I’m a little late to the game on this one, so I’ll summarize in brief: A couple weeks ago the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia published a statement from 33 ultra-Orthodox rabbis — including some of the American haredi community’s most respected figures — prohibiting attendance at a planned charity fund-raising concert at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater.
The concert was to feature Lipa Schmeltzer (see above video), a Hasidic singer who is reputed to cause some young ultra-Orthodox Jews go a little bit wild with his mix of traditional Jewish music and contemporary pop influences. The rabbis who issued the ban warned that the concert would have led to “ribaldry and light-headedness.”
The 11th-hour ban came as a surprise to organizers, who canceled the concert, reportedly at significant cost. Schmeltzer also pulled out of a planned performance in London.
The ban has generated a fair amount of outrage in the ultra-Orthodox community. Some are warning of a backlash against the rabbinic leadership. Rumors are flying that some of the ban’s signatories were manipulated by zealots.
Perhaps the rabbis fear Lipa Schmeltzer for the same reason that the powers-that-be once feared a certain foursome from Liverpool — namely, modern music and authority (particularly of the authoritarian variety) don’t always mix.
The concert controversy has garnered plenty of press in the past few days:
It also has the Orthodox blogosphere buzzing:
On Blog in Dm, “Hasidic Musician” rails at length against the ban (and has some thorough coverage of the controversy’s genesis).
Hirhurim’s Rabbi Gil Student writes that while there “could very well be an halakhic problem with such a concert,” a ban simply alienates people and “serves to undermine rabbinic authority in a large segment of the Charedi community.”
Over on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein examines the issue of when it is permissible to adopt non-Jewish cultural styles (Schmeltzer has been criticized for drawing on contemporary music) and offers some interesting answers to a bunch of reader questions on the concert controversy.
Meanwhile, the indefatigable foe of ultra-Orthodox excess who runs the blog Failed Messiah goes to town.