Producer Sheya Mendlowitz was hoping Tuesday afternoon to get the final go-ahead to resurrect his “Big Event” concert, scheduled for March 9 at Madison Square Garden but, at the last minute, talks fell apart and the concert was canceled.
The final details of the agreement were being hammered out Tuesday afternoon. Minutes before The Jewish Star went to press Mendlowitz said it was over.
A deal would have capped a week of talks between Mendlowitz and many of the 33 rabbonim who, last week, issued a kol korei – as a rabbinical pronouncement is known in the Charedi world – to prevent popular Chassidic singer Lipa Schmelzer from performing.
Critics apparently disapprove of his humorous on-stage antics and the non-Jewish musical influences incorporated in his act. One Brooklyn man, Asher Friedman, who also heads the tuition assistance organization Nechomas Yisroel, apparently set out to shut Schmelzer down. He convinced nearly three dozen rabbonim, including some of America’s most revered contemporary Charedi leaders, that Schmelzer should be reined in.
In a statement, Schmelzer said he has decided to discontinue performing any music of non-Jewish origin.
In keeping Schmelzer off the stage, Friedman appeared to have met his primary goal.
On Monday someone with direct knowledge of the situation described Friedman, who is not a rabbi, as “a kanoi [zealot] and a loose cannon” who aligned himself with [others] who have an ax to grind “with Lipa and the Jewish music industry.”
Contacted by The Jewish Star for comment, Friedman said he would first have to consult his Da’as Torah. A short time later he called back to say, “The gedolei yisroel don’t want that issue [to be discussed] on the radio and in newspapers. It doesn’t belong for the public to decide on issues that belong for Da’as Torah.”
He refused to disclose the names of rabbonim he consulted.
“When we went out with the kol korei, every rosh yeshiva was tortured and made crazy — people were threatening them,” Friedman claimed. Pressed for specifics about his claim of threats, he maintained that “it would be a chilul Hashem to write about it.”
“Everything a person does has to be through Da’as Torah. Everything I do, I make sure to have Da’as Torah backing me,” he claimed.
It seemed clear that Friedman risked embarrassment to the rabbonim he claims to revere, as the text of the ban was identical to that of a ban enacted in Israel last year, which succeeded in shutting down a joint performance of Mordechai Ben David and Avrohom Fried. It included references to Israel and called for a complete end to Jewish music concerts. That made it unclear if the document was intended to apply only to the Madison Square Garden event, or if American Charedi rabbonim intended to follow the lead of Israeli colleagues and enact a sweeping prohibition against Jewish music.
In an interview with The Jewish Star, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, a rosh yeshiva in Philadelphia who signed the ban, said, “It is very general, you’re right, but I don’t think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids.”
Rabbi Kamenetzky confirmed that he had spoken to Friedman and said that he had understood that the request for the ban originally came “from rabbis in Eretz Yisroel. We didn’t want to differ with them. It was expressed that certain performers…upset some people.”
The Rosh Yeshiva was asked whether anybody had confirmed the origin of the request.
“It seems that it was a request from mouth to ear and everyone went along with them,” he responded. “What they said was that it was a request from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman. I didn’t confirm that.”
Asked if it is unusual for distinguished rabbonim to sign a kol korei on the say-so of one person, Rabbi Kamenetzky was candid: “Usually we meet together. This time, with time pressing, we did not get together. And maybe it was not the right thing.”
The concert was supposed to have been a benefit for Simchat Tzion, a group that makes weddings for orphaned brides and grooms in Israel.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, said he couldn’t explain why the text of the ban would have been released without removing references to last year’s concert ban in Israel, or why rabbonim would have risked jeopardizing their reputations by signing a document not carefully vetted for inaccuracies.
A second performer, Shloime Gertner, was said to have dropped out immediately, according to Hamodia, a Charedi paper that announced the ban. News of his withdrawal proved premature. As of Monday he was still in, although his name was removed from the concert web site on Monday night.
“There’s definitely a mystery here”, said Shafran. “It wouldn’t make sense for the rabbonim to say that somebody had pulled out if they are just setting themselves up to be disproved.”
Late Tuesday afternoon Yeshiva World News (www.theyeshivaworld.com) reported that Schmelzer has also canceled a concert scheduled for London in April.
Schmelzer, who lives in the Monsey, N.Y., area, was well received as the featured performer at a benefit performance in Hewlett Bay Park last year.