Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Kol Koreh Bamidbar, Ban New Derech Hashem"

Following up on "Anatomy of a Ban"...

Here's a full-page ad which appeared in today's HaModia newspaper. The ad congratulates Lipa Schmeltzer for listening to the Rabbonim and withdrawing from the "Big Event" concert as well as another upcoming event in London.

This ad is noteworthy for two reasons. One is that it makes clear that this is the beginning of an attempt to ban all concerts. The second is because there are only eight signatures on this ad as opposed to the 30+ on the ban. At least one of the ban signers has publicly acknowledged being misled, not doing proper due diligence, and most importantly, that he does not think that all concerts should be banned.

The latest edition of the Jewish Star has a front-page article about the ban. Mayer Fertig did some very important reporting. Here's the article.
No Deal On Ban

Rabbonim and producer fail to reach agreement on ‘Big Event’ at MSG

By Mayer Fertig

Producer Sheya Mendlowitz was hoping Tuesday afternoon to get the final go-ahead to resurrect his “Big Event” concert, scheduled for March 9 at Madison Square Garden but, at the last minute, talks fell apart and the concert was canceled.

The final details of the agreement were being hammered out Tuesday afternoon. Minutes before The Jewish Star went to press Mendlowitz said it was over.
A deal would have capped a week of talks between Mendlowitz and many of the 33 rabbonim who, last week, issued a kol korei –– as a rabbinical pronouncement is known in the Charedi world –– to prevent popular Chassidic singer Lipa Schmelzer from performing.

Critics apparently disapprove of his humorous on-stage antics and the non-Jewish musical influences incorporated in his act. One Brooklyn man, Asher Friedman, who also heads the tuition assistance organization Nechomas Yisroel, apparently set out to shut Schmelzer down. He convinced nearly three dozen rabbonim, including some of America’s most revered contemporary Charedi leaders, that Schmelzer should be reined in.

In a statement, Schmelzer said he has decided to discontinue performing any music of non-Jewish origin.

In keeping Schmelzer off the stage, Friedman appeared to have met his primary goal.

On Monday someone with direct knowledge of the situation described Friedman, who is not a rabbi, as “a kanoi [zealot] and a loose cannon” who aligned himself with [others] who have an ax to grind “with Lipa and the Jewish music industry.”
Contacted by The Jewish Star for comment, Friedman said he would first have to consult his Da’as Torah. A short time later he called back to say, “The gedolei yisroel don’t want that issue [to be discussed] on the radio and in newspapers. It doesn’t belong for the public to decide on issues that belong for Da’as Torah.”
He refused to disclose the names of rabbonim he consulted.

“When we went out with the kol korei, every rosh yeshiva was tortured and made crazy — people were threatening them,” Friedman claimed. Pressed for specifics about his claim of threats, he maintained that “it would be a chilul Hashem to write about it.”

“Everything a person does has to be through Da’as Torah. Everything I do, I make sure to have Da’as Torah backing me,” he claimed.

It seemed clear that Friedman risked embarrassment to the rabbonim he claims to revere, as the text of the ban was identical to that of a ban enacted in Israel last year, which succeeded in shutting down a joint performance of Mordechai Ben David and Avrohom Fried. It included references to Israel and called for a complete end to Jewish music concerts. That made it unclear if the document was intended to apply only to the Madison Square Garden event, or if American Charedi rabbonim intended to follow the lead of Israeli colleagues and enact a sweeping prohibition against Jewish music.

In an interview with The Jewish Star, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, a rosh yeshiva in Philadelphia who signed the ban, said, “It is very general, you’re right, but I don’t think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids.”

Rabbi Kamenetzky confirmed that he had spoken to Friedman and said that he had understood that the request for the ban originally came “from rabbis in Eretz Yisroel. We didn’t want to differ with them. It was expressed that certain performers...upset some people.”

The Rosh Yeshiva was asked whether anybody had confirmed the origin of the request. “It seems that it was a request from mouth to ear and everyone went along with them,” he responded. “What they said was that it was a request from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman. I didn’t confirm that.”

Asked if it is unusual for distinguished rabbonim to sign a kol korei on the say-so of one person, Rabbi Kamenetzky was candid: “Usually we meet together. This time, with time pressing, we did not get together. And maybe it was not the right thing.”
The concert was supposed to have been a benefit for Simchat Tzion, a group that makes weddings for orphaned brides and grooms in Israel.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, said he couldn’t explain why the text of the ban would have been released without removing references to last year’s concert ban in Israel, or why rabbonim would have risked jeopardizing their reputations by signing a document not carefully vetted for inaccuracies.

A second performer, Shloime Gertner, was said to have dropped out immediately, according to Hamodia, a Charedi paper that announced the ban. News of his withdrawal proved premature. As of Monday he was still in, although his name was removed from the concert web site on Monday night.

There’s definitely a mystery here,” said Shafran. “It wouldn’t make sense for the rabbonim to say that somebody had pulled out if they are just setting themselves up to be disproved.”

Late Tuesday afternoon Yeshiva World News (www.theyeshivaworld.com) reported that Schmelzer has also canceled a concert scheduled for London in April.
Schmelzer, who lives in the Monsey, N.Y., area, was well received as the featured performer at a benefit performance in Hewlett Bay Park last year. (HT, Still Wonderin'.)
Note Rav Kaminetzy's statements that he was lead to believe that the request for the ban came from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman. It's apparent that he no longer believes they instigated this ban.

Most importantly, he said “It is very general, you’re right, but I don’t think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids.” This stands in contrast to the text of the ban itself and the statements of many involved in this, that it does mean all concerts.

In an interview also published in today's HaModia, Lipa Schmeltzer said "The Rabbanim say that this is the beginning of an all-out effort against concerts in general."

Rabbi Kaminetzky deserves to be acknowledged for his honesty here. He has publicly stated that the ban was obtained through dishonest means and that the usual process for issuing "kol korehs" was not observed in this instance. He also doesn't explain why it was considered a time-pressing situation. The concert had been advertised for months and there was no new information that had just come to light and needed to be immediately acted on.

Rav Kaminetsky, and his colleagues, bear the responsibility of responding to the problems, which I listed in "Anatomy of a Ban", that are evident here. It is even more important, in light of these admissions, that they address the issues and explain how they will prevent the same thing from happening again with regard to other matters.

The man who organized the ban, Asher Friedman, who also runs the charity Nechomas Yisroel, was contacted by the Jewish Star. He refused comment saying:
“The gedolei yisroel don’t want that issue [to be discussed] on the radio and in newspapers. It doesn’t belong for the public to decide on issues that belong for Da’as Torah.”
He refused to disclose the names of rabbonim he consulted.
It's too late for that answer.

It's time for them to respond publicly. The story is a matter of public conversation. Its even been on the front page of HaModia several times. Did HaModia violate Da'as Torah by publishing their cover story today?

Here's a partial list of public commentary on the ban. This does not include any of the links I've already posted in my other posts on this topic.

Hirhurim posted "The Big Event Live: Banned."

Yeshivah World reported: EXCLUSIVE: Lipa Schmeltzer Cancels ANOTHER Concert!

Teruah wrote "Chassid Concert Banned By Rabbis."

Chaptzem Blog! points out that there's a concert this Sunday that hasn't been banned. He also writes "The Terrorists Have Won."

Vos Iz Neias posts an important audio clip of Rabbi Yehudah Levin’s show. (Lipa is interviewed.) The hatred Levin evinces for Jewish musicians is horrifying. It’s a fair illustration of the sanctimonious self-righteousness Jewish musicians have to deal with way too often.

JDub's Aaron Bisman posted "We Knew This Day Would Come."

Little Frumhouse On The Prairie posted "Uncontrollable Klal." There are some important ideas about Rabbinic authority here.

The Noy G Show posted "The Great Orthodox Schism." (Via L-o-R.) He also posted "A Post-Script On the Bans." Important.

Harry Maryles wrote about "Two Lipas." He also posted "Music and Niskatnu Hadoros."

Failed Messiah posted a series on this beginning with "The New Music Ban"

SerandEz posted a Pete Seeger/Malvina Reynolds parody in "Judgementalism."

Y-Love wrote "SOS - Save Our Simcha."

Wolfish Musings wrote "The Gedolim And How They Relate To The Common Person." Also an important post.

Dov Bear says "Let's Just Sit Shiva and Start Over."

Orthomom posted "Quick Thoughts on the Concert Ban."

Finally, MoC addresses the issue of breach of contract in "Lipa Ban and the Sanctity of a Contract." He raises another serious topic that the people involved in banning this concert must address publicly.

In closing, a few final comments.

1) B'makom chillul Hashem, ein cholkim kavod laRav. It's important for all to respectfully, but persistently, demand explanation of all of these issues.

2) All of the points I made in my previous post about the wrongs commited here have been borne out in Lipa and Rav Kaminetzky's public statements since then. The performers/producer were not contacted before the ban was issued. Lies were used to obtain the ban. Although some of the signers did not intend to ban all concerts, the ban clearly does. And so on. I take no satisfaction in being right.

3) The points raised by MoC and the wider points raised by some of the other bloggers listed above also need to be addressed.

4) Even if you support the ban, it doesn't preclude the fact that 'avlos' are acknowledged to have happened. The Rabbonim have an obligation to lead by example. Ignoring the issues raised means that they are tacitly sending the message that the ends always justifies the means.

5) I would be happy to provide an outlet for any response they'd like me to publish here on this blog. In particular, I'm extending a personal invitation to Rabbi Avi Shafran, of Agudath Israel of America. Rabbi Shafran, you've acknowledged serious problems with this ban to the Jewish Star. What is Agudah's position on published sheker attributed to its Gedolim? How do Agudah's gedolim intend to insure that this out-of-control process doesn't repeat itself on even more serious issues?