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Rabbis black-list non-kosher music

By Wyre Davies
BBC News, Jerusalem

Rabbi Efraim Luft
Rabbi Luft says modern music can corrupt young people

Lipa Schmeltzer looks and sounds every inch the popular ultra-orthodox Jewish singer that he is.

He sings in Yiddish. He dresses in the clothes of a Haredi Jew and all of his song lyrics come from the scriptures.

Yet some say Schmeltzer's music, and that of others like him, is indecent and unfit for public consumption.

"They are leading the public astray and are causing a great negative influence on the young generation," says Rabbi Efraim Luft, head of an ultra-orthodox organisation in Israel called the Committee for Jewish Music.

Supported by leading Haredi rabbis, Rabbi Luft has drawn up a black-list of musicians and bands - music that he says that is not kosher and cannot be played at ultra-orthodox weddings or public events because of its decadent nature.

What Rabbi Luft objects to so vehemently is not just contemporary, western music - rock, rap or pop - but the use of modern instruments and beats in the tunes of orthodox singers like Lipa Schmeltzer.

"The main part of the music should be the melody. Percussion should be secondary. They should not bend notes electronically and should not use instruments like electric guitars, bass guitars or saxophones in Jewish music," he says.

Sitting in the dining room of his small flat in the orthodox town of Bnei Brak, close to Tel Aviv, Rabbi Luft explains his preference for traditional, even sombre, Jewish tunes like Kol Nidrei.

A serious, studious man the rabbi explains how he thinks modern music is disrespectful, leading young people astray and can lead to the collapse of education and the family system.

The use of percussion accompaniment in slow, quiet music is generally ridiculous. 2/4 beats and other rock and disco beats must not be used

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It is a broad charge, but the rabbi is convinced that in the last 25 years music has gradually eroded moral standing in society.

Saying that music is "powerful", he says the "purpose of modern music - its influences - is to distract young people and change good characters into bad".

The Rabbi says such music, even Jewish rock music, "where the dangerous beat plays more of a part than the melody, has no place in a society where people are trying to keep their moral standards high.

Concerts banned

There are approximately 500,000 ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews in Israel. They tend to live in their own communities in, or near Israel's major towns.

Their plain, modest clothing, rituals and centuries-old customs make the Haredis unmistakable and their lives revolve around their faith.

Because of the loyal relationship between orthodox Jews and their rabbis, the influence of bodies like the Committee for Jewish Music and the Guardians of Sanctity and Education is considerable.

Menahem Toker, Ultra-orthodox Jewish DJ

"If they don't find an alternative they'll lose the young people"

Menahem Toker

They have already succeeded in banning virtually all public concerts by ultra-orthodox groups and singers in Israel.

Famous, successful singers like Avraham Fried - a devout, observant orthodox Jew - are not exempt.

Making up around 8% of the population of Israel, the Haredi community has real economic clout. Boycotts have been very effective.

Menahem Toker, an award-winning disc jockey, who was dismissed from a radio show under pressure from Haredi activists, warns the policy could backfire.

"In Jewish Orthodox culture there's no cinema, no theatre, no television. The only thing we have is music", says Mr Toker.

"We are the same, orthodox, people but if they don't find an alternative they'll lose the young people - they'll go to non-kosher shows and they'll have lost the next generation."

It is a dire warning from a man who cares deeply about his religion and his music - but the hard-line rabbis are unapologetic.

In a world bursting with mobile phones, MP4 players and DVDs they say it is their moral duty to protect young people against the evils of the modern world.


Here is a selection of your comments:

As Orthodox Jews, my husband and I listen to a wide variety of music. I do not think either of our musical preferences in any way corrupts our morals. Rather, I believe the music we listen to gives voice to how we are feeling or how we wish to feel. On a more important note, music can be used as a tool for reaching unaffiliated Jews. For instance, my mother-in-law uses the melodies from contemporary songs and adds Jewish themes to teach her Jewish kindergarten class - many of whom do not come from religious homes. I believe that by restricting what music can be heard, the Ultra Orthodox are missing out on a fundamental tool which could be used to bridge the gap between religious and secular Jews.
Maya Bahar, Stamford, CT

Music is extremely powerful, and can affect people at a conscious (ie aware), as well as sub-conscious level. I've changed my listening habits as I've changed as a person. In my wild and rebellious youth, it was all rap, and hip-hop. Now it's calmer, gentler stuff, where it's less about the rhythm, and more about the melody. The Rabbis clearly do know what they're talking about, although I hope they allow their listeners to buy music of better quality than the first clip above.
R. E. Brown, London

As a Muslim, I support the Rabbi's decision, finally they are thinking like conservative Muslims; after all Muslims and Jews are very much alike. Majority of modern music is immoral and degrading the faith.
Zuber Iraqi, Louisville, KY

I find this article extremely interesting. I don't think anyone can dispute the effect music has on the listener. Film makers have been using these music/sound techniques for many years. Music can put you into a scared, tense, happy and sad state. As such it could probably be equal to any substance, where limits have to be put and overdoses of the wrong style could bring about negative results.
Chulent Fresser, Kish Mech, Israel

The Jewish Orthodox community have shown to me and others that the Jewish faith often has a lot to share with the Muslim faith. The psychological effect of music and the message is contained is contaminating a lot of minds and causing a great deal of moral destruction. Muslims, Jews, Christians and everybody else should work together to reduce its influence in a world of deteriorating morality. I applaud the strength of these Orthodox Jews to hold on to their faith and prevent the evils of music from corrupting yet more minds.
Hassan, Manchester, UK

I think the Rabbis do have a valid point to a certain extent. But ban this music from our kids of today and they will turn to even more non-kosher sources for their entertainment. Besides, I am sure that 20-30 years ago the older generation were the saying the same of the then 'modern music'.
Steven Kahn, London; UK

Bonkers, they're going bonkers. It's a good job they don't listen to 'Slayer'...
Greg Edelston, Be-er Sheva, Israel

I as an orthodox Jew agree 100% percent with the rabbi's ruling although I am sure that somebody not Jewish thinks it crazy, they can't understand our way we educate our kids, to be calm and respecting, and the fact is clear that this music interferes very strongly and has a very negative effect.
Moshe Davis, London

Another good example of the religious communities' desire to alienate themselves from mainstream Israeli society, and its culture which they seem to find an abomination. No problem there, however they live here producing nothing towards the nation's wealth, and yet criticise and pour scorn on all us secular Jews.
Gidon Bennett, Tel Aviv Israel

As a Jewish person, I find it remarkable that someone in the 21st Century wants to repel any outside source or inspiration. The Haredi really do not resemble or reflect the majority of Jewish people at all. They are outdated and as much fanatics (although thankfully not violent) as any other sect. In my opinion, they are missing out on loads and alienating their own!
William Brown, UK

Everything must be taken in context. The Rabbi was speaking to the 'Haredi' people who live in a certain way within their communities. To listen to 'modern' music is changing a tradition of thousands of years, tradition being key to the Jewish people. In addition, it is clear that the style and beat of music affects people. Certain music cheers people up, others make people sad and others rouse people to become wild. Anyone who says that music has no affect on the listener is deluding themselves.
Moshe Kormornick, Jerusalem

Music contains spiritual components and therefore it is important to give guidance to youth. Great rabbis have in the past given rulings about this subject, as Jewish law covers all aspects of life.
Rabbi Schmahl, Antwerp Belgium

Censorship on lyrics is one thing, but when a society starts banning certain types of music or instruments, I am very, very concerned...
Valérie Peters, Podgorica, Montenegro

It's good to know that fundamentalist rock-and-roll alarmism isn't just an American phenomenon.
Justin Anthony Knapp, Indianapolis, USA

The Rabbi is absolutely correct about the powerful influence music has on behaviour. I am a Bible-believing Christian in a predominantly Hindu/Buddhist nation. I used to love rock music and its beat and even played in bands. Music is certainly not amoral. Even if the lyrics are from the Scriptures, if the music has, say, the rock beat, the chief human response is physical, not spiritual. But when the spiritually-minded David played his harp before a mentally-spiritually depressed King Saul, it had a most healthful influence upon not only his body but also his soul and spirit (1 Samuel 16:23).
Pradesh Shrestha, Palung, Nepal

Once upon a time, there was a group of people determined to control what the people could or could not read, watch and hear. Anything that did not fit with their view of 'decent', 'upstanding' and 'respectable', was banned, leading to large-scale book-burnings. That group of people later went on to ban and burn more than books. "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people." - Heinrich Heine
Jamie Jones, Linz, Austria

The rabbi's attempted censorship of music because of beat or instrument choice rather than content is silly, and I think that he is exploiting his supposed religious authority to enforce his specific taste in music on the haredi public. It will only cause division and ridicule, but it brings him celebrity, which is certainly "non-kosher". Unlike the pop tunes and wedding songs which are a reasonable "kosher" replacement for decadent popular culture, the "modern" Kol Nidre is equally silly; it completely lacks the power that the traditional cantorial version holds for millions of Jews as the symbol of the beginning of the annual "Judgement Day", Yom Kippur.
Binyamin, Eilat, Israel

It is obvious that a large segment of the music consumed by Western youth is indecent and disrespectful (eg gangsta rap). Even if the rabbi is going a step too far, we should not laugh at his notion but accept it as some food for thought.
Wolf-Dieter Schleuning, Berlin, Germany



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