Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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

It's been a while since my last post on this book, links to the previous posts are below. Back to the book...

We are up to Chapter 5 - "The Influence On The Soul".

In this Chapter, Rabbi Luft attempts to make the argument that only "pop stars, disc jockeys, and all the gang of yeshiva dropouts" are the ones denying that the popular contemporary chareidi music is obscene. He asserts that at this point the only people who disagree with his assertions are the aforementioned.

He then "demonstrates" that in the secular world, the rock singers do know what they're doing and are intentionally ruining society.
Even if we can say that some of the frum singers do not intend to corrupt the young people with their corrupt music, the same can not be said about the goyishe pop stars. They know exactly what they are doing, and their power to ruin society is so strong, that an American priest, Reverend David Noebel, wrote extensive articles against the Beatles claiming that they were actually communist agents who were manipulating the behaviour of Western society by means of their music.
Rabbi Luft again demonstrates that he has no knowledge of musical history. This is just absurd. He also demonstrates that he does not vet his sources prior to citing them.

Here's a review of Noebel's book, "The Marxist Minstrels". Note the racial angle. Birds of a feather, it seems. It's quite obvious that Rabbi Luft is willing to quote anybody, no matter how delusional, if their agenda supports his own. What's amazing is how few supporting sources he brings, despite his indiscriminate non-standards.

Again, part of the tremendous chillul Hashem here is when rabbonim endorse Rabbi Luft's efforts, implicitly endorsing his absurd assertions, dishonesty, and racist views.

Rabbi Luft then turns his attention to Jewish musicians. He quotes a popular Chassidic bandleader who expressed himself at a meeting of bandleaders in Bnei Brak in Teves, 5764:
The meeting was made in protest of the Roshei Yeshivos who had demanded that the music at weddings should be respectable, and he said the following: "We will compromise a little. We will talk with the Rabbis. But if the rabbis will not agree with us, I will organize every night parties for the bochurim!"
Essentially, Rabbi Luft takes this bandleader to task for not falling into line with his own views.

Now let's see. The facts and timing on this are clear. The Roshei Yeshiva didn't just get together and decide to address the issue of chareidi simcha music. Lets take a look and see what Rabbi Luft was up to at that time in 5764. That's right, using his false representations, he was manipulating rabbonim into appointing him the head of "The Committee for Jewish Music." He wrote:
Several months ago, I presented the above information to HaRav Nissim Karelitz and asked what should be done to improve the situation. He told me that a committee should be made to supervise the playing of music at simchas, and after taking advice from several other important rabbis, the Committee for Jewish Music was formed, consisting of a group of bnei Torah from Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim who all have experience in the field of music and understand the subject fully.

A special committee of rabbis who have an understanding of music was also made to advise the new Committee for Jewish Music, and a meeting was held in Bnei Brak on the 27th of Tammuz to make a list of guidelines regarding the music to be played at weddings. The members of the committee of rabbis are: HaRav Mordechai Gross, HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, HaRav Eliezer Dunner, HaRav Mass'oud Ben Shimon, and HaRav Aharon Mittelman.
The "above information" he references includes many of his assertions we've already disproved.

Rabbi Luft and his ilk had been running around "organizing Da'as Torah." The meeting and this bandleaders' comments were a response to published threats from Rabbi Luft in which he threatened that any bandleaders who don't follow his rules will be boycotted by the rabbonim. The context is quite relevant. Since Rabbi Luft had managed to manipulate rabbonim into signing on to his campaign, this was viewed as a serious threat.

This bandleader deserves a Yasher Koach for insisting on speaking to the rabbis, something, Rabbi Luft has thus far shown no interest in allowing to happen, let alone facilitating. Why not let the rabbonim hear another perspective? The fact that Rabbi Luft cites this bandleader's lack of willingness to "roll over" for him as evidence that the bandleader is attempting to corrupt the youth is just absurd.

Further, Rabbi Luft was attempting to institute new regulations including the banning of certain instruments, something that if succesful would put some musicians out of business immediately. (See the section titled "The Following Statement and Rules Were Made.") It is perfectly legitimate for people to respond in a less then accommodating manner to such threats. It seems that what really outrages Rabbi Luft is the fact that at least some bandleaders aren't willing to let him have his way unopposed.

Rabbi Luft then moves on to citing riots at rock concerts as evidence. For example, he mentions the infamous Hell's Angel's riot at the Rolling Stones Altamont concert in 1969 at which someone was killed.

(Incidentally, he misrepresents the details here too. You can trust nothing he asserts. He writes:
When, during the 1969 Altamont festival, they performed the song Sympathy for the Devil, the Hell's Angels 'bodyguards' went on a rampage, attacking the audience with such violence that people were severely injured and even killed.
Actually, only one person, Meredith Hunter was killed, although a few people died in an auto accident and one drowned in a drainage ditch. Also, the band was actually playing "Under My Thumb" at the time Hunter was murdered. You can read all about that concert here. But I digress...)

At any rate, he then quotes Mick Jagger as having said: "Something like that happens every time I play that song." Aside from being contradicted by the Stones' half-century of touring, at which riots and murders have not erupted at their shows, it also sets up an absurd idea. That is, that rioting crowds indicate that the famous people at whose event they are rioting bear direct responsibility. I wonder what that says about Rav Steinman, given the violent Chassidic protests against him here in the States when he came a few years back. I wonder about the riots that have occasionally occurred in various Chassidishe kreisen. Somehow, I don't expect Rabbi Luft would fault those rabbonim and rebbes.

Rabbi Luft then explains why we don't see riots at frum concerts. He offers three reasons.
1) The young people in the chareidi audiences, even the lowest of them are better educated than the goyim who attend these types of shows, and have more self-control to stop themselves from misbehaving in public.

2. The words of the songs do not promote violence and disruptive behaviour.

3. The frum musicians are not interested in promoting violence, because they don't want the Rabbis to ban them completely.
Let's take a look at these. Reason #1 is goy-bashing and is offensive for that reason alone. It is also foolish on its face. To illustrate, compare the typical audience at shows for the following artists: Garth Brooks, Steely Dan, Brad Mehldau, Children of Bodom, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Christina Aguilera, the Metropolitan Opera. These each have a different demographic at their shows. I could have listed many other examples, but my point is clearly illustrated here.The notion that all non-Jewish artists and audiences are wild and uneducated is simply not true. Different artists attract different demographics. Even if some attract a more boorish crowd, so do some Rabbonim, vehameyvin yovin.

Reason #2 is correct, but also applies to many secular performances as well.

Reason #3 implies that Frum artists would encourage violence at their shows, but for the fear that they'll be completely banned by the Rabbonim. This is silly. It does illustrate Rabbi Luft's persception of Jewish performers, though. The idea that someone with this kind of agenda and bias is the one attempting to make rules about Jewish music should give pause to anyone considering his notions.

Rabbi Luft then claims that there have been occasions when boys have thrown their shirts at the singer and alleges that "at a concert in Tel Aviv the night after Purim 5764, it was reported that the girls did the same thing." Frankly, I don't believe him. And I think he knows it didn't happen. The locution "it was reported" sans source is telling. Someone, probably one of Rabbi Luft's associates, made this one up.

Rabbi Luft closes the chapter with a section on "The Disco Wedding." He writes that the bands turn the wedding into a discotheque, and although the bandleaders say they are forced to do so by the bochurim, it is not so.
"...we can see from the words of the Chareidi band leader quoted above that it is not the boys who are dictating what and how to play, but rather a few corrupt individuals who set the style for all the Yeshiva weddings, and they are willing to fight for the right to continue doing this.
In truth, the band leader quoted above said no such thing. But why let facts get in the way of some good demonization.

On a roll, Rabbi Luft then tells another scandalous tale of debauchery.
Everybody heard about another infamous band leader in Shvat, 5764 at a Bnei Brak wedding, when he saw that the boys took down part of the mechitza to let the girls come through to dance on the men's side, he started to encourage them by playing in a way that aroused the yetzer hora. And we shouldn't think that he is the only one who knows how to do this. They all know how to play in that way, but they are still waiting to see if that one degenerate can succeed to get more orders, then they will follow his example because their parnossah is more important than Yiddishkeit.
Reading this chapter, one would get the impression of a chareidi society in decline, with chareidi girls going topless in public, throwing their shirts at MBD and the like, and mixed dancing at simchas. I've been to a number of Bnei Brak weddings, have relatives there, and feel quite comfortable saying that Rabbi Luft is clearly exaggerating here. The image he's trying to present is based on falsehood. So are his rules and so is his presentation.

Note that, as in the rest of his book, the language Rabbi Luft uses in this chapter to describe musicians and their motivations is simply inappropriate for a ben Torah.

Next up, the final chapter. After that, I intend to post a short follow-up to my original post, demonstrating that I have proved all of my initial assertions about Rabbi Luft and his work.

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
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

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