Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mayors, Music, and Mobile Phones

Stupidity is like a cancer; left unchecked it will destroy everything in its path.
Here I am, minding my own business (an excellent question might be, what “my business” is; but never mind), preparing to resume work on my description of our tiyul to Ashdod. We had left off just as our group was about to get back on the bus; and it is as if someone had hit the pause button on the video, and there is some guy with one leg frozen in the air and a line of very patient people behind him. But being the A.D.D. type that I am, I am easily distracted by things that amaze me, drive me crazy, or I think are exceptionally important. So the guy on the screen is going to have to keep his leg in the air for a little longer; I hope he doesn’t get tired!
Back in The States, my main bone of contention was the ultra-secularization of society: the turning of sports arenas into bar rooms, or taking our wonderful mass media (movies, radio, TV, the internet), and turning them into a cesspool, so we have to worry about our children and even ourselves using them. Here in The Land, that problem is not as great – for Olim, especially geezers like me. I have zero connection to Israeli pop culture; neither does anyone in my family. It’s pretty hard to get excited about the excruciatingly lame Israeli popular music, and few American immigrants over the age of twenty every develop any interest in what seems to be the rest of the world’s passion, known as kederegal, football, or, to us, soccer – which is everyone else’s venue for ultra-boorish behavior at a sporting event. And while I am always only a mouse-click away from my Yahoo home page, the names, pictures, and stories about America’s celebrities du jour seem even more remote than when I was in New Jersey. Here, one of my concerns is the polar opposite: our ultra-Orthodox brethren (if I can use the term “ultra-secularists,” I can just as well call some people “ultra-Orthdox,” “ultra” having the connotation of too much of a good thing). Now I’m a live-and-let-live kind of a guy. I try not to get too excited about what other people do. Why get steamed up about a Haredi guy wearing a fur streimel on an August day when it’s close to 100 F in Jerusalem; after all, it’s literally and figuratively no sweat off my brow. But when the Haredi leadership gets carried away in a way that affects the rest of us, I feel obliged to take notice and report on it to my devoted readership.
Whatever happens nationally, there will be local elections in November for mayor in cities and towns throughout The Land. Here in Maale Adumim, the incumbent, Benny Casriel has an approval rating in the eighties and is running unopposed. In Jerusalem, the incumbent, Uri Lupolianski, might be blamed by some voters for the incredible mess that the construction for the Light Rail is causing, and this might have affected his run for re-election. But we’ll never k now, because he can’t run. Why? Because his rabbis won’t let him! You see, in 2003 when Mr. Lupolianski first ran for mayor, replacing Ehud Olmert (may his name be soon forgotten), his candidacy was predicated on a deal between different Haredi parties. Now that it’s time for the next election, these deal makers want to run someone from the other party, so Meir Porash is now the candidate of the Haredim in Jerusalem. I’m sure that he is a fine and worthy man, someone I would be honored to shake hands with, but there is something about the blatancy of this which sticks in my craw (wherever that is). Why don’t we just have a rotating monarchy? Or pick a different random rabbi out of a hat every four or five years? No need to bother the voters, or worry whether the candidate is qualified.
The fact is that Rabbi Porash has zero support outside – and little inside – his community, and if the election were held today, it is likely that Nir Barkat, the opposition leader of the Jerusalem City Council and a self-made millionaire (he apparently has the support of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu) would be the winner in a landslide, with the gazillionaire Arkadi Gaydamak running a distant third. What to do? Poised to enter the fray is Aryeh Deri, the former Shas leader who was convicted of bribery in 1999. If he can find a loophole in the law that would prevent him from running for elected office until 2009, he’s ready to run. Is there anybody’s craw big enough to contain this affront? We’re talking about the capital of the State of Israel, the capital of the Jewish world, the site of the holiest place in the world. And someone convicted of “moral turpitude” wants to be its mayor???!!! One could bring up the fate of two American politicians, both former Speakers of the House of Representatives, Dan Rostenkowski, the powerful Democrat, who was convicted of bribery, and Tom DeLay, the equally powerful Republican, who is still under indictment, neither of whom ever returned to political life. The consoling news is that, while there seems to be little sense of shame here by and about corrupt politicians, polls indicate that Barkat (who made his millions honestly in high-tech) would still be the winner. It’s not even clear that Deri will be allowed to run. While we will be stuck with several miles and several years of Light Rail construction in the middle of Jerusalem, we might be spared a spiritual rupture which could be even more disastrous.
From the potentially catastrophic to the merely absurd: there exists in Bnei Brak a group called Guardians of Sanctity and Education who have taken on the formidable task of enforcing “normative haredi behavior,” along with another Bnei Brak organization called The Committee for Jewish Music, and last but by no means least, a Jerusalem organization with the most impressive title Council for the Purity of the Camp. (whatever that means.) All of these groups seem determined to distinguish between kosher and treif music and to stamp out (stamp, stamp, stamp) all vestiges of the unholy from their communities: “Respectable people listen to decent music and immoral people listen to indecent music…..” Personally, I don’t care what kind of music the Haredi world listens to or doesn’t listen to, or anybody else listens to or doesn’t listen to. Again, it’s no skin off my teeth (or my eardrum). If all the folly of the world were collected, there might be enough to fill up the Light Rail construction holes and restore the streets of Jerusalem to normal use. So let it alone.
It’s just that there are other committees, one of which is called “The Committee to Stamp Out Idiocy Wherever We Find it,” and whose rallying cry is: “Intelligent people say sensible things, and the rest say whatever they want.” Once this situation was reported in the Jerusalem Post (from which article the quotes are taken) that these other committees wanted to ban “2-4 beats and other rock and disco beats,” along with quote from Mordechai Bloi of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, “We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats,” CSOIWWFI sprung into action. They along with two less well-known groups, The Committee for the Encouragement of Some Semblance of Musical Literacy and The Committee Against Gratuitous Racist Remarks, investigated the matter and prepared a report. Because I have connections, I was able to get a preview of this report, and because you are such a wonderful readership, I am going to give you an advance look – which is why I felt compelled the change my publishing schedule.
“The musical term “2-4 time” is simply a time signature which indicates that there are two beats to a measure, and that each beat is composed of a quarter note or its equivalent, just as 3-4 time has three beats to a measure. The latter, has become common in Jewish music; for example, there are versions of Lecha Dodi, Eishet Chayil, Yom Ze Mechubad and Yedid Nefesh employing 3-4 time. It should be noted that the predominant use of this time signature in Western culture is the waltz, a dance which originated in Germany in the eighteenth century, and was then considered scandalous and was even banned in parts of Europe because it required close contact between men and women dancing together. Yet the waltz time is used in synagogues and home on Friday nights today without any sense of this stigma. The main use of 2-4 time in Western music has traditionally been in marches and polkas. It seems inappropriate to assign any moral value like kosher or non-kosher to any music because of the tempo or time signature employed.
“We are perplexed at the reference to Bach and Beethoven and the notion of adapting their music for Jewish use. It is generally understood that there are different types of music and that they serve different purpose. Just as a family might sit down to a sumptuous, many-course meal on a Friday night, order pizza Saturday night, and serve grilled hotdogs on a Sunday night, a person with a well-rounded musical education might listen to a Beethoven piano sonata one night, and yet want a different kind of music at a simcha or for synagogue use. Having listened to a significant amount of Beethoven’s music, we fail to see how any of it would be appropriate for dancing at a wedding.
“We are equally confused with the reference to Bach, by which we assume Mr. Bloi means Johann Sebastian Bach, not the many generations of other Bachs who also composed music. Among J.S. Bach’s remarkable output are enormous numbers of religious pieces, mostly composed for use in the Lutheran church services. While these cantatas, masses, and Passions are among the most sophisticated musical compositions ever created, they truly reflect the wide-spread virulently anti-Semitic attitude of the Lutheran Church of the time. In a word, they are among the most “goyishe” music ever written, preceding by 300 years the very “goyishe” response of the German nation to our people.
“Any discussion of “Jewish music” should note the fact that with the final destruction of our Beit Hamikdash nearly 2000 years ago and with it the service of the Leviim, all authentic Jewish music essentially disappeared. Generally speaking, the music produced in our Diaspora communities are reflections of the music prevalent in that area and time period. This is why the music of our communities sound so different, similar to the fact that the food eaten and methods of preparation in our differing communities is so different.
“We note the statement of Rabbi Luft of the Committee for Jewish Music that “(T)his music is pushing into our community a generation gap similar to one created by the rock music of the ‘50s in the US.” We wonder if Rabbi Luft is aware that the older generation then lost the war?”
While this report was being prepared, I happened to be in the office of one of my medical practitioners, a baal tshuva who lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh. In the middle of my treatment, his cell phone went off with a distinctive and cheerful ring. I asked him about the ring tone, and he told me it came with the phone. He had lost his old cell phone and now he had a new “Kosher phone.” You know I couldn’t resist. “What makes your phone kosher,” I asked, “besides the label on the cover.” He explained that his phone only made and received calls; it couldn’t connect to the internet or do anything else. I replied that I was the proud owner of the cheapest, simplest Cellcom phone available, and while in theory it might be able to access the internet, I had no idea how to do that. Plus, it is very expensive to access the internet from a cell phone, so I would never consider doing it. “Does that mean that I have a kosher phone too,” I inquired. It occurred to me later that in many situations ‘kosher” is no longer good enough: everything has to be “glatt kosher” (even omelets on airplanes), “mehadrin,” or the ultimate, “mehadrin min hamehadrin.” I began to wonder how that would work with cell phones. A good guess would be that a “glatt kosher” phone would give you a ring tone sounding like a rebbe’s tisch (table). A mehadrin phone would disconnect if you got the voice of a woman to whom you are not married or related, and a mehadrin min hmedadrin phone would only let you speak to your rabbi – assuming he’s on an approved list. Do me a favor: don’t pass these suggestions on to these Haredi Committees or we’ll all be in trouble.

No comments: