Sunday, December 28, 2008

12/28/08 Link Dump

In Lipa news...

Here are some details about his upcoming "The Event live" Concert at MSG.

And now for the headline entertainment of the year: The Event! Finally, billboards are starting to spring up around us, projecting this colossal, stupendous, simply spectacular production. Tickets will iy'H be going on sale within a week. The exclusive, explosive website should be up and running within a few days' time.
There's really no reason to expound on the extraordinarily exceptional and exhilaratingly exciting experience to be expected at The Event. The name says it all. All-star surprise acts will entrance and enthrall the crowd. And of course, we can always count on Lipa for a heart-stopping, spine-tingling, pulse-pounding, adrenaline-rushing performance.
The concert is in tribute to the legendary Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, z'l, a pioneer in Jewish music. A special, scintillating presentation by Abie Rottenberg will honor the sorely-missed Rabbi Eli. A new Pirchei by Avi Newman and Eli Gerstner will amaze and mesmerize. Music by the genuine genius Yisroel Lamm will resound and reverberate throughout the hall. And one thing's for sure: Nobody can take every aspect of a show and bring it all together onto center stage like the illustrious Sheya Mendlowitz. Be sure to buy your tickets to The Event of a lifetime!

Teruah posts "Battle of Driedel Kitsch - Gay Cowboys vs Ersatz Hassids."

Watch This Space! It goes live Jan. 1st.

Here's the Third Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, with a rocking version of Mi Yimallel by Psycho Toddler.

Jewschool posts a link to two women singing Hallel set to Christmas carols.

Oh dear, it's Livni Boy.

Because he was just that good, here's Bruce Adler singing Hootsatsa.

The Forward reports on "Ikh Vil Zein A Rebbe." Here's a Vos Iz Neias comments thread. Matthue Roth comments.

Rokhl get nauseous over klez-journalism.

Finally, it's the hit single, "Auto Tune!"

Some Comments on Beyond Boundaries: Klezmer Music in the 21st Century

I attended the Beyond Boundaries: Klezmer Music in the 21st Century Symposium hosted by the Center for Jewish Studies at CUNY in NYC last week.

I haven't seen any coverage of this event, so I'm going to share some comments.

The event consisted of a series of presentations followed by an evening concert. Scheduling conflicts precluded my attending the concert, so I'll have no thoughts on that part of the event.

The event was moderated by Dr. Marsha Dubrow, Resident Scholar in Jewish Music, The Center for Jewish Studies Initiative in Jewish Music Research and Performance, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York.

The symposium participants and their topics were:

Dr. Hankus Netsky (New England Conservatory of Muisc), Multi-instrumentalist, Founder, Klezmer Conservatory Band
"As We Move Forward, Don't Forget To look Back"

Alicia Svigals, Violinist, Co-Founder, The Klezmatics
"The Audacity of Hora: Fiddling With The Future"

Dr. Joel Rubin, (University of Virginia), Clarinetist, Founder, The Joel Rubin Ensemble
"Transmigrations of a Genre: Reflections on the Uses of Religious Symbolism in Contemporary Klezmer"

Eve Sicular, Drummer, Founder, Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos Bands
"Hidden in Plain Sight: The Yiddish Celluloid Closet, J. Edgar Klezmer and Retro Pop Culture"

Stephen Dankner, Composer, Commentator, Aouthor of "Klezmer Fantasy" Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
"Klezmer Goes Classical: Folk Dance Forms Meet the Concerto"

Yale Strom, Violinist, Filmmaker, Author, Founder, Hot Pstromi Band
"In the Key of klezmer: The Soundtrack for Jewish Renewal in America"

Seth Rogovoy, Cultural Commentator, Editor-in-Chief, Berkshires Living
"Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Beyond Klezmer and Beyond the Jewish Soul"

I thought the presentations varied wildly, from a content and quality standpoint. To me, the most effective presentations were by Dr. Netsky and Alicia Svigals.

Dr. Netsky spoke movingly about the importance of looking back, even as this music in its current incarnations moves in new directions. He played a short clip of the late clarinetist Marty Levitt to begin his speech. His message is one that Jewish musicians would do well to internalize.

Alicia Svigal's presentation was a bit unorganized, but interesting. She played different clips demonstrating contemporary approaches to playing klezmer, and her approach included both clips of her own performances (and some live playing) as well as a Josh Dolgin aka So-Called music video about Jewish cowboys.

Dr. Joel Rubin's presentation seemed too focused on minor details of mostly the work of two artists, Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg. His attempt to extrapolate a trend out of it seemed a bit forced to me. Perhaps he needed more time to develop his presentation. The fifteen minute time limit per speaker was quite limiting, I suspect.

Seth Rogovoy gave a nice talk with some nice audio clips to illustrate.

Yale Strom's talk was a bit over the top. Strom even laid credit for Chabad Houses across the world on the klezmer revival. A grandiose, but inaccurate claim. I was quite surprised to see this assertion pass without challenge. I'd have raised the question, but it was tangential to the main point of the conference, and since the presentations were followed by a panel discussion with very little time alloted for audience questions, it seemed silly to take people's time on that.

The other speakers, Stephen Dankner and Eve Sicular spoke about their current projects, which might/might not be representative of trends in Klezmer in the 21st Century.

To me, the notable omission, particularly given Dr. Netsky and Dr. Rubin's talks, was any mention of the Chassidic/Simcha music traditions. There was one brief reference made, during the panel discussion, wherein Alicia Svigals and Dr. Netsky, in talking about the early days of the klezmer revival, made reference to the fact that they did not consider simcha music to be klezmer.

It seems to me, that any serious look at klezmer, ought to consider looking sideways as well as back, to see how klezmer has developed within the chassidic communities who still perform/sing this music. It's not all Genghis Khan, you know.

In particular, some of the chassidic communities in Israel have been the ones who brought in/developed the Meron repertoire, a very fertile area for musicological research. As well, I believe that looking at the evolution of Chassidic nigun is very worthwhile for klezmorim. Drawing an arbitrary boundary that leaves out what in some cases is an unbroken chain of transmission of this music seems limiting.

This is especially important in light of contemporary trends on the simcha music scene. I believe that there is a window of opportunity now for researchers to interview and record both musicians/experts as well as people from within the community with strong memories of how this music was used. However, due to the changes on the simcha circuit over the past few decades, we've reached the point where there is a younger generation that is not familiar with certain dances, dance styles, melodies, or even genres, that until recently were common within the various communities.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

For Everything Else, There's Mastercard

Dreidels - $4

Fake Chassidic beards - $75

Airfare for guest rapper - $800

The graffiti artist who appears in the background of your music video accidentally tagging Yeshua (Jesus) instead of your name, Yehoshua - Priceless

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chanukah Audio Links

Jack Zaintz has posted his first ever podcast, Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show.

Jewish World Review has posted a Chanukah music special, DJ'd by Nachum Segal.

The Klezmer Podcast has posted a special Hanukkah episode.

Finally, here's Kol Zimra singing at the annual White House Hanukah Party.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

But, Kol Isha!!!

Here's a post off of a local Jewish music email list.
December 25
208 west 13th Street NY NY 10011
Neshama and David Morgan will be performing at the GLBT Community
Chanukah Party. The party will be from 7-10, Neshama's performance
will be at 8:30 PM.... NOTE: SEE BELOW
Here's the note, which is applied to all vocal performances by women listed in the email:
****NOTE: for these events, Kol Isha may apply, please consult your local orthodox rabbi for more info.
Oh, dear!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Couldn't Save His Life... But You Can!

A while back, when a musician on the JM circuit was fighting leukemia, I did a number of posts about bone marrow donation through the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.

I've urged everyone to get tested as potential donors, becuase the odds are highest, that a match will be found with someone from similar genetic background. So, each community is better off when more of its members are listed in the registry.

I'd like to take this opportunity to raise this issue again for two timely reasons. The first is that the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation is one of the victims of the Madoff scandal. The Jerusalem Post reports:
At least one nonprofit is calling out for help in the wake of Madoff's collapse: The Gift of Life Foundation, a Jewish bone marrow registry that relied heavily on Madoff as a benefactor, announced on its Web site Sunday that it would immediately need to raise $1.8 million to make up for recent losses.
The work this foundation does literally saves lives. They need donors, both financial and of bone marrow. Please support both of these needs.

The second reason I mention this now is because of a recent story that happened to me.

A few weeks ago, I got home to find a message from the National Bone Marrow Registry. I'd been identified as a potential match for a middle-aged leukemia patient. They asked if I was still willing to be a donor. When I told them I would, they sent me a test to take at home. The reason for the test was to confirm if I was a match.

I'd originally been tested in 1992, during the first drive aimed at the frum community. Since then, the test has changed from blood donation to a simple mouth swab. I believe they also can check do additional tissue typing at this time. So, I took the test and sent it back in. I was hoping that I'd be a match.

This past weekend, I received a letter informing me that I and the patient have some differences in tissue type, and the patient's doctor has decided do continue searching for a donor who matches the patient more closely. So, sadly, in this case I did not turn out to be a match. But that possibility only existed because I was tested as a potential donor. Please get tested. And, please support the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation You just might save a life.

Now That's A Holiday Song!

I'm Dreaming of A White Kwanzaa!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12/11/08 Link Dump

Parshablog follows up on the fraudulent DMCA takedown notices filed over the "Ikh Vil Zein A Rebbe video."

Move over, Pete! It's the real fifth Epstein Brother!

The Center for Traditional Music and Dance has released Dave Tarras's "Music for the Traditional Jewish Wedding.

Raising the bar on Jewish music yet again.

Not what you think: Echod Yochid U'meyuchod.

Heichal HaNegina posts "The Homeless Mizmor L'David."

Ari Goldwag posts Mitzvah Gedola and Kol Haolam Kulo on his redemption-themed blog.

The "Tanzhoyz" movement spreads to Chicago

From, here are " The Early Na Nachs."

Here's ‘Prop 8: The Musical.’

Rusion Klezmer Mikhail Altshuller was beaten in the Moscow subway. He had a concussion and bruised ribs.

File under Muppets: Animal sings about the klezmer revivalist traditionalists.

Finally, here's a PSA YouTube clip of an original Hassidic song, "The Sin of Masturbation." This is going to #1 on Country Yossi's JM chart for sure! Remix, anyone?

From the mailbag...

E. forwards a link to Michelle Citin's Chanukah Video"Pass The Candle."

I.C. writes:
I read your recent post regarding the rebbe video, and it seems to me that Shauly is not backing down from his criticism of rebbes. He says only that he would have done a better job if he knew it would pop up on the internet.

I know you were a staunch critic of the Lipa ban, as am I, but it should stop and make you think that perhaps the banners were correct - being that Lipa's songwriters (at least one of them) harbor such animosity for the rebbes.

Do we really want our children emulating such individuals?
The notion that this retroactively justifies the banners actions is silly. As I've amply documented, the way the ban was issued in this case was unjustified and against halacha; even if you grant all of their (varied and shifting) premises. So, no, I don't think this justifies their actions at all.

Have you ever heard the original song being parodied? The spoof version was sharp satire, but quite accurate, and obviously modeled on the original Nickelback song. The video crossed the line, but, Shauly says he had nothing to do with that anyway.

The final question "Do we really want our children emulating such individuals?" is a separate question. Personally, I believe that if these leaders want our children to respect them, they have to change the way they deal with these types of situations. These bans do a lot of damage to their image, especially among the young. Rightfully so. The lack of respect they're feeling from the younger generation has been well-earned over the past few years. They've been acting just like politicians. The youth see the hypocrisy and unfairness and respond to that.

Moshe writes:
I’ve been following your series of posts on this book, and I just find it ironic that this Kannoish author must have researched all this stuff on the web – no? Where else would he have found all this – the B’nei Brak public library? :-)
I suspect that he found a book or two on the subject, and in addition to citing them, is quoting all of the sources cited in those books as if he has independent knowledge of them. I've come across one or two cites that don't jive with my recollection of the original.

David Harris Ebenbach writes:
I''ve just stumbled across your blog -- I've been looking for blogs where Judaism and the arts intersect -- and I think it's great. I am a fiction writer and a poet and a person who teaches about writing and the creative process for writers, artists and musicians more generally.

I'm writing because I’ve just launched a blog called “The Artist’s Torah” that I think might interest you; my blog explores the nature of creativity and the creative process for artists and others, using a Jewish religious lens. I'm sure you're busy, and may not have time to take a look, but I thought I'd send you an e-mail anyway, just in case this might spark your interest.

If you're still reading, if you haven’t hit that “delete e-mail” button yet, and if you want to get right to the site, here’s the address:The Artist's Torah

If you’d be interested in a little more detail:

As a writer, and as a person who teaches about creativity, I find myself regularly wrestling with a number of big questions that are rooted in the life I lead: What is creativity? Where does it come from? Who has it? How does it work? What does it do in the world? As a Jewish writer, I find myself asking: What, if anything, does Judaism have to say about all this?

In Judaism, we turn for understanding first and foremost to the Torah. Our sages have even suggested that God read the Torah for instructions when creating the universe! Now, I should say that I personally don’t take a story like that literally, but see it instead as a kind of inspired metaphor for just how rich the Torah is as a text, how full it is of a people’s
accumulated wisdom, how engaged it is with what we feel as sacred in the universe. With that understanding, this blog delves into our weekly Torah readings for wisdom on all aspects of the creative person’s life. Above all, this exploration is meant to be open and useful to all creative people, whether religious or not, whether Jewish or not, whether a professional artist or a part-time amateur.

So – feel free to check out “The Artist’s Torah.” If you like what you read and want to be notified whenever there’s a new post (I’ll post once or twice per week), click the “subscribe” link on the right side of the page. And if you think others might be interested, don’t hesitate to spread the word as far as it’ll go.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's Time For Some More Peeps!

"Ms. Peacock Feathers"
"You know what this party needs?" says this peep to the bride's mom. "Peacock feathers!" This party planner sells the family on "peacock centerpieces" suspended over the dance floor. There are nine of these globes suspended from the ceiling. Each is made out of peacock feathers and is about three feet in circumference. "You know what else this party needs?" Candles, suspended in midair by fishing line, burning in glass bowls, hanging under and around the peacock feathers. "It'll be so romantic."

Ever wonder what burning feathers smells like? Well, at this event, we get to find out every few moments, when each draft of air sets more feathers to singeing.

"Dance Slut"
Because nothing says congratulations on assuming the ol hamitzvos, like Daddy hiring a swivel-hipped Latina with a spray-painted on dress to gyrate on the lit up dance floor while the guests enter the Bar mitzvah ballroom for dinner. Naturally, this is the gig the yeshivish "name" vocalist brings his eight-year old son to, so that he can see what daddy does for a living.

"Line Dance Guy"
This peep is the one who comes over and requests a song that totally clashes with the vibe the band and ba'al simcha have set for the evening. We could be playing acoustic folksy versions of Carlebach classics, nigunim, and the like, but "Line Dance Guy" must have Yidden, or else. Oy! Way to ruin the mood.

Psachya sends in a few as well:
1) "The Camp Counselors" - Apparently, the groom (or bride) has been an icon at Camp Whatever for the last ten summers, so they invite a bunch of camp staff to the wedding. As a result, any popular songs that have been co-opted by the camp must only be sung with the new camp lyrics. Example: (to the tune of "Ai-Didi-Dai"): "Camp Whatever, Camp Whatever, Camp Whatever is the best!" (repeat until comatose). Another result - camp shtick must be performed *immediately*, no matter what else is going on. ("Hey, we did a great camp shtick to the tune of the "Indiana Jones" theme song - can we do it RIGHT NOW?!" "Well, maybe we should wait until the bride gets down the aisle, don't you think?")

2) "The Elevator Kids" - those are the kids whose sum total of the wedding experience is riding up & down & up & down & up & down the elevator. (Halls with glass elevators are particularly prone to this phenomena.) They race each other with the stairs. They hold the doors open forever. And they are particularly active whenever a musician needs to move equipment through the elevator quickly. Of course, some halls have become aware of this problem, so they lock their elevators. Which leads us to the third peep:

3) "The Only Guy (Or Gal) In The Hall With The Key To The Elevator Who Can Never, Ever Be Found." 'Nuff said.
We'd met the "Camp Counselors" aka the "Camp Songs Guy" here.

In Review: Shir La La Chanukah

In the mail...

Shir La La Chanukah: Sing and Dance with Shirah Kline

Subtitled "Outrageously Hip Jewish Kiddie Rock", this Chanukah gift package, available directly from, includes a personalized gift note and a bag of chocolate Chanukah coins (by Elite under OU certification).

Aimed squarely at the little ones, this is a fun album of Chanukah songs. Shira's singing style is light and upbeat and the musicianship is wonderful throughout. The music blends diverse influences including rock, swing, Middle-eastern grooves, and even one hip-hop track.

The colorful liner booklet includes all of the song lyrics and a cartoon retelling of the Chanukah story. Translations and transliterations are provided where appropriate. "Oh Chanukah/Oy Chanukah" is performed in English and Yiddish and Jewish folk music legend Jeff Klepper guests on mandolin on that track.

Fave tracks include "Hayom Chanukah", "Where Is It?", and "Lots of Latkes." You can listen to audio samples here.

A while back, we introduced a feature, "Back Seat Review" which we'll continue here.

Backseat reviewer: "Right, it's not nice that she sings "boogie woogie, shake your tushie? [on the first song. ed.] Pauses for thought...They must have been in the bathroom when they recorded that part!"

You can find more information about Shira and all of her other albums, including the upcoming "ShirLaLa Green Album" at her website.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up!

In today's news from Chelm Bnei Brak: "Chazanus CD Raises Questions About Disturbing The Dead"
A recently released album containing songs performed by legendary Chazzanim has been causing turmoil among the Charedi community due to the fact that the performers are all dead.

Record company AMC, which produced the album titled “בימים ההם בזמן הזה - In Those Days, At This Time,” used old recordings, had the sound digitally improved and added background music performed by a philharmonic orchestra.

This process of audio manipulation has disturbed many buyers, who flooded the company with questions and complaints: “How is it that the cantor knows to wait for the orchestra? There must be some sort of spell here – is this séance? Does the Halacha allow tampering with the voices of the dead?”...
...According to Rashi, what might have caused the confusion was the fact that old, low-quality vinyl tracks have been cleaned up and now sound as if they had been recorded recently. Another possible reason for the misunderstanding may have originated in the advertisements for the new CD saying “The great masters of Chazzanus come to life.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

What If They Threw A Ban and Nobody Listened?

This Hamercaz article title, "Lakewood Roshei Yeshiva Ban Women's Entertainment Event", says it all.

Note this part:
In any case, the ban seemed to have little effect. Women who attended the event report that the performers played to a packed house.

Some pointed to the last-minute nature of the ban as reason for the scant attention payed to it; phone calls prohibiting attendance at the event were made after 8:00 pm Sunday night, when most attendees had already left their homes to go to the event.
The last-minute nature of these bans constitutes an additional Chilul Hashem, over and above the ban itself. These events are planned, organized, and advertised to the community well in advance. There is simply no justification for instituting a ban at the last minute. These rabbis seem not to have learned from the recent ban fiascos. It's a crying shame!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Rebbishe Mayse

We recently linked a satirical video titled "Ikh Vil Zeyn A Rebbe." The video, which first appeared on the Chaptzem Blog quickly went viral and was posted on many other blogs. Hirhurim posted a link to our post and then, after a heated comments thread, removed the post explaining his rationale here.

In the meantime, a fake copyright violation takedown request was filed with YouTube by "Chofetz Chaim". Parshablog writes about the controversy here. There is a working copy of the video on YouTube, but the links in many of the earlier posts are dead due to the fake request. (The link in our earlier post is working.)

Meanwhile, the singer/songwriter tells Chaptzem that he did record the song for own entertainment, not for the public. He writes:
This is Shauly Grossman. I'm not about to run after everyone I know and explain myself, but I can't hold myself back here. I made this song together with other similar songs (on Goyish tunes) for fun more than a year ago. I never dreamed that anybody but my few friends will hear it and if I would have known that a year later I'm gonna find it on the net, just like you, with no clue how and who, I wouldn't have made it. At least I would have made it a drop more professional.
Anyways, I'm sorry if I offended anybody. It was meant for my own private fun.

I am a Tzanzer Chussid and really look up to him, but I can't help but agree with the guy that said "if they want our respect, they should earn it". As my family found out the hard way, most of the BIG Rabbonim, especially the big ones by whom you are nothing but another piece of meat, (at least the small ones try their best to be there for their people, they need them) are good for telling you that you need to do the right thing and Hashem will help. They were there to tell us that. But when it came to real life, when you really need their help, you can talk to the wall. If you want them to do anything but talk, you are alone.
Grossman, who wrote lyrics for the title track to Lipa Schmeltzer's "A Poshiter Yid", says that he says he did not make the video and does not know who did. Taken apart from the video, the song is a sharp satirical look at unqualified "leaders" who inherit their positions, but do not deserve them. It's a sharp and humorous social critique. With the video added, it becomes a personal critique of the specific rebbes pictured (as well as Rabbis Aaron Schacter and Avremel Schorr).

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI

In Chapter 4, Rabbi Luft addresses "The Influence of Music On The Body."

He quotes the Maharsha's gloss on the Gemara in Berachos [57B] who explains that music [lit. "kol" or sound] calms a person, removing worries. He also cites the Malbim [Shmuel I, 16:14] that music has the power to heal depression.

These sources are notable because they do not provide any support for Rabbi Luft's thesis. They appear to be there just to up the scant number of Torah citations in this book.

On the negative effects of music, Rabbi Luft resorts to junk science and distortions. Here's a quote:
On the other hand, it has been found that wild noisy rock music has a serious influence on the heart-beat and its constant heavy rhythms have been found to change the heart to beat in accordance with the rock beat. This is the reason why many rock musicians die from heart attacks in their forties. Rock music has also been found to cause high blood pressure and also affects digestion [this can be felt at weddings where the bands play loud wild music, besides the pain to the ears, pressure can also be felt in the heart and stomach].
Really? Rock musicians die in their forties due to merely to playing this music? Mick Jagger yochiach!

Rabbi Luft then quotes "former rock guitarist Bob Larson" who "in conjunction with a physician" describes the physical effects rock music has on the cerebral spinal fluid. The result: lacking enough blood sugar "ceases to function properly, causing moral inhibitions to either drop to a dangerous low or be wiped out altogether."

Apart from the absurdity of quoting an anonymous physician to give medical gravitas, this quote is also not relevant, as "former rock guitarist Bob Larson" himself has withdrawn these claims. In fact, Larson, a televangelist, has recanted his earlier views of rock and roll entirely and has even embraced "Heavy Metal" Christian music as appropriate. It is disingenuous for Rabbi Luft to quote Larson, when he renounced his thesis around thirty years ago, in the early eighties. You can find more about Bob Larson here.

Rabbi Luft then deploys another bit of "scientific evidence" to prove his point. This section is titled "The Influence On Plants" and features a description of experiments conducted by Mrs. Dorothy Retallack, wherein she "demonstrates" the effects of different music on household plants. Naturally, she found that rock music kills plants. Also, naturally, there is no documentation to back up her assertion. And, she appears to have had no scientific background whatsoever. Oh, and actual scientific research appears to have found the exact opposite result. The Straight Dope addresses her "findings":
"More recent work by four University of North Carolina scientists casts doubt on Mrs. Retallack's hypothesis. Their research indicates that 100 to 110 decibel noise (the equivalent of standing 100 feet from a 727 jet) will cause 100 percent more turnip seeds to germinate in 10 percent less time than with a control group. This suggests, of course, that a healthy jolt of industrial-strength heavy metal may be just the thing to invigorate your rutabagas."
For a botany professor's take on the subject, here is ESCU Professor Ross Konig:
Plants have no ears to hear and no brain to process or develop musical taste or music any attempts to show relationships between music forms and growth or other responses have met with total failure in the hands of true scientists. This explains the lack of literature for you to read on the subject.

But what about those few articles and books that do make such claims?
Yes there are some quack "scientists" who have claimed that (in highly flawed experiments) certain kinds of music caused improvements in plant growth...but no such claims have met the rigor demanded for publication in respected journals. Such projects are often labeled "pseudoscience" because they fail to explain the control of critical variables, nor do they specify replication levels, nor do they show actual data or the results of statistical testing.

There really is not much good information about the effect of music on plants because all attempts to do controlled studies on plants and music result in "no difference". Any "differences" between a music treatment and a no-music control (or other-music treatment) in pseudoscience studies can almost always be attributed to some difference in other variables in the project which have not been suitably controlled (light, water, fertilizer, soil type, humidity, etc.).
In other words, Rabbi Luft is clearly using "junk science" here. Neither Dorothy Retallack nor Dr. T.C. Singh, who he also quotes to similar effect, have published any documentation of controlled experimentation proving their claims, let alone subjected their "research" to peer review. And, the scientific community does not support their contentions.

Moreso, it is clear from his presentation that Rabbi Luft has no understanding of how scientific research is conducted. He seems to believe that every proposed theory fitting his world view is valid, irrespective of whether its proponent has provided legitimate evidence to that regard. That's not how scientific investigation works.

Junk science. Not exactly a compelling case for accepting Rabbi Luft's position.

Next up, Chapter 5: "The Influence On The Soul."

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
"In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III"
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker"; Part IV
Blog in Dm: In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX

From the mailbag...

Steve Schwab writes about a new Jewish Music venue he's curating in Brooklyn:
Jewish Music Sundays at Puppets Jazz Bar...481 5th Ave. Park Slope...Brooklyn,NY 11215 This is a weekly jam session /performance situation open to the community at large...There will be bands performing as well as a jam session...
He's looking for performers. It's a door gig. If you're interested, send me an email and I'll send you Steve's email address. (I'm not posting it for spam prevention purposes.)

He's also performing at the Jewish Music Cafe this Sat. night.He writes:
My performance is called...Jootsy Szaba aka Steve Schwab brings his quartet to the Jewish Music Cafe on Saturday night Dec.6...They will perform a very varied set of original songs on jewish themes...
401 9th st. between 6th and 7th aves. Park Slope
Anon forwards a link to a video of a news report on a fashion -show fundraiser organized by ex-Spice Boy, Shmuel, now Sam, who sis taking taking a new approach to music and production, Lehavdil!

Psachya writes:
So I'm playing at a yeshivish Bar Mitzvah the other day, and (as per a request), I launch into "Rabi Nachman", the song formerly known as "Numa Numa." I am approached by an earnest young bochur, and the following conversation ensues:

EYB: I'm sorry, you have to stop playing that song!
ME: Why?
EYB: My rebbi says it's ossur - it comes from goyishe music!
ME: OK - give me a second, and I'll switch to "Yidden".
EYB: Ummmm - OK!

Sorry - I just couldn't resist.

Michael Fish asks:
What is the Jewish tune that Avrumi Ackerman is referring to?
Guess it's not that popular!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tis The Season...

Via the Bear.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V

Continuing the series...

In Chapter Three, Rabbi Luft looks at "The Sources of the Modern 'Chassidic' Music" and explicates a racist viewpoint. Summarized, his position is that this music is forbidden because, unlike the purer European music, it contains influences from Africa.

Here's a taste of his intro:
Most of the chareidi music that is listened to today is not at all Jewish music. Many people will immediately attack this statement by saying that most of the Jewish music in earlier times was also not Jewish, and many famous tunes were even written by goyim, such as Kol Nidrei, Maoz Tzur, etc. But I will say it again --Most of the chareidi music that is listened to today is not at all Jewish music -- since it is completely unsuitable for Jewish people to listen to, and is certainly unfit to be used with holy words.

The emergence of a completely new type of wild music is due to the drastic change in the purpose of music in the world. In contrast to European music, that was generally decent and respectable, today's popular music, in its many weird forms, is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora, and its content is generally indecent and immoral. There is no dispute among the experts on this matter, and everyone knows the effect caused by this music on the goyim who constantly listen to it.
After setting up this paradigm, Rabbi Luft goes on to explain in detail how all of the Jewish "rock music" can be traced back to its roots in Negro music and is therefore not permissible. I'll address that ugly assertion momentarily.

First, I'd like to point out that Rabbi Luft is constrained into acknowledging that there is some permissible non-Jewish sourced music, by the fact that his gedolim use some non-Jewish melodies. His attempt to represent that European music is refined, and therefore was acceptable to adopt, ignores the many raucous European bar tunes that also were adopted by Jews in the shtetl.

His notion that only today's popular music is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora is bizarre and is directly contradicted by the Malbim he quotes at the end of this chapter. More on that quote soon.

Let's look at Rabbi Luft's "explanation" of what's wrong with "rock music." He writes:
The main source of rock music comes from black American music, mainly from jazz and the blues, and accordingly we find that modern Jewish music -- whose creators admit it is also rock music -- is also basically Negro music -- with a bit of Jewish flavour here and there.
This is just offensive stuff! For shame!

After explaining how the type of European tunes borrowed in the shtetl were "respectable", he writes the following:
The same can not be said about the music of Africa. It has no intellectual content, and is also not made to give respect or honour. It does contain feeling -- but not the type of feeling that can be used for devarim shebikdusha, but rather impure feelings from a type of primitive music that is used for avodah zara and the occult art of voodoo.
Why do I feel like I'm reading a Klan publication?

Rabbi Luft proceeds to explain all about his notions of the evils of voodoo and voodoo rhythms and how that evil is continued in all styles of contemporary rock music today.

This is simply beyond the pale. It should not be acceptable for any Ben Torah to express such ideas in this day and age. I would refer readers to the essay, "On Racism, Its Costs and Its Causes", Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein posted today, and especially to the comments there. When Rabbi Luft represents that his ideas are endorsed by the gedolim, he only compounds the chilul Hashem here.

Rabbi Luft closes the chapter with a quote from the Malbim, who says that Yuval, the inventor of musical instruments, did so for the purposes of luring people into immorality. Rabbi Luft says that this is the essence of the African music too. (Again, I find Rabbi Luft's views on this offensive, and I think he needs to be called out on what they are, which is racism!)

I will point out that the Malbim's approach here contradicts Rabbi Luft's assertion in his intro that today's popular music, in contrast to earlier secular European and American music, is created for the purpose of arousing the yetzer hora.

Lets see... Racism and historical revisionism. Not exactly a strong intellectual basis for establishing a halachik or hashkafic approach to anything.

Next up, Chapter 4, "The Influence of Music On the Body."

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
"In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III"
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker"; Part IV

Thursday, November 20, 2008

They'll Ban This When They Find Out About It...

Oh, no!

Via Chaptzem Blog! where you can also download an mp3 of the song.

Rubin, that's for you.

Now back to Luft-blogging...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV

Moving on to Chapter Two, "Quotes From Newspapers and Books On 'Rock and Roll'"...

In the first section of this chapter, Rabbi Luft brings many quotes from books and media condemning Rock and Roll. Most of these quotes are from the mid 1950's. Rabbi Luft conveniently ignores many other quotes from the '50s decrying the inappropriate new styles of music. Of course, I'm talking 'bout the 1850's.

The reality is that one can find similar quotes about every musical innovation throughout history, as music has evolved. By cherry-picking these quotes and limiting them to the evils of rock and roll, rather than quoting similarly outraged quotes about virtually every other genre (and harmonic advancement), Rabbi Luft is either being intellectually dishonest, or else he is ignorant of basic music history.

This quote, cited by Rabbi Luft, is racist.
"According to Allan Bloom (in his book "The Closing of the American Mind") rock and roll is indeed no more and no less than the savage and primitive rhythm of darkest Africa." [From "Present Tense: Rock and roll and culture," Ed. Anthony DeCurtis, p.47.]
Rabbi Luft has a history of choosing racist quotes to support his views. This is not surprising, as his entire criticism of "rock and roll" seems to be racially based. More on that soon.

Rabbi Luft helpfully clarifies his editorial role, lest one assume that he is simply presenting a cross-section of quotes about evil rock and roll, without applying any sort of filter. He writes:
[In addition to the material brought above, there are many more quotes about the indecent nature of rock music that are unfit to be presented here.]
He explicitly acknowledges a willingness to refrain from printing "unfit" quotes. Clearly this racist quote does not upset Rabbi Luft's sensitivities.

Incidentally, here's an article, "Chareidi Music and Non-Music", that Rabbi Luft wrote in 2003. The section "What Is Rock Music" is virtually identical to this section, "Quotes From Newspapers and Books On 'Rock and Roll", from his book.

That article included one additional media citation, which is not in the book, and which has been edited out of the online version of the article as well by the publisher. In its place is the following:
(It was pointed out to us that one of the sources used was from a racist publication so we have removed it. It was not essential to any of the points of the article.)
Here's the redacted quote. It comes from the KKK publication, "The Southerner."
"It will erode the entire moral structure of man . . . of spirituality in holy marriage . . . all the white man has built through his devotion to G-d." (The Southerner, March 1956, p.6)
Here's a non-redacted quote from the same article:
By the mid 1950s the effects of the singers and their immoral music could be seen in the behavior of American youth. Religious groups, local governments, police authorities and white citizens councils began to denounce rock and roll, connecting it in an unholy alliance to race, immorality and delinquency.
Here, Rabbi Luft cites the actions of "white citizens councils" approvingly. He and his editors have no problem doing so. His editors are aware of it, as this exchange clearly indicates!

At the very least, it is evident that expressions of racism and racial superiority theories do not trip Rabbi Luft's sensitivity meter as being inappropriate. In my opinion, it's worse than that. I believe that Rabbi Luft accepts these ideas himself. More on that when we discuss chapter three.

Moving along...

The next section of this chapter is titled "Statements From Chareidi Singers on the Modern "Chassidic" Music."

Rabbi Luft writes:
Many innocent people will ask here -- "What do all these quotations of goyim on modern goyishe music have to do with modern Jewish music??? We also admit that rock music is disgusting, but we only listen to Chassidic music written and sung by frum people! Are you implying that our holy songs contain the same immoral influences as the goyishe ones???" The answer is -- yes!!!
Rabbi Luft then proceeds to bring quotes from many singers including Ben Zion Shenker, Mordechai Ben David, Avraham Fried, Gideon Levine, and Yishai Lapidot.

Here's the MBD quote:
"Today there are styles in the chassidic music that have no connection to chassidus," says the singer Mordechai Ben Davd Werdigger. [sic] "It is like being in the jungle. The kushim sing in a more refined way than they do. The words don't make the songs chassidic. Maybe it gives pleasure -- like eating pizza, but there is no spiritual pleasure in it." [from an interview in the Bnei Brak paper Kol HaIr, 12th Tishrei 5764.]
Here's the Gideon Levine quote:
My problem is that the imitation of goyishe music is likely to bring a deterioration in our society, and particularly among the young people. [From an interview in the magazine Shaah Tovah, Erev Sukkos 5764].
In this section, Rabbi Luft effectively exposes the hypocrisy of some JM composers, namely MBD and Gideon Levine, who piously talk about "appropriate" Jewish music with rhetoric that is contradicted by their recorded output.

His use of these quotes demonstrates that some chassidic singers and composers either have a sense that some unquantified secular influences are inappropriate for Jewish music, or more likely, that they are attempting to make distinctions within a belief some in the community have; preserving themselves on the side of the good, without rejecting the belief. At any rate, the recorded output of some of these singers presents a stark contrast to their rhetoric.

This is perhaps the most effective part of Rabbi Luft's presentation, for he uses the singers' own words to demonstrate their agreement with his conception. The fact that their output doesn't match his definition of "kosher" is irrelevant, because their output --specifically MBD and Gideon Levine's-- doesn't match their own public statements of what is "kosher" either.

In short, the fact that some performers are "echad b'peh v'echad b'disc" gives Rabbi Luft his opening to use these statements for his own purposes. Ironic!

Still more...

The next section of this chapter is titled "Changes In Moral Values Caused By The Influence of Modern Music."

In this section, Rabbi Luft lays the blame for the deterioration in moral standards during the nineteen-fifties on rock music. He closes this chapter with the following:
We must realize the danger that the modern popular music presents to our own children. Let us not fool ourselves to think that the holy words that are used to sell indecent rock music to the chareidi public can make the music kosher or prevent the evil influences from defiling the soul. We all know that the modern frum pop songs have no positive influence. The influence on the young people is to distance them from the Torah and spirituality. There is no control or censopship over the cheap music created by those cretinous goons who are unfortunately held in higher esteem than Gedolei Hador by many young people. Through the influence of modern barbaric music, modern civilization has been set back over 3000 years. Do we have to go with them? We must remember that today -- to go with the times means to go down the drain!!!
This quote speaks for itself, I believe. I would just point out that Rabbi Luft's use of the term "cretinous goons" is inappropriate and intemperate. I'd also note that it is the actions of Rabbi Luft and other like-minded askonim who are directly responsible for the diminution of the Gedolei Hador in the eyes of many young (and not so young) people.

Next, Chapter Three - "The Sources of the Modern 'Chassidic' Music."

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
"In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III"
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off The Review Stack: Pitom, Josh Nelson, Yitzy Spinner, Craig Taubman's Lights

Off the review stack...

Yoshi Fruchter's Pitom

This disc is composer/guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's debut recording on the Tzadik record label.

This disc sounds as though members of The Ramones, Sonic Youth, and one lone violinist were the only ones to turn up for a klezmer jam session with Elvin Jones. And turn up they do! Fun for those who appreciate guitar skronk and klez-influenced riffage. Like me!

The rhythm section here is the one from Danny Zamir's former group Satlah; Shanir Ezra Blumenkrantz on electric bass and Kevin Zubek on drums. Violinist Jeremy Brown joins Fruchter to round out the band and the lead guitar and violin lay down some nice tight unison lines and intriguing improv over strong grooves, while the bass 'n drums express themselves in the background, although they too step forward at times, especially when the bass doubles the guitar & violin.

Fave tracks include "The Robe of Priestly Proportions" Parts I and II, Shikora, and Davita. "Freigel Rock" sounds like a nicely demented take on the Adam's Family Theme.

This album goes along nicely with Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh. Double bill, anyone?

The Pitom website is here.

Amazon has it here:

Josh Nelson Project: Lift
Josh Nelson sounds like an updated Craig Taubman. Writing in a similar style, Nelson blends liturgy and original lyrics expressing positive Jewish messages with an updated pop-rock sound. The arrangements blend synths and loops with pop guitars to create hooky J-pop.

Did I mention this is an upbeat Jewish pop-rock album? The lyrics seem overly earnest at times, but I liked this one. Fave tracks include the Middle-Eastern flavored title track "Lift" and the funky closer "Hallelujah."

Josh's website is here.

Also of note, The Josh Nelson Project will be appearing on the Craig Taubman PBS special "Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert," which will run on PBS this December. (See next review for more about that project.)

Amazon has it here:

Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert

This disc of a Craig Taubman produced PBS Hanukkah special for this year's upcoming festivities -- it will air on PBS in December-- is an odd one.

The concert and album feature appearances by Alberto Mizrahi, Craig Taubman, Mare Winningham, Jewish Gospel singer Joshua Nelson as well as Josh Nelson, Michelle Citrin, Dave Koz, and the Klezmatics.

The set includes some strange choices -- like Dave Koz's easy listening treatment of that old Hanukkah classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Personally, I'd have preferred to have the Klezmatics and Joshua Nelson's collaboration on "Ale Brider" from that concert instead. If you've ever wondered what Dave Koz and the Klezmatics would sound like playing on the same track, this is likely to be your only chance, as all the performers join in on the requisite finale of Hanukkah 'O Hanukkah.

I had high hopes for this one, based on the lineup. Unfortunately, the Klezmatics perform their Woody Guthrie Hanukkah songs, which I find disappointing, especially when compared to their Grammy-winning "Wonder Wheel" Guthrie material. Joshua Nelson also disappoints. It's difficult to do a non-hokey version of I Had A Little Dreidl and his Gospel take on the old chesnut comes off as corny. His Hiney Ma Tov works much better.

There are an awful lot of non-Hanukkah songs on this disc, considering it's supposed to be a holiday disc.

I liked Cantor Mizrahi's version of "Ocho Kandelikas." In general, I like his singing here, but on many of the songs, the arrangements don't do his voice justice. Michelle Citrin does a nice contempo-folk cover of "Don't Let The Light Go Out" and Mare Winningham does a pretty acoustic version of Hanerot Hallalu with a really nice fiddle solo.

Check out audio samples on Amazon and form your own opinion on this one.

Amazon has it here:

Yitzy Spinner: you and i

This is a slickly produced Chassidic pop record. On the surface, this seems like a formulaic Hassidisco album, complete with the cheesy English ballad that is de riguer for these kinds of productions. But, it's not exactly a cookie-cutter "Brooklyn JM" release. Vocalist Yitzy Spinner composed all of the material himself and as result connects to the material well. Spinner sings nicely throughout and the arrangements are a cut above the usual for this genre. In particular, Mike Boxer contributes some nice vocal arrangements.

Followers of the genre will notice that Spinner goes the extra mile production and presentation-wise; making things a touch more sophisticated and thought-out, compared to many of his peers. This is a nice solo debut Chassidic pop album. Of course, Spinner has years of experience singing with the Miami Boys Choir as a child and performing at weddings with a many local simcha bands, so this is not really his first album.

If you're not a fan of the Chassidic pop music genre, this will not seem much different than the usual, but it's worth a listen and might make a good entry point for those looking to discover more about the genre.

Yitzy's website is here and you can download a free remix of "Mi Sheshiken" from the site.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa

This section should have been included in my previous post on the first chapter of Rabbi Ephraim Luft's book, "In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III."

The dangers of misplacing notes... continuing my comments on this chapter...

In this chapter, Rabbi Luft attempts to "prove" from Plato (and also Confucious) that certain music is "bad". Looking at the quotes, it is apparent that he is selectively quoting without understanding or context. In particular, it seems as though he has no understanding of modes and conflates them with notes.

The notion of quoting Plato as "posek acharon" (authoritative) here, when many of his positions on music have largely been rejected, beginning with Aristotle's rejection of Plato's reservation of music for education and ritual, is strange. ( Aristotle disagreed with Plato, finding music useful for entertainment and relaxation too, as long as it is not overdone.) Plato's views reflect an idea Rabbi Luft likes - that a given melody can be inherently "dangerous." Nevertheless, intellectual honesty would require Rabbi Luft to indicate that this understanding of music is not the conventional thinking in the broader world of contemporary Classicial Music Theory.

Regardless, if one grants that Plato is correct, then leshitaso, Rabbi Luft has two problems; one general and one specific.

The first general problem raised by this is that Plato admired the Dorian mode in particular because it was associated with Sparta and the Spartan ethos. Sparta didn't exactly have a Torah hashkafa. In other words, that mode which Plato sets as most ideal is one that both represents and imbues values presumably antithetical to Rabbi Luft's. The modes Plato idealized, to the extent that he would ban the use of the other Greek modes in his ideal nation-state, were the Dorian and Phrygian modes, to the exception of the others. (Republic 398d-399c)

(There aren't a whole lot of traditional chassidic Dorian mode-based melodies played at contemporary simchos. Out of the contemporary simcha bandstand repertoire, Chaim Dovid's "Ya-Ma-Mai" comes to mind, but I'm pretty sure that song is one Rabbi Luft would reject as inappropriate.)

The second specific problem Rabbi Luft has is that, if Plato is correct, then the very example of the traditional Chupa melody that Rabbi Luft presents as "kosher music" in the book is "treif". Put simply, Plato expressly rejects the use of specific modes like Ionian (the major scale) and Aeolian (a minor scale) which are used for some of the music Rabbi Luft deems acceptable. The "Vishnitzer Chupa Nigun" [sic] Rabbi Luft includes in his book as an example of a kosher melody uses the Ionian mode. It's intellectually dishonest to cite Plato's views on music without mentioning that this position would effectively prohibit the use of many well-known traditional Jewish melodies.

Now, it is possible that Rabbi Luft would accept Plato's premise that some modes are "good" or beneficial and others are "bad," but have his own distinctions as to which modes they are. He does not make this argument in the book, though. And, he cites no sources which he could theoretically use to assert this.

Rabbi Luft also quotes some Torah sources in this chapter. One, R' Sa'adya Gaon in Emunos Vedeios 10:18, is difficult to understand. I'm going to look for a good translation. It seems to be talking about certain melodic note combinations, or else modes, having specific influences on the listener. In any event, Rabbi Luft does not demonstrate that any of these are/aren't present in the music he wants banned.

Another Torah source is Rav Avraham ben HaRambam who holds that one shouldn't listen to music that is meorer the yetzer hara [arouses the evil inclination]. In context, this is an irrelevant source, as no definition of what music that is "meorer the yetzer hara" is given. One can accept this premise, rejecting, for example, songs with vulgar or heretical lyrics, while denying the assumption that any kind of music is inherently inappropriate if the lyrical content is not objectionable. So, there is no proof from this source.

Similarly, Rabbi Luft quotes Chovas Halevavos who advises one to separate from music that takes one away from doing good deeds -- "minei hazemer vehanigun vehasechok veharina haterudim osach min hamitzvos vehama'asim hatovim." Once again, it doesn't say what these are and the same caveats as above likely apply.

In short, these latter two Torah citations he cites on the "influence of music" have no direct relevance because they can be understood to refer to improper lyrical content, whereas Rabbi Luft's campaign is against Chassidic pop, most of which utilizes liturgical texts as lyrics.

Rabbi Luft often cites quotes like this, that on the surface appear to support his position, but upon closer investigation bear no relevance to his crusade.

Next in the series will be a look at Chapter Two - Quotes from Newspapers and Books on "Rock and Roll".

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
"In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III"

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poshut in the Top 50

Lipa Schmeltzer makes the Forward's Top 50 Jews of 2008.
In the cloistered world of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer is a superstar. Mixing Hasidic musical traditions and contemporary pop sounds, the 30-year-old Skverer Hasid has become something of a sensation — though not an uncontroversial one. In March, Schmeltzer was set to headline a charity benefit at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater. A little more than two weeks before the concert, some of American ultra-Orthodoxy's leading rabbinic authorities issued an edict banning attendance. They warned that the event would cause "ribaldry and lightheadedness." Out of respect for rabbinic authority, Schmeltzer deferred to the decree and the concert was canceled. But the ban generated a fierce backlash. Some people suggested that fanatics had misled the rabbis about the nature of the concert, which, consistent with communal norms, was to have separate seating for men and women. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the Hasidic stronghold of Boro Park, told The New York Times: "In all my 26 years of representing this community, I can't remember anything that has so shaken the people." Schmeltzer, for his part, has continued making music — and drawing appreciative crowds at public appearances. The title of his latest album can be seen as a rejoinder to critics who regard his pop-inflected songs and burgeoning popularity as threats to traditional Jewish values. It is called "A Poshiter Yid" — Yiddish for "A Simple Jew."
Note, the "some people" referenced above includes some of the rabbis who signed the ban, who have gone on the record acknowledging this.

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III

Continuing my review of Rabbi Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker"...

Here are some comments on Chapter 1 - The Influence of Music.

Rabbi Luft introduces this chapter as follows.
There are many people who have been led to think that there are no bad influences in music. They assume that if we do not find any prohibition mentioned by our Rabbis of previous generations to refrain from listening to any type of music, then everything is permissible. We do find one place in Chazal in Chagiga 15, that tells us that the Tanna Elisha Ben Avuya was influenced to become an apikorus by listening to a Greek song. This seems to imply that there did exist in the Geek music of that period bad influences that could corrupt the soul. This does not mean that all types of non-Jewish music are bad, as we find that over the generations our Rabbis permitted to use non-Jewish melodies even for Kaddish and Kedusha [see Birchei Yosef O'CH 560 and Pri Megadim O"CH 53, E"HAE 14].
This opening paragraph is very relevant, because Rabbi Luft here essentially concedes that he's making this whole prohibition up, a fact that the rest of the book tries very hard to obscure.

It's important to note that, here too, Rabbi Luft is distorting his Torah source. The Gemara in Chagiga 15B does not say Acher (Elisha ben Avuyah) was influenced to become a heretic by "listening to "A" Greek song" [italics mine]. It says "Zemer Yevani lo pasak mipumeih"; i.e. he was always singing Greek songs [lit. Greek song did not cease from his mouth]. In other words, even without getting into the definition of "Greek song", we can already clearly demonstrate that Rabbi Luft has incorrectly cited a source. "Greek song" is worthy of its own post. Perhaps I'll write on the subject after going through the rest of the book in a general sense.

This chapter also contains the following:
We see therefore that our rabbis also mentioned that music has beneficial and detrimental influences. But we should ask why there is nothing mentioned by the Gedolim of Europe on this subject [as we find that the only type of goyishe music that they prohibited was music of avoda zara and shirei agavim (love songs), where the bad influence is essentially in the words, and not in the music]. The answer is that European music until the 20th century was generally clean and respectable, and did not contain negative influences. Therefore we see that those Gedolim who did write about harmful music were the ones who live among the arabs, whose music is full of immoral content...
he then cites a quote from Kaf Hachaim who prefers that chazzanim shouldn't use melodies based on Maqam for kaddish and kedusha because they bring "hirhurim ra'im". [bad thoughts].

Rabbi Luft is forced to take this position because he is well aware of the numerous secular European melodies adopted by the chareidi community, especially various Chassidic communities.

Rabbi Luft ignores the fact that this is true of the Sephardic communities from Arab countries as well. They too have adopted many secular melodies from the local culture. Kaf Hachaim's opinion is one side of a well-known debate amongst Sephardic poskim over the years. The common practice in those communities has been to accept the use of those melodies. Indeed many Sephardic poskim to this date (including Chacham Ovadya Yosef) permit this. In his responsa Yechave Da'as II:5, Chacham Yosef includes a list of great Sephardic Chachamim who condoned the practice of using the melodies of Arabic love songs for Kaddish and Kedusha. Whether he is unaware of, or deliberately misrepresenting the reality, Rabbi Luft is once again shading the truth in his pursuit of his agenda. There is no distinction between the communities in this regard. There is is only a Euro-centric bias, here.

Citing a minority opinion as authoritative is not reflective of how the Halachik system operates. It's also intellectually dishonest. Either Rabbi Luft is being misleading here, or else he is opining in ignorance.

Rabbi Luft also describes the musical changes of the 20th century:
New forms of popular music appeared with a new purpose to promote immorality, rebellion, and violence. The results can be seen on the street. This musical anarchy has already destroyed the last two generations of modern society, and over the past 25 years has been creeping into chareidi music by means of irresponsible singers, arrangers, and producers who do not seem to care about our spiritual welfare.
For Rabbi Luft, the blame for anything negative in society can be traced back to music. It's always cause, never effect. This is not a very nuanced position. It's not an accurate one either.

Next in the series will be a look at Chapter Two - Quotes from Newspapers and Books on "Rock and Roll".

Here are my previous posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX

From the mailbag...

Avromy Ackerman forwards a link to a Nir Naaman saxophone solo.
I think you’ll get a kick out of this. At 6:38 in the link which I’m including, in the middle of a round of five saxophonists trading twos, Nir quotes a popular Jewish song for his full solo!

Mambo Inn
James Staudt writes:
I use both Finale and Sibelius. Personally, I find Finale easier to use, and I find that "real-time" entry from the keyboard is much more accurate with Finale. Sibelius is less forgiving, and frequently becomes very quirky by inventing its own rhythms on the manuscript. Has anybody else had this problem? An old DOS program, MusicPrinterPlus, had the best processor for "real-time" entry. Just thought I'd pass that along.
Personally, I've gotten better results from Sibelius vs. Finale in that regard.

Israel Zwick comments on "What Would Shlomo Say?":
This is the Niggun Done Right! Niggun Neshama - Shlomo Katz
Incidentally, for some strange reason, Hirhurim linked this post, rather than my substantative critique of Rabbi Luft's book, which immediately preceded it. I imagine that series would be of more interest to his readers.

A reader comments on "Vesamachta Lead Sheet Analysis- Trio":
What a treatise!

The only problem with your whole theory is that e natural is not part of the melody. Not how the song goes. Could be implied and suitable to the mode, but it’s an embellishment. I therefore still stand by what I said, that the fraygish mode takes its ingredient from the harmonic minor and if an e natural is introduced it is not germane to the mode but rather an anomaly, which is why it’s accidental is not in the signature.
Nope. It’s part of the melody. That’s my point. Some people sing it without and that’s the common variation, as I noted, but I think the original version had the E natural. I suspect that it evolved this way because of this non-familiarity with modes. Just like the wrong Gm ending to Eishes Chayil everybody sings, which is not that old a song, and clearly ends on D.

It’s an accidental because it’s different (natural or minor) depending on where in the mode you’re coming from/going to. In either event, the E natural is not suited to C Harmonic Minor.

We’ll have to agree to disagree.

On the same topic, Jordan Wosnick writes:
Just a note of appreciation about the blog. I am Jewish, and an occasionally-semi-pro jazz musician -- so the lead sheet idea is not foreign to me. But not a "Jewish musician" (I don't play Jewish events typically) so your analysis (especially the mode structure of the music) was interesting. I take turns at SHa"Tz duties at shul so the modes are "in my head", but I don't have a theoretical understanding of them -- at least not on the level of traditional jazz theory.

Can you recommend any books (in English) on traditional Jewish music theory?
Pete Sokolow has a very useful essay on Klezmer modes in The Compleat Klezmer. Amazon has it here:

Josh Horowitz wrote a wonderful article, The Main Klezmer Modes which is hosted at the Klezmer Shack.

Joe Flix forwards a link to his review of Dovid Stein's album.

Psachya comments on Rabbi Luft's sheet music:
I'll admit this to be a total nitpick, but I couldn't resist. In addition to everything else, Rabbi Luft owes an apology to all Bobover Chassidim for describing what is probably their most famous nigun as a "Vizhnitzer" chupa song. (I bet he probably loves Arkady's version...) :-)
J. comments on "Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bachur":
I can get you a band,,, just have someone cover the gas and tolls!
See, that wasn't too hard. There are now two public offers to cover the music for this event at no charge (assuming the details are as presented in the original post).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bachur

Over at Orthonomics, Sephardi Lady is upset about a tzedakah request sent to the Five Towns list server on behalf of a Bar mitzvah boy whose family recently lost their business. The post asked for the following:
money for music
prizes for kids
candy to throw
SL criticizes the pork in the post.

I have a different perspective. I agree about the need to direct tzedakah money more appropriately, rather than to luxuries. However, we are also taught that the obligation to give tzedakah is according to the recipient's needs -- even if those needs are not necessary, like a horse to ride and a servant to run before him. (Rambam, Hilchos Tzedakah, 7:3). Enabling a child to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in a manner similar to that of his peers is important, and even worth spending tzedakah money on. In my opinion, it falls into the category of "dai mechsoro" as defined by the Rambam cited.

That said, this does not mean that the first approach should be to throw money at the problem. Take music, for example. There are many musicians who, in cases of genuine need, would be glad to play for a reduced rate, or even volunteer their services, assuming the event does not conflict with their paid bookings.

It is important to educate the community about the need to moderate unnecessary expenditures in tough financial times, but it's unfair to insist it be done at at a child's expense, when there is an alternatives. A cheap or dull Bar Mitzvah party can have especially strong social ramifications in that specific community. Whether it's fair or not, it is the reality.

I'm reasonably certain that, with creative thinking, most of the items on this list could be obtained without the need to raise money. Obviously, people donating their time or goods is money, in a sense; but it doesn't take tzedakah dollars that would otherwise go elsewhere.

I have done this in the past, in situations where I became aware that there was a genuine need, like the times when a family's rabbi has contacted me discreetly to explain the situation and budget or lack thereof.

I don't have the contact information for this family, and have not verified the legitimacy of the need. If anyone can verify the need and I am available that date, I'd be glad to donate my time. I'm sure many of my readers would do the same as well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II

Continuing my review of Rabbi Ephraim Luft's book, "The Torah Is Not Hefker"....

The first installment can be found here.

As promised, before continuing with my critique of the substance (or lack thereof) in his book, I intend to address his musical ignorance as evidenced in the rules for playing Jewish music posted in the BBC article

Here are Rabbi Luft's rules:
(click to enlarge)

I'm not going to go through all of these; they're plainly arbitrary and absurd. What is important to note here is the evidence of Rabbi Luft's musical ignorance with regard to the terminology he uses. He also seems to be unaware of the role different instruments play in the contemporary simcha ensemble. And, his music history is inaccurate. This is extremely relevant, since Rabbi Luft is holding himself out as an "expert" on music. His credibility as the head of the Committee for Jewish Music" is predicated on the assumption that he is knowledgeable about the subject.

Here's the ad for his committee he published in front of the book:

Rabbi Luft has set himself up as an expert on music who is qualified to issue standards and opinions. Yet a close look at these rules alone, not to mention his other writings, reveals his ignorance.

I'm not going to go through all of these; let's look at rule # 4 as as representative.

Rabbi Luft writes:
"2-4 beats" and other rock and disco beats in the percussion must not be used. The modern drum set was created specifically for disrespectful music and other percussion instruments should preferably be used." In a footnote, he cites "The Malbim [in Yeshayahu Ch. 24, 8] comments that the place of the drum is only in dance music."
The language of this rule alone proves my assertions about Rabbi Luft's musical expertise and it also proves that he misrepresents Torah sources.

2/4 does not mean what Rabbi Luft clearly thinks it does here. It's a time signature, not a description of rock beats. What Rabbi Luft means to ban is a backbeat, the emphasis on beats two and four, as in much pop/rock music. This is elementary music terminology. It is simply impossible for a musically knowledgeable person to mistakenly refer to 2/4 in this context. It makes no sense. Anyone that can make this error is clearly ignorant of the "Alef-beis" of music terminology.

In fact, in his own book, Rabbi Luft has two transcriptions of the same nigun. One version is kosher and the other stylized version of the same nigun is "treif". The Kosher version is notated in 2/4. As well, much of the music Rabbi Luft does approve of, like many dance nigunim, for example, is in 2/4.

Here's a scan of that notation:

Incidentally, a friend and I recently got together to play through both versions in Rabbi Luft's honor.

It is clearly evident that Rabbi Luft uses musical terminology incorrectly and lacks the ability to accurately describe what it is he objects to. This speaks to his credibility as a music expert, and even more so, to his ability to accurately draft legislation.

Sholom emailed on this very point:
I keep reading, here and elsewhere, about Ephraim Luft's attempt to ban, among other things, what he refers to as the "2-4 beat".

But I don't think he means what you think he means. You are a musician, and much of your readership is comprised of either musicians, or other people knowledgeable about music, so you naturally interpret this statement the way any musician would, namely the 2/4 time signature, and (rightly) ridicule him for attempting to remove such things as freilachs from our repertoire.

I submit that Rabbi Luft, who is evidently not a trained musician and probably can't read sheet music either, probably wouldn't recognize a time signature if it bit him on the nose.

So what then does he mean? Judging by the rest of that paragraph, it seems to me that what he's trying to describe in his clumsy way is the rock 'n roll back beat, which of course emphasizes the second and fourth beats of each measure. This fits in with the rest of his rant about "rock and disco beats", which as mentioned above are usually in the 4/4 time signature.

(Of course the back beat has been vilified by clergymen pretty much since the legendary Earl Palmer introduced it into the mainstream in December of 1949, so "ein kol chodosh tachas hashemesh"...)
I've been letting people have fun with the whole 2/4 thing because one way to demonstrate a flaw in legislation is by showing how easily it can be misinterpreted.

Back to rule # 4...

Rabbi Luft's assertion that the modern drum set was created specifically for disrespectful music is a misrepresentation of reality. According to Wikipedia
'Drum sets were first developed due to financial and space considerations in theaters where drummers were encouraged to cover as many percussion parts as possible. Up until then, drums and cymbals were played separately in military and orchestral music settings."
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Rabbi Luft's representation of the Malbim on Yeshaya he cites in the footnote is false as well. As with his musical assertions, Rabbi Luft's surprisingly infrequent Torah assertions (considering that he claims to be standing up for Torah) are often not accurate representations of the source cited. The Malbim he quotes does not say that "the place of the drum is only in dance music." On the pasuk of "Shavas mesos tupim...", the Malbim comments: "Ve'al yedei shebatlah hayayin nishbisu harikudim shehayu regilus la'asos betupim u'vemecholos, she'hatof haya meyuchad lerikud umachol,ve'al yedei zehmemeila chodal lashon alizim." I've italicized the part of the quote Rabbi Luft distorts.

The Malbim does not say what the role of the drum IS; he makes a historical claim as to what it WAS in Yeshayahu's time. That's very different. (I'll let the musicologists address whether it is correct. I don't have much knowledge of drum customs in Biblical times.) Rabbi Luft is misrepresenting the Malbim's comment.

For the record, even if Rabbi Luft's representation of Malbim would have been correct, it still would be irrelevant because Malbim's gloss suggests this as commentary, explaining pshat in the pasuk, the meaning of the verse. The Malbim did did not issue this as a Halachik ruling. Neither has anyone else. Furthermore, even if the Malbim had issued a ruling to this effect, it still would not be binding on the community, as evidenced by the fact that no Halachik authority has validated this position in the intervening years.

In short, Rabbi Luft has no Halachik or Hashkafic source prohibiting the use of drums/percussion on slow songs. His attempt to represent that he does represents ziyuf haTorah.

To sum up, looking at these rules, we can easily see that Rabbi Luft has neither the musical knowledge or vocabulary to write music legislation. Even if one argues that such legislation is needed, and frankly, I think the notion is absurd, Rabbi Luft is clearly not qualified to be the one making these decisions and/or drafting rules.

The next post in this series will begin looking at the "content" of "The Torah Is Not Hefker".

The previous post can be found here.

UPDATE 2/1/09:
For your convenience, I have updated the posts in this series to include links to all of the posts on this topic.

Here are the links to all of the posts in this series:

In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part I
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part II
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part III
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IIIa
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IV
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part V
In Review - Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VI
In Review - R'; Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part VIII
In Review - R' Ephraim Luft's "The Torah Is Not Hefker" Part IX