Friday, April 23, 2004

Letters to the Jewish Press

The Letters to the Editor section of this week's Jewish Press contains some responses to the letters we noted here.

Here they are:
More On Non-Jewish Melodies (I)
I wish to protest the tremendous chutzpah exhibited by reader Robert M. Solomon in his April 2 letter to the editor responding to Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser’s earlier criticism of non-Jewish music being appropriated by frum Jews.
I have no problem with debating the issue in a respectful manner (see reader Kalman Fischer’s letter in the same issue), but what Mr. Solomon did was to attack a beloved rabbinical figure and insult Daas Torah.
I’m sure that Rabbi Goldwasser in his column was not referring to simple and harmless melodies that our holy tzaddikim and rebbes adopted and to which they added genuine Jewish ruach and taam.
What Rabbi Goldwasser was no doubt warning against is the type of rock or rap music distinguished by wild and provocative beats (and whose original lyrics celebrate immorality and sinful lifestyles). L’havdil bein kodosh l’chol, bein Yisrael l’amim.
Rabbi Moshe Shochet, Brooklyn, NY
More On Non-Jewish Melodies (II)
Re the recent discussion in your news paper regarding non-Jewish songs being utilized for Jewish purposes:
In chassidus it is stated that song is a pen of the soul, meaning that a composer puts his inner essence into the songs he composes.This leads to the logical conclusion that a song composed by a person whose inner essence is unholy will contain that dimension in the song.
In most cases we are not on the spiritual level necessary to discern the negative dimension of a song. It is true that Chabad rebbes have made chassidic songs out of non-Jewish songs. But it is generally accepted in Chabad that the only ones who can do such a thing are rebbes — tzaddikim who, because of their great spiritual powers, can raise the song from the mundane to the holy.
Rabbi Pesach Scheiner, Boulder, CO

First, about Rabbi Shochet’s letter. The point about the Solomon letter being disrespectful is obvious. It was gratuitous and uncalled for, in my opinion and I should have noted as much in my original link. He asserts that Rabbi Goldwasser only meant to warn about rock or rap music with wild beats and inappropriate lyrics, but would have no problem with “simple and harmless melodies” adapted by Tzadikim, A look at Rabbi Goldwasser's article shows that at best this is speculation, since Rabbi Goldwasser makes no such distinction in his essay.

With regard to Rabbi Scheiner’s argument that only Rebbes can adapt secular tunes, this is a line of argument that is given frequently. It implies that not all secular tunes are forbidden, just that we aren’t able to determine which are/aren’t acceptable without rabbinic guidance. This line of reasoning (which Rabbi Schochet also adopted) stands in opposition to the idea that all secular tunes are inherently forbidden, which is clearly the way the original letter writers understood Rabbi Goldwasser’s column.

The end of his letter seems to imply that the Rebbe’s role is not just determining which secular melodies are acceptable, but also “elevating” them. I’m curious to know what the sources for that idea are. If anyone has any familiarity with them, please pass the info along.

Hat tip, E!