Between You and Me

We are taking a break, a thoughtfully considered, time‑sensitive break from singing music penned by the well-known Jewish Rabbi and musician, Shlomo Carlebach.

After a thoughtful discussion with the Sacred Music Team, we came to the conclusion together that in light of this moment, when the abuses of artists are becoming public and the wider society is taking swift actions to distance itself and condemn those behaviors in order to address the larger issue of sexual harassment, that our services are a place where it is important to affirm those efforts. We will join hundreds of other congregations who are wrestling with this question and concluding that this is not a time to shut our eyes and stay silent. Plus, we have survivors of Carlebach’s abuses and survivors of others’ abuses in our congregation. If there is a time to stand with them, it is now.

As you may know, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was one of a few revolutionaries born in the twentieth – century Chassidic world who stepped out of the insular confines of his community to bring the joy and ecstatic experience of Judaism into the wider Jewish world. His niggunim and his music were part and parcel of a revival of Jewish music and experimentation in Jewish life and practice that reverberated within all of our movements. Ironically, the same man whose hugs of minors lasted too long and didn’t understand the boundaries between wanted and unwanted touching, also alienated himself from his own religious community for advocating for women’s equality. According to Anat Hoffman, he was the only male Rabbi at the inaugural gathering of the Women at the Wall in 1989. He even performed an impromptu solidarity concert for them in a Jerusalem gymnasium after local authorities threatened to pull the kosher certification from the hotel venue they had booked when they heard women would be dancing with the Torah.

Carlebach taught Torah alongside his wife, sang publicly on stage with his daughter, acts that remain scandalous in fundamentalist corners of Jewish life. He was also a typical charismatic and, as is an all too common flaw of people who gain a following for it, his “loving” knew no boundaries.

It is important to note that we are not permanently banning Carlebach’s music from our services, but agree that at this time, it doesn’t feel right to overlook the artist’s moral character in favor of the art itself. Sometimes timing is everything.

In this case, that feels true. I do wonder, and this has everything to do with us as a community and a society, what does the world have to look like for us to bring Carlebach’s music back? What kinds of things need to change for it to feel different? When might the wounds be healed enough? I don’t know but let us together find the way, not for Carlebach, but for us.

February, 2018