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New York - In The #MeToo Era, Some Synagogues Are Banning Shlomo Carlebach Songs

Published on: January 30, 2018 10:00 PM
By: JTA
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New York - When Rabbi Angela Buchdahl announced how her synagogue would respond to the #MeToo moment, she singled out a man. But he wasn’t one of her congregants, synagogue clergy or staff members.

He was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, perhaps the most prominent 20th-century composer of American Jewish music. Carlebach penned a vast body of songs and liturgical melodies heard in worship services, summer camps and sing-alongs. His music is sung in synagogues from nearly every denomination.

But in the years after his death in 1994, numerous women came forward to allege that he sexually assaulted them.

In her Jan. 19 sermon  to New York’s Central Synagogue, one of the largest congregations in the country, Buchdahl announced that the synagogue would not sing his melodies for a year. The moratorium is taking effect across the synagogue — in services, in Hebrew school, in nursery school.

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“We hope this communicates to those who have been victimized by Carlebach that we hear you and we are not indifferent,” Buchdahl said in the sermon. “In this coming year, we will see what new music emerges in the vacuum that is created with Carlebach gone.”

Central Synagogue is one of several in the United States, across denominations, that has stopped using Carlebach’s name, his teachings or his melodies in a debate that precedes but has been intensified by the #MeToo moment. The decisions are mostly a response to the sexual assault allegations that first appeared in a 1998 article in Lilith , the Jewish feminist magazine, and since have continued to surface.

Because they were aired publicly after his death, he never responded publicly to the claims, which range from dry humping and groping to unwanted kissing. Some of the women were underage at the time of the incidents.

“Essentially it felt like it was time to listen and take a reckoning to people we ignored who came forward with their tales of sexual assault,” Buchdahl told JTA. “We should not be in the business of banning any kind of art. I knew that was not the right option for us, but continuing to do nothing was also not an option.”

To excise Carlebach is no easy endeavor. His melodies, recorded from 1959 until his death in 1994, are often the most recognizable tunes to common Jewish prayers — particularly the Friday night service welcoming Shabbat. Synagogues will host “Carlebach services” comprised largely of his tunes.

For a time, Carlebach based himself out of San Francisco, and his music, which combines Hasidic and folk influences, was a Jewish touchstone of the 1960s counterculture. His song “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The Nation of Israel Lives”) served as an anthem for the movement to free Soviet Jewry. He also developed a personal mythology and dedicated following, and at concerts would intersperse his songs with intimate stories.

Recognizing the pervasiveness of Carlebach’s music, some synagogues continue to sing his songs but don’t refer to him by name or share his stories. The Modern Orthodox Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago still hosts a Carlebach service but has not used his name for years. The synagogue’s rabbi, David Wolkenfeld, said the misconduct allegations mean Carlebach should no longer be revered as a personal example.

“The allegations about him were sufficiently credible and sufficiently serious and sufficiently numerous that he did not deserve to be treated as a rabbi, as a religious authority figure,” Wolkenfeld said. “I also realized that if there were victims or their children or grandchildren in the congregation, what would it mean to them to hear someone who abused them being referred to as this great rabbi?”

It’s also technically difficult to ban Carlebach’s music, said Rabbi Barry Kornblau of the Orthodox Young Israel of Hollis Hills-Windsor Park in Queens, New York. Kornblau also has not used Carlebach’s name for years, but said people do not always know which tunes are Carlebach’s, and that it is difficult to manage every melody in Orthodox services, which are often led by lay members.

“I’m dealing with real human beings in a communal setting,” Kornblau said. “If I were to use language like ‘prohibition,’ I would have to take some prayer leader who goes into a song and, A, know it was from Carlebach, and B, stop him in public. I’m not going to do that.”

These rabbis are, in a way, confronting the same question that has occupied the creative world since the wave of misconduct allegations against industry figures began last year: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Some say yes. Other activists, however, believe that because Carlebach was a spiritual leader who wrote melodies for prayers — and worshippers use those melodies in the act of prayer — his work carries more moral weight than a movie.

“I think there’s a huge difference between Woody Allen and someone who used spirituality and religion and God’s name to gain access,” said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who advocates a hard ban on using Carlebach’s music. “There’s a difference between one’s choice to attend a movie screening and one’s showing up to services at shul and having the choice taken away from them.”

Other clergy see a Carlebach music ban as an opportunity to expand their repertoires. A Facebook group called Anything But Carlebach , with more than 1,200 members, has banned discussion of his behavior and serves as a clearinghouse for new or obscure melodies to prayers. Large segments of American Jewry — including many Sephardic and Hasidic communities — have their own musical traditions that predate Carlebach.

“Jewish music has a rich, varied and long tradition well before Shlomo Carlebach’s music,” said Cantor Jessica Leash, who runs Silicon Valley Jewish Meetup, an independent community in Northern California. “If we keep working in this material, not acknowledging its origin and not making any room for new material to come forward, we’re basically shutting a door.”

Despite the allegations, some of Carlebach’s followers still see immense value in his teachings and music. His daughter Neshama, a singer who has carried on his legacy, wrote an essay  in The Times of Israel in January in which she said she supports “the countless women who have suffered the evils of sexual harassment and assault” and acknowledged her father had hurt some women. But she defended her father as a kind and caring spiritual leader who advanced women’s rights.

“I do not recognize the version of my father that some people describe,” she wrote. “To me, he was the kindest, most respectful, most loving person to my friends and me. I myself witnessed him as a deeply passionate supporter of the role of women as leaders.”

Another Carlebach follower, Aryae Coopersmith, believes the allegations and included them in his book on Carlebach’s movement . But he said it would be wrong to erase Carlebach’s music and stories, which for many have served as an inspiration.

“His songs for so many people have opened our hearts to what our tradition, what our grandparents, have been teaching us for so long,” said Coopersmith, who co-founded the House of Love and Prayer, Carlebach’s Jewish synagogue-cum-commune in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district known for birthing the 1960s counterculture movement. “They open our hearts to connecting with Hashem, with Torah, with other human beings. They’re so much a part of who we are today as Jews.”

Carlebach will endure as a major influence on Jewish music despite the allegations, said Joey Weisenberg, a Jewish composer whose Americana-inspired melodies are growing in popularity. Weisenberg said that “it’s not possible to ignore the melodies and the spirituality and the community empowerment and the beauty that Carlebach unleashed in the world,” but that Carlebach also betrayed his responsibility as an iconic Jewish musician.

“When we open our hearts in song, we have to take care of each other,” Weisenberg said. “The story we really tell is about the power of music and spiritual life in the world, and how we need to treat that power with extreme care. Shlomo Carlebach had an immense musical spiritual power, and clearly he misused and abused that power.”



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Read Comments (30)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 30, 2018 at 10:07 PM Anonymous Says:

Lol. What else can I say!

2

 Jan 30, 2018 at 11:03 PM DISGUSTING that VIN POSTED THIS Says:

What a trashy piece of unproven lashon hara. The editors at VIN ought to do teshuva, beg mechila and publicly apologize to everyone on this site for printing this!

3

 Jan 30, 2018 at 11:03 PM Liepa Says:

To accuse someone of wrongdoing when they AREN'T in any position to defend themselves is very wrong. If these accuser's didn't have the guts or the wherewithal to accuse him during his lifetime then they should forever keep their peace !

4

 Jan 30, 2018 at 11:17 PM Educated Archy Says:

When rabbonimn banned or ostracized carlbach yrs ago the world said they were fanatics . Nowadays even the left non authentic Jews see the truth . Maybe this and the entire metoo movement will finally understand why Orthodox Jews are so stringent when it comes to tznuis . We are not allowed in a room alone with a female and even a handshakes should try to be avoided ( when possible ) . And our women dress modest . Do you know why because we understand that men are pigs . It's the way they are made . And if there are no fences they will sin and coerce the female . We realize that women can't expect to flirt with men or come to work dressed in half clad or very immodest cloths to show off yet they want men not to corece them . Try tantalizing a child with candy and see if they don't carry on . Men are uncontrolled kids . That's why our Torah tells us make fences and stay on ground

5

 Jan 30, 2018 at 11:27 PM RobertS Says:

But the people at those shuls wouldn't hesitate to attend a performance of the work of the anti-Semite Wagner whose works were used by the Nazis.

6

 Jan 30, 2018 at 11:58 PM lazy-boy Says:

Yes, Shlomo hugged and kissed everyone, including females. But now, some 20 years after his death, some ONE says he did something inappropriate and is ruining his name and he his NOT here to defend himself, well that is the hieght of perversion of justice!

And that people should believe what they say - this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and ban Shlomo's inspiring songs is worse, and even worse is that a shul should listen to this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and act upon it, even worse.

If they did not complain at the time, there is a limit of time to which we can accept their complaint and after Shlomo (or anyone else) is dead is really too long after the fact to complain.

7

 Jan 31, 2018 at 07:44 AM Butterfly Says:

I do not believe this. I met him at one of his concerts and he was nothing but a gentleman!

8

 Jan 31, 2018 at 08:32 AM Moose Says:

Places that use people like MRS Buchdahl as their Rabbi should be referred to as; Temples and not synagogues.

9

 Jan 31, 2018 at 09:25 AM A1826 Says:

Reply to #6  
lazy-boy Says:

Yes, Shlomo hugged and kissed everyone, including females. But now, some 20 years after his death, some ONE says he did something inappropriate and is ruining his name and he his NOT here to defend himself, well that is the hieght of perversion of justice!

And that people should believe what they say - this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and ban Shlomo's inspiring songs is worse, and even worse is that a shul should listen to this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and act upon it, even worse.

If they did not complain at the time, there is a limit of time to which we can accept their complaint and after Shlomo (or anyone else) is dead is really too long after the fact to complain.

Your comment shows your ignorance of the impact of abuse on victims. Reality has proven that it takes YEARS for victims to be able to come forward. Usually, in the high 30's and in the 40's.

The death of the abuser can make it easier. It's unbelievable that everyone questions if the victim is lying, but don't question the abuser if he is lying. He has more reasons to lie than the victim does. Before commenting, think of what it takes for a victim to come forward. Think. Maybe then you may realize what it involves and will be willing to learn how complex sexual abuse is. This takes a lot of study and really listening to victims. If you can't do that, be honest and don't comment. You are just siding with molesters and allow them to continue to abuse.

10

 Jan 31, 2018 at 09:52 AM savtat Says:

In my shul, someone sang a "Carlebach" nigun, and complimented the ba'al shacharis. After, a young Chassidishe man came up to my husband and said:

"you know, this is really a Satmar melody that Carlebach adopted." Don't know what the true facts are. At this point his melodies are so widespread that it is not possible to remove them from shuls.

I am sure that everyone on this site would agree that if you present yourself as a religious person, Kal v'Chomer, a Rabbi, your behavior has to be exemplary.

11

 Jan 31, 2018 at 10:48 AM georgeg Says:

From Wikipedia on "Rabbi Angela Buchdahl"

> Buchdahl was born in Seoul, South Korea, to a Japanese-born Korean Buddhist mother, Sulja Yi Warnick, and Frederick David Warnick, an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew.

The real sad part is that she re-introduced discussion about G-d (which is a topic that made them nervous according to an interview she gave) in what they call the synagogue. She is more "frum" than the thousands of members of that synagogue.

12

 Jan 31, 2018 at 10:51 AM Lawrence M. Reisman Says:

The article refers to "sexual assault allegations that first appeared in a 1998 article in Lilith , the Jewish feminist magazine, and since have continued to surface." I can remember allegations being made in the early 1970s. Supponsedly, Carlebach himself was confronted about his behavior with women in the early 1980s and replied that "it needed fixing."

13

 Jan 31, 2018 at 12:24 PM Secular Says:

The ‘pound Me too’ (# Metoo) movement is as blind as it is damaging to REAL victims of abuse. Lumping together unsubstantiated claims of “unwanted kissing” with real cases of rape and molestation hurts the victims, as this ‘pound me too’ movement hyper exaggerates all cases in an attempt to attain victim ; i. e. protected status.
What is also morally repugnant is the attacking and impugning of a man’s character after his death. (Fake) moral grandstanding.
This Rabbi -eye roll- should stick to feminism and leave Religion and moral sermonising to the big boys.

14

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:19 PM lazy-boy Says:

Reply to #9  
A1826 Says:

Your comment shows your ignorance of the impact of abuse on victims. Reality has proven that it takes YEARS for victims to be able to come forward. Usually, in the high 30's and in the 40's.

The death of the abuser can make it easier. It's unbelievable that everyone questions if the victim is lying, but don't question the abuser if he is lying. He has more reasons to lie than the victim does. Before commenting, think of what it takes for a victim to come forward. Think. Maybe then you may realize what it involves and will be willing to learn how complex sexual abuse is. This takes a lot of study and really listening to victims. If you can't do that, be honest and don't comment. You are just siding with molesters and allow them to continue to abuse.

If you knew Shlomo and had seen him or met him, you might re=think your post.

Yes, maybe it does take a victim years to speak about it. but once the so called harasser is long dead, it does no good to make it public. Just the opposite, Shlomo can NOT respond so the accuser is taking advantage of a man who can not answer his accuser.

15

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:38 PM georgeg Says:

Reply to #12  
Lawrence M. Reisman Says:

The article refers to "sexual assault allegations that first appeared in a 1998 article in Lilith , the Jewish feminist magazine, and since have continued to surface." I can remember allegations being made in the early 1970s. Supponsedly, Carlebach himself was confronted about his behavior with women in the early 1980s and replied that "it needed fixing."

And that alleged "Carlebach himself was confronted about his behavior with women in the early 1980s" comes exactly from that 1998 article in Lilith (it is on the web, I looked it up). And the "allegations being made in the early 1970s" was exactly about hugging and kissing, but, even the articled in "that 1998 article in Lilith" admits nothing was made public at the time (and in fact until after his death) about forcing himself on anyone.

16

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:53 PM AYidle Says:

Reply to #2  
DISGUSTING that VIN POSTED THIS Says:

What a trashy piece of unproven lashon hara. The editors at VIN ought to do teshuva, beg mechila and publicly apologize to everyone on this site for printing this!

Agreed

17

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:54 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #13  
Secular Says:

The ‘pound Me too’ (# Metoo) movement is as blind as it is damaging to REAL victims of abuse. Lumping together unsubstantiated claims of “unwanted kissing” with real cases of rape and molestation hurts the victims, as this ‘pound me too’ movement hyper exaggerates all cases in an attempt to attain victim ; i. e. protected status.
What is also morally repugnant is the attacking and impugning of a man’s character after his death. (Fake) moral grandstanding.
This Rabbi -eye roll- should stick to feminism and leave Religion and moral sermonising to the big boys.

WELL SAID

18

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:56 PM georgeg Says:

Reply to #9  
A1826 Says:

Your comment shows your ignorance of the impact of abuse on victims. Reality has proven that it takes YEARS for victims to be able to come forward. Usually, in the high 30's and in the 40's.

The death of the abuser can make it easier. It's unbelievable that everyone questions if the victim is lying, but don't question the abuser if he is lying. He has more reasons to lie than the victim does. Before commenting, think of what it takes for a victim to come forward. Think. Maybe then you may realize what it involves and will be willing to learn how complex sexual abuse is. This takes a lot of study and really listening to victims. If you can't do that, be honest and don't comment. You are just siding with molesters and allow them to continue to abuse.

In my opinion it is you have no real understanding of the psychology involved. While I will not state an opinion as to Carelbach, your wholesale acceptance of matters shows you are the one who is not being critical.

First, I never saw anywhere that Carlebach made any denial, and that is because he was not accused (publicly) until after his death. Thus your "but don't question the abuser if he is lying" has no relevance in this discussion, it is simply a brow-beating argument.

Second, the current climate literally makes heroes out of women who come and complain. In fact, many of those women in the Lilith article make good business on this.

Third, memory is very fluid and remarkably affected by the environment. I give as example abortion. In today's climate abortion (even if she is a MINOR) is a human right and anyone complaining is denying a woman her right over her own body. As soon as the climate returns to labeling abortion the murder that it is, these women who exercised their alleged human right to commit murder will be labelled as helpless victims manipulated by a paternalistic male, white society.

19

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:57 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
lazy-boy Says:

Yes, Shlomo hugged and kissed everyone, including females. But now, some 20 years after his death, some ONE says he did something inappropriate and is ruining his name and he his NOT here to defend himself, well that is the hieght of perversion of justice!

And that people should believe what they say - this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and ban Shlomo's inspiring songs is worse, and even worse is that a shul should listen to this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and act upon it, even worse.

If they did not complain at the time, there is a limit of time to which we can accept their complaint and after Shlomo (or anyone else) is dead is really too long after the fact to complain.

Correct

20

 Jan 31, 2018 at 01:58 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Educated Archy Says:

When rabbonimn banned or ostracized carlbach yrs ago the world said they were fanatics . Nowadays even the left non authentic Jews see the truth . Maybe this and the entire metoo movement will finally understand why Orthodox Jews are so stringent when it comes to tznuis . We are not allowed in a room alone with a female and even a handshakes should try to be avoided ( when possible ) . And our women dress modest . Do you know why because we understand that men are pigs . It's the way they are made . And if there are no fences they will sin and coerce the female . We realize that women can't expect to flirt with men or come to work dressed in half clad or very immodest cloths to show off yet they want men not to corece them . Try tantalizing a child with candy and see if they don't carry on . Men are uncontrolled kids . That's why our Torah tells us make fences and stay on ground

Gut G'zuct

21

 Jan 31, 2018 at 02:22 PM Zzzzz Says:

Reply to #5  
RobertS Says:

But the people at those shuls wouldn't hesitate to attend a performance of the work of the anti-Semite Wagner whose works were used by the Nazis.

And to defend Linda Sarsour!

22

 Jan 31, 2018 at 02:23 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
lazy-boy Says:

Yes, Shlomo hugged and kissed everyone, including females. But now, some 20 years after his death, some ONE says he did something inappropriate and is ruining his name and he his NOT here to defend himself, well that is the hieght of perversion of justice!

And that people should believe what they say - this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and ban Shlomo's inspiring songs is worse, and even worse is that a shul should listen to this 'rechilus' and 'loshon haRah' and act upon it, even worse.

If they did not complain at the time, there is a limit of time to which we can accept their complaint and after Shlomo (or anyone else) is dead is really too long after the fact to complain.

A Shul with a woman “Rabbi.” ‘Nuff said.

23

 Jan 31, 2018 at 02:24 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #9  
A1826 Says:

Your comment shows your ignorance of the impact of abuse on victims. Reality has proven that it takes YEARS for victims to be able to come forward. Usually, in the high 30's and in the 40's.

The death of the abuser can make it easier. It's unbelievable that everyone questions if the victim is lying, but don't question the abuser if he is lying. He has more reasons to lie than the victim does. Before commenting, think of what it takes for a victim to come forward. Think. Maybe then you may realize what it involves and will be willing to learn how complex sexual abuse is. This takes a lot of study and really listening to victims. If you can't do that, be honest and don't comment. You are just siding with molesters and allow them to continue to abuse.

Don’t be a retard. There is absolutely not a shred of proof to any accusers’ claims....therefore to label him a molester is a horrible sin! You and VIN should be ashamed.

24

 Jan 31, 2018 at 02:26 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #11  
georgeg Says:

From Wikipedia on "Rabbi Angela Buchdahl"

> Buchdahl was born in Seoul, South Korea, to a Japanese-born Korean Buddhist mother, Sulja Yi Warnick, and Frederick David Warnick, an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew.

The real sad part is that she re-introduced discussion about G-d (which is a topic that made them nervous according to an interview she gave) in what they call the synagogue. She is more "frum" than the thousands of members of that synagogue.

So the woman “Rabbi”is a shiksa...and the idiots here are believing her filthy unsubstantiated accusations against Rabbi Carlebach! These are the same nut jobs who are against Trump, the bets president ever!

25

 Jan 31, 2018 at 02:28 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
lazy-boy Says:

If you knew Shlomo and had seen him or met him, you might re=think your post.

Yes, maybe it does take a victim years to speak about it. but once the so called harasser is long dead, it does no good to make it public. Just the opposite, Shlomo can NOT respond so the accuser is taking advantage of a man who can not answer his accuser.

Indeed he was a great man who brought many to,teshuva,

26

 Jan 31, 2018 at 03:59 PM Lawrence M. Reisman Says:

Reply to #15  
georgeg Says:

And that alleged "Carlebach himself was confronted about his behavior with women in the early 1980s" comes exactly from that 1998 article in Lilith (it is on the web, I looked it up). And the "allegations being made in the early 1970s" was exactly about hugging and kissing, but, even the articled in "that 1998 article in Lilith" admits nothing was made public at the time (and in fact until after his death) about forcing himself on anyone.

I remember allegations in the 1970s about more than just "hugging and kissing." And if he wasn't "forcing himself" on anyone, does it make his behavior any less appropriate?

27

 Jan 31, 2018 at 04:10 PM georgeg Says:

Reply to #24  
Anonymous Says:

So the woman “Rabbi”is a shiksa...and the idiots here are believing her filthy unsubstantiated accusations against Rabbi Carlebach! These are the same nut jobs who are against Trump, the bets president ever!

She is not making any accusations of her own. She is reacting to accusations made by others.

28

 Jan 31, 2018 at 04:19 PM georgeg Says:

Reply to #26  
Lawrence M. Reisman Says:

I remember allegations in the 1970s about more than just "hugging and kissing." And if he wasn't "forcing himself" on anyone, does it make his behavior any less appropriate?

> And if he wasn't "forcing himself" on anyone, does it make his behavior any less appropriate?

That question alone already shows the point. The mind-set of the time of certain groups (and currently as well among some groups) was that any level of not-appropriate behaviour was quickly escalated into extreme descriptions and extreme depictions.

29

 Jan 31, 2018 at 04:28 PM Oldtimer Says:

When I was in Yeshiva, the frummer group (of which I was not a member) vilified him and his songs both because of his interaction with women - which anyone who ever went to his concerts had to notice - and his making songs from half-pesukim and from pesukim in Shir Hashirim (which for some reason at the time was a no-no). Now, these same people freit zich azoi with carlebach shabbosim - you should see the dancing in my shul - and defend him against perfectly credible allegations which shouldn't surprise anyone in the least. Personally, I love his music, and can separate him from what he may have done. But for many of you, a little self-awareness may be in order.

30

 Jan 31, 2018 at 05:20 PM The_Truth Says:

The chareidi velt did not accept Carlebach and would not sing any of his niggunim in shuls - until a while after he died and people began to forget why and what he did. In the 60s & 70s, the world was all about free love and hippy - and Carlebach was no different. Men & women holding hands & hugging was all part of the Carlebach scene. There were rumors back in the 80s that all was not so kosher with his music and style. I dont know anything about abuse per-se for certain, (it is very fashionable to make claims like that in todays world) but just look at the history and you can see that he was not accepted in the frum world when he was alive.

31

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