Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV

Moving on to Chapter Two, "Quotes From Newspapers and Books On 'Rock and Roll'"...

In the first section of this chapter, Rabbi Luft brings many quotes from books and media condemning Rock and Roll. Most of these quotes are from the mid 1950's. Rabbi Luft conveniently ignores many other quotes from the '50s decrying the inappropriate new styles of music. Of course, I'm talking 'bout the 1850's.

The reality is that one can find similar quotes about every musical innovation throughout history, as music has evolved. By cherry-picking these quotes and limiting them to the evils of rock and roll, rather than quoting similarly outraged quotes about virtually every other genre (and harmonic advancement), Rabbi Luft is either being intellectually dishonest, or else he is ignorant of basic music history.

This quote, cited by Rabbi Luft, is racist.
"According to Allan Bloom (in his book "The Closing of the American Mind") rock and roll is indeed no more and no less than the savage and primitive rhythm of darkest Africa." [From "Present Tense: Rock and roll and culture," Ed. Anthony DeCurtis, p.47.]
Rabbi Luft has a history of choosing racist quotes to support his views. This is not surprising, as his entire criticism of "rock and roll" seems to be racially based. More on that soon.

Rabbi Luft helpfully clarifies his editorial role, lest one assume that he is simply presenting a cross-section of quotes about evil rock and roll, without applying any sort of filter. He writes:
[In addition to the material brought above, there are many more quotes about the indecent nature of rock music that are unfit to be presented here.]
He explicitly acknowledges a willingness to refrain from printing "unfit" quotes. Clearly this racist quote does not upset Rabbi Luft's sensitivities.

Incidentally, here's an article, "Chareidi Music and Non-Music", that Rabbi Luft wrote in 2003. The section "What Is Rock Music" is virtually identical to this section, "Quotes From Newspapers and Books On 'Rock and Roll", from his book.

That article included one additional media citation, which is not in the book, and which has been edited out of the online version of the article as well by the publisher. In its place is the following:
(It was pointed out to us that one of the sources used was from a racist publication so we have removed it. It was not essential to any of the points of the article.)
Here's the redacted quote. It comes from the KKK publication, "The Southerner."
"It will erode the entire moral structure of man . . . of spirituality in holy marriage . . . all the white man has built through his devotion to G-d." (The Southerner, March 1956, p.6)
Here's a non-redacted quote from the same article:
By the mid 1950s the effects of the singers and their immoral music could be seen in the behavior of American youth. Religious groups, local governments, police authorities and white citizens councils began to denounce rock and roll, connecting it in an unholy alliance to race, immorality and delinquency.
Here, Rabbi Luft cites the actions of "white citizens councils" approvingly. He and his editors have no problem doing so. His editors are aware of it, as this exchange clearly indicates!

At the very least, it is evident that expressions of racism and racial superiority theories do not trip Rabbi Luft's sensitivity meter as being inappropriate. In my opinion, it's worse than that. I believe that Rabbi Luft accepts these ideas himself. More on that when we discuss chapter three.

Moving along...

The next section of this chapter is titled "Statements From Chareidi Singers on the Modern "Chassidic" Music."

Rabbi Luft writes:
Many innocent people will ask here -- "What do all these quotations of goyim on modern goyishe music have to do with modern Jewish music??? We also admit that rock music is disgusting, but we only listen to Chassidic music written and sung by frum people! Are you implying that our holy songs contain the same immoral influences as the goyishe ones???" The answer is -- yes!!!
Rabbi Luft then proceeds to bring quotes from many singers including Ben Zion Shenker, Mordechai Ben David, Avraham Fried, Gideon Levine, and Yishai Lapidot.

Here's the MBD quote:
"Today there are styles in the chassidic music that have no connection to chassidus," says the singer Mordechai Ben Davd Werdigger. [sic] "It is like being in the jungle. The kushim sing in a more refined way than they do. The words don't make the songs chassidic. Maybe it gives pleasure -- like eating pizza, but there is no spiritual pleasure in it." [from an interview in the Bnei Brak paper Kol HaIr, 12th Tishrei 5764.]
Here's the Gideon Levine quote:
My problem is that the imitation of goyishe music is likely to bring a deterioration in our society, and particularly among the young people. [From an interview in the magazine Shaah Tovah, Erev Sukkos 5764].
In this section, Rabbi Luft effectively exposes the hypocrisy of some JM composers, namely MBD and Gideon Levine, who piously talk about "appropriate" Jewish music with rhetoric that is contradicted by their recorded output.

His use of these quotes demonstrates that some chassidic singers and composers either have a sense that some unquantified secular influences are inappropriate for Jewish music, or more likely, that they are attempting to make distinctions within a belief some in the community have; preserving themselves on the side of the good, without rejecting the belief. At any rate, the recorded output of some of these singers presents a stark contrast to their rhetoric.

This is perhaps the most effective part of Rabbi Luft's presentation, for he uses the singers' own words to demonstrate their agreement with his conception. The fact that their output doesn't match his definition of "kosher" is irrelevant, because their output --specifically MBD and Gideon Levine's-- doesn't match their own public statements of what is "kosher" either.

In short, the fact that some performers are "echad b'peh v'echad b'disc" gives Rabbi Luft his opening to use these statements for his own purposes. Ironic!

Still more...

The next section of this chapter is titled "Changes In Moral Values Caused By The Influence of Modern Music."

In this section, Rabbi Luft lays the blame for the deterioration in moral standards during the nineteen-fifties on rock music. He closes this chapter with the following:
We must realize the danger that the modern popular music presents to our own children. Let us not fool ourselves to think that the holy words that are used to sell indecent rock music to the chareidi public can make the music kosher or prevent the evil influences from defiling the soul. We all know that the modern frum pop songs have no positive influence. The influence on the young people is to distance them from the Torah and spirituality. There is no control or censopship over the cheap music created by those cretinous goons who are unfortunately held in higher esteem than Gedolei Hador by many young people. Through the influence of modern barbaric music, modern civilization has been set back over 3000 years. Do we have to go with them? We must remember that today -- to go with the times means to go down the drain!!!
This quote speaks for itself, I believe. I would just point out that Rabbi Luft's use of the term "cretinous goons" is inappropriate and intemperate. I'd also note that it is the actions of Rabbi Luft and other like-minded askonim who are directly responsible for the diminution of the Gedolei Hador in the eyes of many young (and not so young) people.

Next, Chapter Three - "The Sources of the Modern 'Chassidic' Music."

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
"In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III"
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX