Musical Cultural Diffusion And Halacha

11

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

Question: What do Yeshiva Bochurim and seminary girls, Spanish Salsa music fans of Marc Anthony, and French Muslim fans of Algerian Rai music all have in common?

Answer: They all dance to the very same music.

The Yeshiva boys and Sem girls all know it as the music to the song, “Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch l’olam vo’ed” which has taken the Jewish world by a storm and is sung by the dynamic Gad Elbaz.

THE PREVIOUS VERSIONS

The Spanish Salsa music fans of Marc Anthony know it as the tune that he used for his song – “Vivir mi Vida” – a song which happened to have earned a Latin Grammy in 2013.
And the Algerian Muslims all know it as the music for the Arabic and French multi-lingual song called C’est la vie by Khaled Haj Ibrahim of Oran Algeria.
The Spanish version was composed in 2013, the original Muslim version was composed in 2012, and the Gad Elbaz version was released in 2016.

WHAT DOES HALACHA SAY?

The question is, what does Halacha have to say about the fact that the music to one of the most popular Chasuna songs in contemporary times originally came from an Arab love song with decidedly un-Yeshivesh lyrics?

The Sefer Chassidim #238 states that one should not use a Nigun that was used for Avodah Zarah worship to use in praising Hashem. Indeed, it even states that one should avoid humming a good piece of music in front of one who is apt to use it in the worship of Avodah Zarah! While that is true with Avodah Zarah, does the same apply to songs that allude to impropriety or that have such lyrics straight out?

TZITZ ELIEZER’S VIEW

Rav Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg zt”l, author of the Tzitz Eliezer addresses this very issue. He writes (volume XIII Siman 12) quite clearly that it is “an abomination to dress up words of holiness in ‘malbushei tzo’im – soiled clothing’ that give off an odor of promiscuity.”

PERHAPS A MORE LENIENT VIEW

Interestingly enough, however, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l penned a response to a Rebbe who was teaching in Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky’s Yeshiva of South Shore (IM EH Vol. I #96), addressing a related issue. The Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Dishon Shlita, had asked Rav Moshe about a certain individual artist who once had an excellent reputation. The artist had composed a number of musical compositions that had captured the hearts of the Torah community. Unfortunately, the artist had gone astray. Is it permitted to listen and sing the tunes that he had composed while he was still “fully kosher?”

[The issue has to do with giving a “good name” to evildoers which would violate a principle found in the Talmud (Yuma 38b.)]

BNEI TORAH AND BAALEI NEFESH SHOULD AVOID IT

Rav Moshe zt”l rules that there is nothing wrong with doing so for tunes that he had composed while he was “fully kosher.” For tunes that he had composed after his fall, Rav Feinstein writes, “it is likely that we should not be stringent since tunes do not essentially have to do with matters of Kedusha, however, Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh should avoid it.”

Rav Feinstein based his ruling on the fact that some authorities (See Meleches Shlomo on Maaser Sheini) are of the view that the Yochanan Kohain Gadol who had promulgated many decrees in regard to Maaser Sheini – was, in fact, the same Yochanan Kohain Gadol who eventually became a Sadduccee. These decrees, however, were made while he was still “fully kosher.”

Rav Feinstein zt”l further writes that tunes, are essentially a matter that has nothing to do with a Davar Shebekedusha and should be no different than inventions of machinery or medicine.

MORE POSKIM WHO ENTIRELY FORBID

Rav Menashe Klein (Mishneh Halachos Vol. VI #108), without mentioning the view of Rav Feinstein comes to the exact opposite conclusion and writes that it is entirely forbidden to do so – even in regard to the tunes composed while he was still “kosher.”

Rav Moshe Stern (Be’er Moshe Vol. VI #74 in the notes), the Debriciner Rav, also forbids the matter and even writes that it is forbidden to sell tapes of such individuals. Indeed, Rav Stern writes that one must even look into a person who would even stoop to sell such tapes. Interestingly enough, Rav Stern also does not mention the more permissive view of Rav Feinstein on the topic.

The Halachic publication of the Skver Rebbe’s Kollelim (Zera Yaakov Gilyon #26) cites the more stringent view of Rav Moshe Stern in their halachic conclusions – ignoring entirely the view of Rav Feinstein.

It could also be argued that even Rav Feinstein might have agreed to the aforementioned view of the Tzitz Eliezer in regard to clothing words of praise in a tune of “soiled clothing,” and that he was only lenient in regard to the underlying issue of giving a good name to evildoers.

MORE LENIENT VIEWS

On the other hand, the Bach in Orech Chaim Siman 53 writes that it is only problematic if the tune is generally exclusive to the Avodah Zarah. Otherwise, the Bach seems to allow it.

If, however, the origin is unknown to the Chazan or singer – then it could perhaps not be such an issue. A manuscript version of the Levush that this author once saw seemed to indicate this position.

THE ISSUE OF ATTRIBUTION

Another issue is attribution. Hopefully, whenever this happens, Jewish artists do attribute the original artist’s contribution and not attempt to take credit for it ourselves. The Rambam writes in the introduction to the yad Hachazakah that some of the ideas came from a very wise man, but since people generally look askance at wisdom from a foreign source – he left the wise man’s name anonymous. Most students of philosophy, however, can detect that he as referencing Aristotle. [The photo above was taken by Yehonatan Chevroni].

That same problem certainly exists in music too, and, as a result, parodies or modified versions of musical pieces usually hint to or allude to the original artist. The problem is when we do not attribute or at least allude to the original author we may be in violation of something that is quite clearly against a Torah value.

A famous Jewish song entitled “Yidden” was originally based upon the music of a West German band called “Dschinghis Khan” who placed their song as their entry in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1979. The composer of the original music was a person named Ralph Siegel. The Jewish song did, in this author’s recollection, at least attribute the artist somewhat anonymously.

A famous children’s singer took the music from a Clint Eastwood 1950’s western called “Rawhide” – and did not, it appears, attribute the music to its original composer – even anonymously.

KING SOLOMON’S ADMONITION

King Solomon tells us (Mishlei 22:22) the following words: “Rob not from a poor person – for he is poor.” Chazal tell us (Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 560; Midrash Tanchuma BaMidbar 27) that Shlomo HaMelech is actually referring to plagiarism – to reciting a statement without attributing it to its source.

Just as a poor person has no protector – no guardian to right wrongs and injustices, the same is true with intellectual property. An earlier thinker came up with an idea. Just as the poor person has no protector, so too does the thinker have no protector. Shlomo HaMelech is appealing to our conscience – do not steal from a poor person – for he is poor – he has no protector. Do not cheat or plagiarize for they too – have no protector.

Queen Esther (Megilas Esther 2:22) informs her husband the king of Persia of Bigson and Seresh had plotted a coup d’etat. She informs Achashveirosh that Mordechai, proficient in seventy languages, overheard and told the Queen. Queen Esther didn’t take credit for the information.

She specifically told the King that she had actually obtained the information from Mordechai.

Esther was amply rewarded. It is, in fact, for this action that she merited to be the conduit of the salvation of Israel. Because of Esther it is said, “Whoever says something in the name of its originator brings salvation to the world.”

What was really going on here? Esther certainly was a righteous woman. Can’t we assume that if she thought it better for the king to have assumed that the information came from her, then surely she would have been fully justified?

WE MUST FOLLOW HASHEM’S BIDDING

It would seem not. It would seem that even though, it may have been in the Jewish interest that Esther gain the king’s favor, there is something inherently wrong in not attributing the information to the true source. She knew this. Esther could not stoop to do something that is inherently wrong. It was for this realization – that we are but mere foot soldiers in a campaign and our primary responsibility is to follow Hashem’s bidding in what is right and wrong that she was so amply rewarded.

A MEANS OF ACQUIRING TORAH

In Pirkei Avos (6:5) we see that naming the original source of the information is, in fact, in a list of one of the 48 ways in which Torah is acquired.

COMPARED TO KIDNAPPING

The Yalkut Yoseph (Kivud Av VoAim chapter 9) cites a few more sources. The Shla in Meseches Shvuos says that it is an enormous sin – and should be looked at as if one kidnapped human life. Kidnapping is a serious crime, but it seems that it is the parallel emotion that authors feel when their work has been taken from them without attribution.

PHOTOGRAPHERS AS WELL

There are other artists who constantly feel that pain as well. There are very talented photographers that work very hard to get a particular shot. Often media sources do not attribute the photographer properly and take the work without permission.

During the season of Pesach, where we are adjured to rid ourselves of Chometz, we should also pay attention to spiritual Chometz too – whether it is in the form of not attributing things properly or to matters that take us away from Hashem. Both of these items are a form of spiritual Chometz.

CONCLUSION

Rav Feinstein writes that Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh should refrain from using such music, although he writes that it is essentially permitted. The Tzitz Eliezer writes that it is forbidden, as do the Debreciner Rav and the Mishna Halachos. The Bach indicates that if it is used in other venues too that there is no prohibition. Each person should consult his own Rav or Posaik. None of this, of course, affects the essential truth of the declaration: Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch l’olam vo’ed.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com




11 COMMENTS

  1. To number 1. I wont answer yes or no, I’m not a Posek. I do feel confident in saying that if you do choose to dance, all would agree one should dance in a manner befitting a Ben Torah.

  2. I don’t have a background in musicology and have no solid evidence to cite, but I have always had a sneaking suspicion that a whole lot of our niggunim evolved from all sorts of non-Jewish origins — including niggunim you might hear during Kedusha in a very frum shul.

    This article talks about tunes composed by a Jew who was frum at the time. Does that mean we just look at the composer? What about the musicians (and conductor, in the case of orchestral music)?

  3. We are too busy doing mitsvos and learning Torah to focus on inventing music. We’ve always copied for the non-Jews (and sometimes they copy back from us), but we aren’t into inventing new styles, or new instruments, etc. We take and adapt. We do the same things with clothes (ask who invented the streimel, or the fedora, or the bra, or the shoes we all where – and it was goyim). The same for good (except for matza, which we invented)- yes, even gefilte fish and pizza were all invented by goyim.

    We invent important things, like Daf Yomi, and learning Kaballah, and doing 613 mitzvos. Our inventions relate to the world of Emes, about which we have certain expertise. For the rest, pertaining to the world of Sheker, we let the goyim do the inventing and take what we find useful.

  4. The simple point is that there are and increasing number of young musical composers who are both talented artists as well as shomrei torah umitzvos. We don’t have to rely upon goiyeshe musicians or yiddeshe singers who have gone OTD. Instead, lets support those of our own who embody BOTH attributes…great music and great role models for our children.

  5. The classic tune to the Friday night “sholom aleichem” was written by the American composer Samuel E. Goldfarb and his brother Israel Goldfarb. Neither was was frum. The latter was a JTS graduate (Conservative) who later taught at HUC (Reform).

    I personally do not sing that niggun for sholom aleichem.

  6. The movie Rawhide has nothing to do with Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood’s western movies come from the late sixties. I assume the author is referencing the main theme from The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966) produced by Ennio Morricone. This musical piece became very famous and is paid homage to and sampled in many places in media whenever they are trying to get across a western vibe.

  7. There was a time when we had our own music — in the Beis Hamikdash. One result of the Churban was that this musical ability or musical sense was scattered throughout the world among the nations. Some used those capabilities to develop more sensual music that appeals to people’s more animal instincts. Such music is generally, but not exclusively, characterized by a driving beat. African tribal music comes to mind.

  8. Most of today’s popular music is descended from jazz, R&B. And we all know from where those genres originated. With the invention of the electric bass, which can be played today hugely amplified, well, you can understand how this is going to make you feel like dancing …. The result is music that tends more to “the wild side.” In contrast to the African beat, there is more (forgive the expression) sophisticated European genre, typically known as “classical” that doesn’t generate a driving bass line to keep you in the mood. Yes, there is rhythm and a bass line, but it is subtler, less “animalistic” than the African style music. Yes, they are nevertheless Eisav, and probably Amalek. However, their music has a different effect than the style that originated on the African continent.

  9. This song is by far the most egregious example. I work in a company with a lot of Spanish workers, who play Spanish music in the warehouse. This song plays all the time. I come home and tell my kids that I heard “Hashem Melech” playing at work today.

    And of all words to use…

    (By the way, the words do not come from Tehillim 139:15. No idea where the author got that one from. It’s not a pasuk anywhere, rather a combination of several.)

  10. Come on, you got to mention that with all the preferability to avoid it, in middle-eastern countries this was done for centuries, and sung by great people.

    Though not used with פסוקים, only פיוטים especially written for that tune.