An Interview with Reb Abish Brodt, Ba'al Menagein
"It is a Dance of Corruption of the Feet, not a Song of the Heart"
Reb Abish Brodt's pleasant voice is well-known to lovers of authentic Jewish music. His songs are the highlight of the American Agudas Yisroel's annual convention, where he conducts hundreds of participants in stirring song at the communal melaveh malkoh. His voice and songs pierce our hearts.
"As a matter of principle, Reb Abish keeps the number of his performances to a bare minimum. This modest individual feels honored to praise Hashem through song.
One who does not ordinarily listen to music should, nevertheless, take heed of Reb Abish's pertinent words. His message is most significant. Reb Abish is deeply worried by the current trend of imitating foreign cultures and the resulting dangers.Note the need to build "Reb Abish's" chareidi bonafides up first by mentioning his singing at the Agudah convention Melave Malka, a fact that is totally irrelevant to his ability to speak to the issues here.
"What is the danger of today's "Chassidic music"?
I heard from one of this generation's great talmidei chachomim that the golus of our generation is the golus of "Let's be like all the nations."
In each generation, our nation has faced spiritual danger. There were generations of avodoh zorah in all types of disguises. There were generations that had other problems. The problem of our generation, nehiyeh kechol ho'amim, is the poison of the Maskilim that still lingers. They wanted to appear like gentiles. Be a Jew at home and a man on the street, was their motto. Even the assimilated Jew's temple attempted to mimic the appearance of a church, R"l.
It has expressed itself in each generation in different forms. In the past, they tried looking like a non-Jewish intellectual, a man of the West. They produced the pioneers of Western `culture' in all areas of the entertainment industry. Jews!In other words, the reason for the problem with the music at these affairs is because we "want to be like the other nations." He fleshes out his argument:
However, Jews with yir'as Shomayim do not try to appear as non-Jews.
True, but it certainly has had an impact. The street's evil influences, unfortunately, have infiltrated our camp. Every foreign object is trying to make itself kosher by donning a yarmulke. This is especially prominent in today's music. It is alien music, even if one attaches words from the mekoros.I must be missing something, but why is this unique to this generation? Wasn't this the issue with the Hellenists, Maskilim, and Reform Judaism in their days? I think the assertion that this generation – as opposed to others – is one that is unsupported by history.
How has today's pop-music succeeded in infiltrating?
There are many musical compositions that have influenced Chassidic music via the secular world. Their ear gets used to raucous noises. As a result, they produce the compositions that they produce.He's only referring to the "contemporary" Jewish music here, but the reality is that Chassidic music has always been influenced by secular music.
About them, we cannot complain. However, how could this pass through the sensitive ear and the fragile regesh of a tzibbur yireh Shomayim? How could the tzibbur not reject this? Some of them are yeshiva-educated, yet they make alien music. The damage is enormous.
Can you give an example of the damage?
Certainly. At the shul where I daven in the United States, we do kiruv for groups of kids that have gone off the derech. They need lots of compassion, so we give them support. They asked me to sing a bit for them.
Which song did they request? Tashmi'a lonu es Ovinu Malkeinu -- with the familiar, old and gentle tune. This music speaks to the heart.Of course they asked for a Jewish song. They were talking to Abish Brodt, not James Hetfield.
When I spoke with these teenagers, I became interested in how they fell to where they were. I heard a variety of reasons. However, one of the things that kept repeating itself was surprising--even if it didn't personally surprise me: It started with "Chassidic" music!
They attended concerts. Practically speaking, it is impossible to maintain rules of separation at such events. And the music itself, the street music, was their first push into the street.I find this assertion quite unbelievable. I can't imagine that there are that many kids who went off of the derech because of "The Chevra" or M.B.D. I think there is quite a bit of exaggeration/simplification going on here.
We're talking about bochurim who had no previous connection with the outside world. This music connected them to the street. Their ears got adjusted to its noises. Afterwards, they discarded the pesukim and they started listening to the original. From there, they fell rapidly. This music simply broke the barrier between the chareidi public and the street, and choliloh, many became its tragic victims!I think that this is a simplistic way out of accepting any responsibility for the fact that there are so many "at-risk" youth. After all, it's not the way the community treats them, their sense of alienation, frustration, or whatever issues at home that inspire this rebellion. It's all the fault of that "goyish" sounding Jewish music.
How does it break the barrier?
Once upon a time, when a bochur entered a record and tape store, there was a clear difference between kodesh and chol. Whatever belonged to us was Jewish.I actually agree with his point here. Why are seforim stores selling rock CD's and Yanni? (Not that I have any religious objections to Yanni, only musical ones. But, I digress.)
Today the distinction is broken. There are melodies that have been taken from the worst places, from sources of tumoh. In Moscow for example, I met a baal teshuvoh who worked at the American Consulate. He said about a particular song, "This is a song of a neo-Nazi group!" Their music is steeped in hatred and soils one's soul.I believe that he's referring to Yidden here. I don't know how he knows they are anti-Semitic though.
Nevertheless, didn't previous generations of gedolei Torah and Admorim take melodies from non-Jews?
True. We aren't on the level to be able to analyze the positive aspects of their songs. But one does not need an especially musical ear to identify songs of prikas ol. Such a song moves the body, causing a person to dance in an alien way for bnei Torah.This is the standard cop out answer. They did, because they were able to tell which melodies were appropriate, but we, not being on so high a level, yadda, yadda, yadda…. The fact is that many Chassidic songs are taken from, or influenced by secular songs, and they didn't take the "art songs" either. They took their inspiration from the peasant drinking songs, and, in many cases, took the songs themselves. On Purim in Chaim Berlin the band plays a march called Toska for a half hour or so as R'Aharon Schechter and the "oilam" sing it over and over. The song is actually a Russian/Ukrainian folk song called "Longing for Home."
When a song is from the innermost chamber of our souls, it moves the body in a swaying of gentle deveikus, of the beis medrish. People close their eyes, they see that this raises them spiritually.
At chasunas for example, when the song is alien and not from our circles even if the song's words contain pesukim, you see all the adults disappearing from the dance circle. It's impossible to participate in it. That says it all.This may be true to an extent, but my experience is that much of the time the adults disappear from the dance floor for the second dance set regardless of whether the band is playing newer "rock" songs, or older Chassidic "freilach" style songs.
It's a dance of corruption of the feet, not a dance of the heart. One sees that it originates from the outside, not from the beis medrish. Let's not allow it to invade our sheltered communities.
Are the negative influences attributed only to the music, itself?
No! Everything surrounding it also has influence. You could see how the so-called necessity for a "star performer" has developed. This is a need for something that came from the outside, that has entered the walls of the beis medrish. That, in its own right, is very serious. How much more so when the need for them is based upon something negative.
Unfortunately, religious `pop-idols' are gaining recognition. Young kids who are not appropriately inoculated against this are trying to imitate these same images and their actions. Sometimes, there are concert goers who act in a despicable manner. We must put an end to this.He does have a point about the performers as I've mentioned many times (like here, and here.)
This is definitely nehiyeh kechol ho'amim, even if they try to disguise it with a yarmulke. Afterwards, you see its effects upon the bochurim. Their souls are drowning from the consequences. We see it from how they walk, and in their singing. They forgot the true song, the melodies of the heart.
What's your opinion regarding children performing in choirs?
Once a father came to me with his son who had sung in such a framework. He boasted of his son who "possesses an incredible voice." When I saw the child, I didn't stop praying that this child should not become damaged from it, choliloh. I feared that after his period of singing, nisim will be required for him.I actually agree with him on this one. I don't have a problem with kids singing in a school choir, but I think that the Miami Boys Choir (and other similar choirs) are not good for the kids in them. The kids – and their parents, BTW – are exploited.
What damage does this cause?
On stage, it's impossible to sing like an ehrliche Yid. The children who sing, impersonate the so-called star performers. Even after the song has finished, you see children bloated with ga'avoh. This accompanies them throughout the day. But in what does he pride himself? Ga'avoh is always forbidden, but this particular ga'avoh stems from something posul
You generally see a child who has become conditioned to act for external responses: for the applause, for the praise, for instant gratification. Later, when his voice changes, the adolescent will be left in an empty vacuum. His spiritual world will be lacking because of this. Nothing will remain, even from his deceptive praises. It clearly endangers his physical well-being, not just his spiritual well-being.
Reb Abish, what do you consider to be Jewish music?
Jewish music is something that arouses the neshomoh and not the body. Even shirim of simchoh need to fit this definition. Many of these songs are appropriate. I try to visualize for myself the nigun in the Beis Hamikdosh, as much as I am able, according to my level.In other words, its wholly subjective. Different people are moved by different kinds of music.
Imagine a man surrounded in fear, for he needs to bring a korbon chattos. He comes to the Mikdosh, knowing that he must do teshuvoh. He hears the song of the levi'im, which touches a sensitive nerve. This penetrates his soul, which arouses him. He begins to cry, to be awakened, to return.
Afterwards the shechitoh, kabboloh, zerikoh, and teshuvo and kaporoh. He then hears the sound of a happy shir. His soul is gladdened by the fact that he has atoned, that he has merited to do teshuvoh. The melody helps him keep in step with proper spiritual feelings. We aren't on this madreigoh, but when a person sings, closing one's eyes and concentrating on the words, he feels a longing, a yearning. Thus he arouses himself.
One can only feel this if the melody is not alien and disturbing. If one were to think and have kavonoh. This should be the feeling, like a shaliach tzibur, like a person who is over lifnei he'amud. "Know before Whom you are standing." Know before Whom you are singing!So essentially, we get a non-answer; it's all about a feeling.