Monday, March 02, 2009

Of Kannoim and Controversy: The Failed 2009 Lipa Schmeltzer Concert Ban

Now that yesterday's Lipa Schmeltzer concert, "The Event Live," has successfully concluded, I think it is important to take a look at the second failed concert ban and the actions of those who participated in it.

It's important to look at this event in light of last year's controversy. (You can find links to posts on that topic here.) A full recounting of the details is beyond the scope of this post. In short, the "Gedolim" and others who signed that ban allowed themselves to be manipulated into signing a last-minute ban by dishonest kannoim. It is a matter of public record that the kannoim behind the ban lied to many if not all of the signers. It is also a matter of public record that a number of the rabbonim who signed last year's ban were opposed to banning this year's event. Opposed, not ambivalent. The fact that they didn't sign a ban this year was not by oversight. It was a deliberate decision to allow the event to proceed.

This created a challenge for the kannoim when they were unable to get these rabbonim to sign on to another ban this year. So, instead they orchestrated another last-minute ban, this time signed by the principals of many Chassidic schools and one Litvishe Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler of Lakewood's Beis Medrash Govoha.

As they did last year, the ban was announced at the last minute, in this case the Thursday before the Sunday show, by an ad published in Chareidi newspapers. The ad was published in the Yiddish newspapers "Der Blatt" and "Der Yid". Fortunately, the ban was not taken seriously and Lipa performed to a full house including many "Hemishe Chassidim."

This ban and the way it was organized/announced/implemented raise some troubling questions about the leadership in the Chareidi community. Especially the massive Chillul Hashem last year's ban caused.

A brief digression first...

Here's a troubling post... Note this part:
This year, like last, there were some people who wished to stop the efforts of the concert organizers and performers. has discovered that virtually every single Litvishe rosh yeshiva refused this year to sign any letter or kol koreh banning a specific singer or The Event concert.

Gedolim have faced tremendous pressure from certain so-called activists and have maintained their position despite fabricated stories that all other roshei yeshiva would be signing against concerts and/or singers.

One particular rosh yeshiva whom was in contact with mentioned that these activists sat with him for over an hour, not willing to let up, and telling him that they have signatures from every other rosh yeshiva. This particular rosh yeshiva had the foresight to pick up a phone and contact a few other roshei yeshiva only to find out that they too were told the same stories but refused to sign.

Of course, at the same time, these rabbonim have said that it is vital to reinforce the idea that concerts should be comprised of kosher entertainment that does not contradict the spirit of the Torah.

Recognizing that there is a strong need to provide kosher outlets for members of our communities, especially children and young adults, gedolei harabbonim have refused numerous requests and attempts to have them sign letters against this upcoming concert and other similar events.
I'd like to point out two things here. One, the facts have not changed, but the psak has. Yet, there has been no public explanation, and only one public apology to Lipa. And, I'm told the financial damages were not made up as promised. This is just wrong.

Two, note this part again:
One particular rosh yeshiva whom was in contact with mentioned that these activists sat with him for over an hour, not willing to let up, and telling him that they have signatures from every other rosh yeshiva. This particular rosh yeshiva had the foresight to pick up a phone and contact a few other roshei yeshiva only to find out that they too were told the same stories but refused to sign.
A rosh yeshiva sat with known liars after last year's fiasco for an hour about this??? That's outrageous! It's also not foresight.

Now back to this year's ban...

The ban states that there is a new nisayon (test) of "menagnim umezamrim mekulkalim shehichniso tarbus neykhor b'oholei Yaakov..."

It uses inappropriate language to describe Lipa and similar singers and is a clear violation of Hilchos Lashon Hara. This is true even if one were to accept the premise at all. As I have amply demonstrated in many places on this blog though, and as is widely known, this notion reflects historical revisionism. Jewish music, even Chassidic music, has always borrowed from the popular music of the surrounding time and place.

Obviously, raising the issue of Lashon Hara with these people is pointless, but I'm not addressing them, but the responsible leadership that needs to step forward.

I could make a few more points about the ban text, but this will suffice for now.

I'm more interested in addressing the circumstances surrounding the publication of this ban. There are a number of issues this ban raises. The first is one of timing. This concert was announced and promoted for the better part of a year. There was plenty of time for rabbinic leadership to address the issue. Waiting until the last minute to publicize a ban is therefore irresponsible and unjustifiable. There was plenty of time for these rabbonim to do their due diligence and announce their ruling well in advance. That they didn't reflects either incompetence or a deliberate tactic by the kannoim behind the ban to attempt to cause the most financial harm. Either should be unacceptable from the perspective of communal policy.

A question about the rabbonim who signed the "new" ban...

They had to have been aware of last year's ban. So, when they were approached to sign a ban, why did they? If they truly respect the Gedolim as representing Da'as Torah, why step in here at all? Isn't this a classic case of Moreh halacha lifnei rabo?

Additionally, even if they don't respect the Gedolim/Da'as Torah,which is hard to believe, did they learn nothing from last year?

A question for the kannoim behind the ban...

Do you respect da'as Torah? If so, how could you ignore the gedolim's refusal to sign on to your attempted ban this year? It's been widely reported that the Gedolim who signed last year's ban refused to sign this one. Is it respectful to attempt to manipulate Gedolim? Is it proper to ignore their clear directives not to impinge someone's parnossah in this specific case?

In short, the ban and the process surrounding it highlight some troubling communal policy matters that the Chareidi leadership needs to address.

On the subject of the kannoim and manipulation...

I received an email this past Shabbos from "V.B. using the email address The email, although ostensibly written by "A Concerned Himesher Yid"[sic] and styled as an "Open Letter to Lipa Schmeltzer" seemed to be the product of one of these kannoim and not the thoughts of an uninterested third party. So, I sent a few follow-up questions about the email, and the answers I received confirmed that writer does not find Emes to be important and either can't or won't answer specific questions about his claims. The writing style sounds a lot like Rabbi Luft and the writer seems to be in Israel... Hmm....

Here is his email with my comments in italics. My questions to him and his non-answers will follow.


Dear Lipa, ly"t

Its time we all woke up and smelled the coffee. After reading the new ban regarding your performance it seems that in Shomayim they are NOT happy enough with the Derech, you have chosen. It does not matter which of the Rabonim signed on the new Kol Korah banning the event, and who not. [Of course it does. The rabbonim who signed last year's ban refused to sign another one because they wanted to allow this event to happen.] If you count the amount of signatures you will come up with about SIXTY signatures.[The number of signatures is not important, especially considering the refusal of the Gedolim to participate, and the relative lack of stature of the signers. The "Gedolim" were asked to sign and refused, allowing the show to proceed.] I believe that this is only the beginning stages of the Kol Korah. It's a clear and strong message from Hashem and the Rabonim who are the leaders of our times that something smells terribly wrong over here. Never in the past decade has there been a gathering of Rabonim to condemn an individual in such a strong way!!! I am not out to hurt you Lipa, I am simply suggesting that you should examine your performance closely, could we believe it's done 100% Al Taharas HaKodesh?[This is a hypocritical assertion, given the proven lack of same among the anti-concert kannoim. See, for example, the kannoim who lied to the Rosh Yeshiva about who else had signed, as reported by Matzav, and Rabbi Luft's book.]

In history of Klall Yisroel we almost never had ALL the Gedolim unite and sign on the same topic. [Here too.] If you LIPA are a true Chosid, like you proclaim to be with your outer Levush (dress code,) you are obligated to adhere to the Chasidishe Rabonim and maybe that's why the majority of the Ban is signed by Chasidishe Gedolim and not Litvish. [This is a mischaracterization. The ban was not signed by Chassidishe Gedolim, but by school principals.] In general the Litvish are any way more modern compared to the Chasidim, and they always allowed for Kalus Rosh in a lax manner compared to the Frum Chadishe Olam. [This is Lashon Hara by any standards. And you ask people to post this and forward it around?]

If one examines the Ban you will find that it does not only pertain to the event - the concert, it's far and beyond that, it includes many of your great and exciting ideas that many have to compliment you on. [Nope. Only a concert cruise (that many other singers also do) and his recordings in general. It does not mention Lipa's unique ideas.]

Lipa you are an extremely talented individual who has inspired thousands upon thousands in Klall Yisroel. If some how you can take a turn and use your influence in a Torah way, you will be able to be Mekarev a huge part of Klall Yisroel to our father in heaven and have a Zchus to speed up the arrival of Moshiach. Take an example from Uri Zohar and see how he turned around and was able to teach hundreds of thousands of Jews Hashems Torah. BTW if you believe you are powerful and have the ability to attract many, show us that you are a true Ben Torah a Tzdik "an Erlicha Yid" as you have been referred to by some leaders, please prove your strengths in Yidishkite to all of us and most of all listen and follow the advise and direction of the Chasidishe Rabonim of todays times...

Lipa I want to tell you something that can not be denied, I personally spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva Reb Shmuel Kaminetzsky Shlita and the Novermintzsker Rebbeh Shlita this week and they both said that I may quote them and publicize in their name that: in no way shape or form are they backing your activities they are NOT vouching for you and they never ENDORSED you. So when many people are suggesting that the Litvish Rabonim are behind the event, that's not so at all. [Citing the Novominsker as proof that Litvish Rabbonim are not behind the event is bizarre. this is also a straw man argument.] The Ban was only signed by those who have a Yeshiva for the younger generation, not by Rabonim who have a Bais Medresh Shull or a Kehillah etc. [Firstly, this is not true. There are several Roshei Yeshiva signed on the ban. Secondly, the reason for this is because the Roshei Yeshiva who signed last year's ban explicitly refused to sign one this year. The kannoim tried to get them to ban this year's event too.] Rabbi Belsky Shlita the Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vadath was asked on this matter, he too replied that he has never given his approval on "the event" or your music and entertainment. [The issue isn't one of approval. It's over whether the concert should be banned. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky explicitly said it shouldn't. Whether he endorses Lipa or not is irrelevant. He feels that he shouldn't be banned.]

By the way do you realize that Manhattan is not a clean place to say the least. There is ZERO Kedushah in NYC and you ran an ad on a Jewish site saying that you are offering 400 Free tickets to any boy under 18 who learns a Perek of Mishnayis. [I'm pretty sure this is a bogus claim.] Why would you even dream to do something so hurtful like this.-- Shlepping our innocent Kinderlich to NYC, are you by chance looking to corrupt those clean Neshomos who are UNDER 18 CHAS V'ESHOLOM???? I don't believe you are that bad yet, it must have just slipped by you without noticing the domino effect of this performance. Perhaps you are having a very difficult time selling tickets, because we all remember that the Kol Koreah banning the "big event" (prohibiting your performance) . Were you just desperate to fill up seats, which we understand that’s done totally LeKovod Hashem Yisboruch so the full proceeds could go to Tzodoka and feed the hungry and poor in Israel.

I want to end off with a Brocha and wish you and your helpers that Hashem opens up your hearts and helps you to return to him seeing the true light of Kedusha and Taharah. May we all be Zoche to true Yiddishkiet with out being confused with goyishkeit Amen.

A concerned Himesher Yid.
I emailed "V.B." the following:
A few questions...

1) Why an open letter. If you are sincere, why don't you contact Lipa privately?

2) Your letter contains quite a few mischaracterizations? Couldn't you make your point without any distortions?

3) Can you honestly say that your email and the actions of the people who organized this year's ban in spite of their knowledge that the Gedolim would not support a ban were 100% Al Taharas Hakodesh?

4) Why are you remaining anonymous? If you truly believe what you write, what reason do you have for witholding your name?

I look forward to hearing your answers. I intend to post your email with my comments and any clarification you send.
He responded:
1) An open letter is a great idea when it express many peoples opinion

2) this is my style of posting on the web

3) I believe 100% that it was clean and green

4) the reason to with hold the name is a way of focusing on the letter with out distractions

5) I did contact Lipa and he responded as a real gentleman, lots of respect for Lipa as indicated in the letter...

I hope this puts your day at ease.
Noting that he did not respond to #2 or #3, I followed up with:
Your answer raises some further questions...

1) If you have contacted Lipa privately and he has responded, why write a public open letter to him after that?

2) You didn't address my second point at all.

3) In this case, people approached Gedolim to sign a ban, they refused to sign, responded that it's forbidden to interfere with another Yid's parnossa, and other similar responses, as well as flat out caught them lying. (Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and others stated so publicly last year and the same was reported this year as well.) Can you honestly assert with a straight face that the people who did this and ignored the responses of the Gedolim, going behind their back to organize a 2nd tier ban because the Gedolim weren't going to sign another ban, were "clean and green"? Do you really think this demonstrates respect for Gedolim? Da'as Torah?
Incidentally, his identity would not be a distraction unless he is Rabbi Luft or another of the known kannoim on this issue.

His response to my follow up:
if you read the answers you'll find an answer to each and every question. 1,2,3,4,5,....
As you see, he ignored my questions, which were not answered, contra his claim.

He did not reply to my last follow-up question:
So am I to assume that your #2 is an answer to mine?
I find his entire correspondence troubling, as I indicated in my questions. His refusal to answer real questions about abuse of process is just sad. So is the attempt to shame Lipa via public letter, when Lipa is perfectly willing to engage him personally and privately, as he acknowledges. For shame!