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#1 LL3

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 12:44 PM

rabbi shapiro can you please help me out. i only listen to jewish music. but i need guidelines to know what i should and shouldnt be listening to. i dont know whats right or wrong. all i pay attention to is that the lyrics are appropriate and that the singer is Jewish. What should i be striving for over here? i need guidance please.

#2 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 09:48 AM

Sigh. The situation with Jewish music has deteriorated so much and so fast it is hard to describe. You have no idea of the difference between what was considered "Kosher" Jewish music just one generation ago versus what it is today.

I remember, a long time ago, back in the 20th century when I was a teenager, I was at a friend's wedding in Brooklyn, where, during one of the dances, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Schechter shlita, approached me – I was standing watching the band – and, visibly disturbed, he asked me, “What IS this song they are playing?” (emphasis his)

I thought for a moment. It was the high part to the then-popular song “ki kail po’el yeshuos otoh”, it starts “V’kayravtanu makkeinu”.

“Vkayravtanu,” I told the Rosh Yeshiva.

“THIS is V’kayratanu???” He said, really puzzled, and somewhat upset.

“THIS? THIS? Is ve – kay – rav – tanu?!” he said, again.

He felt that the tune, which by today’s standards would be considered almost chasidish, was peculiarly jumpy to begin with, which led him to ask about it, but then when he heard what the words were, he was incredulous.

I also remember, when I was 13, being told by my counselor in camp that his Rebbi, Rav Paam ZTL, told them they should not sing the song "Eleh varechev," because the lyrics say ואנחנו בשם ה נזכיר, which leaves out a word from the actual Posuk, which says ואנחנו בשם ה אלקינו נזכיר.

The situation has gotten totally out of control. So I'm glad you asked the question. In short, here's the story:

The reason things have gotten this far out of control is because Jewish music was always Jewish because of a certain reason. That reason has deteriorated and so the borders between Jewish and non-Jewish music have broken down, to the point where, today, there is no discernible difference at all.

What has changed is that Jewish music was never composed in order to be entertainment; it was always composed to be sung. It is the outpouring of the Jewish heart - sometimes its joy; sometimes its sadness - but there was no such thing as Jewish music designed merely to be listened to by people sitting back and enjoying a concert, or listening to it on a CD. Jewish music was always sung.

Now that Jewish music has become commercialized entertainment, anything that sells to the Jewish market is composed, regardless of what the music "means." And so, all sorts of music has come to be known as Jewish, because nowadays the adjective "Jewish" in the phrase "Jewish music" does not refer to the music but to the market. If the Jewish market buys it, it is Jewish.

And therefore, Jewish music will unfortunately continue to morph in all sorts of directions because once Jewish music became a commercial entertainment industry instead of a way to express Jewish feelings, it will follow the pattern of entertainment industries, that constantly thrive off change and newness of style, because new and fresh is more entertaining. Because Jews are looking for entertainment in their music more than inspiration, Jewish music will become whatever is entertaining to Jewish people, and what is entertaining to Jewish people is the same kind of thing that is entertaining to non-Jewish people: exciting, funny, cute, different, etc.

Of course, it has to be Kosherly exciting and Kosherly funny and Kosherly cute and Kosherly different, so we don't have the nevala and pritzus of the Goyishe music, but we also no longer have the Jewishness of the Jewish music because whereas music that is the outpouring of a Jewish heart can be something akin to intrinsically Jewish because it can represent Jewish feelings of an intrinsically Jewish soul, music that is entertainment cannot be shaped by Jewishness because it is commercial concerns that shape the music, not anything related to Jewishness.

Jewish music that expressed Jewish feelings was Jewish because of where it came from - a Jewish soul. Today's Jewish music is Jewish only because of where it is going - the Jewish market (and frankly, the Nefesh haBehamis, even in Jews, is a greater consumer of entertainment than the Jewish soul. So technically much of the music isn't even going to a "Jewish" market altogether.)

Now in our generation, most people need entertainment. Well, they don't need it, really, but they're not holding by doing without it. We'll deal with that shortly. What I'm going to do for you is, I'm going to give you a step-by-step plan for filtering the non-Jewish stuff out of your collection. At whatever step you need to stop because you're not ready to go further yet, OK, stop there for now, but you'll have your next step ready for you when you are ready for it. This way, not only will the plan be useful for you, but for anyone else reading the site who wants to "Get Better" (which is the forum where you posted this). Anyone can just start at whatever point they are at, and progress from there.

The first two steps are important. Steps Three and Four you should strive for. Five is "above".

The Goal

There are two parts to music: The lyrics and the tune. Both are relevant here. We are going to be looking for both lyrics and tunes that are inspirational as opposed to entertaining. But of course there are levels. Some lyrics are worse than merely entertaining, as are some tunes.

Note: Even a tune without words can have a distinctly Jewish - or non-Jewish - character. Proof: the Shelah, quoted by Mishna Brura in Hilchos Tisha B'Av says that a mother should not sing a baby to sleep with a non-Jewish tune, because it can damage the baby's Neshama. Now even if we're talking about a mother singing non-Jewish lyrics, the baby has no idea what the words mean. To him it is just gibberish. Yet it can still damage his Neshama. To wit: It is the tune, not the words, that is damaging.

This is because a Nigun is a metaverbal communication of what is inside a person, and it does not need language to succeed in communicating its message. A baby's Neshama understands it as well as an adult's.

The Steps:

Step #1 - Filter out the stuff that only masquerades as Jewish music.

These are songs that if you translate them into English (they are almost invariably composed in Ivrit) they will not seem remotely Jewish. The only reason these songs seem "Jewish"altogether is because they are written in Hebrew, or because they are composed by artists who wear Yarlmukas. Examples: Gad Elbaz's "Ten Ten" and Chaim Yisrael's "Ten Li Ahava." And needless to say, burn any Yosaif Krohn albums in your possession. And even more needless to say, if you have albums of any secular Israeli singers, get rid of them too.

Step #2 - Get rid of all the albums of any artists that sings songs in step #1. Even if they seem to say something religious.

Step #3 -'Can you sing the song or do you need a professional singer backed by a band to sing it because it can't be sung without the drum beats and the arrangements? Jewish music was always singable. The reason for this is, Jewish music was designed to be sung, not played to audiences (this is why, by the way, you would never find classical style music in the Jewish world. Classical music is designed to be played by an orchestra, not sung. if you sing classical music, it loses all its juice) But if you cannot sing the melody (you could sing classical music) because you need the drum beats and arrangements for the song to "work," then the odds are the metaverbal message of the tune is not a Jewish one.

Step #4 - Think of the tune. Can you conceive of singing it to accompany a Mitzvah? Would it be appropriate at a Shabbos table to the words of the Zmiros? In Shul as a Nigun for Kedusha? If not, drop the song. There are some Goyishe tunes that are less Goyish than these Jewish tunes. (I am talking here totally about the tune and not the words. I am fully aware that a lot of Jewish songs - even "Jewish" style Jewish songs - took the tunes from Goyishe compositions. That's fine. We are not spiritually sensitive enough nowadays to distinguish between them. We are not filtering these out here. Some of these Goyishe tunes are more "Jewish" than many of what are considered today Jewish tunes. (Compare the tune of this crazy song, for example, to Carlebach's אודך ה בכל לבב and you will see they are almost identical.)

Step #5 - Consider the lyrics. Words from a Posuk or Chazal, fine. But nowadays there are songs that have nothing to do with anything remotely Jewish, or only culturally so, bereft of anything religious, such as Taaseh li tovah Manhattan or whatever its name is; Country Yossi's song about kids complaining in a car (which I forgot the name of), Lipa's Diet song, Suki and Ding's Human Hair Shailtlach song; or Abe Rottenberg's 9th Man, and the like. These songs are innocuous, but they are entertainment, not inspiration, and they serve no greater purpose than reading a Donald Duck comic book. The problem is people think they are engaging in a Jewish activity and not wasting time, because they are listening to "Jewish music." So if you know that these songs are really Donald Duck, and you have time for this kind of thing, no problem - go for it. But if you think that it is more wholesome for your Jewish soul to listen to these songs than it is to read Donald Duck, you need to rethink things. As Jews we should strive to protect our society from non-Jewish influences that have been absorbed because of וַיִּתְעָרְבוּ בַגּוֹיִם וַיִּלְמְדוּ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם. It is true that we have much worse things to worry about, and that is why I made this Step #5 and I said that it is "above," but even if we have to be busy fighting other battles, it is good to at least know what we aim to do, even we are not yet ready to do soit. (And when the Rabbonim assur it we'll know why.)



#3 eidel

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 12:32 PM

May I sing (alone or among ladies) Ani Maamin, Naaseh ve Nishma, and so on, in my original tune (if it's not rocky, jazzy, or whatever out there in the entertainment world)? Is there a special requirement to be allowed to compose a Jewish song?

#4 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 12:58 PM

May I sing (alone or among ladies) Ani Maamin, Naaseh ve Nishma, and so on, in my original tune (if it's not rocky, jazzy, or whatever out there in the entertainment world)? Is there a special requirement to be allowed to compose a Jewish song?

What do you mean by "in my original tune"?

#5 eidel

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 01:38 PM

May I make a new tune for Ani Maamin for example?

#6 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 03:10 PM

Your own tune? Sure, why not? Just make sure that the mood of the tune does not contradict the mood of the words. In other words, don't make a tune for Al naharos Bavel that you could dance to.

#7 SmileySimcha123

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 03:25 PM

What about yeshiva boys choir?

#8 LL3

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 06:45 PM

Thank you rabbi. it's funny that you say number five is "above" because i actually have been doing that already.... (or at least i try most of the time) and i actually thought it was more important. and number one is also something that i have been keeping for years now. as you can see, im very good about the lyrics being inspirational and about hashem and stuff.
and i understand the level of having a tune that goes with the words even though i think that is hard for me and ill have to work on it.
what i dont understand is step number 2: why do i have to get rid of all the songs by that artist? for example chaim israel has a song that you say isn't good. but he has many songs that have tunes that are good and words that are inspirational and make me feel closer to hashem and are about hashem and so what is wrong with that? why does it matter who sang it? like if a different person sang the same song it would be ok? i'm not getting what's wrong with it.
and if chaim israel sings any good song like a chassidish niggun then i cant listen to it because HE sang it even though the song itself is totally permissible?
thank u for ur time nd patience!!

#9 taon

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 10:29 PM

I assume its because 1 the influence that caused those problematic songs will creep into the good ones or 2. once you like this singer, you may come to make reason why you can listen to the other songs.

#10 flybird

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 05:29 PM

Also, when you listen to someone singing, in a mystical sense, you become "attached" to the singer because its like a part of them entered you. I dont know if thats such a good reason for this because its a jewish singer, but it really helped me get better at listening to non jewish music.

#11 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 07:23 PM

Thank you rabbi. it's funny that you say number five is "above" because i actually have been doing that already.... (or at least i try most of the time) and i actually thought it was more important. and number one is also something that i have been keeping for years now. as you can see, im very good about the lyrics being inspirational and about hashem and stuff.
and i understand the level of having a tune that goes with the words even though i think that is hard for me and ill have to work on it.
what i dont understand is step number 2: why do i have to get rid of all the songs by that artist? for example chaim israel has a song that you say isn't good. but he has many songs that have tunes that are good and words that are inspirational and make me feel closer to hashem and are about hashem and so what is wrong with that? why does it matter who sang it? like if a different person sang the same song it would be ok? i'm not getting what's wrong with it.
and if chaim israel sings any good song like a chassidish niggun then i cant listen to it because HE sang it even though the song itself is totally permissible?
thank u for ur time nd patience!!

I only meant #2 as a guideline, because, as you say, it's hard to tell all the time what's Jewish and what's not, you'll be safe if you just stay away from the singers who you know are not above singing non-Jewish songs (that's why I said "even if they seem to say something religious" - meaning, it may merely seem that way but its very possible it's not). But yes, you're right - if you know song is fine, then it doesn't matter who sings it.

With one exception - Rav Moshe actually writes that if a singer is guilty of Apikorsus then a Baal Nefesh should not sing his songs. It is related to the concept that I spoke about here. We don't want religious inspiration from people who are the enemies of Hashem

#12 SmileySimcha123

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 04:04 PM

Also, when you listen to someone singing, in a mystical sense, you become "attached" to the singer because its like a part of them entered you. I dont know if thats such a good reason for this because its a jewish singer, but it really helped me get better at listening to non jewish music.


That's a really good way to look at it.

#13 LL3

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Posted 29 April 2012 - 02:56 PM

Which steps are halacha and which are just beneficial for the soul?
And what about exercize do these rules apply 'cause it's hard to exercize when the tunes not beaty, ya know...

#14 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 02:04 PM

Which steps are halacha and which are just beneficial for the soul?
And what about exercize do these rules apply 'cause it's hard to exercize when the tunes not beaty, ya know...

None of this is Halachah in the sense of violating a Mitzvah D'Oraysa or D'Rabbonon. But the Mishna Brura in Shaar HaTziyun in Hilchos Tiisha Bav quotes the Shelah that says a mother should not sing her baby to sleep with a Goyish tune because it is detrimental to the baby's Neshama. The fact that the Mishna Brura saw fit to quote this means you should follow it.

The rule is, even if something is not a Halachah it can still cause big problem for you spiritually. A person can have very bad Midos, for example, such as Gaavah and lack of Bitachn, and not violate a single Mitzvah. And we all know Chazal's statement that someone who lifts his hand against his friend, even if he does not strike him, is considered a Rasha. Lifting your hand without striking someone is (but if memory serves, there is a SMA that disagrees with this) not Halachicly prohibited at all. Yet because of the person's bad Midos he is called a Rasha.

Nobody is saying that if you listen to a Goyishe tune you are a Rasha. But it can harm you. So many people, even frum ones, are so confused nowadays about Yiddishkeit, and they are having such a hard time with Nisyonos. When we say something does damage to your soul, it means it may very well exacerbate or cause such weaknesses in a person. You don't want that. The Yetzer Horah is strong enough without us making it stronger.

As far as who is an Apikorus is concerned, you don't need to examine a person's beliefs in case he believes Apikorsus. But if you know that he does then you should apply the above.

#15 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 02:05 PM

And what about exercize do these rules apply 'cause it's hard to exercize when the tunes not beaty, ya know...

Aren't there Jewish tunes that are beaty enough?

#16 LL3

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 12:39 PM

Yeah i was talking about beaty jewish music. didnt you say we shouldnt listen to that?

#17 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 08:20 AM

Personally, I feel that listening to Jewish music that has Torah as lyrics - Pesukim or Chazal - in order to keep a beat while sweating up on a treadmill, for example, is disrespectful to the Torah. We are supposed to treat words of Torah with awe, and the purpose of Jewish music is to be inspired to Avodas Hashem. The words, in such songs, are the main point; the tune is a vehicle to help the words penetrate. Torah words, even when communicated with a tune, should not be used in such ways.

I would recommend, for the gym, to use one of those Jewishly empty songs (such as what I described in #5 above). Otherwise, better to use a regular Goyish tune designed to accompany people exercising.

#18 LL3

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 02:34 PM

what about like just inspiring words that arent pesukim or chazals? like songs that are inspiring and meaningful like about changing and believing and stuff but not necessarily on a passuk or chazal....anything wrong with those?
what if its beaty in general though is that bad? and is it different for exercize?

#19 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 05:20 PM

Yes, exercise is different.

But you need to assess whether the "beaty" music is respectful to the words.

#20 rocksdontfly

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 10:54 PM

Is classical music okay?