Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and often writes letters and articles in frum publications regarding contemporary issues in the Torah community. Professor Levine also often shares his thought son various matters via email with friends and acquaintances. I wish to share with your readers his remarks in a recent email and then counter them with my own thoughts. I have the greatest respect for Professor Levine, which is precisely why I feel that using his take on the following matter is more effective than simply writing about it out of the blue.
Professor Levine comments on a video of Arele Samet, a fantastic Yiddishe singer, singing at a wedding:
Watch the video first (click on the screen):
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Now that you’ve watched the video for yourself, read Professor Levine’s comments:
“I know that people are going to think that I am an old fuddy duddy, and, indeed, I am 67. This means that I grew up with rock and roll and all that stuff in the 50s and 60s. I supply this information as a prelude to my comments about a video that I was just sent… It is at… at a wedding in Israel…
“I have to admit that I only viewed the first few minutes of this video. This part sounded very much like rock and roll. It is beyond me how this qualifies for the being considered Jewish music, whatever this means.
“Of course, this is not the first time I have complained about what today is considered Jewish music. It seems that to be Jewish music today, the ‘music’ must be loud, and it must have this primitive, driving beat. Indeed, it is often so loud at a wedding that I regret not having brought earplugs!
“Some time ago I was at an affair at which the loud music literally drove me out of the wedding hall into a hallway. Even here I could still hear what to me is simply noise, but at least it was tolerable on my eardrums.
“A few others were also outside, and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned that I felt the ‘Jewish music’ being played inside the hall sounded like rock and roll to me. A fellow replied, ‘Yes, and it is not even good rock and roll.’ A few minutes later I learned that he was Andy Statman of Klezmer fame!
Professor Levine then provides a link to the following video, and others, featuring Andy Statman, Professor Levine states: “To me this is music!!!”
To watch the videos, click on the screen:
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Professor Levine concludes by stating:
“Of course, I have to admit that recently one of my granddaughters put on a song by Lipa Schmeltzer while we were driving in car. This also left me totally cold!
“As I said I am sure that most of you will consider me an old fuddy duddy. (Reb Shlomo, why can’t they play more of your music at weddings?)”
Now, while I fully agree that Andy Statman is a fantastic musician, I thoroughly disagree with Professor Levine’s assessment of the first video featuring Arele Samet. It is beautiful, lively and geshmack. And it is actually a disservice to everyone to take a normal, good, geshmake singer and claim that the music is “simply noise,” is not Jewish, or is rock-and-roll. I don’t know if it has to do with being a “fuddy duddy” or not. But at this time, when everyone seems to be just waiting to jump on the next singer and claim that his music is “not Jewish” or is “too rocky,” it is damaging, in my opinion, to say that a good heimishe singer’s music does not qualify as Jewish.
Arele Samet is a beautiful singer and the music in the video above is geshmack and uplifting. If your taste in music is klezmer, that’s fine with me. But don’t disparage other music as being unJewish when it is anything but.