Shlomo Carlebach Comes to Broadway in 'Soul Doctor' Musical

Controversial 'Singing Rabbi' Has a Show All His Own

All Together Now: Eric Anderson, center, plays Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical, ‘Soul Doctor.’
Carol Rosegg
All Together Now: Eric Anderson, center, plays Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical, ‘Soul Doctor.’

By Ezra Glinter

Published August 15, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Almost 20 years after his death, Shlomo Carlebach is still a problem.

To some fans, Carlebach was the “Singing Rabbi,” a folk music star who performed alongside Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. To others he was a scholar and a sage, a talmudic genius and a spiritual leader in the tradition of the early Hasidic rebbes. In certain circles he’s viewed as an architect of Orthodox outreach while elsewhere he’s a 1960s hippie who broke with Orthodoxy in favor of ecumenism and egalitarianism. And to many critics he was a charismatic guru whose reputation is forever tarnished by allegations of sexual abuse against women.

Despite the problems of his legacy, Carlebach easily eclipsed any other composer or performer of Jewish music in the 20th century. If you ever attended a Jewish school, summer camp, youth group or synagogue, you have heard his songs. You can likely hum some of them, even if you don’t know that they’re his. (Consider his anthem in support of Soviet Jewry, “Am Yisrael Chai.”) Carlebach changed the sound of Judaism and he did it from Berkeley to Bnei Brak. No other Jewish musician has come close to that kind of achievement.

Now, Carlebach is the subject of a Broadway musical, “Soul Doctor,” which opened August 15 at Manhattan’s Circle in the Square Theatre. Written and directed by Daniel S. Wise — a theater producer whose parents were friendly with Carlebach — and featuring English lyrics to Carlebach melodies by David Schechter, another New York stage veteran, “Soul Doctor” was already a hit with audiences off-Broadway and in Florida before arriving on 50th Street. But like Carlebach himself, the musical’s themes resist easy definition.

Even while Carlebach was alive, his followers had difficulty piecing together the different aspects of his life. Born in Berlin in 1925 to a prominent rabbinic family, Carlebach fled to New York with his parents and siblings in 1939, where his father became the rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jacob on West 79th Street. (Following his father’s death in 1967, Carlebach, together with his twin brother, Eli Chaim Carlebach, would take over the pulpit of what his now known as the Carlebach Shul.) After studying at elite yeshivas such as Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., Carlebach joined the Hasidic milieu of the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who encouraged him to conduct outreach to university students.

This mission turned out to be Carlebach’s forté, though he soon departed from the Lubavitch mode to create his own model of folksinger, Hasidic storyteller and spiritual guru, all rolled into one. In 1959 he released his first album, “Haneshama Lach” and in 1966 he performed at the Berkeley Folk Festival alongside Pete Seeger and Jefferson Airplane. In 1968 one of his early San Francisco followers, Aryae Coopersmith, rented a house for Carlebach and his entourage in the city’s Inner Richmond district, calling it the House of Love and Prayer. Surrounded by his “holy hippielekh,” the Singing Rabbi had joined the counterculture.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.