Monday, August 04, 2003

Radical Jewish Music (Not by John Zorn)

The Ha’aretz article below really disturbed me when I first saw it reprinted in The Forward last September.

"Background / A new, worrying phenomenon in religious Zionism”
By Yair Sheleg, Ha'aretz Correspondent"

"Yitzhak Meir, a member of the National Religious Party's executive, was very surprised to hear some of the songs that were sung during the recent Simhat Torah celebrations at his synagogue in Kochav Yair. In the midst of the familiar texts, he suddenly discerned new words: Samson's prayer from the book of Judges (16:28) - "O Lord God! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge of the Philistines, if only for one of my eyes."

"The choice of these words, expressing the desire for revenge, troubled Meir. While arguing about this text with some of his friends at the synagogue, Meir heard another unfamiliar song - an upbeat tune about the young Moshe slaying the Egyptian taskmaster: "He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." (Exodus 2:12)"

"I grew up in Bnei Akiva," Meir says, "and I even wrote words for some of the movement's well-known songs. These were songs about the love of Torah and love of the land of Israel, but we never sang songs of vengeance."

"Meir began to ask some of his young acquaintances about these new songs and learned that the music for the song about Samson was composed by Dov Shurin, who is associated with the outlawed Kach movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane."

"Shurin became known as an extremist when he hosted a late-night program on the Arutz 7 radio station. Among other statements, he praised Yoram Skolnick (who murdered a captured Palestinian youth suspected in a stabbing attack in 1993) and Ami Popper (who opened fire on Arab workers in Rishon Letzion, killing seven, in 1990). Shurin called Skolnick and Popper "righteous people who did what many of us have thought to do but lacked the courage."

"Meir also discovered that in some of the places where this song of vengeance is popular, the young people dance to the song while waving knives."

"Yuval Friedman, an economist who graduated from a yeshiva high school, says he was also disturbed by the song on Simhat Torah. "When I told this to a friend, he said to me: 'What are you talking about? There are weddings where no knives remain on the tables when this song is sung, because they are used as props for the song'."

"Friedman continues: "This song, together with older songs like 'Build the Temple, burn the mosque,' which we song back in my high school days, really disturb me. Not that this proves that our youth are driven by vengeance, or are about to burn mosques, but the educational significance of these songs are problematic."

"Meir wrote a letter about the songs to several leading rabbis in the national religious camp, including MK Rabbi Haim Druckman (NRP), Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Rabbi Yehuda Amital and Rabbi Zalman Melamed. He also sent a letter to Israel's chief rabbis - Yisrael Lau and Eliahu Bakshi-Doron."

"The chief rabbis, Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Melamed have yet to respond to the letter. Rabbi Amital spoke with Meir and said he shared his concern. Rabbi Aviner, who heads the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, referred Meir to a legal (halachic) ruling he wrote in response to someone who complained that the words to the song about Samson "seem to be unethical."

"In his ruling, Rabbi Aviner wrote in praise of vengeance and noted that the prohibition against taking vengeance does not apply to serious cases like lethal attacks. The rabbi emphasized that there is a value in vengeance in the national realm as an expression of deterrence."

"The realization that there will be vengeance for every crime is a deterrent to crime and thus saves the need for vengeance." He noted, however, "This does not grant a license for individual acts of vengeance - this is a matter to be decided by a religious court (beit din), which in our days means 'the national leadership'."

"Rabbi Sherlo, who heads a hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva, also referred Meir to a halachic response that was recently published in a commentary on the weekly Torah portion. "Vengeance teaches that there is law and a judge, and that the criminal will be punished," he wrote."

"However, Rabbi Sherlo insisted that vengeance should not be the subject of songs and dances: "We don't dance over the spilling of blood... We don't ignore the heavy price that vengeance brings in its wake, and the endless cycle of violence. We don't dance about vengeance because we are careful not to be spoiled by it, not to become enamored of it and of the evil it generates in the world."

The article has been reproduced in both the extreme right-wing magazine Voice of Judea and on the radically left-wing websiteJewish Tribal Review (scroll down for article).

Interestingly, both the right and left wing sites --each for their own reasons-- omit the moderate statements by Rav Amital and Rabbi Sherlo. The Kahanists are incapable of understanding moderation and the leftists are unable to acknowledge that the extreme-right is not representative of all “frum” Jews.

I've always been disturbed by the connection between the Brooklyn jewish music scene and the radical “Kahanistas.” Dov Shurin, extremist, and the composer of the song, Zochreini Na, writes a regular column for the Country Yossi magazine, a journal which has come to be identified with the JM scene. I find it embarrassing that the JM community isn’t ashamed to be associated with such amoral, anti-halachik views.

In addition to Dov Shurin’s recording of Zochreini Na, the song has been covered by Shalhevet Orchestra and their version is frequently played on Nachum Segal’s JM in the AM radio broadcast.
I think that at the very least there ought to be a public debate about the appropriateness of singing “songs of revenge”, but to the best of my knowledge, no Rav here in America has addressed the issue. The artists, producers, distributors, and promoters on the “scene” here have an obligation to the communal good and shouldn’t be associating themselves with extremist views.

It is not my intent to deny Mr. Shurin the right to express his views, abhorrent though they are. But, I am saddened at the lack of moderate voices on the Jewish music scene and troubled by their flirtation with and tacit endorsement of the radical right.

One can oppose Israel giving Chevron to the PA, and sing about it, without using the slogan associated with the radical settler movement "Chevron Me'az U'litamid" which Dedi used in his song about Chevron. And, one can be opposed to the “Road map” and a strong supporter of Israel without praising murder or endorsing violence.

Mordechai Ben David also uses the slogan "Chevron Me'az U'litamid" in his Chevron song from a few years back.