Saturday, January 26, 2008

Article from

Someone emailed me this article about contemporary Jewish Music, which was published on Ohr Sameach's website this week, Parshas Itro.

I'm amazed by the simplicity and narrow-mindedness of this author, and I post it here because I've heard this view many times from various people. Some people just live in the past and don't seem to see the good on what's out there today. Obviously most of the albums in the market today are indeed not original but to say that since 1994 we haven't had any original and good music is an absurd statement. I can bet this very author sings Yossi Green's Vezakeinu Lekabel Shabbosos in his Shabbos table along with his family.

Additionally, is it feasible to get any conclusions from a study conducted in 1997 by a 16 year-old high school student?

BTW, I will (finally) post the Shalsheles review in the coming two or three days - I was traveling in the past week. Stay tuned!

Of Mice And Men

“You shall not murder.” (20:13)

Some ten years ago, high-school student David Merrell conducted an interesting experiment to examine the influence of various kinds of music.

He built a maze and put some mice through it. The time it took for the mice to complete the maze was about ten minutes. He then divided the mice into three groups, and started to play music to two of the three groups for ten hours a day. To one group he played classical music, to the other, hard rock. Then, at the end of three weeks he put all the mice through the maze three times a week for three weeks.

The control group who had heard no music, managed to cut five minutes off their original time. The classical mice reduced their time by eight and a half minutes; and the hard rock mice took twenty minutes longer to find their way through the maze.

Unfortunately the project had to be cut short because, as David said, “all the hard rock mice killed each other. None of the classical mice did that at all.” (Washington Times, July 2, 1997)

We live in a world of increasingly mindless violence. The irritability threshold of the average person has dropped to alarming levels. As early as 1997, therapists in the United States were working to certify road rage as a medical condition. It is already an official mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to an article published by the Associated Press in June 2006, the behaviors typically associated with road rage are the result of intermittent explosive disorder. This conclusion was drawn from surveys of some 9,200 adults in the United States between 2001 and 2003, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The cause of intermittent explosive disorder has not been described to date.

Turn on the radio and listen to some of the latest Jewish music. It sounds about as Jewish as Led Zeppelin wearing tefillin.

There is an ongoing debate about to what extent Jewish music should be allowed to ape (pun intended) its secular counterpart. In fact, this debate goes back to the achronim (later commentators).

At one end of the scale is the Krach shel Romi, an Italian commentator, who describes how Roman Jews would stand behind the Cathedral and copy down the latest Catholic liturgical hits to be used during the prayers on High Holidays. At the other end of the scale, there are those who say that even the influence of classical music can contain the negative spiritual genes of its composers. However, it is well known that many of the great Chassidic nigunim (tunes) bear more than a passing resemblance to Russian and Polish marching songs.

Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zatzal, the great Mashgiach (spiritual counselor) of Ohr Somayach, founder and rabbi of numerous Torah communities and institutions, once told me that in every generation we have had composers who were able to extract the pri, the "fruit" from the klippa, the "shell" of impurity. However, the last songwriter who managed to do this died in October 1994. I understood him to mean that the Jewish music that followed afterwards was unredeemed secular plagiarism; the klippa had devoured the fruit completely.

There is a mystical concept that there are many gates to Heaven. The one that is closest to the Kissei HaKavod, the “throne” of G-d, is the gate of music.

Music is one of the holiest channels from above. Why would we want to block it up with the dross of the world? Worse still, why would we want to risk the mice becoming men?

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