed by the following reply from another poster:

At least Shlomo Carelbach 's tune were original and had a Yiddishe Tam. These guys have ripped off songs that glorify violence and degrade woman.

I always get a kick out of how people define Jewish Music. There is nothing Jewish about what is typically called Jewish music. It is European folk music that has been utilized and adapted by various Jewish composers over the years. Especially Shlomo Carlebach whose music I love. And as demonstrated by the first poster, is so universal... so pervasive... so widespread... that people don’t even realize they are adapting his tunes to various Teffilos. I remember being in a very anti-Carlebach Shul in Israel one Shabbos where the Shaliach Tzibur used a famous Carlebach tune for Kel Adon.

If anyone goes to a Middle Eastern country and tries to 'sell' one of those Nigunim as Jewish music to a Sephardi native they'll probably be laughed out of the room.

What has happened over the years is that the European folk music has been re-defined as Jewish music. We have become so used to hearing this one type of music that we now know it as Jewish music. We rarely hear any original non Jewish folk so the average person has no means of comparison.

That is where the banning Rabbis go wrong. They probably do not realize that all this music was once non-Jewish. And even if they do, they don’t care because today it has lost any stigma of being non-Jewish. But that was certainly not always the case. Especially pre-holocaust in the home of European folk music: Europe.

Sometimes an occasional European folk tune does make it into popular culture and when it does everyone will say, 'Wow... that sounds like such a Jewish song!' Anyone remember the song "Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin? And then there is the infamous 'Yidden' composed by Mordechai Ben David. Very Jewish sounding except it was originally a German folk song about Ghengis Khan that has lyrics like this:

He was the greatest lover and the strongest man of his day and we have heard that all the women fell for him so they say and he bred seven child in one long night he had his foes a-running at his very sight and nothing that could stop him in this world.

Of course no one knew that at first and it became a staple at weddings. But as soon as the 'Gedolim' found out about it they banned it. There are a few bands that will not play this song at weddings now. But mostly it’s still a popular song heard at many weddings that generates its own very lively dance step.

In my humble opinion, this ban is not only worthless it is counter to the welfare of Klal Yisroel. Jewish music is so stagnant... so ‘cookie cutter’ ...that frankly it bores me to tears. And I know that I am not alone in this feeling. It is a rare event to hear a truly original piece of music in the Jewish world. It all sounds the same. And the Rabbis refuse to allow anything that is not defined by them as ‘Jewish’ (read: cookie cutter) to enter their world.

The only song recently to have the slightest bit of originality is “Oh!” It is a great tune that has caught on quickly. I love it and hear it all the time now. When it is played at weddings the liveliness of the dancing immediately goes up a notch. But it still has that “European folk music’ thing going for it.

If we are ever going to have any chance at more variety and originality in ‘Jewish music’ we are going to have to allow melodies other than those ‘cookie cutter’ melodies that are being composed and/or sung by the usual suspects. It can start as it has here by adapting the music from a song like "La Isla Bonita". Though not an original Jewish composition and very different from what we are so used to hearing, this will hopefully generate original compositions that are not ‘cookie cutter’.

Yet this the very objection stated by the Rabbis who banned these tunes. They weren’t used to this kind of music. They want 'cookie cutter'! When they found out the source of the CD in question it received the ‘Yidden’ treatment.

There is nothing wrong with hearing non Jewish tunes that have had Jewish lyrics put to them. Because that is what Jewish music is anyway.