Monday, August 20, 2007

Gedolim and the music ban

Yesterday someone got very cross with me and accused me of not listening to the Gedolim. I wanted to use this blog to clarify, to him and to the world, that of course I listen to the Gedolim, and have the utmost respect for them and their Torah knowledge and opinions. I have heard stories and had first hand experiences that leave me in no doubt as to the greatness of the Gedolim.

However, I am equally sure that the banning of the Shwekey/Friend concert did not come from the Gedolim.

I know that the ban did not originate with the Gedolim because the Talmud says many times 'chasa al mamon yisrael'. The Torah always considers money of Israel. If there is a way of permitting something, even b'dieved, it won't be considered forbidden if it would involve great financial loss.

There have been many 'Jewish' concerts in the past, which were similar to the most recent one. If the Gedolim were concerned with this concert, they would have spoken to the organisers and performers from the very beginning, and discussed with them whether there are permissible ways of doing it or not. Had they done that I'm sure that everyone would have complied with their wishes.

However, to ban a concert less than a week before it is scheduled to take place, to cause huge loss to the organisers, performers and ticket holders - that is not the way of the Gedolim. So I am sure the ban did not originate with them.

When a Rabbi issues a p'sak Halacha (unless it is a personal p'sak to an individual, in which case they may or may not) they always explain the reasons and sources for their ruling. This is obviously necessary so that people can understand exactly what is being said, and so that they (or their Rabbis) can study the ruling, to know exactly to whom, when and where it applies. Additionally, a ruling may contradict a different ruling from another Gadol, and my local posek has to be able to evaluate and compare the rulings.

In the case of this ban, the best I could find was:
"We trembled at hearing about the terrible breach in our camp of 'music evenings' and 'concerts' in which musicians sing before men and women sitting together, Heaven forefend, and even not together. All Torah leaders have in the past clearly forbidden these events, even when men and women are separate."

This is not a p'sak Halacha, but a meaningless statement. Nobody even knows why it is forbidden. I have heard at least 4 different possible reasons as to why the concert was forbidden, none of which seem to me to be compelling, but even if they were, how do I know which is the real reason? Perhaps all recorded music is now forbidden? Perhaps wedding bands are now forbidden? Perhaps leaving the Beis Midrash is forbidden? Perhaps all separate sex events are forbidden? I don't know.

It is inconceivable that a Gadol would ban something without saying what they are banning and why. If they don't say what the issue is, how could we follow their ruling to avoid it? We don't know what we are avoiding!

Therefore I am sure that the ban did not come from the Gedolim.

How can it be that people do and say things in the name of the Gedolim? I don't know. In this particular case, though, I don't think the printers even bothered printing the signatures of the Gedolim. They just stated that it came from them. And if they had printed signatures it would not have had any more meaning. Everyone knows that the signatures are on file, and are not a true indication that the document was signed by the Gedolim listed.

If there were such a p'sak it would require another blog to discuss the system of halacha, the limits of lo tassur and the individualistion of halachic ruling. It may or may not apply to the kinds of people who were asking me whether they were permitted to go to the concert or not. But since I am sure that this ruling did not come from the Gedolim I challenge anyone who mocks our Gedolim based on this p'sak.

The Gedolim are the Gedolim and deservedly so. The printers and zealots are just that. There is no obligation to listen to their words. But don't mock the Gedolim.

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