September 4, 2008
Stop the Music! Haredi Functionaries Move to Eradicate ‘Foreign’ Pop, Disco
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Musicians who use rock, rap, reggae and trance influences will not receive rabbinic approval for their CDs, nor will they be allowed to play in wedding halls under haredi kosher food supervision, according to a new, detailed list of guidelines drafted with rabbinical backing that differentiates between "kosher" and "treif" music.
"Michael Jackson-style music has no place in our community," says Mordechai Bloi, a senior member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, an organization based in Bnei Brak that enforces what it sees as normative haredi behavior.
"We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats. We haredim want to protect ourselves from what we see as negative foreign influences. We are trying to maintain our own authentic music styles. We admit that times are changing, but we are trying to stay loyal to our roots."
This is the first time that specific, detailed criteria, including comments on playing styles, will be used to add transparency to the delineation between acceptable or "kosher" Jewish music and forbidden or "treif" music.
The man responsible for drafting the list is Rabbi Efraim Luft of Bnei Brak, who heads an organization called the Committee for Jewish Music. Luft works in conjunction with Bloi's organization and with the Jerusalem-based Council for the Purity of the Camp headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Safronovitch. These are the two most important and influential "modesty patrols" in the haredi community.
Bloi and Safronovitch have managed over the years to consolidate their power by successfully courting the backing of the major halachic authorities. A large portion of the haredi community, which numbers between 500,000 and 700,000, is loyal to its rabbis.
Calls by rabbis to boycott a business, to take to the streets to demonstrate or to vote for a particular candidate are taken seriously.
Enforcers of modesty rules working with rabbinic support have harnessed the buying power of the haredi community to put pressure on bus companies, cellular phone operators and other firms. Egged, Dan, Superbus and other bus companies now offer haredi customers separate seating on buses for men and women; cellular telephone operators provide haredi clients with cellular telephones that have no access to Internet, SMS, "fancy" ring-tones or telephone numbers with sexual content; and companies such as El Al and Shefa Shuk, a grocery store chain, have suffered from boycotts after being accused of desecrating Shabbat.
Similarly, enforcers of haredi norms are monitoring, supervising and censoring the haredi pop music scene, with Luft spearheading the campaign. Luft has already issued a list of "kosher" and "non- kosher" bands and musicians. He said that dozens of yeshiva heads have agreed to refuse to come to the wedding of a student who hires a non-kosher band. Halls with haredi kashrut supervision who host non- kosher bands run the risk of losing their supervision, and hence their clientele. Companies that help promote haredi concerts expose themselves to the danger of a consumer boycott.
Luft said that music is just part of a much larger problem in haredi society.
"We see that the same people who are involved in the treif pop scene are also the ones in the unapproved news media, in the so- called religious radio stations, in film and in advertising," said Luft. "All of these things come together to demoralize haredi society and to lower the spiritual level of our youth.
"This is an issue that people over 30 understand very well what I am talking about and those under 30 have more difficulty understanding," Luft continued. "This music is pushing into our community a generation gap similar to one created by the rock music of the '50s in the US. The whole idea is that there are types of music that have no place with respectable people. Respectable people listen to decent music and immoral people list to indecent music, and it does not make sense that a community that has high moral standards should be listening to this type of music.
"The influence of music has a very profound effect on people in general. It has been proven that rock music has a very negative effect on people and on animals and plants, while classical music has a very positive effect."
Over the past several years haredi activists have enlisted almost all the major rabbinical authorities to stifle a burgeoning haredi pop music scene.
Last year, a letter forbidding all public music concerts, even when men and women in the audience are separated, was signed by a who's-who of Israeli rabbinical authorities.
The signatures of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the Gerrer Rebbe, Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, and even leading Sephardi halachic authority and Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef all appeared on the letter, which was published specifically to torpedo a major haredi music concert that took place in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
This summer, haredi activists banned a concert in Netanya that featured popular haredi singer Avraham Fried, who appeared together with secular performers. Despite the ban, there was a large turnout.
In addition to a few hundred haredim who showed up, Fried also attracted Chabad followers and the Religious Zionist crowd who do not acquiesce to mainstream haredi opinion on these matters. A large group of secular fans also came to see the secular performers.
Gad Elbaz, a young, upcoming haredi singer who is gaining popularity in non-haredi circles, held a concert similar to Fried's. Like Fried's Netanya concert, Elbaz's concert also took place far from a haredi center, in Caesarea. Like Fried, Elbaz appeared together with secular performers and was thus able to draw from a mixed crowd. In an original move, Elbaz's audience was split into three sections: women only, men only and mixed.
However, performers who do not appeal to a wider, non- haredi audience have been hurt by the rabbinic ban. For instance, Yaakov Shwekey's concert this summer in Kiryat Motzkin, near Haifa, was a failure. Instead of attracting a few thousand, Shwekey managed to draw an audience of just a few hundred.
Menahem Toker, a popular haredi DJ who was reportedly fired from Radio Kol Chai under pressure from haredi activists because he promoted "treif" shows, said that the blanket prohibition against all shows is doing more harm than good.
"Maybe a lot of people will listen to the rabbis and stop going to shows altogether," said Toker. "But there will be tens of thousands of people who, deprived of a kosher option, will end up going to mixed shows. And not just to frum, wholesome performers like Fried and Elbaz, but to secular performers also. So maybe in a way the anti- pop music activists have won a victory. But they also lost because they have not offered a kosher alternative."
Sources in the haredi music scene who spoke off the record for fear they would hurt their relationship with the rabbinic representatives said they doubted the rabbinic establishment would succeed in their newest crusade against CDs.
"What are they going to do listen to every single disc that is released? What about the thousands of discs that are already in the market?"
Luft admitted that listening to all the discs on the market would be a formidable challenge.
"The main aim is to focus on new songs before they get to the recording studio. So far there have only been two cases in which discs have been banned by rabbis, said Luft.
One by controversial haredi vocalist Lipa Schmeltzer called Bli Ayan Hara" (Without the evil eye) and a Yiddish rap CD by David Kalish.
"There are certain types of music, such as rap and reggae, that are disgusting and have no place in our community."
Originally published by MATTHEW WAGNER.
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