Jewish Musicism By: Doni Joszef 5tjt.com Published: Friday, June 22, 2007
There is a concrete divide between the worlds of “Jewish Music” and “Secular Music,” and when presented with the two options, many of us tend to cling to art that touches us in a deeply meaningful way. We want to be moved, inspired, and excited. The art of music can open the heart in a uniquely Divine way. Music has a key to the inner chambers of our souls. This truth does not have to be proved or developed—personal experience with the power of music speaks for itself. Indeed, Rebbe Akiva compares the Kodesh HaKedoshim to the book of Shir HaShirim—“Song of Songs” (Mishnah, Yadayim 3:5 ). We can explain the comparison to teach us—just as the Kodesh HaKedoshim was the innermost domain of the Beis HaMikdash, so does the power of shir—song—dwell in our innermost essence. And, so, we look to fill this inner realm with the song that taps into that personal spot. The tastes, styles, and genres of music vary—each appealing to a different personality—but they all have a common spark of creativity that triggers something within... Our desire remains constant—to share our art. An artist who uses his creativity to sell himself sabotages his talents and stunts the natural flow of creative expression. This challenge—to focus on sharing art rather than selling art—is a significant nisayon for every musician. As the velt says, “Never become a sell-out!” That is, share from the heart rather than from the internal desire to please the outside world. Any writer, musician, artist, lecturer, etc. is surely in touch with these nisyonos. Music is the “soul’s art.” Many have termed it the language of the soul. Experience has taught us that we can only flourish when our intent is to naturally share what has sprouted from the accumulated seeds of the jam sessions. From Pinny’s basement, to the Danbury Lake, to my garage, to Shaya’s upstate cabin, to Matt’s studio, we have accumulated hundreds of hours of jamming and have finally turned potential into actual at Eitan Kantor’s Hyperstudio. The search for a deeper, fresher, more sincere musical experience presents itself to a large majority of our communities’ youth. Although this inner struggle may not pertain to everyone, the underlying principles and roots of the issue certainly touch the core of who we are and how our souls seek the sparks of creativity to guide us in our spiritual journey. The essence of this matter is quite relevant to us all... Does this struggle represent a sense of corruption? Has our exposure to the evil forces of secular music polluted, defiled, and mutated our Jewish minds to the extent that Jewish music no longer stimulates the Yiddeshe neshamah? Perhaps. Such is certainly the case with regard to certain secular philosophies. For instance, a century ago, the deceptive lures of Communism took captive thousands of Jewish souls. These individuals were so enamored by the ideas of revolution that Toras Hashem no longer penetrated into their hearts. Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon (Biyur HaGra, Yoreh Deah, 179:13) actually accuses the Rambam of being pulled too deep into secular philosophy that he became misguided in certain Midrashic explanations. (If this strikes you as controversial, you’ll have to consult with the Vilna Gaon). So, maybe the fact that some secular songs touch us in a deeply meaningful way is just an unfortunate result of modernization and unhealthy exposure. Maybe Jewish music is inherently perfect, while English music is inherently evil, and it is we who have the problem.