In Chapter Three, Rabbi Luft looks at "The Sources of the Modern 'Chassidic' Music" and explicates a racist viewpoint. Summarized, his position is that this music is forbidden because, unlike the purer European music, it contains influences from Africa.
Here's a taste of his intro:
Most of the chareidi music that is listened to today is not at all Jewish music. Many people will immediately attack this statement by saying that most of the Jewish music in earlier times was also not Jewish, and many famous tunes were even written by goyim, such as Kol Nidrei, Maoz Tzur, etc. But I will say it again --Most of the chareidi music that is listened to today is not at all Jewish music -- since it is completely unsuitable for Jewish people to listen to, and is certainly unfit to be used with holy words.After setting up this paradigm, Rabbi Luft goes on to explain in detail how all of the Jewish "rock music" can be traced back to its roots in Negro music and is therefore not permissible. I'll address that ugly assertion momentarily.
The emergence of a completely new type of wild music is due to the drastic change in the purpose of music in the world. In contrast to European music, that was generally decent and respectable, today's popular music, in its many weird forms, is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora, and its content is generally indecent and immoral. There is no dispute among the experts on this matter, and everyone knows the effect caused by this music on the goyim who constantly listen to it.
First, I'd like to point out that Rabbi Luft is constrained into acknowledging that there is some permissible non-Jewish sourced music, by the fact that his gedolim use some non-Jewish melodies. His attempt to represent that European music is refined, and therefore was acceptable to adopt, ignores the many raucous European bar tunes that also were adopted by Jews in the shtetl.
His notion that only today's popular music is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora is bizarre and is directly contradicted by the Malbim he quotes at the end of this chapter. More on that quote soon.
Let's look at Rabbi Luft's "explanation" of what's wrong with "rock music." He writes:
The main source of rock music comes from black American music, mainly from jazz and the blues, and accordingly we find that modern Jewish music -- whose creators admit it is also rock music -- is also basically Negro music -- with a bit of Jewish flavour here and there.This is just offensive stuff! For shame!
After explaining how the type of European tunes borrowed in the shtetl were "respectable", he writes the following:
The same can not be said about the music of Africa. It has no intellectual content, and is also not made to give respect or honour. It does contain feeling -- but not the type of feeling that can be used for devarim shebikdusha, but rather impure feelings from a type of primitive music that is used for avodah zara and the occult art of voodoo.Why do I feel like I'm reading a Klan publication?
Rabbi Luft proceeds to explain all about his notions of the evils of voodoo and voodoo rhythms and how that evil is continued in all styles of contemporary rock music today.
This is simply beyond the pale. It should not be acceptable for any Ben Torah to express such ideas in this day and age. I would refer readers to the essay, "On Racism, Its Costs and Its Causes", Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein posted today, and especially to the comments there. When Rabbi Luft represents that his ideas are endorsed by the gedolim, he only compounds the chilul Hashem here.
Rabbi Luft closes the chapter with a quote from the Malbim, who says that Yuval, the inventor of musical instruments, did so for the purposes of luring people into immorality. Rabbi Luft says that this is the essence of the African music too. (Again, I find Rabbi Luft's views on this offensive, and I think he needs to be called out on what they are, which is racism!)
I will point out that the Malbim's approach here contradicts Rabbi Luft's assertion in his intro that today's popular music, in contrast to earlier secular European and American music, is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora.
Lets see... Racism and historical revisionism. Not exactly a strong intellectual basis for establishing a halachik or hashkafic approach to anything.
Next up, Chapter 4, "The Influence of Music On the Body."
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
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker"; Part IV