Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Pearls of Antiquity

The Jewish Press letters section this week features some responses to Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser's screed against secular influences in Jewish music. I will hopefully address his assertions in depth at a later date as time permits. The main problem I have with these types of presentations is the fact that the writers – in this case Rabbi Goldwasser – tend to present only one side of a controversial issue, citing only the sources backing up their point of view, without acknowledging that there are many reliable dissenting shittos. There's nothing wrong with adopting a stringent approach, but intellectual honesty demands acknowledging the existence of another legitimate side to the debate.

Here are the responses:
Non-Jewish Melodies (I)
The outrageous denunciation by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser (Jewish Press, March 19) of melodies not written specifically for Orthodox Jewish purposes smacks of a medieval type of thinking that, unfortunately, characterizes much of today`s right-wing Orthodoxy. To imply that simple musical tunes — nothing more than a combination of musical notes — will in any way have a corrupting influence goes beyond any attempt at rational thinking. (Rabbi Goldwasser had previously gone so far as to state that secular melodies corrupt one’s neshama.)
Now, if he had denounced the often licentious and disgusting lyrics that some modern- day songs contain, I would certainly support his assertions. But instead he issued a blanket condemnation of all non-Jewish melodies, even if they have Orthodox Jewish themes and words as their lyrics.
Maybe Rabbi Goldwasser does not recall that the Lubavitcher Rebbe permitted his chassidim to make the French national anthem into a niggun. The Rebbe stated that by doing so one raises something that is not holy into the realm of holiness.
Anyone who finds himself spiritually corrupted by a secular melody alone — especially one that’s been made into an Orthodox Jewish song — is more likely to suffer from a mental illness than any spiritual threat.
Robert M. Solomon, Brooklyn, NY
Non-Jewish Melodies (II)
Rabbi Goldwasser may be a wonderful spiritual leader and a man of great midos, but apparently he’s not up on his history. Torah Jews have been appropriating non-Jewish melodies for centuries. The melodies of many chassidishe niggunim were adopted from non-Jewish sources — the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Liadi, did this with “Napoleon’s March”; another Chabad favorite, “Niggun Shamil,” was written by an imprisoned Ukrainian peasant who longed for his homeland.
In addition, the melody of the beloved Chanukah song “Maoz Tzur” is actually based on the tune of several 16th- century German folksongs (“Ich weiss ein Meidlein huebsch und fein,” “Van oninck Maximilian,” and “So weiss ich eins”).
Kalman Fischer, New York, NY
Thanks, E!