Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Trapped In The Lower Levels - Jewish Heavy Metal

(Photo courtesy of

In your real life
Treat it like it's special
In your real life
Try to be more kind
In your real life
Think of those that love you
In this real life
Try to be less blind

Which rabbi wrote these lyrics? They don't sound familiar to you?

How about these lyrics about the plight of the homeless in our midst:

Now's the time for you to share
Indifference you have to care
Deep inside you know it's true
How do I get through to you
Open your eyes to the horror
Open your eyes to the pain
When you live in a box
No one knows your name

If you aren't familiar with the lyrics from these two songs it is because you haven't heard "This is the Life" by Living Colour and "Who Cares Wins" by Anthrax.

Now, imagine if these words were really written by a rabbi or came from lyrics on a Jewish music CD. Would you still have problems with them?

Back in January 2005, I wrote:

Matisyahu has shown us that it is possible to make Jewish music from genres of music that are not traditionally thought of as "Jewish". Is their anything innately wrong or "un-Jewish" with heavy metal music? How about if it is performed by Jewish musicians who sing about Jewish topics?

Forty years ago just the thought of putting Jewish songs to rock music was unheard of. It is not of unheard of today. It is quite commonplace. Just because something "has never been done before" isn't a reason why it cannot be done now. There aren't any specific halachos that prohibit "Jewish" heavy metal. If reggae can be taken an elevated, heavy metal sure can.

So, where is Jewish music's Anthrax?

If people are concerned that Jewish heavy metal would only develop a child's appreciation for groups like Metallica, how do you explain the phenomenon of Shlock Rock? Doesn't Shlock Rock develop a child's appreciation for secular music? Won't children want to hear the original songs instead of the parodies? The same could also be said for Uncle Moishy CDs that draw from secular music at times. And, if we take this a step further, won't listening to Matisyahu allow a child to develop an appreciation for Bob Marley; isn't it possible for a child who listens to Shlomo Katz to develop an appreciation for the Dave Matthews Band or Sting? If a person likes the African sound of the Shlomo Katz song, "Ufros Aleinu", it is not outside the realm of comprehension that they will like the Living Colour song "Solace of You" that has a similar sound.

In a recent interview with Arutz-7, Yonatan Tzarum of Simply Tsfat said:

"They say since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, all the music of the Leviim, everything dispersed, fell down for all the world. This is the reason, sometimes we hear Pink Floyd or whatever, we feel excitement. We feel that something belongs to us. The problem is, it's filled with a lot of nonsense as well. Some music, when we hear it we feel down."

Yonatan Tzarum's comment is most likely based on the Baal Shem Tov's teaching:

"That which the nations of the world sing songs all contain fear, awe, and love of Hashem, which is found unclothed in them from above to below in all the lower levels."

In a posting from April 2006, Blog in Dm provided a list with specific examples of this:

Here are a few quickly, off the top of my head that have been adopted by Chassidim.

1 ) Mustapha - a Greek Melody adopted by the Chassidim. I've played this song with Greek specialists and it's identical.

2) Abu's Khatzer. In fact, many of the tunes in the Meron klezer repertoire are adopted.

3) The Marseillese. Chabad chassidim still sing this one.

4) Szol a Kokosh Mar - a Hungarian folk song adopted by the Kalever Rebbe, I believe.

5) There's a chassidic march some call Toska (its played in Chaim Berlin on Purim) that is actually a Russian Folk song called "Longing for Home." An elderly Russian man once came over while I was playing it and identified it.

6) Miserlou

7) Chayav Inish - The well-known version of Chayav Inish sung on Purim is actually a Hungarian folk song called Hungarian folk melody "Czép Aszonynak Kurezálok." The melody is identical, although the form is somewhat altered.

8) I believe Chabad's "Nyet, Nyet" might also be borrowed.

9) Shamil's Nigun, which you mentioned, is attributed to a Ukrainian Robin Hood, Shamil.

Additionally, the liner notes to "The Hasidic Niggun As Sung By The Hasidim" produced by Hebrew University's Jewish Music Research Centre state:

"Recalling that one of the tasks of the Tsaddik is to redeem the holy sparks and restore them to their heavenly source, one readily understands why Tsaddikim and their emissaries, wherever they lived, were constantly seeking out melodies of sacred flavor. Hence the multitude of foreign influences in Hasidic music and its variety of different, mutually distinct, musical styles. The plethora of influences is also reflected in a variety of musical forms: Polish and pseudo-French marches; Austro-Hungarian folksongs; instrumental music in a mixed Romanian-Balkan style; and Near Eastern dance tunes. In addition, the Hasidim on occasion adopted Gentile folksongs with the original texts, but endowed them with a new meaning in the spirit of Hasidism."

From Blog in Dm's list and the liner notes cited above, it is evident that religious Jews were influenced by non-Jewish music in the countries in which they resided. Is there still anyone who wonders why the music of Sephardic Jews does not draw from Ukrainian, Polish, and Hungarian influences, and why Jewish music in Eastern Europe does not draw from Yemenite, Iraqi, or Moroccan influences?

Rabbi Lazer Brody put his own words to a John Denver song that he enjoyed when he was younger in one of his new Emuna series CDs. In February 2006 he wrote, "I sing (after Baruch She'omar) Psalm 100 - Mizmor Le'Toda or "A Song of Thanks" to the tune of "Fame", the old Irene Cara hit from the early 1980's. That puts the rest of my morning prayers in an upbeat groove."

If we define Jewish music only as music that has "been through the crucible of Jewish experience." would any new release be considered as "Jewish"? Perhaps I misunderstand this quote from Rabbi Nachman Bulman, however it seemingly gives a very limited definition to what constitutes Jewish music.

Interestingly, Blog in Dm also notes:

See Rambam in his Perush Hamishnayos to Avos 1:16 where he describes as foolishness those people who protest if they hear songs sung in a foreign language even if the subject matter is quite proper. We see from here that the Rambam knew of secular songs that were mutar, or even recommended. The Chida (Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 560) quotes the Sefer Chassidim that says one shouldn't sing "pritzus" songs, but there is nothing wrong with using the melodies. Also see Teshuvos Yechave Da'as 2:5 where he rules that it's mutar (and perhaps even a mitzvah min hamuvchar) to sing kedusha to arabic love songs.

I acknowledge that it might be problematic for a religious Jew to listen to heavy metal today if it contains obscene language and explicit subject matter, however from the sources above I cannot see anything wrong with the use of heavy metal music by itself. People may point to the fact that heavy metal music is music that draws from baser emotions such as anger. But not all anger is bad. While anger for the sake of anger is a negative thing, anger can also be merirus; propelling one to positive action. What if the music was filled with anger towards injustice or other problems in the world? Isn't there a musical place for this?

Missing today on the Jewish music scene is an equivalent to the guitar playing of Marty Friedman, Scott Ian, Dan Spitz, or Dave Mustaine. While 99% of the time I prefer Jewish music that is more melodic in nature, I am still waiting for someone to uplift the sparks from the lower levels, expand the boundaries of Jewish music, and make quality Jewish heavy metal.

Right now I am left without a kosher option.


At August 16, 2006 at 7:36:00 AM EDT, Blogger Philly Farmgirl said...

LOL! Anthrax with an O-U! Well, I was never a heavy metal fan...I was totally into the Beatles, Floyd and Hendrix when I was a teen, definitely before my time but I have always been a bit behind in the times. ;-) Growing up though we were pretty eccletic, and we still are. We like all kinds of music from classical to oldies, country music and some r&b. As far as Shlock Rock goes, they helped us tremendously when we were becoming religous. My children upon hearing the originals actually preferred thier versions. We also mostly listen to Jewish music...just don't desire the other stuff as much. We love Matis, Moshav, Simply Tsfat, Karduner oh, and for crazy fun...Tek Noy.

At August 16, 2006 at 7:50:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I am glad you enjoyed that ;)

People may claim that classical music is more refined, but let us all remember Yoni Lipshutz's quote from my blog:

"I must say, I did not miss all the Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. As I started reconnecting with my Jewish past, I actually started thinking, no, feeling, how all that musical culture stood by, as a supportive witness, while we walked to the gas chambers."

As I mentioned in the posting, 99% of the time I prefer more melodic Jewish music, however I so enjoyed heavy metal in my formative years that I just can't shake it and enjoy its hard edge….especially when I am running on the treadmil.

At August 16, 2006 at 8:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Listen to Hora Medley (track 15) here It has a harder edge and is Jewish nevertheless.

At August 16, 2006 at 10:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Excellent post and well researched. As a reformed Punk, I can sympathize. There is a lacking in the Jewish music world for anything with a edge. I'm also about 99% of the time only listening to Jewish music, but you walk past a store, see someone with a band T-shirt, or hear a reference and the music just pops in your head. My two favorite albums (which usually give me the guitar fix I need) are Mitzvah and Songs of the Rebbe, both by Piamenta.

At August 16, 2006 at 10:13:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for your comments, Neil. Taking Psycho Toddler's recommendation, I just ordered Piamenta's CD Mitvah and it is now in the mail be shipped as I write this. I am looking forward to hearing it.

At August 16, 2006 at 10:22:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Preachin' to the choir, dude.

I disagree with your assertion that there aren't quality guitar players in Jewish bands, though. Yosi Piamenta and Mendel Appel come to mind.

At August 16, 2006 at 10:50:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: Perhaps you misunderstood what I wrote. What I meant was there were no guitar players who played a similar style to those guitarist mentioned; thrash metal. I do not dispute the musicianship of the guitarists you noted or others like Yonatan Tzarum or Ari Boiangiu.

At August 16, 2006 at 11:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

Like all good things, there must be a "measure" to music, too. I don't doubt your appreciation of the heavy metal music; in my day it was stuff like the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Doors, Cream, etc. In my early BT days, I found that the Diaspora Band [Avraham Rosenbloom, et al] were a good "transition" group for me, helping me by bringing "rock" music into Jewish themes.

That said, I don't think that taking Jewish themes & adapting them to goyish music will "kasher" the music; i.e., make it Jewish. But not everything we consume is "Jewish" per se: if we can read secular books, why can't we listen to secular music. But let's not fool ourselves, most of the stuff out there, including a lot of the "shiny shoe," MBD [especially when 'borrowed' from Gengish Kahuna, er Kahn] etc. is not really Jewish music.
Did Chassidim, including Chassidic Rebbes, take from their goyish surroundings? Yes, certainly. How did THAT music become Jewish? As Rav Bulman told it, because "it went through the crucible of Jewish experience." A narrow definition? Perhaps, but perhaps it's even accurate!

At August 16, 2006 at 11:27:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: How can we know when music has gone "through the crucible of Jewish experience"? Who determines this? You obviously think that Shlomo Carlebach has done this, however who is to say that in 10 years from now Avraham Rosenbloom or Adi Ran will not have also gone through "the crucible"? Bottom line, there is not one deciding body who rules on this.

At August 16, 2006 at 11:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

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At August 16, 2006 at 11:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

MITZVAH is, IMHO, mind-blowing. Certain tracks fullfill my musical needs in every aspect. Track 7, "Va'yiven Uziyah" is pure magic!

I'm still waiting for a band with the energy/power of Husker Du or Bad Religion and the properly selected pasukim to accompany the music.

At August 16, 2006 at 1:01:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Neil: I liked your idea about a Jewish heavy metal band called "Goel HaDam".

Perhaps they could play a medley of Iron Maiden's "Power Slave" and Metallica's "Creeping Death" for a Pesach album. ;)

At August 16, 2006 at 1:28:00 PM EDT, Blogger The Heretical Jew said...

I also like the Antrhax with an OU, and I say that being a former OU Mashgiach.

Most of Chabad nuginim are borrowed from traditional Russian folk songs. One rabbi told me that when the Chassidim had a frabringin they sang russian folk tunes so that the Goyim thought that they were being patriotic and woluld not bother them.

Also since there is the idea that music made by goyim is tumah ... what does one say about Kiss? Gene Simmons is Jewish and went to a well know NY Yeshivah as a child. Wouold his music be considered tumah?

At August 16, 2006 at 1:36:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Eddie with a kipah and tzitzis? Nice...that's a Photoshop project waiting to happen.

At August 16, 2006 at 1:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

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At August 16, 2006 at 1:41:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Neil: Maybe this picture could serve as the basis for the Pesach album cover artwork.
I am impressed you even know about Eddie!

At August 16, 2006 at 1:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

ASJ, I would urge you to re-read your earlier post from April 25, "A Conversation on Niggunim." Many of the questions & comments here could be answered from there.
Let me just requote Rabbi Zwecker. When you asked, "...the sefer HaNiggun v'HaRikud B'Chassidus adds a sentence and implies that the Degel taught "the ability to refine and uplift these sparks from songs and stories is the domain of only truly righteous Tzaddikim." This teaching, however, does not seem to come directly from the text.
When I asked Rabbi Zwecker why this clause was added, he responded:
"I think that its probably true. The author felt that it was important to emphasize this point and that we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking (as some do) that we could all take goyish music and make it holy and take idle conversation and gossip and transform that into kedusha."

At August 16, 2006 at 1:59:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: I certainly did re-read this posting before I posted this newest posting, however I am still interested to hear your answers to the questions I posed to you above. Additionaly, would you consider that Simply Tsfat has gone through "the crucible" even to include the song I mentioned in the comments above? Is a song still Jewish if a person takes a a niggun made by a tzaddik and puts it to hard rock while keeping the original melody?

At August 16, 2006 at 2:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger ilan said...

1) The Rebbe in Likute Moharan (Tora Guimal, chelek Alef) talks about how dangerous is to hear a rasha sining, but not just a rasha or a kofer, all the music that it wasnt composed lijbod H', whit kedusha, whit irat shamaim, etc.
2) If you cant hear Metallica you cant put some Tora letter to a song you never hear (because its forbbiden to hear).
3) The music have a lot of power, if it is kedusha music then you will have koaj and simja to do the mitzvot, etc. But if is not compossed or even singed whit kavana on the kedusha, your soul can be real demagened!
And once again, how can a religious jew know some Metallica song.
We have a lot of niggunim and song of people whit Irat Shamaim! why we don't hear them better than de Red Hot Chilli Peppers?
(when i wasnt a hassid, i went to the Chilli Pepper's show at Argentina, and belive me, there were no kedusha on the stadium)
Kol tuv, and sorry again for the bad english.

At August 16, 2006 at 2:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Ilan: You raise some good points. I am very aware of Rebbe Nachman's teachings on music and I know that he would not permit one to listen to Anthrax or Metallica. However, I am also trying to raise the question that asks where exactly is the line that separates Jewish music from non-Jewish music. Also, if I am going to buy a Jewish music CD how do I know 100% if the musician was someone with yiras Shamayim? I cannot see into the heart of another person.

At August 16, 2006 at 2:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I'd like to share another quote from R. Velvel Pasternak ["Chassidic Music - An Overview"].
"With regard to borrowed motifs and styles, it is worthwhile to remember that Chassidim created their music in foreign cultures & that no creation can be called original if it does not grow in its national homeland. Only through the spiritual homeland which the Chassidim created were they able to infuse into some of these foreign currents an individual soul. With less success later on did Chassidim, notably those of Kotzk and Ger, make use of the melodies of Schubert, Chopin and Verdi. That these melodies have been completely forgotten by the Chassidim is the best indication that they did not lend themselves to a reworking into the Chassidic mold."

So "how does one know?" Probably only through hindsight. I strongly suspect that we'll be singing Modzitz, Belz, Breslov, Chabad, etc. niggunim decades and perhaps centuries from now [we do have niggunim that are over a century old - certainly from Modzitz, Chabad, Breslov; and of course, the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak, etc.]
I know that we are still singing Carlebach niggun composed in the 40s and 50s [and yes, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s too!], so we're talking about a legacy of decades already. In fact, we are just now, since his death, discovering some of his earliest niggunim! In the past few years, we discovered a Modzitz niggun composed by the Divrei Yisrael, who passed away in 1920!
I somehow have my doubts about some of the people you've mentioned. Rosenblum's "Malchus'cha" is still sung some 25-30 years later, but most have been forgotten. Moshe Shur's "Sameach T'samach" from the 70s has recently become popular again, although most people don't sing it right [they don't sing it the way he composed it]. I'm not familiar with the Simply Tsfat song you refer to, & I'm not too keen on Adi Ran. I do like the music S. Tsfat puts out, and Karduner.
But you know, when it comes down to it, why are you going after worthless pebbles when there are so many diamonds and pearls to be found???

At August 16, 2006 at 2:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

ASJ: Great picture. The metalheads ahd their lockers across the hall from us punks in high school. In truth, I haven't thought about Eddie in like 17 years.
The truth is, there is very few "Jewish" music out there today.

At August 16, 2006 at 2:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: If someone takes a niggun from Modzitz and puts it to heavy metal has it lost its kedusha? Why?

At August 16, 2006 at 2:27:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: Also, if you have problems with Adi Ran, why do you have a posting about him on your site which is about Jewish music?

At August 16, 2006 at 2:27:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

Is a song still Jewish if a person takes a a niggun made by a tzaddik and puts it to hard rock while keeping the original melody?
I would say yes, but you may have ruined the song. I've heard the Imrei Aish*'s famous Kadsheinu niggun many times, from a tape of the year it was composed [in the 1960s], through the Breslov adaptation to "HaKadosh Baruch Hu, anachnu ohavim ot'cha", to a rock guitar rendition.
It's still the same niggun, but even a secular composer would tell you that you can ruin a song by presenting it in a base fashion. Does anyone remember The Toys singing a Bach melody in the 1960s???

*The Imrei Aish is the grandfather of the present Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita. He was the Modzitzer Rebbe from 1947-1984, and composed hundreds of niggunim.

At August 16, 2006 at 2:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

Blogger just ate up my last comment, which probably would've answered your last two questions. I'll try to reconstruct it.

Is a song still Jewish if a person takes a a niggun made by a tzaddik and puts it to hard rock while keeping the original melody?
Probably yes, but you may have ruined the song. It does not take an artistic genius to know that everything depends on its presentation, and especially if it's a matter of Kedusha, we should be extra careful as to how we present it.
I've heard the famous Modzitz "Kadsheinu" niggun as it was sung in the year it was composed [around 1964], up till the Breslov recording of it [I think it was Simply Tsfat] as "HaKadosh Baruch Hu, anachnu ohavim ot'cha," and even a heavy rock guitar rendition. It's all recognizable, but...

Tell me, you can make chicken soup like the old Jewish balabustas used to do, with fresh vegetables, good quality oil, fresh chicken, etc. etc. You can also buy a soup mix and make it that way. Which is better???

As to Adi Ran, I didn't say his music wasn't Jewish, all I said was, "I'm not too keen on it." Why can't I quote him on my site???

At August 16, 2006 at 2:41:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I see my previous comment survived after all. You can enjoy them both!

At August 16, 2006 at 2:46:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At August 16, 2006 at 2:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: Thank you for addressing these questions. I understand and respect your point of view.

What troubles me, however, is that is seems like in your definition of Jewish music there is no allowance for Jewish music to keep evolving past the time of Shlomo Carlebach

I don't think any one person can point define exactly what Jewish music is. And if they attempt to, can they define the line that separtes when it stops being Jewish?

At August 16, 2006 at 3:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

ASJ: (responding to your response to my comment somewhere up at the top of this thread): I have to confess I didn't listen to thrash metal and wasn't particularly keen on heavy metal either. I liked melodic stuff, like the Beatles or Squeeze or Elvis Costello or Pretenders etc.

I have played with some great guitar players over the years though, and I'm guessing that at least some of them could handle that style of soloing. Moshe Kaufman could play any Led Zepplin solo, Izzy Botnick could do Skynryd in his sleep, and Mendel Appel can mimic Eddie Van Halen or Clapton or Hendrix (and does all three, and more, at a typical show).

As to the rest, to be honest, I'm a little tired of the "what is kosher music" or "what is Jewish music" debate.

You know what? You can like whatever you want to like. Just don't tell me what I can or can't listen to as a Jew, because it's all narishkeit.

I recall that when Kabbalah was doing shows, people would come up to me and say, "You know, I never listen to Jewish music, but since I bought your album, I've been singing 'Yismechu Hashamayim' day and night."

That's good enough for me.

At August 16, 2006 at 4:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mary Hogan said...

When music is pure ego, and ego delusion, then it is abjectly detrimental to society. There is a mystical connection to the vehicle called "music". Elisha, Shmuel. There is something about music as an entity that seems to be missing here.

At August 16, 2006 at 5:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

ASJ, I haveta agree with Mary Hogan - she definitely has a point. Also, for someone who listens to this music only 1% of the time, it sure does seem to bother you - don't you think you might be overdoing it a bit?
In conclusion, I don't think you are significantly enough aware of the "olam HaNegina" as I call it, to understand that it is an ongoing phenomena. Not only groups like Modzitz, but also Belz, Vishnitz, Ger, Bobov, Breslov, etc. are constantly developing new niggunim. And although there is a continuum from their predecessors, there is also evolution here.
And what about people like Yosef Karduner? This is certainly a new style that wasn't heard before, yet it resonates as distinctively Jewish-sounding music.
G'nite from Yerushalayim!

At August 16, 2006 at 5:07:00 PM EDT, Anonymous A Yid said...

I'll say honestly - I can hardly find any music that is composed today, which can compare to nigunim of old. I hope no one will be affended, but even Simply Tzfas - when they play old nigunim - it sounds good. When they play their own music - I skip it in the most cases.

What makes old nigunim so special? This is probable very hard to answer specifically. Their neshomo, would be probably the closest answer. Nigunim composed by tzadikim are very special, but even music which was incorpoprated in Yiddishkayt from "all around" sources is still different from anything new you can find today. And to my taste - it is much better.

At August 16, 2006 at 5:30:00 PM EDT, Blogger lishmah said...

What do Matisyahu, Blue Fringe, Klezmatics, Moshav Band, and Soul Farm all have in common?
Their direct connection to The Diaspora Yeshiva Band, the band that invented Jewish Rock!
The Diaspora Yeshiva Band’s recordings signify, perhaps, the most influential change in modern Jewish music history. Check out this exclusive, fascinating and informative article about a history-making group, and the major fore-runners of today’s Jewish music by one of the original founding members.

The Inventors of Jewish Rock,
one of the first modern Klezmer bands,
Innovators at the turning point in the history of Jewish music,
The band that started it all,

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band

By Ruby Harris,
Original member on Violin, Mandolin, Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals

Jewish music history can be divided into two periods: BD and AD, which stands for Before and After the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. The music before us was so different than the music after us. So many innovations and musical arrangements used daily in the Jewish music world are direct products of the influence of this band at the turning point. Most of your favorite music today is somehow a derivative of the DYB, the band that started it all. Several of today’s hottest acts are actually either composed of members of the original DYB or their children, and of course countless students, followers, and fans.

But it wasn’t always so...

If Rock n’ Roll was born in the 50s, and the 60s saw it be fruitful and multiply, then the 70s saw an interesting phenomenon when some of these musicians began to find that old time religion, and in the Holy Land of Israel in particular some of them gathered in a very musical and spiritual place on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, and formed a band that was called “The Diaspora Yeshiva Band”. From approximately 1976 to 1986 3 things occurred: 1) they became one of the most popular bands in Jewish music. 2) The Jewish music before this time was about to go through what can only be described as the same basic transformation that the world of popular music went through with the Beatles, and 3) The old Jewish/Yiddish music was re-discovered and became amalgamated with new worlds of music. Innovations, emulations, and revelations were suddenly overtaking the Jewish world, and the DYB can be viewed as either credited with or guilty of manifesting this transformation. Today of course, most Jewish music has some rock sounds incorporated within, but back then it was unheard of, and such a thing bordered on the taboo.

Almost parallel to the first Rock’n Roll stars and their society, the union of Rock with Jews didn’t come so smoothly, it was a rocky road at first, particularly in the years roughly from 1973-1982. Jewish music didn’t catch up with the rest of the world so fast. I remember one time we were doing a concert at the Jerusalem Theater and after the show someone comes up to us and emotionally expressed his disapproval of the Holy words being fused with rock sounds (Elvis and Ray Charles got the same reaction).
Also in that early gestation period, there was the sensation that the DYB caused at the Chassidic Song Festival. We won first place 2 years in a row, thus causing the voting committee to re-write the rules so that we don’t take over...
The great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was also a victim, in those years and even earlier, of the old problem of being an innovator: the public simply was not ready. But we’re in good company-Mozart, Benny Goodman, and Bob Dylan also met with resistance until the world came around. We played many concerts with Shlomo.

Klezmer? The old Hebrew-Yiddish word had not yet even begun to be re-discovered and re-used yet, and we were continuously toggling with what to call our new genre: Yiddish Jazz? Chassidic Rock? Country & Eastern Music, Rhythm & Jews, Jewgrass, who knows? We took an old Jewish wedding standard, added a rhythm section, a hot clarinet, a seething guitar solo, a devil-went-down-to-Georgia-type fiddle breakdown, and some extended Kabalistic jams and it wasn’t long before the listening public took notice that that old Jewish music wasn’t so out of date after all. I remember a phone call and a visit from David Grey, one of the members of the new-genre group “The Klezmorim”, who came to my home in Jerusalem for an interview, plus, an early wedding involved sitting-in for some tunes at the old legendary New York restaurant Lou G. Seigles with Hankus Netsky and Don Byron of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, both bands being the first of the new “klezmer” bands in those pre-natal years. At a concert in Philadelphia, our opening act was the newly formed Kapelye with Henry Sapoznik. An early meeting with Andy Statman also found him asking me all about Jewish music as well as Jewish philosophy, quite some time before he “returned” to the fold. I convinced him to check out some Breslov music, and a few years later we found ourselves on stage together at a sold-out concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. He had quite a beard by then...

While Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention and Jefferson Airplane were taking old English & Irish nigguns (folk melodies) and suffusing them with the blues, we were doing the same thing in this post-Woodstock world with Jewish standards Dreydle dreydle, Dayenu, and Chasen Kala Mazal Tov. Plus, as with our favorite beloved Anglo/American rock heroes, we were writing and performing our own originals, one of which can almost be called the Official Anthem of the Baal Tshuva (returnee) Movement, “Malchutcha”. We had some fun, oy vey, doing a Hendrixian Hatikva, the Shma ala Doors (hey, the mezuza goes on the Doors!), a David Melech Squaredance, a liturgical Beatles medley, endless Grateful Dead-style jams on Ketzad Merakdim, or Gesher Tzar Meod per Santana, and so on. Another funny thing, at first, as antique ‘78’ records of Bill Monroe, Howlin’ Wolf and Jellyroll Morton started catching our interest among the Jolson, Cantor, and Sophie Tuckers in our grandfather’s attic, we started paying attention to the funny green-labeled Yiddish ones too, that revealed a virtually hidden and buried world of dusty stars like Naftulie Brandwine, V. Belf, Dave Tarras, Abe Schwartz and Aaron Lebedeff, now looked at as the patriarchs of Klezmer recordings.

The Torah predicted that in the days before the Moshiach, there would be a return of the exiles, a great influx of converts, and a movement of returnees to Judaism. I’m happy to say I was there at the beginning of that movement, and the DYB provided the soundtrack. We traveled around the world playing for a remarkable cross section of the people that range from the roots to the fruits of the movement: Holocaust survivors, Israeli soldiers, Yeshiva students, Hebrew school children, Chassidic dynasties, Kibbutz & Moshav celebrations, and a thirsty generation searching for the answer.
Every Saturday night we gave a now-legendary concert called “King David’s Melave Malka” post-Shabbat celebration at his actual tomb on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, a central Biblical historic site. Once, Broadway star Pearl Baily and her husband jazz legend Louie Belson were on a pilgrimage to this site and the nearby ‘Last Supper’ room, and she just happened to be at King David’s Tomb during my wedding, and she came in and sang “Hello Dolly” to the newlywed couple. People come up to me all the time recalling those concerts and how special they were, and so many of today’s musicians tell me things like “when we first saw you guys, we decided that, hey, we could do that too!” I even recently met a mother of ten who confessed that she was about to leave Judaism altogether when at a last ditch effort she came to one of our shows and she stayed in the fold, got married, and the rest is her-story.

Before the 6 Day War, Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Goldstein started the Diaspora Yeshiva which was the first Baal Tshuva Yeshiva. The location was Mt. Zion where King David is buried (down below in ancient catacombs). When David was a young shepherd from his home town of Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem, he used to take his sheep and graze them, and where would he go? A prophet and spiritual master of the highest caliber, he naturally was attracted to the center of the universe, the Temple Mount where his son Solomon was later to build the Holy Temple. He took his Harp and composed the most famous music in history, the Psalms as he, in symbolic parallel to G-d watching over his people, shepherded his sheep daily between his home and Mt. Moriah, the Temple Mount, the place where his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had their prophetic revelations and grazed their flocks.
His music, which is soaked into the architecture and the very earth of this location, drew people like us to David’s Holy Mt. Zion, which is the neighboring mountain to the Temple Mount. We played and sang and expressed the hope of the returning of Jerusalem, and the simcha (joy) of Torah learning. The mystical possibilities were incalculably inspiring. The music wasn’t so bad at first either, and it kept getting better, and with a few savvy people and some smart moves, we got some sound equipment and started recording, and we actually managed to not only lay down some extremely original material, but also expressed the lofty spiritual feeling of the moment.

From 1973 to 1976 can be called the early period, with many changes in personnel ranging from a few guys jamming to a big band, at which point in June of 1977 the actual “DYB” was formed and solidified, with the original 6 members being: Avraham Rosenblum on guitar, Ben Zion Solomon on fiddle and banjo, Simcha Abramson on Saxaphone and Clarinet, Ruby Harris (this writer) on Violin, Mandolin, Guitar, and Harmonica, Adam Wexler on Bass, and Gedalia Goldstein on Drums. Before and after this, many great and illustrious people came and went, such as Rabbi Moshe Shur, Chaim David, Rabbi Shimon Green, Menachem Herman, Beryl and Ted Glazer, Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig, Yochanan Lederman, and Rabbi Tzvi Miller. We played in a 2000 year old building resembling the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Getting electricity into these Byzantine and Crusader edifices was no small endeavor. The acoustics were amazing, though.
Our history of performances is incomparable: Wartime shows for troops from Sinai to Lebanon, concerts and events for such public figures as Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres and many other VIPs and statesmen, parties and banquets with Isaac Stern, Shlomo Carlebach, Abba Eban, President Herzog, (and later President Clinton & Mayors Giulianni and Daley), an early MTV video performance and interview featured in the Bob Dylan tour with Tom Petty, and ultimately, concerts at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Opera House. Somehow, Lynard Skynard’s drummer Artemis Pyle even played with us and donated his awesome drum set to the yeshiva!

The band broke up in the mid 80s and the members have all gone off in different directions, most notably: BZ Solomon does extensive recording and performances worldwide, Rabbi Shur is an executive with the Hillel Organization and also records and performs, Rabbi Green is the head of a Seminary in Jerusalem, Avraham Rosenblum keeps the Diaspora flame burning with his new band, Chaim David has become a Jewish music superstar, and I perform and record extensively in an eclectic range of styles from Jewish Rock and Klezmer to Blues, Jazz and Country, including other notable relationships, such as a series of recordings with members of the original Sun Records rhythm section, who’ve made history as players in the bands of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. Adam Wexler is a member of Reva L’Sheva, one of today’s finest Jewish rock groups, and finally, Simcha, Gedalia, Beryl, Ted, and Menachem have all advanced to the higher original goals of scholarship, spiritual mastery, and various lofty musical projects and endeavors.

But most charmingly, is the fact that many of the children of the original members of the DYB are among today’s hottest stars, as members of Soulfarm, Moshav Band, and oodles of other contemporary projects ranging from some of New York’s top wedding bands to fine art music recordings. Occasionally several of the guys get together for projects, such as 2 recent DYB reunion shows on Long Island and at the Catskills Homowack Hotel, and there are some real tasty dishes simmering in the musical kitchen. If you’re looking for the original members to perform these days, they all do so, emphasizing their newer compositions and styles, but most of the guys are still happy to give you the old tunes if you really bug ‘em. Keep listening!
Ruby Harris is an original member of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and since the close of that primordial period in the history of Jewish Rock, Ruby has been seen opening for Ray Charles, Marshall Tucker Band, and Little Feat, and he’s performed with Peter Yarrow, Mordechai Ben David, Buddy Miles, Avraham Fried, Pinetop Perkins, and members Jefferson Airplane, Klezmatics and Grateful Dead. He lives in West Rogers Park, Chicago and presently performs in concert, on recordings, and at someone-you-know’s wedding. His website is where, along with and, his latest CD “For Heaven’s Sake” is available, as is his CD “Almost Home”, featuring Pine Top Perkins and Sugar Blue. For recordings of any of the artists mentioned, see your local Jewish music store or look them up on line.
This article is the exclusive (copyright 2006) property of Ruby Harris

At August 16, 2006 at 5:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger Fedora Black said...

I used to live and breathe heavy metal in my teens and early 20's (I am now 31), and have found this thread most enjoyable. I was never too fond of thrash, but more into bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath (which I find a bit ironic, considering how I dress on shabbos now), and Dio.

I often wonder why it seems that quite a number of Jews who listen to metal have become frum. There must be something is the music that corresponds to some element in Judaism. I can find myself humming Iron Maiden's "The Tropper" and "Run for the Hills" when thinking of the Jews entering Canaan and fighting its people. And the opening lyrics and other sections of Dio's "Last in Line" make me think of Alia and Geulah. Perhaps it is a residual effect of heraing the sights and seeing the sounds that our neshamas experienced a Sinai, and some of us are trying to recapture it.

Clearly, too much of this music is full fo kishuf and avoda zarah, even though I doubt most of the performers mean it seriously. I certainly uncomfortable now when I hear "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter", especially after having a daughter of my own.

I think it is helpful to compare the status of music in Judaism to that of food and clothing, which are two inportant aspects of religion and culture. There is no such thing as Jewish food. Certainly, different Jewish communities have a iconic dish or two, but otherwise Jewish food is local food and ingrediences adapted to Jewish law and situations such as Shabbos and Pesach. Jewish clothes are local clothes adapted to fit the laws Tznius and not reflect the gentile styles fully. Perhaps we should view Jewish music in the same light.

At August 16, 2006 at 5:48:00 PM EDT, Anonymous zezmir said...

I think that we all understand that music is a method of expression. And I would say that Heavy Metal should have equal, if not more, potential for sending a decidedly G-dly message as the mediocre rip-offs of broadway show tunes that are often considered "Jewish Music"...

At August 16, 2006 at 7:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger Chaim said...

It's an amazing discussion that you are having. Unfortunately I had a really long day and my brain isn't going to be working for the next 24-48 hours so I can't really submit anything of valuable content to the conversation. There are just two things I wanted to add quickly. 1) Forgive me if someone said this already but the lead singer of Antrax is Jewish. So he still has a Pintele Yid itching to come out, I'm sure that comes through in his music. 2) I really feel that it doesn't matter what thr style of music, so long as it inspires pure spiritual motivations that is all that matters. Each person knows his true self and his or her's true limits. Sometimes you just need to truly ask yourself if something is "Jewish."

At August 17, 2006 at 12:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger esma613 said...

Waw! Amazing post!
I think what matters in a certain song, is not the lyrics, but the melody.
Think about when you hear a song for the first time, do you remember any of the lyrics? Of course not, but you appreciate it more once you hear the jewish-related lyrics, but again, what spoke to your soul the first time?
I totally agree with chaim, you only know what moves your soul and inspires you, if heavy metal doesn't makes you angry, then why not dress it with some jewish themes?

At August 17, 2006 at 12:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

ASJ, a very passionate presentation of a subject you obviously feel strongly about. Other than some Metallica, I have never been much of a metal fan, but I could see where it could rev a person up, both positively and negatively. To be honest, I don't really think of today's Jewish music as Jewish so much, but rather bad rip-offs of secular music (with a few notable exceptions such as Karduner). To be kodesh for me, the music must forge a connection between the listener and HaShem, as the niggunim do, as some of Carlebach's music does. Perhaps the niggunim which were appropriated from other cultures carry the power they do for us because we do not have associations with the originals. To use the songs of "today" (even say Irene Cara's "Fame" from 26 years ago) comes off as gimmicky. It may elicit a personal spiritual experience, but I would highly doubt a universal one. I think there is spiritual uplift to be had from secular songs, but it is different than truly Jewish songs which emanate from the neshama. Given metal's association with negative anger and preoccupation with death, I don't see how the music could really be appropriated Jewishly, just as some Latin music is too sexy to be adopted. However, if you get something spiritual out of metal on a personal level, what's wrong with that? A really good, fascinating topic, worth discussing more in depth...

At August 17, 2006 at 6:13:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

McAryeh wrote: Perhaps the niggunim which were appropriated from other cultures carry the power they do for us because we do not have associations with the originals.
HJ wrote: Most of Chabad nuginim are borrowed from traditional Russian folk songs.
I beg to differ from HJ. While there are Chabad niggunim like that, many were composed by the Rebbes and their Chassidim. Again to quote Pasternak: "True, one can find among Chabad niggunim many songs of Russian & Ukranian origin, often sung verbatim in these languages. By & large, however, these are the shorter & happier melodies of their repetoire. For the achievement of the goals as outlined above [spiritual elevation - too lengthy here to write], Chabad was compelled to create original tunes which could express the meanings & thoughts of the various stages of elevation, tunes to be used as a means for the attainment of its purpose."
As to McAryeh, and some other commenters here, let us remember that it is not just ANYONE who can take a secular tune & infuse it with Kedusha. Again, quoting Pasternak: "The surprising & interesting thing about Chassidic music is that it could take the foreign elements of the surrounding cultures and create a unique body of song with its own definite characteristics."
Later, he writes of the Chassidic march: "placed in the mouths of Chassidim, they became not militaristic songs but rather songs of victory & royalty." And the waltz: "Again, although the idea for the waltz was borrowed, seeds of Chassidic feeling went into it, and the new waltz grew into a Jewish form."
And finally, he wrties: "However, even the borrowed motifs never remained as they had originally been. They were worked and reworked into a new form, the form of the Chassid. From this a NEW melody resulted, born of spiritual Judaism, which became the individualistic melody known as the Chassidic niggun."
ASJ, When you -- or your Rebbe -- can do that with heavy metal, let me know & I'll be glad to listen!

At August 17, 2006 at 7:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: I can certainly appreciate that you, as someone who has been on the front lines of this debate can be tired of it. Bottom line there are some rabbis who say yes and some who say no. Correct me if I am wrong but there is not one universal decision on this matter. The jury is still out and the judge hasn't been appointed yet.

Mary Hogan: I agree with your statement. How about if a religious Jew full of yiras Shamayim made heavy metal music, then perhaps it would not be detrimental to society….

Yitz: You have a point about the 1% of the time. Nevertheless, the point of this posting illustrates that your opinion is still just one opinion.

A Yid: I agree with you 100%.

Lishma: Thank you for the background article. I just bought Avraham Rosenbloom's CD "Kedem" and look forward to listening to it.

Fedora Black: Yet another thing we share in common! While you might be humming "The Trooper", the song "Holy Wars" by Megadeth goes through my head is seems particularly relevant these days. I agree with your point about lots of heavy metal being full of avodah zarah; that stuff I always stayed clear away from. I never got into Slayer or King Diamond or any of the satanic groups. It was just too weird for me. Your analogy of food to music is a good one. At what point is food Jewish and which point is it not….and as an Ashkenazi Jew, Sephardic cooking doesn't seem particularly "Jewish" to me, even though it is 100%.

Zezmir: I too find much of Jewish music today to be lacking. Is there any wonder why so many religious Jews still listen to secular music?

Chaim: I always enjoy reading your postings on Jewish music and you often alert me to new releases. Do you mean the new lead singer or the old lead singer of Anthrax? After Joey Beladonna left the band following the "Persistence of Time" album they were never the same. I never got into John Bush. It wasn't the Anthrax I grew up with.

Readers might be interested to know (and I told Chabakuk Elisha this in an e-mail), that in high school I had long hair and wore and Anthrax t-shirt every day to school.

As for your second point, Chaim. I agree with you 100%.

Esma613: Of course, heavy metal lyrics are nonsense most of the time. I like the guitars and the hard edge.

MCAryeh: You seem to echo Zezmir's point which I whole-heartedly agree with. As for your point about anger, I think I addressed this in my posting in which I said that not all anger is bad. If channeled properly it could serve as a great source for music.

Yitz: Me too!

At August 17, 2006 at 8:21:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

After sending this link to guitarist Ari Boiangiu I received the following response:

"Just saw the blog-that's EXACTLY the point of some of my songs (Al
Naharos and Mauzi)- hard-edge stuff with real meaning. With my group live, the songs hit much harder than the album. I never dug Metallica or anything that heavy, but I always felt that the prog-rock such as Dream Theater, and even the raw rock feel of a Pearl Jam and Guns N Roses had moments of musical inspiration that could be harnessed. Only thing is, you're walking a VERY fine line between what's appropriate and what's damaging to the soul.

At August 17, 2006 at 9:08:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

For what it's worth, I'd like to see some Jewishly reworked versions of compositions by people like:

Roger McGuinn
Jesse Colin Young
Van Morrison
Nick Lowe
Jesse Winchester
John Fogerty

At August 17, 2006 at 10:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: Thanks for your comment.

FYI: MetalIsrael has posting that I thought was interesting, although tangental to our topic at hand.

At August 17, 2006 at 12:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Sruly Meyer of Sameach Music e-mailed the following comment:

"I rather enjoyed reading what you wrote and I also enjoyed reading many of the comments. It seems you have a real spiritual connection which is aroused by music, something I can relate to. Music truly is the pen of the soul, and I respect what you wrote there. I grew up in Miami and was influenced very heavily by the punk/ska/grunge scene. I don't really listen to it anymore and every so often I wish someone would try to produce a Jewish ska/grunge/punk CD, but so far nothing. Keep up the excellent writing, I'll keep reading."

At August 17, 2006 at 1:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT just alerted me to this - Shlock Rock's new song about Rabbi Lazer Brody can be found here and the lyrics are here

At August 17, 2006 at 1:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Nice song.

At August 17, 2006 at 1:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I agree. But now purely for arguments sake, given what we have been discussing above, would this song be a "Jewish music" song ? If so, I would assume that it would be because it is from a Jewish artist written about a Jewish theme?

At August 17, 2006 at 3:43:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Might as well ask "what is reality?"

On this topic everyone's reality seems to be different.

At August 17, 2006 at 4:24:00 PM EDT, Blogger Bagel Blogger said...

Nice to see a few different opinions coming to the fore.

I have a secret.

I like Cat Stevens, but I dont so much go for the post associations that come with this singer.


[P.S. I also like Matisyahu, but as you might guess I'm far from the 'Groovy' cutting edge. (lol)]

At August 17, 2006 at 8:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob Miller: You are a true philosopher!

Bagel Blogger: Regarding your secret, if you buy a Cat Stevens CD these days I would be surprised if the money is channeled to Hizballah or Hamas....or maybe directly into Bin Laden's personal account.

At August 17, 2006 at 9:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I like Mel Gibson movies. But the guy has proven himself to be so despicable that I will never watch or rent one of his films again.

Sometimes you just gotta draw the line.

At August 18, 2006 at 7:39:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Regarding my Cat Stevens comment, I meant, "I wouldn't be surprised"

At August 18, 2006 at 1:24:00 PM EDT, Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

here are a couple more interesting groups Emes and sakrfys

At August 18, 2006 at 1:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I listened to some sound clips and Sakrfys reminds me of Blink 182 and Emes sounds good but nothing remarkable.

Perhaps we could just send a mitzvah tank over to Anthrax's recording studio and encourage them to start making some frum thrash metal ;) ...its that easy!

At August 18, 2006 at 4:09:00 PM EDT, Blogger Fedora Black said...

Perhaps we should get them to work on Dave Mustaine instead...I am still shocked about that one!

At August 20, 2006 at 1:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

For years i've been dreaming of turning R' Shelomo ibn Gabirol's Ani Ha’ish into a heavy metal song.

At August 20, 2006 at 11:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Fedora Black: So was I! Dave Mustaine's mother was Jewish so thanks makes him a bonafide landsman!

Steg: I never knew that this is where Anthrax got the "I am the man" song from! Thanks for sharing that.

At August 20, 2006 at 7:21:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Rabbi Dovid Sears said...

Re. Ruby Harris's essay, somebody emailed Andy Statman with a link to Ruby's mention of him in the "comments" on the music article. Andy ran into me on the way to shul later that day, and told me about it. B'kitzur: he appreciates Ruby's mention of him, and thanks him for it. But just for the record, he wanted to add that what Ruby stated about their first meeting, which was in 1989, isn't quite accurate. Andy was playing Jewish music professionally long before they ever met, started studying with klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras in 1976, had already recorded three klezmer albums (first one in 1979), and used to study Breslov Chassidus with Rabbi Nasan Maimon when he and his group lived in Brighton Beach in the early 1980s. Plus Andy's wife had met with the late Reb Michel Dorfman a"h during the early years of their marriage, during a visit to Yerushalayim, and also used to ask shei'eilos of Rabbi Maimon (although she does not identify herself as a "Chassid"). However, Ruby and Andy did perform together a couple of years ago at a HASC concert at the Met.

As far as the article itself goes, Andy had some comments, too. But that's another story!

At August 20, 2006 at 11:47:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Aliza said...

David Lazzar

Jewish heavy metal - he's even Lubavitch!

Check it out.

At August 21, 2006 at 6:23:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Aliza: I have listened to his CD and am sorry to say that while the music starts to head in the right direction, the vocals leave much to be desired.

At August 21, 2006 at 8:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Someone tell me what aspect of heavy metal (as a sound; forget lyrics for now) ought to appeal to a spiritually aware Jew.

At August 21, 2006 at 8:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: At times it expresses a real confidence and dogged determination - the same qualities ones needs to overcome obstacles and do mitzvos; to disregard or role over the things that hold us back from our spiritual growth.

At August 21, 2006 at 1:31:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

The human face of violence?

At August 21, 2006 at 1:36:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Is violence always wrong? How about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the revolt in the Sobibor death camp in October 1943.

At August 21, 2006 at 1:47:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." But to have a good time?

At August 21, 2006 at 1:51:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: Perhaps we are arguing two different issues. The point of this posting was to explore if a frum Jew could harness heavy metal music and uplift it - not bring into Jewish music all the negative things that come along with it.

At August 21, 2006 at 2:01:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Your take seems to be that the sound conveys a mood of determination to you, and that good lyrics can make that determination positive. I think there's some fundamental opposition between this sound and those lyrics, but that, too, is an opinion!

(Thought Question: Did any music by Jews ever have a remotely heavy metal aspect until very recently? What does this mean?)

At August 21, 2006 at 2:09:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: I respect the fact that we have differing perspectives on this.

Here is my counter question to your thought question:

Did any music by Jews ever have a remotely R&B or rock and roll aspect until very recently? If not, does that mean that we cannot incorporate these forms of music into our own?

At August 21, 2006 at 2:28:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

I'll answer your question first:

The modern world is very different in some ways from the rest of history. We are in places we never dreamed of being and hear things we never dreamed of hearing. When we pick and choose the usable from the unusable (borer!) we have to know what we are doing. Availability is not a good enough justification by itself. If there is some musically attractive remnant after the crude and the lewd are filtered out, that might be usable for Jewish purposes. If not, not.

At August 21, 2006 at 2:34:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: I agree with you 100%

At August 23, 2006 at 6:53:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I think we associate music with certain phases in our lives. When we hear that music later on, it brings back memories, feelings, sensations; it's visceral.

They can be good feelings or bad feelings.

For me, when I was 17, I was listening to New Wave and Punk. I cannot listen to any of that stuff now in the car when my kids are around. But I still get all warm and tingly when I hear the music and I feel like I'm driving my first car, or out on my first date, or playing in my first band...

So there are associations. For ASJ, it may be Thrash Metal. I don't know if it had been the case that he had NOT like that genre in HS that he would be attracted to it now. But the music itself, at least as far has he is concerned, is not evil.

He wants to take those feelings he gets from that style of music and make a new association with Yiddishkeit. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

At August 24, 2006 at 6:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: Indeed! While not referring to thrash metal, Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Elimelech of Levertov once said, "Music works wonders on a person's memory; it opens previously lost worlds."

At August 28, 2006 at 11:24:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

If Piamenta reworked an Anthrax or Megadeth song instead of one by Men at Work (listen to Asher Bara - track 7) would it be ok?

At August 28, 2006 at 12:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I always thought it was kinda interesting that Piamenta got a "free pass" to rip off Men at Work when Shlock Rock was still being threatened with cherem back in the 80's.

A coupla reasons:

The song works as a natural hora.

The flute is a perfect fit for Avi Piamenta (and let's face it, there weren't exactly a lot of flute songs out there--Jethro Tull anyone?).

The song and the band were considered pretty inocuous at the time, unlike heavy metal bands.

At August 28, 2006 at 12:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

This leads to the point I am trying to make. Who is qualified to rule that Men At Work = mutar and Metallica = assur ?

At August 28, 2006 at 1:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Good question? While Piamenta got 'away' w/MEN AT WORK, I do really that MBD got in a lot of trouble for "Jerusalem is not for Sale."
I think that the more ignorate the masses are in terms of music, the easier it is to 'sneak in' more non-Jewish music into the Jewish music scene. One example would be Yanni. Of couse the 'heter' would be that it's what about the band GONE (lead by ex-Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn)? All their music is istrumental also. I think that BT musicians (like the Piamenta brothers) can get away with a little more than, say Yehudah or Shlomie Dachs.

At August 29, 2006 at 10:07:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At September 5, 2006 at 2:25:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Ron Benvenisti said...

My first performing experiences were of original rock which were mostly social commentary, consciously avoiding the sensuous and risque in lyric. At that time I was not religious yet I felt that the music should be uplifting if you were going to get on a stage and play it. Having been in the middle of the rock music revolution, opening for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, I had a sense the mission was not 100%.

Fortunately my A&R person at Atlantic records was the Academy Award winning musical genius Elmer Bernstein who showed me the inner beauty of music and lyrics, through craft and theory and its the awareness of that spiritual Pnimut that moved me away from the raw gut rock (although meaningful as a social and political voice of the generation) to the more "eternal" aspects of musical theory and composition and it's ability to touch the soul deeply through a mystical resonance that goes far beyond the surface sensual. I was seventeen at the time.

I have since come to understand what the G'ra and Rabbi Nachman meant regarding the origin and power of music.

I think Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop and other "urban" types music are valid contemporary cultural styles whose expressions can be adapted to any purpose. (Just like Elmer worked on Rock and Roll). In that sense it is fair game for Kedusha as is practically any form that is produced or adapted with the right Kavanah.

One of my most requested songs is a "hot" Salsa version of "Shir Ha'Maalos". I'm currently working on a large ensemble jazz arangement of Naomi Shemer's classic "Eucalyptus" (hopefully to be debuted by the Lakewood Jazz Ensemble). I have played with Hip-Hop and rock styles and even composed orchestral pieces and songs based on the sequence of Aleph-Beth (translated into their corresponding musical notes) from Pasukim in Torah and Tanach.

It's all fair game if the Kavana is right. If the Kavana is right, it will connect. You can check out some examples at my website:

Sound Assets

The amazing phenomenon of music just at the physics level of sound and frequency and mathematics is particularly Kabbalistic with many sources to back that up, not to mention its unparalleled ability to resonate with and inspire the soul. It's a power that needs to be respected and not abused just like any other power.

As far as Yosi Piamenta copying Men At Work and various Arabic love songs, I know Yosi for over 30 years as a dear friend and I can safely say that he is fully qualified as a Jew and a musician to extract whatever sparks are trapped there. On the other hand I have seen Jewish musician's show up early at MBD and Avraham Fried Motzei Shabbos concerts, before Shabbos was over, sporting Yarmulkes out of their gig bags along with treif frankfurters and Chinese food. Did that affect the music? I don't know for sure. Perhaps it was just another gig and they had no connection with the Ruach. I can't say. Would I like to see a group of totally committed halachically Jewish pros? Absolutely. They could do any style and I'm sure it would be amazing. I don't think we've seen that yet. The SoulFarm, Blue-Fringe, Heedoosh, etc., leave alot to be desired on both fronts, spiritually and musically in my opinion. Peter Himmelman approaches the mark. Other newcomers like Mattisyahu and Lipa Shmelzcer are promising but we have to see how they evolve.

I am glad to see some real pros who are frum getting the limelight and not just the session guys who play at the concerts and on the CDs. We have yet to see a Kiddush Hashem from Gene Simmons, Dave Mustaine and Bob Dylan, etc.

Plus, there is a real culture clash between the frum world and musicians as well. When Yosi and Avi Piamenta recount their experience with Stan Getz they always remark about how shocked they were at the lifestyles of the musicians and how they couldn't hang there. So many of us have had those experiences and turned away from the music "mainstream" as a result. Even turned off to the styles, not being able to separate the music from the musicians and audience.

To be sure it is a complicated cultural issue but music at its core is a wondrous creation of Hashem that deserves respect for it's structure, power and effect, and like all things should be treated as such and done with the proper intentions.

I'm not saying that gentiles or non-frum folks can't make "Kosher" music - so many have, even unintentionally. If you listen to Barry White singing "You'll Never Find A Love Like Mine", or Bobby Caldwell singing "What You Won't Do For Love" (for example) with a Jewish perspective, you can have a wonderful religious experience! The mathematical structure behind J.S Bach is absolutely Kabbalistic! Gordon Jenkins big band and orchestra arrangements of Yiddish Folktunes on "Soul of a People" is amazing. How about my friend and admiration, Yaron Gershovsky's arrangements and playing of Jewish material?

I think there are many paths for music to touch the soul, it's not the music per se (which at it's source is a holy creation for sure) but the musician's respect for its divine origin and awareness of its power and impact.

At September 5, 2006 at 9:24:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

ASJ: "Who decides"? Good question. In the 80's, it was the rebbeim in the yeshivas who banned my album, and it was the owners of the record stores, who hid it in bottom drawers and refused to sell it.

Nowadays I think it is more of a market phenomena. People have access to more choices, and they bypass the usual routes. There are also more independent production avenues; you don't have to grovel before one of the big places to get your CD produced anymore.

Finally, I think with time the more edgy Jewish bands have chipped away at the old norms, and slowly rock in its various forms have become acceptible (and now it appears, required) in Jewish albums.

Another thing you have to remember is who is the audience. I recall sitting at 39th Street Sound with Lenny doing the first Shlock album and working on the first Jewish Rap tunes, and thinking, "who is he kidding--Boro Park will never let him get away with this!"

But he wasn't making this album for Boro Park. He was making it for the Public School kids that he went and talked to and sang to week after week.

As for Boro Park, well take a listen to what's coming out of there now.

At September 13, 2006 at 9:40:00 AM EDT, Blogger Lynda Marks Kraar said...

This may be yesterday's news, but I was deeply saddened and disappointed when I did a search for Lipa Meltzer's excellent video, "Abi Me'lebt," and discovered that it had been ostracised for not being Jewish enough, since the Zulu melody was smuggled out of South Africa by Pete Seeger during those terrible times when whites were still segregating in the USA.

Yet Ashrei Ha'Gever (basic doo-wop 1-6-4-5) is glatt, because it was composed on Tin Pan Alley by Jews who were "creating" the Harlem blacks' style?!


Everywhere in the world where we have been we have absorbed other cultures -- and we've also made an impact on local cultures. So now some aphonic shill who gets paid as a "higher authority (gag!)" is going to dictate that Jewish music is only the music that Jews absorbed 900 years ago as we made our way from the Gural into Poland and eastern Europe? Have you been in a Polish tavern lately? You'd easily recognize half of the "niggunim" -- I dunno what else to call them.

So now everyone is shocked when we've started going all pentatonic here in the States after around 200 years as guests here.

Or they talk about the "new" Mizrachi style that is emanating from Israel. LOL!! That's a hoot and a half. If you believe that we are a Levantine nation, then you have to believe that we schlepped the eastern scales and instruments across the globe and then landed them in Europe where they met and married the Gural sound. Sorta like a Jewish bluegrass of the day, if you know your ethnomusicology.

So what is Jewish music, exactly?

And why, if I compose a soca version of "Adon Olam/Lord of the Universe" and have a Carib singer do the track, is that NOT considered Jewish? Worse yet -- what happens if it takes off and becomes a hit throughout the Caribbean in time for the Catholic Carnivale? Am I worthy of being ostracised?

Then we have a real problem with Irving Berlin. Can any composer really argue with his melody lines? The guy was brilliant. Does his music make him any less of a Jew? And if so, does the fact that the majority of Xmas light companies are Jewish-owned make their contributions to Jewish philanthropies any less kosher?

Now there's a song that needs to be written...where's Bob Dylan when we really need him? ;->

Lynda Kraar
aka Guitargirl

At March 11, 2007 at 6:03:00 PM EDT, Blogger Metal said...


I actually did a really nice (Jewish based) interview with Scott Ian of Anthrax. You can go to and do a search for it.

At March 30, 2007 at 3:00:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

try a band called the makkabees let me know what you think

At April 2, 2007 at 6:23:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for the recommendation, however they are not quite my taste.

At May 9, 2007 at 2:06:00 PM EDT, Anonymous #1 Teihu fan said...

An all-Jewish (3/4 Lubavitch) heavy metal band called Teihu just won a Battle of the Bands in Pittsburgh. The event was on Lag B'Omer! The finals are on September 2, 2007, with the prize including studio recording time and submission to 4 major companies.
Their music is heavy metal style, all original, all clean lyrics and all based on Chassidic concepts (although not always obviously).

At August 15, 2007 at 2:03:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sabaton - Counterstrike
Swedish metal bad sings about the six day war.

At July 10, 2008 at 4:17:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Metal Israel said...

I hear ya, my brother...

At July 14, 2008 at 1:10:00 PM EDT, Blogger Metal Israel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At July 14, 2008 at 1:16:00 PM EDT, Blogger Metal Israel said...

i run, the only website promoting the Israeli metal scene in English. umm... there's a lot I could complain about regarding the Israeli scene but let's just say it's definitely reflective of the rest of the metal world as well as the secular problem in Israel.

Only a few bands have any pride in their jewish identity, or even sing about it (and for the two I can think of that do, it's just kitsch with little if any real life application) . most guys I know in the scene are atheist. is interesting

for the metalhead, jewish music sucks for the most part. and it rips off goyish music, no way out of it - check out, however

but yo, if anyone knows an 30+ religious metalhead guy looking for a shidduch get me on futuresimchas ahahah -cookiecutnot

At July 14, 2008 at 1:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger Metal Israel said...

also, if you go to check out the josh silver interview i did, it's ummm chock full o yiddishkeit hehe

At August 7, 2008 at 3:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger Freshwater Phil said...

Unfortunately, there isn't al that much available as far as Jewish metal. Seems that even Jews that "shred" end up playing in bands that have lifestyles that aren't exactly yeshivish, for example the lead singer of "Disturbed", an ex yeshiva student.

I did find this cool underground band named Schneerson, they only have one song "The Rebbe's grave" on MySpace.

At February 6, 2009 at 10:20:00 AM EST, Anonymous boch said...

I completely agree with you, simple jew, the reason why these people are so skeptical is because they are afraid of change. They are afraid to go outside their element, their own comfort zone- which leads to other problems besides looking down on this music.


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