Monday, November 24, 2003

A Dilemma

Ever since I heard about the following story, I've been debating with myself whether or not to blog about this. I have never agonized over a post the way I have thought about this. Here's the background. On September 26th the Jerusalem Post reported:
Two haredi men, one the singer son of a prominent American haredi performer, were arrested Friday afternoon in Jerusalem for enticing girls, some of whom were below the age of 16, to take dangerous drugs and then to have sexual relations with them.
In addition, police said the two men photographed the girls in intimate positions in the bathroom and having sexual relations with other men. The suspects would later show the pictures to their friends. A search of the downtown apartment of one of the suspects turned up the miniature camera that was used.
When the singer was arrested, he tried to swallow the memory disc of his computer, breaking the chip as he chewed it. "We think he had good reason to do so," the police told the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge.
The victims were all harediot, and police said the suspects took advantage of the girls' innocence and lack of sex education.
Investigation of the case began based on complaints filed by some of the girls as well as on additional sources, said police.
The police description of one of the suspects as the son of a prominent haredi personality led to wild speculation in the haredi community. Radio reports noted that Israeli Internet sites carried the full names of the suspects.
The judge ordered the police to allow friends of the two suspects to supply them with strictly kosher food with Eda Haredit certification.
I'm not going to name the singer here because he is presumed innocent with regard to the particulars of this accusation until proven guilty. I will say that at the very least the drug part of this has been an open secret for years. And sadly, my point here isn't just with regard to one individual. There are several others as well who are known to indulge in alchohol/drugs. The big question here is how will the industry respond. Will business continue as usual, or will the others see this as a wake-up call?

The industry's response to this scandal is even more important than the individual artists. To date, there has been no public response by the industry, and perhaps there shouldn't be, but privately there should be some deep introspection on the part of those who produce and promote Jewish music.

I believe that the producers and distributors have an obligation to stop promoting these artists. Their responsibility to the community should prevent them from promoting inappropriate role models to our youth. Unfortunately, their track record isn't good. Recent years have seen many unsuitable artists and groups promoted to our community. These include a bar-band, Soulfarm, whose logo is a psychedelic mushroom, as well as other suposedly "frum" singers whose private lives are anything but "frum".

Over the past few months, this blog has achieved a following among many in the Jewish music industry. I've received emails from producers, musicians, and the like, and I've been "blogrolled" and linked to by several Jewish blogs and forums. I think that one of the things I've been able to accomplish –and I'm assessing this in large part on the basis of the private correspondence I've received – is to increase the awareness of the importance of providing proper role-models for the community. I've posted many times about inappropriate acts that are being marketed to our community. I've also blogged often about the importance of honesty, whether in advertising, or in a singer's public actions or comments. And I believe that I've made people reconsider on that front as well. There's still a long way to go, though.

I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant – that if people know that the public is aware of what is going on, then they will be less likely to try to cover up or be associated with wrongdoing. The OU/Lanner scandal is a good illustration of this. Abuse that went on for years, and was ignored by NCSY leadership, was addressed immediately upon publication of the accusations in The Jewish Week. Here too, I believe that if people in the industry realize that this word is out here in the U.S.A. too, (it is widely known in Israel) then they will refrain from associating with this artist and others similar to him.

It is my hope that people in the industry take this message to heart, rise to the challenge, and help to make our community better. If not, know this… people are watching and the truth will out!

A final thought:

The singer who was arrested makes a living singing Torah. The total disconnect between his music and his lifestyle is shocking and I think that it demonstrates that he didn't/doesn't mean what he sings. This is a feeling that one gets from much of the Jewish music being marketed today. The trend of late has been for vocalists to buy songs from composers. Anyone with enough money can buy these songs, hire Yisroel Lamm, Moshe Laufer, or one of a few others to arrange the music, and put out an album. The only criterion appears to be the person's voice. (Well, that or the fact that he's willing to pay Yochi Briskman, Gideon Levine, or another producer a lot of money.)

The community has been programmed to listen to music for the quality of the singer's voice alone, instead of for the emotional content of the lyrics. I hope that the producers and distributors once again begin focusing on artists who are performing inspirational music that comes from their souls. (It goes without saying that singing ability should also be factored in.) I believe that it is possible to have heartfelt, Jewish music in most any music style so long as the artist means and genuinely feels what he's singing.