Dear Rabbi Brody,
My 17 year old son learns in a chassidishe Yeshiva. When he came home for last week for Shabbos, I was playing a Reb Shlomo Carlebach CD in the kitchen while cooking. My son immediately closed his ears in a big show of protest, ran to the CD, and switched it off. He told me that his Rebbe forbids listening to Reb Shlomo's music, and then said all kinds of nasty things about him that I don't want to repeat. I always thought that Reb Shlomo was a wonderful man, who brought loads of people closer to Yiddishkeit. Who's right, me or my son and his Rebbe? This matter really upsets me, Rabbi Brody, so please answer me as soon as you possibly can. With my appreciation and best wishes, BG from NY State
You are absolutely right - Rav Shlomo Carlebach of blessed memory was a phenominal human being with a huge heart and a shining, magnetic soul that brought thousands of people closer to G-d. We have an expression over here that says, "Stam mishna Rebbe Meir, stam niggun Rebbe Shlomo". Rav Shlomo's influence on Jewish music is more than any of us realize.
Let me tell you a moving story. When my unit was on the way to a very dangerous antiterrorist raid deep inside Lebanon in 1978, we were transported on a bus from our home base to our jump-off point in Northern Israel. The 24 of us were looking at each other with fake smiles on our face, wondering who's not going to make it home. You could have cut the tension in the air with a challa knife. At the time, I wasn't religious yet, but I had always loved Rav Shlomo and his music ever since I heard him performing at the University of Maryland, when I was a senior in 1970. The niggun "Yisrael b'tach B'Hashem" came into my mind. I started singing it. All the other guys - none of whom were religious - joined in. Can you imagine 2 squads of Israeli Special Forces commandos, most of whom came from kibbutzim and moshavim, singing "Israel, trust in Hashem?!"
Anyway, the mission was perfect, a PLO HQ was levelled to the ground, and all 24 of us came home without a scratch. To this day, I believe that our singing penetrated the heavens, and Rav Shlomo's niggun simply invoked the protection of guardian angels. My hands are trembling as I'm typing this, since your letter has reminded me of something I hadn't thought of for 29 years.
I've heard such evil slander like the type your son brought home. In my humble opinion, his zealously frum rebbe, while trying to protect the souls of his pupils, has violated some very serious Torah prohibitions, such as slander, evil speech, and casting a bad name. In addition, a very serious rabbinical ordinance forbids speaking unfavorably about the dead, on penalty of cherem, or excommunication. Your son, in continuing his rebbe's zealotry, violated the commandment of honoring his mother - he didn't have the right to sanctimoniously yank the CD player plug out of the while. Do you see where "frumkite" zealotry takes you...to trampling the Torah itself, heaven forbid!
In 1989, I was invited to a Torah scroll dedication at the Amshinov shul in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Amshinover Rebbe Shlita, who is well known and considered to be one of the most prodigious righteous and holy men alive - maybe even Tzaddik of this generation - personally invited Rav Shlomo ob"m to sing. The Amshinover's gabbai told me that the Rebbe adores Rav Shlomo. Then, with my own eyes, I saw the Amshinover hug Shlomo Carlebach!
Rav Shlomo never forget a face. 22 years after Maryland U, and with the addition of beard and payis to my face, he still remembered me. "Aren't you the fella from Maryland with the black motorcycle jacket with the big Magen David on it (that was me!)?" I was floored. You couldn't help but loving Rav Shlomo Carlebach of blessed memory.
It could be that the sparks of his music kindled the fire of faith within me. Rav Shlomo brought Yiddishkeit to the American campuses and shlepped the American campuses to Yiddishkeit. Only The Almighty knows how many thousands of people Rav Shlomo's musical outreach influenced. Before people dare to say a word about Rav Shlomo Carlebach, they should ask themselves how many lost children they've brought home to Hashem.
May Rav Shlomo's soul be in the upper chambers of Heichal Haniggun, the Heavenly Halls of Music in Gan Eden, amen. I'll bet he's teaching new tunes to the archangels this very minute. Blessings always, LB