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Monday, February 16, 2009

On Modern Jewish Music

Where It Is And Where I'd Like It To Be

I was thinking about the nature of Jewish Music as of late . . .

An acquaintance of mine, Schneur (aka DeScribe) and the amazing Y-love, released their single "Change" (Yes the title and some of the imagery bring up a little too much Obama . . . but what can you do?)

I enjoyed it, and in my desire to support talented Jewish Artists, I purchased it on Amazon (and you should too) and have been rocking out to it ever since.
But I wonder . . . I don't particularly care for rap, reggae or most of the other genres covered in 'hip' - Jewish music. The styles I naturally go for are Romanticism, and even more Neo-Romanticism, Jazz and an appreciation for a smattering of classic rock. I find the infinite breadth and grandeur of John Williams (Yes, John Williams is my favorite composer - just listen to the Binary Sunset) to strike a far greater chord in me . . .

Which is why I wonder that, with an exception for the genre-bending 8th day, I can't really understand why my play list has so much Matisyahu, Y-Love and others. It's not that I don't enjoy these guys - if I didn't I wouldn't play them so much . . .

[There must be an interesting sociological connection that after generic 'pop' music, the greatest influences stylistically on Modern Jewish Music are African-American ones (Yes I know that it is rather assumptive and ignorant of me to call reggae and rap "African American" but the liberal public school agenda has programmed me to call ethnicities that hail from continental Africa at any point in their past, regardless of other influences and where they may currently live, as such)]

Perhaps it's their freshness - Shiny-Shoes Music can be fun, but when I need to concentrate, relax or just release, with an exception for MBD, most of the other guys make me nervous. Hearing something inspired, even if not my style, adds the much needed variety to my life (which music always seems to play an indispensable role).

[An aside: Chassidisher Nigunim are a whole other topic - as I've mentioned in a previous post]

In any event, with the exception of Daniel Zamir, who has some amazing Jazz renditions of niggunim, and whose Hatikvah [please click on the link dear reader and listen] I absolutely adore - and don't even know where to purchase - I'll just have to be content with what's out there.

But am I alone in wanting something in a more symphonic vein? I'd love to see a series of Romantic pieces utilizing the Leitmotif for various Jewish personalities - a fatherly Baal Shem Tov, a brave R' Levi Yitzchok Berditchver, a brooding R' Boruch'el M'Medzibuzh . . .

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Jack said...

Hi Mottel.

I always struggle with terms like Romanticism because I usually mis-interpret them. Clever me. But at least in terms of music in the classical / art music tradition there is some good stuff out there. A good starting point is the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. You might want to check out Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Ruth and Naomi and Ofer Ben-Amots' Celestial Dialogues. They started a short lived podcast which has nice introduction to the archive, hosted by none other than Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame. Another Jewish composer I've profiled that you might be interested in is Daniel David Feinsmith.

Teruah Jewish Music

le7 said...

I just had this discussion.

When I only listened to non-Jewish music, I hated anything from the hip-hop/rap/whatever genre. Really, I did.

But now, I listen to much of what you listed.

Funny, but wtvr.

Symphonic vein? Now that is something I'd like to get involved in... for serious. For real. For sure. No joke. Please. No really please. If you hear of anything. Let me know. ASAP. Thanks.

le7 said...

Well actually I really loved ska (you could usually find me in my mohawk skanking at the local shows). So Reggae at least isn't a stretch.

Cheerio said...

the line that captured me:
"Hearing something inspired, even if not my style, adds the much needed variety to my life (which music always seems to play an indispensable role)."

in a road trip recently, i felt like i was bleeding out my ears. why, why, why do people consider this music enjoyable/relaxing? i've bopped along to all the choirs and most (ok, some) of the singers, but it's not... original, or heartfelt, or even in english (my pet peeve - i like lyrics i can relate to, and being an american born, i gotta have the english words)!

also - it would be interesting to really explore the influences on "jewish" (i.e. frum) music in recent years. pop music, reggae and rap... what else?

and one last thing - my friend just told me about a punk jazz band - jewish - which plays at Puppet's Sunday night Jewish Jazz...

ilanica said...

Puppets sunday night is Jewish jazz night (Cheerio, when will you come??)!

As per your complaints about Jewish music -
The answer is that Jewish culture is perpetually a decade behind normal culture. What was cool in the 90's is cool now for frum Jews, what was cool in the 90s was what was cool for everyone else in the 80's. It's pretty much an empirical fact as far as I'm concerned. Okay, some things take less than a decade. Pretty much as soon as dressing metrosexual stopped being shocking and hip, frum guys started doing it and feeling like they were totally on top of things.

I think Jewish music will get over its reggae/hip hop stage. It will take time. If you're looking to be inspired, listen to Coltrane. Seriously. Much more effective than contemporary Jewish music in terms of connecting to G-d. I hope that's not blasphemous. But it's so much more authentically spiritual.
And what makes you think that because observant Jews create the music that it is going to inspire you more? I mean, I know music comes from the neshama and you connect with it and all of that. But if symphonic music moves you, and no Jews are making anything worthwhile along those lines....well, I don't know. I guess you're right to want the best of both worlds, but non-Jews just seem so much better at capturing emotions artistically.

Mottel said...

-Jack: Thanks for the info - I'll check it out.

-LE7: After reading your comment, I realized that I had indeed read that post of yours about music - so take pride in knowing that you've inspired me (subconsciously).

If I ever come across a Jewish symphony, I'll have my people call your people. Oh and "you could usually find me in my mohawk skanking at the local shows." TMI . . . TMI!

-Cheerio: Thanks for pointing out the line you liked the most, as is so often the case - by doing it, you bring to light things I'm only vaguely aware that I wrote. I have no problem with Hebrew or Yiddish (in fact I tend to find Yiddish to be more 'hartzig' then English . . . Though I must admit, Hebrew can just annoy me at times). I'd say that the waltz, brought from Vienna via Shlomo Carlebach, has also indirectly influenced Jewish music.

-Ilanica: Thanks for stopping by! There are several cases in which the Frum community tends to lag behind everyone else - though if you'll observe closely, the Frenchies tend to be dead on with the style (When I saw a French bochur wear those Über pointy shoes 6 years ago, I thought he was off his rocker). I take slight issue though with finding inspiration from outside sources. I can name several Beatles songs that I feel can sum up inspirational - nay chassidish - ideas . . . but that is not the path of Judaism. It's one thing to enjoy it - right or wrong, enjoyment is very much a subjective thing - but inspiration from unholy sources can become very dangerous!
It's interesting to note the emotion expressed in niggunim: The repertoire of emotion expressed therein are those limited to 'avodas hashem'- joy is brought out very well, as are yearning and contemplation . . . everything else though . . .

le7 said...

Which one? I've had a few about music...

And if you think that is TMI, then you don't know what skanking it.

ilanica said...

You take slight issue? Does that mean you see my point even slightly? Yes, it is DANGEROUS to be inspired by someone/something that doesn't directly match our own way and our knowledge of truth as frum Jews. But as you said, listening is a subjective experience, and how music motivates us to do holy or unholy things, think holy or unholy thoughts, is subjective as well. The right-wing leaders tend to ban things that promote independence or rational thought, which is understandable when you've been brought up thinking these things are dangerous. (Natan Slifkin explains the rabbis who banned his books as not banning his ideas or delegitimizing them necessarily but banning their specific communities from reading them).

But this isn't quite the case with the Chabad movement, at least once you've moved past high school, are a grown-up, and really need to forge your relationship with Hashem on your own terms based both on how you've been guiding and your self-knowledge. (and maturity)

The halachos concerning music are that until we have the bais hamikdash we cannot listen to music at all. This is obviously not where we should be holding in reality. Non-Jewish music isn't banned, and in all likelihood, much of it has something to contribute to the Jews. How on earth was klezmer music developed if the Jews of Eastern Europe didn't absorb and be inspired by their surrounding culture? I would even venture to say it's part of the Jewish condition to do thing like that in golus. Intelligently, naturally. With assimilation so much of a problem I see where the whole unilateral ban came from, and yet it is inaccurate.

Mottel said...

-LE7: I know what skanking is: To quote the Urban dictionary:
1) Get off your seat
2) Move your boots to the beat
3) Throw your knees in the air
4) Like you dont care"

The TMI was the general image - I haven't told you about my geeking it out May 19 in line to see Episode I . . . :-P

-ilanica: I take slight issue, in the sense that while I disagree with what you say, I hear where you're coming from. All things in klipah, on the dark side, can contain unbelievable power . . . Drugs get you high, but they come with a crash. Music belongs in that category as well. So rephrase my statement: if you listen to non-Jewish Music, read non-Jewish books etc as a means of diversion, while not optimal, there I understand . . . (think of it as going out on an occasional drink with friends) but if you turn towards those things for your inspiration, for your outlook on life . . .
We in Chabad definitely shy away from the zealousness of Hungarian Jewry, and squareness of
Lithuania - but we are still fanatics . . . don't kid yourself - we may be accepting of others, but our standards are mile high and unbending.

There are two different matters when it comes to how we relate to secular matters. We dress up on Purim and it seems universally accepted - despite the fact that the idea comes from the Carnival in Venice. We went into golus and elevated the idea . . . Gerer chassidim tried to bring Chopan's arrangements into the realm of Neginah, and it never went anywhere.
I would say that those things we pick up via osmosis, taken into minhag yisroel and approved, even if only tacitly, by true leaders of our generation, are proper . . . but it isn't our job to start bringing things on our own.

le7 said...

Well sorry about that.

Mottel said...

LE7: No need to be sorry, twas only kidding!

le7 said...

Oh fine. Then I'll continue on my merry way splattering little immodest tidbits where ever I happen to wander.

ilanica said...

You're dead on about the osmosis thing, but I'm not so sure about the leader-of-the-generation thing. Things get introduced to Judaism slowly, unconsciously. It wasn't as if the Jews had one particular style of music, then wanted to start adopting Eastern European styles, so a rav gave them the go-ahead and klezmer music magically apparated into existence. You're contradicting yourself if you think osmosis happens and yet nothing is legit (and thereby no good Jew would gain from it) unless approved by a leader.

I think its sad that non-Jewish culture is only okay if used as a diversion. There's some amazing stuff there - things that can be meaningful.
And there is a distinction between using something for inspiration and using it for your outlook on life. Pirkei Avos says to learn from every man. I'm inspired by, let's say, Mother Theresa's sense of social justice, and can differentiate that from her Christianity. Once again, it takes maturity and perspective.

Chabad is zealous, and at the same time its ideology was never to be fearful of things because they would make us think or use our judgment. I don't think the Rebbe would take the attitude of many rabbonim nowadays in terms of insulation. The Rebbe (and Chabad Chassidus) is all about going out there, finding the good, casting out the bad, and elevating what we can.

Mottel said...

Those things that we pick up via osmosis are approved by the Rabbonim - if not openly, very often tacitly. Some Persian Jews picked up the non-Jewish (and incredibly gross) custom of eating the foreskin after the circumcision . . . As self understood, the rabbonim came out against it. There are many such examples of the Rabbinate decrying negative customs in various generations - those things we have today, are fine . . . which is why those people that come out with new "chumros" to ban something are fools - egg salad on Shabbos for example, is something the dolts in Bnei Braq tried to asur sometime back. Obviously the fact that over the course of the years no teshuvah has been written to suppress making Tzibele mit Eier on Shabbos shows that it's fine.

There could be legitimate inspiration from non-Jewish sources, but we are often blinded by our own natures and thus do not make the proper judges - the Rebbe brought in La Marseillaise - I would not have the audacity to do it on my own.

ilanica said...

Just as it would be ridiculous to ban egg salad, so too is it inconsistent with Jewish history to prohibit absorbing the stylist tendencies of a particular era. Or a style of music for that matter.

There comes a point when we have to judge what is appropriate for ourselves, as much as reverence of leaders is essential. I mean, I would think that's the point of a mashpia, really. Even a mashpia have limits; they cannot know your innermost thoughts and motivations, unless you are very self aware and very communicative. The point is, the relationship of a frum/hareidi/Lubavitch/whatever Jew to the world at large is often so oversimplified, to our detriment. There are good things and there are bad things. Sometimes we have guidance and sometimes its a much more individual thing. Music is definitely individual, particularly for those of us with artistic souls whose lives are enriched by quality artistic expression.

ilanica said...

Also - I have it on good authority that the Rebbe would tell a certain Rosh Yeshiva to take some bochurim to his home and have them listen to Wagner (Wagner!!) to be mevarer the sparks in the music that were obviously abundant and buried very, very, very deep in klipa (it was wagner. but he made beautiful music. lots of sparks, lots of klipa)

Also from the same authority I have heard that the Rebetzin had an equivilent of a doctorate in French literature.

I'm not saying we are all the Rebetzin, or the bochurim who are capable of elevating such entrenched sparks, but let's say that we do have some ability, something in this world we're meant to be dealing with from a platform of holiness. Buying into the oversimplification of insularity is then a harmful thing.

Mottel said...

-Ilanica I'm in 100% agreement with you on the issue of adapting various styles - with in a limit (I don't see Jewish Death Metal as something appropriate to even attempt at adapting.) I think these things have to happen in a derech m'meila'dike way and remain consistent with out core Jewish values . . .
I'd love to hear a source for the Wagner story (as amongst other things, I mentioned my appreciation for the Leitmotif)

Crawling Axe said...

There are two different questions. 1) Is it OK to adapt Dostoyevski style to the writing style on your blog where you spread the ideas of Yiddishkeit? 2) Is it OK to draw inspiration from Uncle Fyodor’s works?

The answer to the first one seems “yes” (if one is successful in adaptation); the answer to the second one is “no”.

Speaking of influence of others — what did Nietzsche say about staring for too long into the abyss?

Crawling Axe said...

Mottel, what are your thoughts on Klezmer music? Not much better than goyishe music or takeh acceptable? By the way...

Mimi said...

Just saw Daniel Zamir the other week here in Israel (where you can purchase all his music! did you look online?). That Hatikva rendition is so genius, one of my favs. More people need to hear that!

Glad to see your still blogging strong (unlike some people - aka me - that I know...).

Mimi said...

P.S. Speaking of music:
(what can I say? I'm a fan :))

Mottel said...

-Crawling Axe: You're right, but why Fyodr of all people? Boring! (though I've been told that the Zichronos are written in a similar style as The Idiot).
That Klezmer bit was nice, though it's a far more modern adaptation of Klezmer then the traditional stuff . . . (agav, it's funny how the Polish love "Jewish culture" (Klezmer, Chullent and Payos) or at least what they consider to be Jewish culture . . . talk about guilt expressing itself in weird ways)

-Mimi: Welcome back :-) I've looked online and seen his albums, but non of them have Hatikvah - is it under another name perhaps?
I still need my blog as crutch, B"H you now have legs upon which to walk . . .
I've known Moshe's music for some time now (I remember a particular Shabbos in Long Beach, perhaps seven or eight years ago, when we had a real Carlebach style Shabbos . . . oh the memories) I happen to like Illusion - can't wait for the CD to come out.

le7 said...

Mimi - Don't mourn the death of your blogging. It now means you have a life and B"H for that.

Der Shygetz said...


Please research what the Rebbe has to say about Hatikvah (hanigun hayaduah) before you buy any recordings of same. I will happily give you my mp3 of Hashem Hu Malkeinu (the real Neturei Karta anthem and now a protest song against the surrender of land in EY) by Ariel Zilber which is my business cellphone ringtone.

90% of the Jewish music out there is just background music; the one who is really breaking new/old ground is Lipa. Yom Tov Ehrlich A"H updated for 5769 and beyond.

As for the alternative music, I have no patience for it; it is oisvorf music plain and simple - by and for those who are halfway off the derech. The performers often convey a holier than thou attitude where their krumkeit, oisvorfkeit and fringe behavior is somehow more kodosh than halacha which forbids them to perform in the ways and places they perform. And in reality they are very commercial; the oisvorf and freak market is sadly very real and as we see here they are sadly penetrating into the mainstream.

You cannot elevate the culture of the gutter unless you are very far from the gutter yourself. Reb Eizik'le Kaalover can elevate a shepherd's song. The Rebbe can elevate the Marseillaise and Russian drinking songs. Kehillos hakedoshim from the Middle East can elevate the songs of the Lebanese and Egyptian popular music scene by singing tefilot and piyutim to them. And yes, MBD, an ehrlicher Yid of the first order, can elevate a German Eurovision song to an exercise and dance hit about the coming of Moshiach (never mind that at the time hardly any modern songs were available in Yiddish).

An oisvorf with a guitar, a beat box and some strange ideas of what Jewish spirituality is about cannot elevate anything.

These performers wallow in the gutter. They are the antithesis of Torah and Chassidus as they hide their grubkeit behind it.

I happen to support hechsherim (but not bans) on music. And when I listen to something that is not Jewish (or not frum) I don't pretend I am doing anything right or elevating anything (not that Enrico Macias and old muzika mizrahit are exactly gangster rap).

The Hungarians are right - so long as they can keep generating Lipas who provide kosher, spiritually healthy (and invigorating if you take the time to learn his Yiddish and internalize the message in some of his songs) and fun entertainment.

Mottel said...

-Der Shygetz: The song is called hatikvah, it is not that hatikvah . . . listen to it and fret not.
I agree with you until MBD . . . MBD is a great guy, he's actually my favorite shiny shoes singer - the man has real hartz - and on a spiritual level his yiras shamiyam shines through, but he doesn't have the koach to elevate a goyish song. From what I understand he notes the Rolling stones and the Beatles as a source of musical inspiration to some degree . . .

I'm against hechsherim on everything. It's dumb. The point of hechsherim is to make choosing the kashrus needs we want easier, not to over regulate our lives, be used as a force to stifle creation and reign terror and personal vendettas! You mention Lipa - yet it's the hechsherim wackos who tried to ruin the man's life last year by the big event.
Music is an incredibly subjective thing, and some guy with a tin ear shouldn't give a hechsher . . . just like I trust the people at the OU to be knowledgeable about the laws of Kashrus, I'd want the hechsher to be by someone who knew his treble from his bass clef - an oboe from a bassoon and other such things. If MBD Lipa and a few others got together and created said hechsher by them selves . . . I'd go for it. But just like it's perverse for men to give hechsherim for ladies clothes so too here (MBD didn't like the whole hechsher bit btw)

Der Shygetz said...


LOL re Hatikva - will check it out soon.

Clothing is impossible to regulate because there are so many individual pieces. (However, those not meeting the standard and parading themselves around communities need to be reminded of the standard, though not with eggs and ekonomika - perhaps with tomatoes and non chlorine bleach LOL).

As for elevating songs, we just don't have enough of a market for composers to turn out much except a commercial style. I did not know where Yidden Yidden came from until years later - I only knew that it made it sound as if Moshiach had come and there were shofars blowing in the streets; so long as the message is clear and the ikar is not the tune let it be.

The problem is that the oisvorfen don't elevate anything - they drag it down lower.

As for hechsherim - the idea is content and whether it is fitting to listen to. Lipa der tzidryter (the story last year is not so clear BTW as to who was really behind the ban and why - pls don't ask me for details as it is not a Kiddush Hashem) singing Abi MeLebt is so obviously not meant to be taken seriously regardless of the low source of the music.

On the other hand some half baked BT who beat boxes "spiritual" words that sound more buddhist or notzri than Jewish, or uses the theme of the election of a misleader who is so inimical to everything real bnei Torah believe in (I did not and will not watch the video to which I am referring nor will I listen to those performers), and claims he is pushing spirituality, is worse than non-Jewish music, including even gangsta rap. At least you know you are listening to something wrong and bad when you listen to non-Jewish music. With this trash, you can be convinced that it is on an elevated spiritual level whereas it is exactly what bnei Torah should run from like the plague. It is metamtem es halev vehaneshomo.

And of course even with hechsherim the consumer decides and decides when and where to listen.

ilanica said...

I know it's rather pointless to argue and point fingers online, but for the commentator before me, I think he should know that he comes off as extremely judgmental. What does he know about these singer's spirituality?

Der Shygetz said...


I know a lot more than you can imagine; don't get me started on what I know.

Chassidus and Yiddishkeit are the antithesis of this phony spirituality that has leaked in from the outside world with these half baked wannabes. They forget that they have a lot to learn and that we have already heard and run from their nonsense. These guys are throwbacks to the "spiritual" movements of the 1960's and early 1970's but because Yiddishkeit is now "in" they inject themselves and their poison into our communities.

And yes, I am judgmental. Because Judaism is not a free for all. There are rules and there is a general idea of kedoishim tihyu. These oisvorfen have no concept of what it means to be kedoishim so they invent their own kedusha, straight from the sewers of the sitra achra. And they then try to bend real kedusha to fit their perverse way of thinking.

Crawling Axe said...

Der Shygetz — well said.

ilanica said...

Yiddishkeit is not "in".
These musicians have absolutely nothing to do with the movements of the 1960's and 1970's.
I think you have a lot to learn about popular culture, and a lot more specific people/things said/examples before you make such sweeping and unsubstantiated things.

Mottel said...

-Ilaninca Yiddishkeit is now more 'in' . . . or at least wacky Chassidic spirituality doesn't seem quite sooo Amish - it's mainstreamed ever so slightly - we have B&H etc. out there for people to interact with us.
Though I disagree that said musicians are a poison (perhaps a drug that can be used for both good and bad), it is not to our credit as we with Toras Hachassidus, turn to their muddled works for our spirituality. It's as if we'd suffice for 'Chabad House Judaism' - Just putting on Tefillin and saying Shma is great for a guy on mivtzoyim, not us.

Der Shygetz said...


Their professed IDEALS, which they communicate via their lyrics, are an updated New Age version of the let's love everyone nonsense of the counterculture years. Their music is straight from the sewer.

And in reality, I think their ideal is to make money (at least enough to support their music habit, though all of them want to be the next Misyovon) out of in essence mocking and defiling everything we stand for while pulling the wool over a few teenagers' eyes and glorifying their rebellion and oisvorfkeit. The more honest musicians who try to keep the lyrics kosher and still use the alternative style get nowhere; the whole appeal of the genre is the edginess and rebellion and fake spirituality in the cheap lyrics.

Yes, Judaism is "in" now. We even (de)merited a TV show recently, and on the good side Chabad is attracting more and more students on campus where a generation ago they'd have gone for the vapid offerings of Hillel. But this being "in" is a double edged sword as it has led some to water things down for the sake of being "in".

And that oisvorf music is a symptom of the watering down which has also brought standards down among those who should know a lot better.

Der Shygetz said...


Also, yes, some of them (the ones who are sincere and who are steeped in Chassidus - TaShma, Moshe, Itzhak Bitton if he has the desire to get back into music, Simcha from Morristown whose last name I can't remember, etc) are perfect for campus Chabad Houses and Chabad House type crowds. For someone on the way up or someone who wants to see what it is all about, a bridge between secular culture and Jewish spirituality may indeed be found in the better alternative music. (For someone who is falling, this kind of music, especially in the kinds of venues where it is played and especially when presented as spirituality instead of entertainment, is the exit ramp to the Gehennom highway).

However, someone, a real mashpia who has time, needs to find those who want to go further and really bring out their full potential as opposed to being satisfied with having brought them to their present level. Maybe encouraging a year off at Mayanot is the answer - but creating McChabadniks who think Chabad is just another alternative lifestyle and really have not internalized much (and then letting them loose in bigger communities like CH) is really no credit to Chabad either as they often join or influence the oisvorf crowd.

And of course all of this only pertains to those who don't know the difference between entertainment and spirituality. If you really find the raucous beat of this alternative stuff enjoyable, well, maybe you also prefer the taste of Lysol to that of a good single malt, but hey, who can account for taste and go ahead and enjoy it.

If you think lyrics along the lines of "put your fist on the table and make your demands" are anything but schmutz, then go study real Torah. You will find that Torah and bifrat Toras HaChassidus is far more than just the sound bites and quotes out of context that these perpetually adolescent alternative narronim misheard on some McChabad college (or perhaps Aleph Institute prison) program and set to a beat best relegated to a Rogers Avenue drug den and fence's shop.

ilanica said...

Hey, guys, I agree with your "McChabadnik" sentiment, BTs spit out of a carefully calculated system who appear unable to formulate their own opinions or make Yiddishkeit their own.

I know from the perspective of a frum person, Yiddishkeit seems very in. But if you speak to the average college student who does not regularly attend chabad houses (there are scads of jewish students who are turned off from the idea) you will discover that there is just as much opposition and distaste for Yiddishkeit as there ever was. Or read music blogs and event listings with critical commentary (guilty as charged) - Matisyahu lost it loooooong ago. No one thinks he is interesting or famous anymore besides for Orthodox crowds. Anyway, whatever. It's difficult to discuss these things with people who are mostly in one world and see the other from a certain perspective. Such is the price of insulation.

ANYWAY, this is a very interesting topic, it's inspired me to get started on writing something along these lines for the publication I write for. I discussed it with my editor the other day, and I think I may just go for it. Something I was thinking about recently was how "concepts" in Jewish music are very powerful, whereas quality composition is basically ignored....what do you guys think?

ilanica said...

What I mean by that is people are more interested in the idea of a frum reggae artist, or of mixing a bunch of genres, or of Something Hippie-ish and Yeshuv-like, rather than just hearing a good melody produced well. In the Jewish music world, that is.

Crawling Axe said...

This post is perhaps the reason for that. People are starved for Jewish music — so anything goes, even the low-quality stuff that we have today.

Der Shygetz said...


The problem is that the alternative stuff is of lower quality than the pop.

Truth is that Lipa's music, and especially much of the Poshuter Yid album (I'd say all of it except Halleluka which is an example of GOOD alternative stuff as is Aron Razel), gets an F minus as far as any sort of musical value is concerned. It is on the level of commercial jingles and it is very fitting that one of his songs did become an election ad in EY. BUT the words, if you take the time to learn his Yiddish (not hard because he is Anglicizing it more and more with every album), represent pure Torah values and like all commercial music, at least it is upbeat and entertaining.

The alternative stuff is plain depressing and confusing and the values inherent in the lyrics are just a New Age perversion of watered down Torah.

Some of the alternative singers are newbies who have so much to learn but think they have joined up so they can teach us their great chochma. Chabad has a big problem with that in general; yes whoever knows bet should teach whoever knows only aleph but he should also learn gimmel and not think he knows up to tav when he has barely mastered bet (in knowledge, midois and values).

That is the McChabad problem - today's newcomers, especially on campus, are never taught the full ideology and just pick and choose and think they are on the same level as others who really have learned and tried their best to internalize what they have learned.

Others are drugged up narronim who probably walked out of some closed ward somewhere, and then you have the out and out crooks who are dragging Torah in the mud for anything from stardom to ego to enough money to buy a week's worth of joints which they actually manage to consume in a day.

I like the idea of the symphonies - but I assure you I can't listen to them when I work or drive or do anything else - and few of us have time to sit and listen to a symphony - it is time best used to learn Torah if you have that kind of quality time. I'd probably rush to a performance of such works - but I doubt I'd find much time to ever listen again.

There still is some real negina out there - Kalisch et al from Belz; R' Chaim Banet from Seret Vizhnitz (who seems inactive lately) etc - but even they are turning out more and more commercial stuff to be able to fill albums fast and get them to market once a year.

Good to know that lange loksh will soon be in the past tense. He rode us to fame and fortune and dropped us when he needed a new act. I predicted a long time ago that this would happen and everyone laughed at me. Now let's see how long before he becomes Killa Milla, the white suburban disaffected gangsta (k)rapper.

Finally, as for the Internet, any loser can become a star online. The anti-religious crowd are seeing the growth of Yiddishkeit and seething inside as they fall even lower. They have either failed to be accepted in Jewish society (very hard unless you habitually forget your Thorazine; you cannot believe who and what Chabad shluchim put up with in terms of regular Chabad House visitors), are halachically not Jewish and don't want to accept that and go through giyur, or just thrive on hate, so they spew their nonsense on the Net and find a following.

Secular Judaism (an oxymoron) is dying and cannot sustain itself. Therefore, its proponents are sounding off quite a bit lately; Jewcy (now bankrupt BH), Heeb and other "culturally Jewish" sites seem to have quite a following and they and the blogs that revolve around them are full of anti-religious sentiment.

When a wounded animal is in its death throes it lashes out and tries to wound whoever and whatever is around it.

If that animal is a lion, you are in trouble. But secular Judaism is an emasculated alley cat that has done much damage in the past but can do little more as it is just not attractive to anyone who is of any import or influence. American secular Judaism threw out the baby of Torah and kept the bathwater of the immigrant culture of the turn of the century (including the left wing nonsense of the Bund and similar filth); no one wants lox and bagels anymore except Midwesterners visiting the big city.

I know the Failed One (one of the most hateful Jewish bloggers out there) personally, and to say that he is nothing in real life is an understatement - but he has a following and had his 15 minutes of fame because he is able to regurgitate news articles from leftist papers, add a few lines of his own bile, and post them to his blog.

Der Shygetz said...


What I mean by that is people are more interested in the idea of a frum reggae artist, or of mixing a bunch of genres,
ilanica, I think everyone is interested in something new - but if it is no good the interest either ends with the teenage years (except among freaks who never grow out of adolescence such as many of the CH freako crowd) or the interest lasts only five minutes. Same thing with new products, new car designs etc - just human nature.

However, as Jews and Chassidim we have to know when to avoid something new because it is inimical to our values or worse yet, perverts all that we stand for.

ilanica said...

Do you mind clarifying what exactly is antithetical to Jewish values? You've said that a lot, but I'm confused because nothing come immediately to mind.

Give an outright example of watered down Torah values tinged with New-agey-ness, perhaps? Cite what about a certain song or quote is pretending to be Torah and what is supposedly drawn from a New Age source?

Der Shygetz said...


Look above for one example - sorry - way too busy and dealing with a bad connection now to be able to find more examples:(. Bekitzur that quote is supposedly derived from something the Rebbe said chas vesholom.

If the Rebbe said anything like that then it was taken out of context plain and simple and is no better than the out of context quotes from Torah and various rabbonim and Rebbeim that the clowns on use to try to prove their point. Difference is that at least the NK clowns believe in something - this guy is just trying to make a buck by pandering to rebellious youth.

Der Shygetz said...


If you can find me a lyrics site for the alternative scene I'd be happy to discuss this more either this Friday a couple of hours before Shabbos or next Sunday morning when I have more time.

Sorry again - lost most of today because of this connection and a no show cleaning lady :(.

ilanica said...

I'm more wondering what exactly led you to these very strong conclusions of yours. I don't think that Matisyahu's lyrics were ever supposed to be the Rebbe's words verbatim, and these "alternative" artists you speak of (whom we have yet to define) seem to try and speak of Torah concepts in accessible language that fits with the music. I don't doubt your claims, I'm just asking for you to point to a particular example from which your feelings were derived in order to legitimatize your claims. Otherwise they aren't much more than hot air, which is a shame, because they would otherwise have very interesting implications.

Der Shygetz said...


Again - will happily discuss this when time and technical considerations permit.

Usually Sunday evening is my time for commenting but things came up and it took me three tries to access blogger comments this time around.

I don't have the alternative lyrics at my fingertips unless you consider Lipa's recent forays into singing in "Eynglisch" and Teimanit to be singing alternative lyrics (perhaps more like alternating lyrics as in alternating current LOL) :))))). I can find them fast enough but not when my connection is not up to par.

Der Shygetz said...


had hoped to get back to this but connection still not stable. hopefully next week.