Monday, March 03, 2008

Hacham Ovadia On Singing Songs of Non-Jews

Since this has become Inyana DeYoma, I will translate from http://www.halachayomit.co.il/displayRead.asp?readID=57

R' Yehuda HeHasid, in Sefer Hasidim, writes, "One who has a nice voice should be careful not to sing songs of non-Jews because it is a sin, and a nice voice was only given to him to praise the Creator, blessed be He, and not for sin."

It appears that his intent here is referring to one who sings non-Jewish songs with their lyrics, which are love-songs, similar to what the responsa of the Ri"f (Rabbeinu Yitzhak Alfasi, the rabbi of Rabbeinu Yosef Ibn Migash, who is the rabbi of the Ramba"m) writes, using the following language: "A Sheli'ah Tzibur who sings with his mouth the songs of the Ishmaelites and utters from his mouth vulgar words, we remove him from his post (of Sheli'ah Tzibur), and upon him, and anyone like him, it is said: 'she hath uttered her voice against Me; therefore have I hated her.' And this is brought down as Halacha in the Rema (Orah Hayim 53). However, to say holy songs and hymns in a tune that was composed for words of love songs, it appears that in such a case, there is no prohibition whatsoever.

And even though there are a number of Poskim (including HaGa'on Ribbi Mas'oud Rokah in the book Ma'asei Roke'ah), who hold that even when the song (i.e. lyrics) by itself is holy, for example, Kaddish or Kedusha or words of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem, still the non-Jewish tune ruins it, nevertheless, the opinion of many Ge'onei Yisra'el is to be lenient in this. And similarly, it is known from many Ge'onim who composed songs and praises based on the melody of the tunes of love songs, and among them are the song of the Bakashot, which were composed by the Ge'onim - Ribbi Shelomo Laniado, Ribbi Avraham Entebbe, Ribbi Mordechai Levaton, and many others.

And therefore, the main ruling according to Halacha is that one may be lenient in this to combine holy words with tunes of the songs of non-Jews, but nevertheless, it is preferred for prayer leaders to combine them with holy songs that are known to the congregation, even if these songs originated with non-Jewish tunes, since in the many years that have passed, the words of the non-Jews have already been forgotten, and holy songs have remained in their place. And, they have already gone out from an unclean domain to a holy domain - and such is the Minhag.

8 Comments:

At Mon Mar 03, 11:53:00 PM 2008, Blogger Devash said...

'Common' sense should be used is well in determining what is appropriate and what is not.

Music inspires the soul. Even without words, some styles of music appeal to the yetzer hara and strengthens its urges.

Also, many chozerim b'teshuva may have to battle unholy memories that are brought to mind by tunes of secular music they were exposed to in their past.

With all the beautiful holy music available to us today, why even bother with goyische tunes at all?

Do holy words really elevate the mundane tunes or does the mundane tune profane the holy words???

 
At Tue Mar 04, 01:02:00 AM 2008, Blogger yaak said...

'Common' sense should be used is well in determining what is appropriate and what is not.
Absolutely true. I don't think anyone would advocate singing Adon Olam/Yigdal/Lecha Dodi/Deror Yikra to the tune of No-el. Nor would anyone advocate singing a holy song to a tune that's over-the-top risque.

Music inspires the soul. Even without words, some styles of music appeal to the yetzer hara and strengthens its urges.
This is debatable. Every Jewish mode of music has its source in its surrounding country. If rock-and-roll is intrinsically evil, why isn't klezmer or Makam Ajam?

Also, many chozerim b'teshuva may have to battle unholy memories that are brought to mind by tunes of secular music they were exposed to in their past.
This is a valid point. And that goes along with the common sense issue. There zre levels of unholiness - use your judgement based on the song and the crowd.

With all the beautiful holy music available to us today, why even bother with goyische tunes at all?
Yes, we do have beautiful holy music. However, the non-Jewish music can be beautiful as well, and it can be elevated to holiness in most circumstances, which brings me to your next point...

Do holy words really elevate the mundane tunes or does the mundane tune profane the holy words???
That seems to be the Mahloket between the Ma'asei Rokei'ah and the other rabbis. Rav Ovadia seems to hold like the former.

 
At Tue Mar 04, 02:37:00 AM 2008, Blogger yitz said...

Thanks for this very important post, I've linked to it on my blog.

 
At Tue Mar 04, 08:39:00 AM 2008, Anonymous Dan said...

(devash) Music inspires the soul. Even without words, some styles of music appeal to the yetzer hara and strengthens its urges.
(yaak) This is debatable. Every Jewish mode of music has its source in its surrounding country. If rock-and-roll is intrinsically evil, why isn't klezmer or Makam Ajam?

I agree with Devash. There is an inherent difference between rock music and older non-Jewish music. In previous generations most music (e.g. classical music or east-european folk music) was made in order to elevate the soul, so Jewish music could be styled after it without carrying over any impurities. But rock and post-rock music has a proclaimed intention of stimulating one's most debased urges.

 
At Tue Mar 04, 10:08:00 AM 2008, Blogger yaak said...

Yitz, thanks.

Dan,
Does Mordechai Ben David's "Let My People Go" stimulate debased urges? You'd have a hard time convincing me of that.

 
At Tue Mar 04, 11:11:00 PM 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rav Ovadia, when will you rectify the song that you wrote in the eighties? The lyrics is nice, but the tune keeps bringing death.

 
At Tue Mar 04, 11:35:00 PM 2008, Anonymous Dan said...

yaak,
Of course, when composed & performed by Jews with Yiras Shomayim, even rock music becomes refined and brought to a higher level. But when they build their music on loftier foundations, they can reach much, much higher.
R' Mordechai does have a few outstanding songs, but most of the songs I've heard from him and his contemporaries (including "Let My People Go") just leave me indifferent.
Just last night I was at a friend's wedding where the band was modern-chassidic. Last week I was at a wedding where the band was more traditional, klezmer oriented (both weddings from the same community of Breslover Baalei-Tshuva in Yerushalayim). The difference in the level of Simcha, as measured by the average distance of the dancers' feet from the ground, was notable. And even in last night's wedding, when the band started playing the "Niggunei Meron" medley - which is standard in Chassidic weddings in Israel, with the famous oriental debka beat - and the sax player put down his sax and picked up the clarinet, everyone took off into a different sphere altogether.

 
At Wed Mar 05, 01:54:00 AM 2008, Blogger Devash said...

I would also add another dimension to this---copying the ways of the goyim. The pendulum needs to swing much further along the course of separation from them, in direct relation to the time we spent among them, before it can safely come to rest in the middle. So much assimilation of their ways and culture has occurred in the long exile, that we are just now awakening to who we are as a national entity again. Distance and separation is good for us right now.

 

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