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

(page 2 of 3)

It didn’t take the religious community long to get wind of Carlebach’s doings. Yet for most of his life, Carlebach managed to maintain a precarious balance between the Orthodox world from which he came and the New Age circles in which he traveled. Even while he played at Jewish Renewal retreats (he and Renewal leader Zalman Schachter-Shalomi were friends since their days in Lubavitch) he maintained his Orthodox pulpit on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. To this day he occupies an ambiguous position within Orthodoxy, where his music is prevalent but his activities are vaguely disreputable.

This nebulous position allowed Carlebach to spread his music and teachings widely, but it came with a host of unresolved contradictions. Was he attempting to push against the strictures of Orthodox Judaism in order to create a more inclusive, spiritual practice, or was he was just willing to bend the rules in order to bring people closer to Orthodoxy? According to one story, told by Coopersmith in his 2011 memoir, “Holy Beggars: A Journey From Haight Street to Jerusalem,” Carlebach rejected a mechitzah to separate men from women in the House of Love and Prayer because “There are enough walls in this world between people.” But on other occasions he used a triage rationale for this arrangement, arguing that the flaws of his approach were minor compared with the spiritual threats facing American Jewry. When it came to the controversies surrounding his methods, it’s unclear what Carlebach’s underlying position was, or if he had one.

As a Broadway musical aimed at the general public, “Soul Doctor” focuses more on Carlebach’s rebellion than on his outreach. Here we see him defy his parents and community, first by joining the Hasidim and then, more seriously, by connecting with gentile musicians like Nina Simone and moving to San Francisco to fulfill his calling as a spiritual teacher. Unsurprisingly, it does not bring up the allegations leveled at Carlebach in a 1998 Lilith magazine article — Carlebach died in 1994 — that he routinely made sexually suggestive late-night phone calls to female acquaintances and that he physically molested numerous women over the course of decades. Such accusations naturally provoked fierce controversy about how to remember a man many considered a saint. For his part, Wise has rejected those allegations, as you would expect the creator of a Shlomo Carlebach Broadway musical to do.


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!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • 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.