Friday, February 29, 2008

Ban, Baby, Ban!

Further to "Kol Koreh Bamidbar, Ban New Derech Hashem"...

This story has not gone away. The Charedi leadership needs to address this.

Incidentally, the writers at Cross-Currents have been noticeably absent from this discussion. Isn't this the kind of subject they claim to be out there to present the Charedi viewpoint on?

Here are some more links.

The Jerusalem Post picks up the story. If there were rabbis who gave their approval to the event, prior to it's being advertised months ago, they have an obligation to come forward publicly, and either defend their position (my preference) or explain why they've changed their minds about the event.

Word is the NY Times is considering running a story on this as well.

Vos Iz Neias posts "Lipa In Interview: The Ban Was Manipulated By An Activist." He has audio of the interview.

Some are critical of Lipa for saying this. I think he's performed an important public service by doing so.

Over at Orthonomics, Sephardi Lady posts "Economic Terrorism". This is an important post that connects the wig store ban and the concert ban. I'll likely have further thoughts on these two stories and a thread that connects them with another recent Chillul Hashem.

Shlomo Walfish posts an anti-ban letter to the Yahoo Jewish Music Group.

Failed Messiah continues his series.

Tzig comments.

MOChassid and SerandEz link to my earlier post(s).

JE Magazine posts " A Letter From One of Our Readers."

The letter is written by Y.S. Haber, a frequent JE contributor (who appears to have had a gender change from the days she wrote ads reviews of JM albums for the Jewish Press. Oh, brother! What am I buzzing about?).

The letter is a list of the winners and losers with regards to the ban.

JE prefixed the letter with the following:
As most of you know the JE Magazine doesn't get involved in politics, hence the reason there were no comments on the site about the BIG EVENT. This being said this letter was sent to us by one of our readers/writers and we agree with his statement. Please read the following and tell us what YOU the people think.
Since you asked...

I think JE would have been better off not publishing this letter. Read the whole thing at the above link. Here are some excerpts with my comments.

From the WINNERS category:
1. LIPA-Let's face it, he could've stuck to his guns and ended up performing to a sold out house. More important, his show (as described by people involved with the production) would've showcased a "new"Lipa-one way closer to his-and our "roots". I'm talking substance and style, more nigunim less "narishkeit", etc. Despite his plans to use the Big Event to debut this, out of respect for what the names on the document represented, he backed out of a show that would've ironically made him way more acceptable to the very people targeting him for extinction.
I've seen others make the claim that Lipa was going to change his style for this show. I don't believe this claim. There is no evidence to indicate that it is true, and there is plenty, including all of the marketing videos, indicating the opposite. The background music for the clips, to address the music issue alone, does not inspire confidence that Lipa was moving back to "our roots", unless those roots refer to the Blues.

Plus, caving to blackmail doesn't make one a winner. My impression is that Lipa had no choice here short of leaving his community. Simple as that. It's part of what makes this episode so shameful. (and Orwellian.)

From the LOSERS category:
SIMCHAT TZION: Because Every organization in Israel has the resources to absorb six figure losses. Ok so some Kahllas in Eretz Yisroel may have to make the most special day of their lives way less special, but at long as some people made our world that much safer for their way of life, those Kahllas should understand-actually those Kahllas should be happy for us.
This is outrageous. If true, there should be massive public outrage at Simchat Tzion. If their directors have gambled that kind of tzedakah money, then they have demonstrated that they can not be trusted with overseeing tzedakah funds.

I'm pretty sure I've written on this topic before, but I can't find those posts at the moment. So, here's my position on this. I do not believe tzedakah organizations should be assuming any serious financial risk in any fundraising events they plan. This includes concerts, which are very high-risk. There have been numerous concerts where the organization didn't make enough money to justify holding the event, and some significant losses in the past.

Additionally, even if they do make money, the rate of return needs to have been high enough to justify the expenditures, something I suspect occurs far less frequently then assumed.

Here's an example of the right way to have a fund-raising concert.

The people behind the ban definitely need to take responsibility to make their victims, including Simchat Tziyon, whole. However, Simchat Tziyon deserves opprobrium for placing itself in a high-risk speculative situation. Where's the accountability?

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 ( 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?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anatomy of a Ban - UPDATED

In Wednesday's post, "It's A Beautiful Day For A Ban!", we noted the publication of a ban against the upcoming "Big Event", a concert featuring Lipa Schmeltzer and Shloime Gertner at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, scheduled for March 9th.

On Wednesday, "The Cool Jew" called several ticket vendors to see if the ban was being obeyed. They didn't appear to know about it, and tickets are still for sale.

Over the day, there were some questions raised about whether the ban, which was published as a full page ad in Wednesday's HaModia, was genuine. (See links in the original post for some examples.)

On Thursday, Chaptzem Blog! posted a copy of a flyer distributed in Boro Park that decreed the ban a fraud. The flyer was "signed" by the rabbis who had "signed" the ban.

On Friday, Chaptzem Blog! posted a HaModia clipping in which the paper says it confirmed with 31 of the signers that they had in fact signed the ban. The other two signers were traveling and could not be reached. Also on Friday, Big Event producer Sheya Mendlowitz and singer Shloime Gertner appeared on the Nachum Segal show to talk about the upcoming show. The ban was not mentioned. This appearance is noteworthy, as I'll soon show.

On Sat. night, the Zev Brenner radio show covered the issue. Big Event producer Sheya Mendlowitz participated in the radio show. "The Cool Jew" citing his shared content network with Gruntig reports:
The program concluded with a phone call from Sheya Mendlowitz the producer of the concert, who described in detail the answers to many of our questions. Sheya first explained that he is Chas Vesholom not in any way against the Rabonim and he will not do anything that is against the Rabnonim. The first time he said to have heard about the ban was through the web media and the newspapers. "No one approached us beforehand to try and work thing out Bederech Shalom" he said. He described the whole ban, mainly as a direct attack on Lipa who as Sheya expressed has been under attack for a long time.

Sheya concluded that as of now nothing is canceled and everything will go on as scheduled. “We are in the midst of negotiating and dealing with Rabonim” He reiterated, “and nothing will C"V take place which is against the views and opinions of the Rabonim, "Whatever happens, happens, we'll see". What I want, what I truly want" he said, "is what the one above wants."
This ban and the way it was done raises some serious issues.

1) The choice of signers. My original post noted the issue with Lipa Margolis being included among the ban's signers. It can't be said clearly enough. The man has no constituency. There is no group that wouldn't respect the authority of the ban were his signature not on it. Those in the yeshiva community who follow these bans would find Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, etc to be be compelling. Margolis is an evil man, who knowingly harbored a serial child molestor in his school for about thirty years. His inclusion serves only to rehabilitate him by association with the other well-known Roshei Yeshiva. He is not known, even within his own community, for his scholarship, ethics, or leadership. It is an insult to the the other signers that he is included as one of their peers.

2) The inaccurate language of the ban. As others have noted, the language of the ban appears to have been cribbed from another ban in Israel a few moths back. The text includes the obvious error of referring to the rabbonim "here" in Israel as well as those in the States. This is important to note because the publication of an inaccurate public pronouncement, signed by many community leaders, serves to make them look foolish. Whoever was behind the actual production of the ban's text succeeded in making the Roshei Yeshivah/Rabbonim look like illiterates who can't read/understand Hebrew. It also causes people to question whether the ban is genuine.

3) The implications of the ban. The text of the ban, although banning this specific event, bases it on the ruling of the gedolim banning concerts in general. "U'kvar hisree'oo al zeh gedolei Yisroel kan u'veArtzos Habris ve'asru be'isur gamur arvei shira eilu afilune'erachim ne'hafrada mele'ah." (And the "Gedolim" here in Israel and in the USA have already prohibited these concerts with a complete prohibition even if they are completely separate seating.) In other words, the grounds for banning this concert is the "ruling" that concerts are forbidden. It won't stop here. Indeed, it would be intellectually and morally dishonest to ban this concert on the basis of that "psak" and still allow future concerts to take place. Thus, these signers have hinged their credibility on their banning of all future concerts. If they do not, they will be rightfully viewed as hypocrites.

4) The lies in the ban. As I noted above, Shloime Gertner, one of the two featured entertainers, appeared in a radio interview Friday morning to promote the show. This demonstrates that the ban lied when it claimed that one singer had pulled out and only Lipa Schmeltzer was still appearing. Even if Gertner now decides to pull out, it's clear that HaModia published a full page lie endorsed by many leading rabbonim. This goes straight to their credibility. Their authority has been used to promote falsehood. Certainly, since it appeared in a public ad, the Rabbonim ought to rectify this publicly.

5) The organizers of the ban. Because of the problems listed above, it's clear that the organizers of the ban have put these rabbonim in an uncomfortable situation. I'd bet most of the signers didn't know precisely who else's signatures would be appearing. They also wouldn't have known that the assertion that Gertner had pulled out was a fabrication. They should have insisted on seeing the final text prior to signing and they should be aware of the implication with regard to future concerts, but it's likely that that didn't happen either. At any event, its clear that the organizers behind the ban have succeeded in perpetuating a huge public embarrassment to these rabbonim. They should be held accountable. Incidentally, all of the above criticisms are relevant whether or not one feels a ban is appropriate in this case.

6) The method of the ban's announcement. As noted above, Sheya Mendlowitz says the first he heard about a ban was when it was published in the HaModia. I believe him. This has happened before.. As I noted in the past:
The underlying point of how bans affect performers and musicians who have not done anything wrong, and are finding their parnassah opportunities taken away, is one that the Rabbis sigining these bans need to publicly address.

It's not just about concerts. The Agudah did the same thing with its takanos on wedding band sizes. The notion that someone can take away a person's legitimate parnassah, let alone an entire industry, without addressing said loss of income and their responsibilities to those affected is bizarre, and creates a huge chilul Hashem.

What did these people expect would happen when they suddenly banned a show (that followed their previously established guidelines) just days before. Who is supposed to assume the financial loss that would have resulted had the ban worked? Simply put, it's rishus, and I don't say this lightly. The people who instigate or support these bans have an obligation to those financially affected by them.
The event is only a few weeks away. WaMu/Madison Square Garden is not a cheap venue and there are numerous other costs here too. The costs to cancel the show are presumably massive. The timing of the ban basically leaves the producers no choice but to soldier on. The event was announced months ago. Why the relatively last-minute announcement of the ban? The signers have to take this into account when they ban things. Banning events under circumstances where the producers have virtually no choice but to continue is silly.

7) The fake anti-ban flyer. As this demonstrated, the preponderance of bans and "kol korehs" has made it easy for a fake flyer to be found believable. In the past, I've written about the unfortunate change from teshuvah to pashkevil with regard to the halachik process (no time to find links). This is an unfortunate but predictable outcome that further erodes the credibility of published bans and proclamations.

In a post last September, "Ban First, Censor Afterwards", I quoted Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum:
Things haven’t changed much since ancient times. Today, too, we have self proclaimed agitators and charlatans who have nothing to do with their time but to go around to our leading Torah sages and try to convince them that separate-seating concerts are a threat to our Yiddishkeit and to ban them. They falsely claim that there is pritzus in the hallways plus other fabrications. Exaggeration is a blood relative to falsehood, and almost as bad. A gossip is one who can give you all the details without knowing all the facts. Unfortunately, they often succeed in their mission. All it took was one Korach to convince the 250 heads of Sanhedrin of the holiness and purity of his mission.
In short, regardless of whether one agrees with the concept of bans in general, or that this concert should be banned --for the record, I don't believe these bans are appropriate -- it's self-evident that the way this was done has eroded rabbinic authority and resulted in a Chillul Hashem. Even if it achieves its goal and the concert is cancelled or boycotted.

In closing, it seems appropriate to note that although current Chaim Berlin RY, Rabbi Aaron Schechter, signed the ban --in fact, he signed the three most recent bans I've blogged-- his predecessor, Rav Hutner ZT'L, whose Torah is well-known even outside the Chaim Berlin walls, said “One does not educate with issurim.”

I hope that those involved with this fiasco, and those in the community who care about kavod haTorah, learn from this.


The Yeshiva World reports that Lipa has backed out of the concert.

The points above stand. As I'd noted, irrespective of the ban's "success", the process was, is, and continues to be a Chillul Hashem. The Rabbonim, especially those who signed the ban and community leaders need to address the issues raised by the ban.

UPDATE II: Here's an important quote from the above-linked Yeshiva World post.
Lipa also tells us that he is very concerned that there will be a backlash at the Rabbonim. He is publicly asking everyone to please refrain from making any accusations against any Rabbonim. “There is no reason for anyone to mix into this business, and everyone should rest assured that this was all done Bishalom”, Lipa said. “I don’t want anyone to talk Lashon Hara and Motzei Shem Ra against anyone - especially the Gedolim whom I have tremendous respect for”.
Does anyone really believe this was done "bishalom?" Through publicly posting lies and attacks? The rabbonim have to address this aspect of this. In short, whether Schmeltzer is saying this of his own volition or whether he was forced to state this, it's simply not believable.



Vos Iz Neias is reporting event producer Sheya Mendlowitz's statement obtained 7PM this evening.
"Regardless of what is being said in the name of , Or by Lipa Shmeltzer, "until there is a joint statement from, Sheya Mendlowitz, Yisroel Lamm, Lipa Schmeltzer, Shloimie Gertner, & Simchat Tzion the concert is still on". we are all under contract & therefore regardless what you read or hear until there is a joint statement made, everything remains as is. we hope to resolve this issue very soon." said Sheya.
Life-of-Rubin says Lipa has confirmed that he's pulling out of the show.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's A Beautiful Day For Another Ban

Here's another full-page ad from today's Hamodia. Who is paying for these?

This one is against inappropriate music and implores people to ensure that the band and nigunim are "b'derech avoseinu al taharas hakodesh". Good thing I've been playing so much klezmer for so long. I'm eagerly anticipating the Chareidi bookings for my acoustic klezmer ensemble. It's a twofer; low volume and music just the way our grandfathers enjoyed it! I await my rabbinic endorsements and gig referrals.

It's A Beautiful Day For A Ban! - UPDATED

LIFE-of-RUBIN informs that the upcoming NY Big Event concert on March 9th, 2008 featuring Lipa Schmeltzer and Shloime Gertner has been banned.

Here's the "Kol Korei".

It refers to the performers as "mezamrim m'ktze hamachane" (singers from the edge of the camp) and says [in Hebrew] "they're going to sing and joke in front of men and women with an outcome of frivolity and light-headedness." Oh, dear.

The ban goes on to assert that all concerts are prohibited. It also proclaims an "issur" for newspapers to publish ads for the event. And, it urges all to boycott these musicians and not hire them for your personal simchos or for tzedakah events.

The ban signers include various Hasidic leaders from many sects, as well as a number of "Litvishe" Roshei Yeshivah, including Rav Aaron Schechter (of wig store boycott fame), Rav Matisyahu Solomon, and many more.

The most outrageous part of this is that the ban signers include Lipa Margolies. This is the man who knowingly sheltered a child molester in his school, Torah Temimah, for 30 years. He is not, and never has been, a respected Rosh Yeshivah whose opinion is viewed as Da'as Torah. He simply owns Torah Temimah, a private school.

Regardless of whether one agrees or not with the ban, one must acknowledge that Rav Matisyahu Solomon, Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, etc. are recognized as prominent rabbinic leaders whom people contact with "shealos". Virtually all the signers serve to represent different "constituencies", like Satmar, Vishnitz, Bobov, Vien Skver, Belz, Chaim Berlin, Lakewood, etc. signaling to members of those communities that the ban applies to them too.

Including Margolis among the ban signers serves no function. His presence there adds no influence in any sector of the community. It only serves to represent him as a respected authority in the community, something he never was, and certainly something he isn't, after the evil he perpetuated on three decades of students at his school.

Even if you grant the premise of the "ban-ers", this ban itself is a bad thing, for the message it sends about this issue. For shame!

Life-of-Rubin says some are speculating that this may be a fake and he also posts a link to the blog, CIRCUS TENT, where this ban was first posted early this AM.

I have today's Hamodia here and the ad appeared as a full-page ad in page D16a.

Tzig points out that the text of the ad comes from a different ban.
THE KOL KOREH WAS AN OLD, RECYCLED ONE FROM LAST YEAR, WHEN THEY WENT AFTER FRIED AND MBD IN ISRAEL!!! (read the line that begins הוא עצת היצר, and read the next line.)
The language used is that the rabbonim "here in Israel" as well as those in the USA prohibit concerts. A strange choice of language for a ban signed by US rabbonim.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

From the mailbag...

Jonathan Baker writes:
I got to somewhat more of the conference, starting from the second session.

I review it here, referencing your post.
Avi writes in response to Pinny Gilden:
For anybody who still wants to know, 87.5 is broadcast, as far as I know, out of the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva on 76th Ave. I live across the street, and listen to it all the time.
E. contributes a peep:
"White Pajamas Guy"

This guy stands out in crowd at a simcha or even Friday night in shul. He's the socially awkward, yet articulately brilliant artsy dude, not quite an inebriated hippy, but not quite a lame yeshiva boy who usually shows up looking like a slumber party reject dressed in what appears to be oversized white pajamas that could be a sailor suit without the blue knot or a two piece west indian mourning tunic. He might choose to categorize himself on the Jewish singles' site menu as "Carlbachian Breslover enthiusiast" or some other equally ambiguous and random spiritual classification.
Hesh writes:
Hey thanks for the link man, I thought this may be of interest to you- since everyones getting so serious I decided to make a funny video of my thoughts of the shietle store boycott. I am basically doing my rants- which have been becoming popular thanks to several blogs who have posted the videos including Life of Rubin and Gruntig. Take a look and feel free to print this email- because I know you do.
Shmuel Simenowitz writes:
Regarding the controversial shop window: "The photos there appear distinctive in the "provocative" head-tilt the models sport. ( The more modest models in the other shops you photographed keep their necks nice and straight.)

Could a ban on women's public head-tilting be far off?"

I have been to more modeling photo shoots than I care to remember over the 20+ years I was an entertainment lawyer and no matter how many people are present at the shoot (make-up, wardrobe, lighting as well as the usual sycophants) it invariably comes down to a "one-on-one" between the model and the photog who is trying to get her to give him "attitude" and more, etc. So are the photos pornographic? certainly not. But were they intended to be ever so sly, coquettish, kittenish and titilating? of course - let's just be straight on that point. When I posted that opinion on DovBear I was asked whether I was kidding or just a whacko! But I'm gonna hold my ground on this one.
"Krum Frum" writes:
Article on music volume from Yeshiva World... I wonder what your thoughts are on this one...
I've written a number of posts about the volume issue which can be found by searching the blog archives. Here's a sample: "In Which The Jewish Observer Gets Fisked!"

2/19/08 Link Dump

There's a new Dovid Gabay CD coming soon!

You'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that --unlike all other Brokklyn JM pop CD's -- "this album has it all!"
"This album has it all!!" says producer Avi Newmark. As we've done in the past, we've given the album a mix of songs that satisfy the pallet of all Jewish music fans. "Hagomel" a Disco composed by Yossi Green has already received tremendous acceptance with the few days of radio play. The title track,"Omar Dovid", composed by rising Composer Elimelech Blumstein is sure to satisfy the all time Jewish music fan. "This song is very special," says Gabay. To those who have had a taste of the album it is already being called "The modern day Tanya". It's not everyday a song like this hits the market.
Pallet, huh! That 'vinced me!

MoC doesn't understand.

After much research, Blog in Dm's diligent investigators discover that Jazz legend Sun-Ra apparently played Orthodox club dates in the '80's. Here he is soloing on Carlebach's B'Yerusholayim with the Neginah Orchestra; a solo played by some Neginah guitarists to this day.

Digital Irony writes about children in Sderot singing through their fear.

Ever wind up on the bandstand with a screechy sax player? Maybe he just needs a jump start!

The best cover of "Smoke On The Water" ever!

Here's a Jewish Press article about The Music of Mishnayos Project.

Satmar imposes new wedding takanos. This'll impact the badchonim. That 59 minute Mitzvah Tanz guy just became that much more desirable.

Chaptzem's been on a JM blogging kick.

Here he takes on Michoel Pruzansky for "unoriginal" advertising material.

Here he blogs about Shoime Dachs' political bundling. Here's an NY Post article on the matter.

Here he takes on the Lipa/Gertner promo team for using video of people in their promo clip without consent.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Wigged Out Follow Up

Following up on "Handel Ehrlekh - A Wigged-Out Photo Blog"...

The wig store caved.

Dov Bear and The Yeshiva World have posted the letter Rav Aaron Schechter wrote declaring victory.

It's a particularly ungracious letter, with a back-handed tweak at the store owner and Rav Schechter notably refrains from urging people to patronize the store. Graceless.

I think it's important to note that the post received thousands of hits and I received a number of emails about the matter as well. The matter was discussed on a number of other blogs as well, (for instance, here), and thus far, no one has offered a reasonable explanation/justification for the boycott letter. The Chillul Hashem stands.

This is because process matters, much as I noted with regard to the Slifkin ban. Put simply, even granting that Rav Aaron Schechter was right in this case about the photos, the abuse of process causes justifiable disaffection. Do the Chareidi leaders really seek to alienate fair-minded Jews?

This isn't a one time occurrence. It's been happening again and again. We're told that frum Jews have to follow the Halachik process, and that includes settling disputes in Bet Din, not saying Lashon Hara, etc. As well, we're told that Halacha does not allow for a judge to hear an argument without the plaintiff and defendant both being present. Yet, when it comes down to it, our leaders seem to be demonstrating that these rules don't apply to them.

We're told that a "hazmana" to a Din Torah may not be ignored, and must be responded to either by engaging in said Bet Din, or choosing another. They ignore them.

We're told that you can't slander someone. They can.

We're told that disputes ought to be taken to a Din Torah, yet they didn't do so in this case prior to the boycott letter going out, or in the Slifkin case prior to the bans being promulgated, to cite but two recent examples.

And so on...

That's the main issue here, but there's another as well, and that is the matter of tznius.

Some in the community (too many) seem to be applying the Feiler Faster Thesis to tznius. The apparent "Tzniyus Faster Thesis" states that the ability of the community to adopt more stringent levels of tznius for women as the norm is happening ever faster, as the time it takes for the baseline to move rightward has shortened to account for the quicker frequency of proposed extremes.

The end result? Well, some have started wearing burqas in Israel. A Mother in Israel has a number of posts about "hyper-tzniut" that include links to a Maariv article about the phenomenon, and its leader, Rabbanit Bruria Keren.

Can we expect "Burqas by Esti" to be opening soon across from Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin?

Here are some emails we received on our original post.

Devora Kessin writes:
Thank you for that wonderful post. Your remarks and observations regarding both the game and the Sheitel store problem were wonderfully done and photographed.

It's sad to know the extremes people here in Israel are going to in the name of Tznius has made the leap to NY.
Frimet Roth writes:
Many thanks for sharing the illuminating Yiddish Monopoly with us.

Regarding the controversial shop window: The photos there appear distinctive in the "provocative" head-tilt the models sport. ( The more modest models in the other shops you photographed keep their necks nice and straight.)

Could a ban on women's public head-tilting be far off?

No doubt the definitive brochure listing permissible head positions (perhaps accompanied by full-color illustrations) is already being drafted.
I hope she's being sarcastic about the head tilt. She forgot to comment on the entirely inappropriate shade of lipstick the sheitel heads in the BP store window were wearing. Feh!

We already posted Eli's comments a few days ago:
...I read your post regarding bans and could not agree with you more. Bravo for talking about the extremist white elephant that is trampling over good old fashioned Yiddeshe common sense. Halevai more people would have the guts to say what most of us are thinking.
Here are some other blogs that linked to the post.
Gaby's Gobbledygook
Prima Impressionis
On the Main Line
Frum Satire

Also, "Der Kegener" takes me to task and writes:
Then there's the issue of the musician author of the Blog in Dm being paranoid and believing those silly stories he heard as a kid. Here's what he says: This is a board game called "Handel Ehrlekh". It's hard to translate the title accurately. Idiomatically, it means "Dealing Ethically", but "handel" often has somewhat of a negative connotation as well, as in financial wheeling and dealing, or "bargaining down". Mr. DM, you need to stop believing that nonsense, it's not very becoming of an educated member of the musical elite to believe hearsay like that. Yes, you may ocassionally hear stories from that neck of the woods that conjure up images of unscrupulous Jews taking advantage of the less fortunate, but Ad K'dei Kach? to think that they LeKatchilloh educate their kids to bargain and be dishonest? That's a stretch, don't you think? the good people of Williamsburg deserve to be judged better by yourself. Besides, it was one guy who made the game, not an official production.
First, thanks for the compliment.

Tzig puts a negative spin on my words that was not intended. I neither stated nor implied that a goal of the game was to teach kids to be dishonest. It is what the word means idiomatically, though, as I wrote. As I believe I indicated in my post, I find the goal of the game, and the sentiment behind it, admirable. I do of course take issue with some of the more bizarre elements, as indicated on some of the cards shown, etc.

I have no idea which silly stories I supposedly heard as a kid, but I assume he means to imply that I don't know that community. He forgets that my experience is not based on hearsay, but on the fact that I am a "Hasidic Musician". (One of my sisters would have been named Yoel had she been a boy.)

Finally, the guy who made the game writes at the end of the instructions that all of the educational components of this game were done in consultation with and with the knowledge of Rabbonim. Interestingly, this part of the notes is written in Hebrew instead of Yiddish. See for yourself by checking the scan of the instructions I included in the original post.

I got some email about my description of the game.

Zev Sero wrote:
"Of course, if a player runs out of money, he receives charity. This results in the game being never ending, for, if you run out of money, you immediately receive a tzedoko (charity) stipend."

Nope. Read the rules again. You only get $50, and the max loan from the Gemach is $300; if the rents on fully-developed properties are anything like those in Monopoly, that isn't going to get you far in the end-game.
He may be right. I'd assumed that this would continue ad infinitum, with the "poor person" receiving $50 as often as needed indefinitely.

He continued:
BTW, I see nothing unethical in borrowing some of Monopoly's game mechanics, and even look-and-feel; Darrow borrowed heavily from what came before him, so why shouldn't people borrow from him? In any case, the only legitimate purpose of IP law is to encourage creativity, so an infringement that doesn't affect the owner's bottom line is not wrong. Nobody who was going to buy Monopoly will decide not to buy it because they bought Handel Erlich instead. So how is Parker Bro's (or whoever
owns it now) harmed by this "infringement"?
I responded mentioning Dina D'malchusa Dina (the obligation to obey the laws of the land):
I agree with you about the concept behind IP law, but you're wrong on the facts. IP law covers many scenarios where the owner doesn't suffer a loss. This comes up a lot with regard to music sampling. The issue isn't whether the IP owner suffered a direct loss of sales by the infringement. Bottom line: Dina d'malchusa dina.
Sero replied:
DMD is *way*-overhyped. For one thing it has nothing to do with
erlichkeit. It's a technical rule in dinei momonos, based on an extremely puzzling memra in the gemara, and if you look at the rishonim's struggle to come up with a rationale you can see how none of them really had a kabala about it. It's not at all clear that it applies here and now, and if so to what extent. In the current case the constitution is clear on the purpose for which it authorises congress to make copyright and patent laws, so if there's no direct loss of sales then as far as I'm concerned the application of the law to that case is unconstitutional. I don't give a damn that no court in the land will agree with me; the case isn't going to come up in court anyway. But if you're appealing to my own conscience and saying that I ought to obey the law of my own volition then I'm entitled to my own view of the law, and as I read the constitution this law is invalid in such a case. Even if I cared about the law, which I really don't.
I think this is a very revealing response. Suffice it to say that I disagree. As does my posek.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Today's CCA event - The Music of Tefilah

The Music of Tefillah - The Cantorial Council of America Mid-Winter Conference took place today in Teaneck. Due to an early AM gig and a family commitment, I was only able to attend the third session, "The Music and Message of Moditz and How the Music Can Be Effectively Used in Davening".

It was an interesting session. Essentially, Cantor Yaakov Motzen, who considers himself a Modzitzer, has adapted the framework of the popular "Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat" by using Modzitzer melodies.

One of the criticisms many chazzonim have of the Carlebach Friday Night service is the abandonment of the traditional nusach hatefilah. Cantor Motzen's settings work beautifully with the words and lead nicely into the nusach as well.

Benefits of this approach are:

1) The melodies are so much more musically interesting, compared to many of the Carlebach tunes being used for Kabbalat Shabbat. Also, No simple AB song forms.

2) The tunes chosen work well for group singing.

3) Nusach is respected, not abandoned.

4) The congregation is exposed to Chassidic nigunim.

This template seems like it could be easily modified to accommodate the nigunim of most any chassidus.

Cantor Motzen is in the midst of recording this project, and I look forward to hearing the results.

From the mailbag...

Eli writes:
First of all, as a musician myself (keyboards and percussion), I appreciate your blog and your unique view of the state of Jewish Music today. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Second of all, I read your post regarding bans and could not agree with you more. Bravo for talking about the extremist white elephant that is trampling over good old fashioned Yiddeshe common sense. Halevai more people would have the guts to say what most of us are thinking.

Finally, Disclaimer: I am an "out of towner" from the hicks and sticks of Baltimore, MD. I had the occasion to be at a Chasuna in NY recently and was astounded at the amount of talking and general background noise that was going on during the chupah. Maybe it's a New York thing... I don't know. Also, the wedding had a star-studded 12 piece Negina band (a string quartet + 8 pieces for dance, + 1 singer.) As a musician, I was in heaven. It was absolutely beautiful. I was surprised, however, at the amount of "goyeshe" music that was played... apparently if one sings Nachman M'Breslov or some variation of that, it turns techno dance music Jewish... Don't get me wrong - It was nice, but after a while I thought that I was on a treadmill listening to my IPod as opposed to at a Jewish wedding. I still "can't get [that song] out of my head"!

Just my observations. Keep up the good work.
Jordan Kaplan writes:
Dear D Minor (well-chosen key for Jewish music),

Thought you might be interested in checking this out...

Kol tuv,
David Feman writes:
There is a song that is sung usually on shabat with an amazing soulful tune...."kol mikadesh shvi". Do you know who wrote this tune or where I can hear it?
Pinny Gilden writes:
I'm not sure how this happened. One day I turned on the radio in my living room, it just happened to be Jewish Music on 87.5 FM in the NYC area. I figured it was just a one hour radio program dedicated to Jewish music.

I came home from work, and turned it back on, and the music was still playing to my surprise for HOURS and HOURS. It doesn't pick up anywhere else but my living room, but it seems like it runs 24/6 with really great assortments of Jewish music.

Just thought I would share this with you, I live in Queens, so I am not sure about the surrounding areas, I'd be curious to know who runs this wonderful broadcast and if anyone else can pick it up on their radio.
Someone emailed about this a while back.

Zal Schreiber writes:
Hi, Zal here.

I just wanted to comment on something close to my heart… Music Mastering.

I was setting up my (home) studio with a new piece of gear, a Mackie BigKnob Studio Command System, which is a sound listening center for studios to listen back to the various playback devices…all coming through a central listening system. Great for switching back and forth between devices to compare before and after sounds…listening between CDs and DVDs and Digital Audio Workstations, reel to reel tape machines or a turntable if you still happen to have one, etc. Very handy.

And so, I was listening to the CD I listen to most often when I evaluate music systems. I’ve done this at Dale Audio in NYC through hundred thousand dollar playback systems, and at my professional place of work (Atlantic Studios) and in my home studio. The one song I use for this system evaluation (a music track without the vocals…”At the Beginning”) has great musical dynamics, and full audio frequency spectrum, and is a big $$$ production (the song was in the animated video “Anastasia”). It really fits the bill for sound system analysis.

And so, after listening and adjusting the Mackie to get it to be right-on, my son came into the room with a highly acclaimed Jewish CD. Noted engineers, producers and musicians were on the CD. I asked my son to get it because I was tired of listening to the type of “Jewish” music my kids bring home. As I like good music, I though this CD would be different. OK, I’m not going to comment on THAT issue. Let me leave that for another time, as I don’t need to have tomatoes tossed my direction. I'll wait 'til when I plan to cook up some tomato sauce.

And so, I expectantly put up this Jewish CD to the same listening level (volume) that I had just listened to with the “test” CD I had just played and calibrated my system with… back to back… that close. And as I’m listening to this lauded CD, I find myself pulling down the volume to listen to it more comfortably. And I kept bringing the listening level lower and lower. And finally, I walked out to my son and mentioned that the sonics (sound quality) were a bit harsh to my ears…and he said,” Oh, yeah, that’s right. I didn’t want to mention it to you when I gave you the CD”.

Hmm. So it wasn’t only in MY head. The sound was brash as opposed to the sonically smoother “secular” song I had just listened to, the one that always seems to hit that musical spot just right. Hmmmmm.

I went to the CD liner notes to check where the CD had been mastered. Well, it wasn’t mastered anywhere. It was recorded and mixed, but that was it. It just wasn’t mastered. The mixers evidently were the last ones who left the final sonic impression on the music. So be it.

This was not the first time I have come across big-name releases and found that they were lacking at least some consideration for art’s sake, to the music, artist, and the public, concerning the proper mastering of Jewish Music. Mastering takes a group of songs and makes it into a cohesive, unified project, ironing out the raw edges, adding sweetness, specifically tapering it for the medium it is on.

Many years ago, when I was looking to branch out, and thought to offer my services to the Jewish artists and companies – and public, I sent out letters to most of the Jewish record companies and producers- offering my services, and I got not one reply. Someone called me to do some menial sound task (for minimal remuneration) but no one bit. I called up one of the real biggies (at the time) and spoke to one of the owners, and asked what his mastering budget was. He said $150-175…I said, hey, that pays for just about the transfer from analog to digital (just about no-one records on analog nowadays). He said, yeah, you’re right. So, no consideration was given for sprucing up the sound, formatting it correctly, and just enhancing the final sound of the musical project. Zilch.

Believe me, music mastering can make a BIG difference to the ultimate quality of sound on/of a musical release. You would consciously or unconsciously listen to a well-mastered disc more than other CDs in your collection, as it would be ultimately more pleasing to and kinder to the ears, if the music merited it, of course. Everyone is familiar with the expression “music to my ears”, right? Listening to music should be pleasant not irritating. (Music mixing… now that’s a whole other topic, right folks?)

It was some years ago when I sent out my music mastering promo, but, I’m sorry, not much seems to have changed over the years, at least as far as mind processes. As far as technology, everything’s changed. Everybody has gear that can record music. But does everyone know how to use it properly? Have they mastered the subtlety in/of producing music that is fulfilling not only performance wise, but ambience wise as well? Are they sensitive to the psycho/acoustical impact of digital sound on the listeners? Of ANY sound on the listeners? I fear not. Actually, I KNOW not. Sorry guys.

While I’m off on this tangent, let me ask you this. When you go to a Chasunah, does the music level exceed a healthy volume level? Do your ears hurt not just after you leave the wedding some hours on, but while the music is being played? Do you find your ears ringing for some time, OR DAYS, after you attend? Well, I’m beginning to bring my sound pressure level meter to see how over the level really is. In Israel, they (the Rabbanim, mind you) have passed a law concerning loud music at Simchas. We, IY”H should have many, but we should be able to hear as well as we came into the Simcha as when we go out…

We are destroying our hearing and poorly mastered music projects and dangerously loud Simcha amplification is deleterious to our aural senses (hearing). If the sound hurts, it is doing damage.


And watch your headphone levels !

Just some thoughts on an important issue. Your hearing health, and, secondarily, your listening enjoyment.
I intend to write a follow up post to "Handel Ehrlekh - A Wigged-Out Photo Blog", which will include emails received on that post.

Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B'Peeps

The peeps be out in force, yo!

"Ethnic Pride Guest"
This peep might not even be Jewish. Whether it's a Bukharian Jew in traditional ceremonial dress, the groom's Nigerian co-worker in traditional dashiki, or the brides Tai-Kwan-Do instructor in ceremonial kimono, the "Ethnic Pride Guest" can be counted on to add a splash of color to the sea of black and white on the men's side of the mechitza.

"Wrist Flick Girl"
This peep is the person running the event. She'll come over at five minutes before the event/dance set is supposed to end, and flick her wrist in an ambiguous manner that either means end now, or else, keep going. Then she'll disappear so that you can't clarify what she meant without choosing one of those options first. It's always fun to guess what she meant.

Ms. "I Use You All The Time"
As a general rule, if someone who works for a school or organization you used to do a lot of work for calls after a long period of no gigs and offers that they "Use You All The Time", you can be sure that they have recently had many events you weren't called for. Um, lady, no offense, but how stupid do you think we are? The room you hired us to play in is festooned with photos of recent events including your Chanukah Chagigah, annual Melave Malka, and other previous events with live music from earlier this year!

"The Vain Rabbi"
He's good for half hour overtime on the hall, band, photographer etc, because he LOVES the sound of his own voice. Honored with leading Birkat Hamazon, he turns it into a half-hour production, complete with jokes including a "Harachaman" for the victorious sports team du jour. Hey! Thanks for the extra bread!

"The Vain Violinists"
The "Vain Violinists" struggle valiantly, or should that be "violintly", to be heard over the yapping hordes at the smorg. A six or seven piece classical ensemble is a nice concept, in theory, but in this particular venue, they were inaudible from more than three feet away. A shame, because they were playing beautifully. Next time, bring amps. Or muzzles.

The "I Lub Chewish Music" guy.
This peep, usually, although not always Hispanic, knows all of the popular Israeli and Chassidic simcha melodies. He sits on stage behind the drawn curtain whistling along with the band while also stamping along in time. We can feel the stage shaking, and the whistling gets old really fast, but its hard to get too annoyed with someone who loves Jewish music so much. Can we get him a KlezKamp scholarship?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

2/7/08 Link Dump

Dentists all over the city are despondent over the news that smooth jazz radio station CD101.9 has closed "due to a declining audience for Smooth Jazz over the past few years." Someone should tell the good folks at Camp Kutz.

Check this out, "Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Ford Car Part Musical Ensemble!" A fascinating video.

It's good to know you can turn your car into an instrumental ensemble. Best instrument name? "Ford Fender Bass!"

Here's a Yeshiva World post about a CD project to help Toronto musician Yehudah Gilden, a Parkinson's patient, support his family.

The tale of the album's production is a beautiful example of how we should be helping each other. You can see a video presentation about the project here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Ben Jacobson writes up Oleh! Records in the Jerusalem Post.

Lion of Zion posts "Music of Ilan Ramon" about the Israeli music played for the astronauts on the space shuttle.

In this YouTube clip, a Messianic Christian sings Shlomo Katz's "Yismechu" with a lot of feeling.

Writing for the Jewish Week, George Robinson profiles Rabbi Greg Wall. The new Later Prophets project sounds interesting.

Anthony Weiss writes "Composing the Exile", a profile of Steven Bernstein's latest record, for the Forward. Also over at the Forward, songstress Lisa Loeb says"Honesty Is the Best Policy." And finally, you can count on the Forward to keep us up to date on Alan Dershowitz’s Musical Endeavors.