Wednesday, March 28, 2007

3/28/07 Link Dump

Here's a great video clip. Austrian pianist "Hans Groiner" (jazz pianist Larry Goldings) has devoted his career to correcting the wrong notes in Thelonius Monk's music, making every tune totally diatonic. Via Casa Valdez.

Rob Tannebaum posts to the Yahoo JM group. Bet the Shwekey fans will be open to his music.

Ta Shmah review's 'U'shmuel B'korei Sh'mo." Shira reviews it as well as albums by Blue Fringe, Diaspora, and Moshav.

PT writes "Too Old for Carlebach?' Shmiel's right. Shmaltz sells on those gigs. The klezmer/Yiddish stuff PT's been playing would go over much better than Carlebach.

David is begging "Please... stop the madness!" Speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, here's his Honest Obituary.

MOChassid is writing about Michael Shapiro.

Jazzing-up Ofra Haza.

Dinosaur Gardens has a "Misirlou" roundup.

Jewschool posts "Who is Your Jewish Hero?", a link to the five finalists in Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future's undergrad short film competition. ChaZack is narrated by Avraham Fried.

Cross-Currents has another intolerant post. For a blog that seeks to do Orthodox PR to other Jews, they seem to be remarkably "tone-deaf" at times. As penance, I think they should do a Craig Taubman profile with an emphasis on his "Friday Night Live" service.

According to Shmarya at, the former OU mashgiach being sued for defaming the restaurant he used to work at is Raya Mehemna leader Issac Bitton.

Bitton's allegations are simply not credible. This story is especially sad though, as it appears he's self-destructing publicly.

Shmarya does make an interesting point, contrasting Bitton and Matisyahu. He writes:
Yitzchak Bitton's story is sad. He is one of the very best rock drummers in the world. In France, before becoming Chabad, he led a band, Jackie and the Variations (mentioned in this Wikipedia article simply as the Variations; see 1970s before punk), which kept the Beatles out of the top spot on the French pop charts. He gave up his 'sinful' life and moved to Crown Heights. He learned, and he eventually formed a band Raya Mehemena, which was one of the best live bands I ever heard, religious or not. He played gigs and released an album that included a version of Lecha Dodi that is perhaps the single most beautiful contemporary religious song I have ever heard.

But the haredi and Chabad worlds (apart from BTs) were not ready for real musical talent. Bookings were not frequent enough to pay the rent, and the Rebbe would not give his blessing for the type of shows Matisyahu now does, surfing mosh pits and dancing in front of and sometimes with women. (This is a problem many BT musicians faced in the 1980s and early 90s.) So Yitzchak Bitton sold cameras for a living. He apparently went from that to serving as a mashgiach. Last I heard he still played gigs, as well....

But this I do know – Yitzchak Bitton is a victim. He is part of system that cast aside his special talents and left him without a viable career. At the same time, he's had to watch poseurs like Matisyahu benefit from a Chabad PR machine and leniencies in Jewish law no one would have allowed Yitzchak Bitton, or Avi Piamenta, Peter Himmelman, or many others. In other words, Bitton's stridency may be a result of this treatment, and the years of financial and emotional deprivation it surely caused.

A very wise rabbi, Yizchok Berkowitz, who was at one time the posek of Aish HaTorah, spoke at a Jerusalem conference for budding and current kiruv workers sponsored by Heritage House. Among the things he said was that if you Rabbi Kiruv Worker are going to make a person frum, you have to worry about his/her income and talents. Is she an actress? Be prepared to promote women only plays. A singer? Women only concerts. Is he an artist, a musician, a poet, a writer? If his job cannot be continued because it is incompatible with Orthodoxy, you Rabbi Kiruv Worker must find a way for him to use his talents and keep his profession, but within Yiddishkeit.

The vast majority of kiruv workers present objected. Why? To them, even a frum life of poverty is better than a non-Orthodox lifestyle. The money, the creativity – that doesn't really matter. Rav Berkowitz would have none of it, and told these kiruv workers in no uncertain terms that this was their responsibility, whether they accepted it or not.

By and large, the kiruv-outreach world, including Chabad, even including Aish HaTorah itself, does not follow Rav Berkowitz. But Rav Berkowitz is a wise man; beyond that, a very caring man. And he knew the truth, even if they did not. If you bring someone to Orthodoxy like Yitzchak Bitton, and you rob him of what makes him special, makes him what he is, you have done deep and lasting damage.
I don't know if Shmarya's speculation is correct in this case, but the larger point stands. Frum Jews need to be sensitive towards artists. Those within the community and those joining the community. Art is a gift that must be channelled, not an evil impulse that must be stifled.

As the alumnus of a yeshivah high school where playing a musical instrument was forbidden, except for Friday afternoon (and in the winter, when there was a study period after Shabbos, for the hour or so between Havdallah and night seder), I have firsthand experience with this attitude.

This is also part of why the Cross Currents post linked above strikes me as being so negative. Craig Taubman has done a great deal towards increasing Jewish spirituality as well as an appreciation for Jewish music. Sure, as an Orthodox Jew, I wouldn't advocate some of what he does, but I respect the underlying sentiment and I feel that it is important that such options exist for Jews who are not Orthodox. The apparent lack of respect for a musician who is trying to increase Jewish spirituality, albeit in a manner unnacceptable to the Orthodox, strikes me as wrong and counter-productive.