Where is The Place for that Old Time Rock and Roll?

Someone recently confided that they’re having trouble placing they’re Rock and Roll memories. They mentioned that a Yeshivish oriented friend recently confided that he listens and gets inspired by Simon & Garfunkel.

Many BTs in KGH, Passaic, Monsey, Five Towns and other Orthodox communities try to keep their children away from secular rock music. But how do you deal with your own Rock and Roll memories?

Do you ever sing or think about out old lyrics when keyed from a phrase in conversation?

Was the music from the 60s, 70s and 80s much more benign than that of today and is therefore not so bad?

Or perhaps it’s still rooted in the non-Torah values of the secular world they we’ve moved away from and should be avoided?

Do you approve of the Rock music of today?

How have you dealt with these musical conflicts?

80 comments on “Where is The Place for that Old Time Rock and Roll?

  1. To Don #77: It’s absolutely true that Bob Dylan was originally Robert Zimmerman before he became famous in the nineteen-sixties. I read that in the latest issue of AARP Magazine, which was celebrating the 70th birthday of Bob Dylan.

  2. To Don #77: Oy, I’ll never live this one down!

    Now tell me: The actor Fisher Stevens, was he really Steven Fisher?

    You do know that Michael Landon, the famous actor who portrayed “Little Joe” on the TV series Bonanza, and also depicted the wise Mr. Ingalls of the TV series Little House on the Prairie, was born Tuvia Finkelstein (or some other very Jewish name) in Queens. This is not a bubbe mayseh, it’s the truth, although I might not be a hundred percent accurate on the precise details.

    What’s funny is that I read in Herman Branover’s book that oldtime Russian Jews in the former USSR did the exact same thing as us American Jews: they sat around and speculated which well-known people were actually Jewish (although in the former Soviet Union it wasn’t actors and athletes, it was Communist Party bigshots).

  3. I laughed out loud when I read the post that referred to Cat Stevens as Steven Katz! It fondly reminded me of my Russian Jewish grandmother who, in the 1950’s used to call us on the phone to remind us to watch “Elvin Preskin” on the “Ed Solomon” show! Yes, really!

    The best part was that my grandmother, an observant, though not orthodox Jew whose father had been a Rabbi, loved to watch and listen to Elvis!

  4. Mordechai –you make a good point. But on the other hand, are the people commenting on this site comparable in our generation to the amoraim whose statements are in the gemara in their generation, either in terms of accurately transmitting a teaching they learned from their Rabbi or in terms of having the ability to evaluate a purported teaching that one hears from another?

    The caveat at the end of my post may have been misleading, and for that I apologize. I wasn’t saying that we can only discuss that which is in print.

    In my view there is a continuum between (1) discussing something with one’s chavruta on one end and (2) publishing a sefer with teachings in the name of Rav X on the other.

    Most everyone is qualified to do (1), but very few are qualified to do (2).

    Posting on a forum like this is somewhere in between. The problem largely goes away when we are talking about printed sources, as the accuracy of transmission can be verified.

  5. Shmuel, as an anthropological note, your comment is interesting as it shows how the thinking of Judaism has changed. ‘If it is published, we may discuss it. If it isn’t printed, we may not.’

    Of course, in the time of the g’mara, that wasn’t the case. Nor could it be. So we debated versions of a mishnah/braita/shmuah.

    I often rely on a position that I heard directly from a particular hacham or another. What happens when I then share that information with someone else? It may be disputed, because the hacham didn’t publish it in print somewhere. Does that mean that it can’t be discussed and become part of our process of oral torah?

    On the surface, it seems that is what has happened here. Hence Skeptic wanting the name of the source. He realizes that there can be two seemingly incompatible versions, needing to be reconciled. Just as often happens in the g’mara.

  6. I don’t have any knowledge of either side of the Charlie Hall and Skeptic dispute here (I actually own nefesh haRav and Divrei Harav but not pninei harav for some reason!), but I think it is important to point out that one should be careful in unintentionally becoming the “spokesperson” for a Rabbi who hasn’t appointed him as one.

    It is one thing to talk about the (putative) permissibility of a man attending an opera in the abstract, another entirely to attribute publicly the position to a Rabbi from a previous generation whom one has never met and probably never laid eyes on.

    Note that I’m NOT saying one shouldn’t discuss what Rabbanim have written and published –as that is verifiable by all.

  7. I was wondering, Charlie, about that blanket permission from your rav to attend opera. Not to engage in pilpul here, but there’s opera and there’s opera. There are old established operas in the repertory of every distinguished opera company, and then there are brand new productions of those old operas that set the action in modern times, and then there are brand new operas (think Nixon in China) which may be more or less suitable for viewing, depending upon the plot and the costumes.

    WADR, shouldn’t it be on a case-by-case basis rather than a universal permission, depending upon whether the opera company has decided to “spice it up” and attract a younger more modern crowd by revamping the production to include certain elements?

  8. Who is your rabbi, Charlie? You have repeated this claim in his name a number of times on a number of different websites, but R. Schachter has in print the opposite, that as a matter of public psak, R. Soloveitchik told a student group at YU they could not sell Opera tickets because of “kol isha” (see Mpnini Harav, p269).

    Has your rabbi written up the details of his conversation with the Rav? Perhaps it was a personal leniency for one person, but not to be publicized?

    It is well known the Rav gave divergent personal answers, but in the case of opera, the Rav appears to have made a public psak against attending opera.

    Unless you are willing to provide details, I would recommend that you stop repeating this claim that “Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l, held this position”

  9. By the way, does your Rav have any reservations about attending operettas or Broadway musicals?

  10. No worse than what one sees on the subway or sidewalks every day.

    In any case I sit in the cheap seats ($25! Best entertainment buy in the world!!); the performers are so far away you can’t even make out the faces of people on stage.

  11. What if any women on stage are not dressed decently by Torah standards? Do you wear special glasses?

  12. I find it interesting that I, an opera lover, happened to pick as a rabbi one of the few I’ve ever met who holds that opera is mutar l’chatchila. I did not know that he held this position when I started asking him shilahs and was taken aback when with no prompting from me he started defending that position aggressively with another rabbi at a Shabat meal when the question came up. I also met and married a woman who was an opera lover who had at one point been a classical music critic. We just sent in our renewal for our Metropolitian Opera subscription. There are no accidents in HaShem’s world.

  13. “Schoenberg arranged Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1861) for orchestra, using an adaptation of Brahms’ symphonic style. It’s tonal for sure, unlike Schoenberg’s usual output, and well done.”

    It is one of my all time favorite pieces of music. I think it as great as any of Brahms’ symphonies. I don’t understand why it is not performed more often. Balanchine also choreographed a ballet to the music.

    “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news”

    This was also repeated by four Brits in the early 60s ;).

    “What is your source that R. Soloveitchik allowed attending the opera?”

    My rabbi heard it from The Rav personally. He insists that The Rav was very adamant on this.

    “Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas ”

    That was based on an actual event!

  14. Harry Chapin had his tragic accident while we were living on LI, where he was very well-known.

  15. Skeptic,

    Sorry, I misread your challenge to Charlie. Somehow I read you as challenging the reality; not whether they were following Rav Soloveitchik’s position. Mea culpa.

  16. From an interview with composer Yerachmiel Begun on balancing “being current” and “being correct” in both music and clothing styles(see bottom part of linked page below):

    “Even in melodies there is such a thing as being current, without stepping over the line. For example, there is such a thing as a ballad which is from today’s times and from many years ago, but both quite different.

    JMR: With different feels.

    YB: Yes, it has to do with the music, the chords, and different aspects. For example, lets look at the RACHEM song, the old one, and then we have the new one done recently by Shwekey. The style of the song is more current, but they are both heartzidike songs. There are no influences in that new song, that anyone would say would not be proper. But yet styles change within the music; there is a ‘currentness’. So that is what we tried to do, find a middle ground, where its not too far to the left where the influences are not proper perhaps, and not too far to the right where its a little too right wing.

    JMR: It’s a very fine balance too, staying current without losing the Yiddishe feel to it.

    YB: Definitely. I once spoke to a storekeeper 7 or 8 years ago we were having a similar discussion at that time, I don’t know which album it was, and he was telling me that he had a store in Flatbush that sold woman’s clothes, and he told me, he too, had to strike a middle ground. It had to be a certain type, up to date, but still had to be correct! So when we are dealing with our community, and these sensitivities, it is important to strike a middle ground, if you are aiming to be mainstream, where both sides can be comfortable and identify with it.”


  17. To Bob Miller #33: Thanks for correcting me on the authorship of Cat’s in the Cradle. I was an early Harry Chapin enthusiast because his songs had so much heart and humanity, not to mention sometimes humor. Anyone out there remember his famous tunes Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas and Six String Orchestrar? I guess they defined a certain time and place not really relevant to the twenty-first century.

  18. To ross #55: I wish it was just an April Fools Day joke, but didn’t the gedolim just a short while ago ban some live concerts because they were concerned about “groupie” behavior, female fans mixing with male musicians, etc.? I’m sorry if I’m getting my facts wrong, but I think I remember about two years ago there was a whole uproar, one well-advertised live concert had to be cancelled amid great financial loss.

  19. Mordechai Y. Scher,

    I don’t understand what Richard Joel’s appearance schedule has to do with whether R. Soloveitchik allowed attendance at the opera, especially in light of R. Schachter’s written statement that the Rav specifically prohibited a YU student group from selling opera tickets. Could you please clarify what you mean?

  20. I heard that the Gedolim just came out with a strongly worded proclamation which makes assur totally all forms of secular music, radio, opera, rap, Simon, Phil, Cat(z), Beatles, Fleas, Dynamite, Nabisco, Bing Crosby Stills and Nash, Grateful Anything, any band named for a major US city, etc, etc. So there.

    (Just an April Fool’s joke from a brainwashed right-winger.)

  21. Rav Chaskel (Haskel) Besser ZT”L, a famous recent Agudah leader, was reported to be a classical music enthusiast in this biography, still in print in paperback, and available in hard cover:

    The Rabbi of 84th Street: The Extraordinary Life of Haskel Besser

  22. Charlie,

    What is your source that R. Soloveitchik allowed attending the opera? R. Schachter (in Nefesh HaRav) records the R. Soloveitchik prohibited a YU student group from selling tickets to an opera as a fundraiser because attendance is prohibited.

  23. Don’t forget all that awful winter season secular music, which thankfully stopped January 6 (but will resume again November 21).

  24. About (3) above, from Charlie Hall:

    Schoenberg arranged Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1861) for orchestra, using an adaptation of Brahms’ symphonic style. It’s tonal for sure, unlike Schoenberg’s usual output, and well done.

    FYI, another Charles, a noted guitarist with rather bad midos, had things to say apropos this meandering discussion:

    “I got no kick against modern jazz
    Unless they try to play it too darn fast
    And lose the beauty of the melody
    Until it sounds just like a symphony”


    “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news”

  25. “I’m not a Rav and I don’t posken for anybody, seek out your Local Orthodox Rav, preferably one who loves music himself.”

    My rav paskened that opera is mutar l’chatchila and even attended an opera last year. His rav, Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l, held this position. YU still has an annual opera fundraiser.

    ‘Certainly not today, and possibly never, was “Jewish Music” so isolated as to not be influenced by the music of the surrounding culture.’

    The only Jewish musician whose creations were truly so different from that of non-Jewish music that you can truly argue that it was not influenced is the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg. But there are problems even with this: (1) You will never hear Schoenberg played at a simchah. (2) As of the time he started writing atonal music, he had converted to Christianity. He later renounced his conversion and became an active (and rather outspoken) Religious Zionist. (3) Schoenberg himself insisted he was carrying on in the tradition of Brahms.

    “Most classical non Jewish music (ie Bach, Handel, don’t know about Beethoven)was inspired by Chri-tianity”

    This is factually incorrect, at least as far as the music of the past 250 years is concerned.

  26. To Shua #47: The story about Cat Stevens really being a Jewish kid named Steven Katz was something I grew up with, an urban Jewish legend, sort of like the game we played all the time which went, “Which athletes and movie stars are secretly Jewish but changed their names to hide it?” Remember that this was the 60s and the 70s before Wikipedia and YouTube and everybody knowing everything about everyone.

  27. “I liked the artist known as Cat Stevens when I was a teen. He was really a Jewish guy named Steven Katz.”

    Judy, where the heck did you come up with this one? A simple verification is available at Wikipedia: Cat Steven a/k/a Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou) is the child of a Greek Orthodox father and a Swedish Lutheran mother. He was nevertheless educated in Catholic school.

    I used to play one of his songs that you referred to, “Father and Son” (1970), on my guitar all the time. It is an amazingly poignant song, in the form of a dialogue between and young man who is leaving home to follow his life’s destiny, and his father who cannot bear to see him go. It still brings tears to my eyes — given that my own father was niftar almost a decade before, when I was only twelve. This YouTube version has had over 5 million hits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q29YR5-t3gg

  28. This was in your original post:

    Or perhaps it’s still rooted in the non-Torah values of the secular world they we’ve moved away from and should be avoided?

    Even though it’s posed as a question, there is an underlying equation between “non-Torah values” and “secular world”.

    Belle’s theory contains the idea that “non Jewish influences are at best distracting”

    I pretty much agree with your statement except that it’s not unique to BTs.

  29. Menachem, clearly there are multiple ideals and shades of ideals out there. I also don’t understand Belle’s (or my ideal) as one of purging everything.

    I think that no matter what your ideal is, a BT because of their particular spiritual growth path, has to deal with where they’re holding right now while keeping a sight on where they’re heading.

    Is that something you would agree with?

  30. I never knew Cat was Katz, but it’s not surprising. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dalei Lama turned out to be Jewish.

    Not to put a damper on things, but much of the Jewish music is questionable al pe halacha. (Like putting pesukim to music, among other things.) It doesn’t even make a difference if in the end you can defend it according to halacha—it just doesnt feel right.

    I can’t listen to Shlock rock or parodies for this reason. Some people love it that Shabbos songs are put to Beatle tunes. I cringe.

    And the aim of many artists is to have an “up-to-date” sound which means if you tune to the song on the radio, you still don’t know if you’re on the right channel.

    What can I do? It’s still rock and roll to me.

  31. Although we all agree modern Jewish music cannot compare to old time groups like the Beatles! (exception perhaps Shlomo Carlbach).

    Funny you should mention Carlbach. I was just think about his music today and how so many frum Jews consider his music to be the epitome of recent Jewish music, to the point where it’s even used as part of davening. I see (hear) little difference between his music and other folk music of that era. Try singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” as just a slow “dai, dai, dai”.

    Maybe it can be summarized and be a part of the BT Manifesto: “Keep your sights on the ideal, but deal now with what’s real.”

    Mark, that’s one ideal. I don’t agree that purging everything that some don’t consider to be “Torah” is an idea for all. Another idea is to elevate so much of the good and beauty that the world has to offer and bring it into our orbit. I agree that it is more difficult and there are risks, but for some it’s a way to reach a much higher level.

  32. Thanks Belle.

    Maybe it can be summarized and be a part of the BT Manifesto: “Keep your sights on the ideal, but deal now with what’s real.”

  33. My theory and practice do conflict here:

    Theory: most non Jewish influences are at best distracting, and at worst a spiritual “downer.” Most classical non Jewish music (ie Bach, Handel, don’t know about Beethoven)was inspired by Chri-tianity, and (much if not most) modern Rock was certainly inspired by a desire for free sexual expression, drugs, and other forms of depravity. Rock has a beat that is very physical, and often has lyrics that are outright anti-Torah (often very suggestive or misogynistic). Proof is in the kind of dancing that accompanies it – dancing that you want to sort of grind your pelvis back and forth, etc. It can’t be that listening to this music is good for our souls, esp. when it has a snappy tune that wiggles its way into our brain and refuses to let go! As we know, all input either elevates us or pushes us lower. So it would be prudent to avoid exposure to elements that we can see are not consistent with Torah values.

    Practice: for better or for worse (I guess better since Hashem decided this) I grew up exposed to all of this, and happen to like at least some modern music and classical (Chri-tian inspired) music very much. I LOVE Handel’s Messiah, sang it in HS choir for 4 years, and have enjoyed my share of modern music (mostly really enjoy S&G and similar folk rock type of music). It is in my brain, and it is pleasurable to me.

    When our kids were young, there was none in the house at all. Now that my kids are older, however, I find myself gravitating back to some of this music with fondness. It is a real conflict; however I keep it pretty much on a low flame and don’t usually listen very often. I can usually entertain myself fine enough with Jewish music or shiurim on tape while I cook. Although we all agree modern Jewish music cannot compare to old time groups like the Beatles! (exception perhaps Shlomo Carlbach). I guess for me, the reality is that living with some level of internal conflict is what life is all about, we who did Teshuva have all sorts of inner conflicts between who we were before and who we are after and who we still strive to be. I can handle this, I can accept that I still want to listen sometimes to my “old” music. however I don’t let it get to be too much, or it brings back associations with my old life that I rather forget.

  34. What about an inspirational song like the theme from “Rocky” (Gonna Fly Now)? I really believe you can apply it to the road the BT takes toward being more Frum, day by day.


  35. Related to this post, below is a link to a recent Q&A with R. Hershel Schachter(“Press Conference- What is Modern Orthodoxy?, non-Jewish music, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and many more topics”):

    At 23:52 on the MP3, he discourages listening to non-Jewish music, poetry(24:50), or looking at a painting because one can be influenced by the soul of the secular composer. At 44:30, he discourages reading secular philosophy, and recommends studying Midrash instead, and explains why R. Soleveitchik studied secular philosophy.

    Interestingly, regarding classical music, I remember when I was twelve, a well-regarded educator in Camp Agudah saying that the test is how the music causes one to act, seemingly, a more lenient position than R. Schachter, who did not make distinctions on the tape.

    I think it’s likely that R. Schachter is being cautionary and brief in the Q&A, and might allow for differences based on different people, and also based on the types of poetry, music or literature(were everyone in YU to study Midrashim instead of secular philosophy, the library would need to be thrown out, and high school students would not be allowed to study Shakespeare!) Indeed at at 44:10, he discuses, positively, bringing non-Jewish architecture into shuls if one can filter out the negative aspects.


  36. Charlie Hall’s post #27 made me think of a particular song that paints Israel in a very favorable light. Those who don’t object to secular music and haven’t heard it should check out Bob Dylan’s song “The Neighborhood Bully” (from the album “Infidels”), which is a very powerful pro-Israel statement from the early ’80s. Listen carefully to the lyrics or read them.

  37. It’s not a hard break, it’s trying to draw a line on the secular influence continuum.
    We can still sense the influence difference between Shlock Rock, YBC, Shweky or a Chassidishe composition.

    I’ll admit I like Shlock Rock, but I don’t think it’s an ideal, just something that works for me at this point of time.

  38. The fact that secular songs have creeped into some Jewish music

    “One pitfall is the secular does not have the spiritual foundation of Torah and sometimes non-Torah influences can have subtle negative effects on our emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels.”

    Certainly not today, and possibly never, was “Jewish Music” so isolated as to not be influenced by the music of the surrounding culture. So it’s a bit of stretch to make a hard break between “Jewish” and “secular” music. Some of the lyrics that go along with the secular music could have some of the negative effects you mention.

    That said. There’s nothing like Pesach cleaning to an iTunes oldies radio station!

  39. Bob, I think “lead astray” is perhaps too strong. But we do know that non-lyrical music (melodies and rhythms) have an effect on the emotions and the spiritual is influenced by everything. The problem is that most (all) of us are not in touch with our subtle spiritual side, so we are unaware of the effects of the physical on our souls.

    A follow up question might be “Are you suggesting that we listen to no music because of the potential downsides?”.
    My personal path and the one on which I try to lead my family is to listen to Jewish music (and occasionally non-lyrical non Jewish) even though the melodies and rhythms are not rooted in Torah. For my family, not listening to music would be a big detriment and we get some emotional, intellectual and spiritual benefit from Jewish music lyrics and some of the tunes.

    My main point is that secular based music (and popular Jewish music) can effect us negatively in sometimes subtle ways and we should consider that when making our choices.

  40. I liked the artist known as Cat Stevens when I was a teen. He was really a Jewish guy named Steven Katz. Later on unfortunately he converted to Islam and now I think his name is something like Yussuf Islam or something or other (please correct me fellow bloggers).

    I’m sure some of you out there remember Cat Stevens, particularly “Moon Shadow,” “Peace Train,” and “Cat’s In The Cradle.” Also there was another song whose title I forget, about the conflict between fathers and sons, but it had the memorable line: “From the time I could talk I was ordered to listen.”

  41. Mark, are you suggesting that something in your cited tunes (as opposed to their lyrics) could lead us astray?

  42. “If it’s OK to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony it’s OK to listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

    Of course a significant difference is that Beethoven’s Fifth had no lyrics and there are some who would not approve of Beethoven’s Fifth either.

    The fact that secular songs have creeped into some Jewish music does not prove that it’s a good thing, just that it sometimes happens purposefully or inadvertently.

    I’m a big fan of integrating the secular and the spiritual, and recently I’ve been discussing with my Rav the pitfalls of integrating the secular.

    One pitfall is the secular does not have the spiritual foundation of Torah and sometimes non-Torah influences can have subtle negative effects on our emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels.

    Here are some Internet fun facts about Bridge Over Troubled Waters and it’s composer Paul Simon:


    Is Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel A Christian?

    Paul does come from a Jewish background– his parents were Jewish Hungarians.

    In his music over the years, Paul often refers to God in many songs (God Bless the Absentee, Slip Sliding Away, Bleeker Street, Blessed, Can I Forgive Him to name a few). Interestingly, Paul seems attracted to gospel music and as part of Simon and Garfunkel covered traditional Christian folk songs such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, “You Can Tell the World”and even a Catholic motet sung in Latin,titled “Benedictus”. The live album, “Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin'” featured the gospel tune “Jesus is the Answer”, though the song is performed by the Jessy Dixon band, not Simon. Songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water, Gone at Last, and Loves Me Like a Rock reveal a strong gospel influence.


    Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel Album: Bridge Over Troubled Water Released: 1970

    Paul Simon wrote this about providing comfort to a person in need.

    It started as a modest Gospel hymn but became more dramatic as he put it together.

    The line “Sail on, silver girl” is often reputed to refer to a needle (meaning the song is about heroin) but it actually refers to Simon’s girlfriend (and later wife) Peggy Harper who found a few gray hairs and was upset. The lyric was meant as a joke – Simon calling her “Silver Girl” because of her hair. (thanks, Helen – York, England)

  43. Charlie,
    S & G’s Sound of Silence was issued first with acoustic guitar accompaniment and was later overdubbed with drums and electric guitars, becoming their first hit. So it got rockier over time! Among reviewers, they were put into the folk-rock category along with the Byrds, Bob Dylan, and other folkies gone electric.

  44. My husband Ira has no problem combining his longtime love of secular rock music with a frum Jewish lifestyle. Basically Ira is now sixty years old and he believes that if you don’t agree with what he does, then it’s your problem, not his. The role reversal in our family is actually quite funny because our three twenty-something learning sons can’t stand their father’s loud secular rock music. So Ira doesn’t play his favorite CDs anymore around our children or grandchildren, only when he’s alone in the car or the house.

    I like to joke with Ira that life is an operetta because our generation had a tune for everything. Whenever a kid or grandkid asks for something we can’t afford, it’s YOU GUESSED IT cue for us to sing the famous ditty by the Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” When the bills are too high and the money is too short then there’s another appropriate song, Janis Joplin’s tefilah for parnasa, “O Lrd won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.”

    Because my name is Judy I frequently get serenaded by fellow boomers with “Hey Jude,” even though the Beatles were referring to hard drugs in British slang and not to an actual person. If I need some assistance on a project at work YOU GUESSED IT time for another song, “Help, I need somebody, Help, not just anybody, help!” Yup, Beatles again.

    Probably everyone’s heard the famous story of how the Kalisher Rebbe took a secular song from a shepherd yearning for his beloved and turned it into a divine nigun about Am Yisroel’s yearning for closeness to Gd.

    It seems there’s always somebody coming up with Jewish versions of secular songs, whether it’s a satire album with funny lyrics replacing the real ones (think Country Yossi and others) or a kiddie version of a popular tune (think Uncle Moishy) or an “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” like those 80s medley albums that got a Jewish twist, or a real attempt to “Kosherize” a secular tune (think the Maccabeats and their “Candlelight” Jewish version of the original “Dynamite” song), or even genuine converts like Shyne turning their love of secular music forms like rap into a vehicle for Jewish expression.

    Jewish music has always borrowed favorably from the music of others. Tunes of the Roma and of Hungarians made their way into nigunim, and 1920s Klezmer music was influenced by the jazz standards and piano rags of that time. If 1970s rock ballads got incorporated or used as the basis for putting tehillim or parts of the davening to music, there’s no shonda.

    The songs “Eleanor Rigby” and “Sounds of Silence” are no less powerful or less beautiful simply because they were composed by the Beatles and by Simon & Garfunkel. If it’s OK to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony it’s OK to listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

    I’m not a Rav and I don’t posken for anybody, seek out your Local Orthodox Rav, preferably one who loves music himself.

  45. I had never heard Simon and Garfunkel classified as “Rock and Roll” until reading this thread. I personally prefer classical music, but much popular music can be inspiring, too.

    We should not discount the impact that music can have on popular opinion. Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” (to be performed next season by the Metropolitan Opera in New York) presented Jews in a very favorable light; the “Va Pensiero” chorus could have been written by David HaMelech. As a result of that opera and the public sympathy shown by its popular composer toward Jews, anti-Semitism in Italy plummeted enormously. More than a century later, The Weavers recorded the Zionist song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and it became a #1 hit, inspiring Americans from every part of the political spectrum — even those who couldn’t stand the performers’ far left politics — to sympathize with the new Jewish state.

    A lot of entertainers have indeed had lifestyles that aren’t consistent with Torah values, but so have a lot of supposedly frum Jews. Why, a prominent rabbi is pleading guilty today to money laundering charges! There is nothing wrong with appreciating good music of any type, but regarding role models each individual should be judged on his/her own actions.

  46. I know where I was when Take Me Home was popular. So I close my eyes, and vividly remember the place, and circumstances, and what I was doing on a meaningless Saturday morning drive (I don’t even know where our local synagogue was located, if there was one), and the taste of salami omelettes, and my buddies with the not so refined speech…ok, keep the song in my head, take a deep breath, and now…I bow my head to the Ribbino Shel Olam for having tremendous rachmanous on me and dragging me out, kicking and screaming, from my empty (yet naively blissful) bubble into a new world full of true meaning and growth.
    Hmmm…maybe there is a tachlis to this stuff.

  47. Now, I am going to sound like my parents (a’h), and say that TODAY’S music (if you could call it that) is mostly glitz and show. Look at (or don’t!) today’s “artists”…I don’t even (none of us in the family do) have any interest in what passes for modern adult contemp).

    I do prefer AC from the 70’s to the 90’s, with CLEAN lyrics and sounds that are catchy. I had posted 2 years ago that our favorite group is the Bee Gees (60’s-00’s), and we do like Phil Collins (great drummer!) as well. In fact, he had a song 25 years ago that could be a “mini-anthem” if you want to look at it that way, for us BT’s…it is called “Take Me Home!” Raise your hands if you know it!


  48. Last Friday I was in the supermarket shopping and they were playing “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” which I believe is by Ronnie Milsap and is just an awful song and I was afraid I would have it in my head for the whole shabbos, so when I got home I dug around until I found some Rush from the ’70s and blasted the song out of my head. So there is at least some positive use for this stuff. But my kids would think I was insane if they heard me listening to it.

  49. I like the topic and I do struggle with it.

    I have those tunes wired in my head and I’ll express those lines when the mood is right. I don’t think they’ve done that much damage to my spiritual growth, but I don’t think there’s been that much gain except to pin a time frame to a tune.

    However, I think the downside of secular lyrics of today is much greater than any upside, so I steer my children away from secular music.

  50. For a people who often pride themselves on being learned, Jews have a remarkably low median level of music appreciation. Most of that folk and rock music in the 60s was garbage. There are paltry few Jews out there who truly appreciate the greatest of all American music, jazz (though there are some notable exceptions, such as Nat Hentoff). The irony for the observant, in particular, is that the clear majority of jazz recordings have no vocals at all. Even if you wanted to be particularly machmir about chumras and refuse even to listen to a CD with a woman’s voice, you could still listen to probably 80% of jazz (or more) without any halachic question even arising.

    Not to mention that those jazz ballads that do feature romantic themes do so in a way that is a universe apart from the vulgar manure that pours out of the radio today.

    Once ran into an orthodox rabbi & rebbetzin at a jazz club in a treif restaurant. (They weren’t eating, of course, but they were certainly enjoying the music, as was I.)

  51. Bob, here is another Barry from the 60’s: SSgt. Barry Sadler, who wrote and sang “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” I often find myself playing this song, as well as Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” when searching youtube for 60’s and 70’s hits.


    Love the soldier, hate the war?

  52. For those of us who grew up with American Bandstand, AM radio, Motown & the British Invasion, music was such an important part of our youth. When I hear some of these songs now, as an (ahem, older) adult, I realize that the meanings of the lyrics went right past me even as a teenager. I think it’s a mistake to look too deep into the propriety, etc. of the music of that era. I would rather just enjoy the oldies for the memories they bring back.
    Sometimes when I hear a certain song, I’m right there, listening to my transistor radio, hoping one of my favorites would be next. I too have quoted lyrics in conversations. Of course, it’s much more fun when the person answers you back with the next line.

    My kids (adults themselves) can’t believe I still remember all the lyrics to certain songs. The stuff today doesn’t compare; I wouldn’t even bother with the vulgar stuff that passes for music nowadays; it’s nothing but noise. Uh oh, I think I’m beginning to sound like my parents…..

  53. “it’s still rooted in the non-Torah values of the secular world they we’ve moved away from and should be avoided.”

    OK, one vote for this. I grew up with the stuff, but it’s out of place in my life. Quite severe, no? If you can’t take it, then try doing it Step by Step. (Oh, no, I’m humming the song.)

  54. Matisyahu actually davened in our shul in Indy during Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah several years ago. He was in town for a later singing engagement. He seemed very sincere and committed to Yiddishkeit, and not at all like an egotistical star stereotype.

  55. Being an aveilus who loves music, I am living on the old tunes in my head right now, especially those that I just read above!

    How about Matisyahu?

  56. Mark, I think I pretty much answered your questions in my comment, though with a little intentional vagueness.

    There are probably artists that are more “problematic” than others. I’m not enough of an aficionado to say that all the music of a particular artist is a problem. Some of the more “problematic” artists I can think of also have some music that is worthwhile.

    Your second question is kind of strange. I can imagine a lot of things. :) But that’s what this is all about. I’m sure there are those that would accept things I don’t.

    At the extreme end I would say that there have to be lyrics that cross all lines. (Music itself is more complicated.) So, it’s not all subjective. Short of that, there is a tremendous amount of subjectivity that’s dependent on personal taste, hashkafa, culture, society, geography, etc.

  57. tesyaa–
    It was just a few weeks ago I asked a couple where they took their kids for Shabbos. The father responded, “Saturday? In the park.”
    So I chimed in, I think it was the fourth of July.
    They were dumbfounded. Thank goodness.

    BTW, let’s not forget that doctors can operate on the brain of a 90 year old and tap certain places, and the person will see memories from when he or she was 3 years old.
    What goes in STAYS in FOREVER and EVER! So be selective!

  58. Rock & Roll covered the whole range from repugnant to entertaining to inspiring. In the day, I generally tried to avoid anything really ugly (except maybe Surfin’ Bird), so the tunes rattling around in my head, available for instant recall at the right prompt, seem OK overall.

    The overall scene has gotten worse over time, but even a lot of the old stuff was unlistenable.

    As for societal issues, here’s a blast from the past (Barry McGuire):


  59. I pretty much agree with Menachem’s post #1. I often make reference to, or quote lyrics or poetry. We have a Lubavitcher friend here who often quotes poetry at the table. Why can we quote Chaucer or Dickens or Longfellow, but not Langston Hughes or Pete Townshend or Stevie Winwood or Kris Kristoferson (a Rhodes Scholar, btw). The issue should be ‘is the content appropriate and congruent’. The issue should be, ‘is there something refining or enlightening here’ that will further my understanding or help express the point.

    Admittedly, I rarely quote Frank Zappa. His lyrics and stage antics were simply vulgar much of the time. But I still think he was an imaginative and innovative composer in a class by himself. Even the compositions I didn’t like, I found interesting. I suspect we simply ignore some of the hedonism and down-right depravity of earlier artists. That’s a tough subject. I wouldn’t choose to learn Torah from a brilliant intellectual whose gross moral flaws are publicly displayed (let alone celebrated). Ultimately, I like to think the arts should be similar (Rav Kook seems to express close sentiment to that in speaking of the role of art); but I’m note sure it has to be. Maybe the artist can reveal to me certain depths and sensitivities that are beneficial, even while I have to reject other elements of his/her life and thought? Dunno. But until now I think a selective, tasteful choosing of what is sensitive and beautiful (in the eyes of the beholder) can enhance our spiritual growth and sensitization. I believe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has advocated a similar view.

  60. Let me rephrase the question.

    Are there potentially musical artists which you feel would be inappropriate for any Torah Observant Jew?

    Can you imagine other Observant Jews seeing no problem with such artists which you find objectionable?

    Are there objective cultural Torah standards or is it all subjective?

  61. I can’t stand both of them. I don’t think they make music as much as sensations. Remove the visuals and what do you have?

  62. BB and Menachem, how would you suggest integrating some of today’s music like Lady Gaga or Gangsta Rap into your Yiddishkeit.

    Is is just in the eyes of some beholders that there are issues with some music?

  63. One of this kids I was teaching lost his backpack in the school and went to search. After a while, he commented, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It took me a few seconds to realize that I was humming the song. Ugh. It’s been years, but it’s so automatic sometimes. And if another song title is mentioned, I’ll say quickly, that was a song, and the person is clueless and usually doesn’t ask what kind of song.

    But if someone’s watch was broken and asks, “Does anyone really know what time it is?”, even though I do not listen to secular music anymore, there is NO way I could resist answering, “Does anyone really care?” And then the person would be annoyed and walk away, I guess. :)

  64. Actually, my spouse and I do not hide our music preferences from the kids. DH likes Grateful Dead, I like S&G and classical, we both like Linda Ronstadt and country and Broaway/movie soundtracks.

    Not every BT chooses to live isolated from the rest of the world. Frumkeit is a spectrum.

  65. Many of the songs of the 60’s addressed societal issues. You may or may not have agreed with the singers’ positions then or now, but at least some thought went into what they wrote. Today’s lyrics, to me, range from mindless to crude, with little concern beyond immediate gratification.

  66. Music is not so different than many of the other “worldly” issues we face. If you’re part of a Jewish mindset that believes in engaging in and even elevating the good that the world has to offer then music is just another component of that. And like with everything else in this realm it takes effort to select out the good from the bad. I know it’s somewhat in the ears of the beholder, but there are beautiful, meaningful, and even spiritually uplifting songs, even rock, from all of those eras.

    There can be another component for BTs. For example, a lot of the music that I know and love was from my high school years. Those are the years I was involved in NCSY and becoming “frum”. So even if all the music I love may not be the kosherest, there’s a very strong positive association between that music and a very important part of my religious life. An association, which on occasion, is not so bad, and even invigorating, to invoke.

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