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Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Shadow Side

I feel for this blameless daughter as I do for all the children of all the powerful men currently accused of sexual assault who are also suffering anguish and humiliation. As with other cultural icons, Jews evaluating the evidence against Reb Shlomo are now asking the questions we hear about Woody Allen: What do we do with what we know?

What do we do with the art?

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Shadow Side

Other synagogues and summer camps likewise are debating whether and how they can sing beautiful songs now besmirched by countervailing, often repugnant images. As I see it, the music should not be permanently banned or burned.

Reb Shlomo Meets Nigeria – The Forward

It should be prefaced in synagogue songbooks by asterisks and captions and in the pulpit by clergy who provide context, encourage abuse victims to come forward and announce where they can go to get help. Letty Cottin Pogrebin is working on her 12th book, a personal exploration of shame and secrecy.

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Search for:. No Comments. Reb Shlomo was famous for his original renditions of Hasidic tales. Unlike Martin Buber, who reworked the stories in written translation and made them accessible to a broad readership, Reb Shlomo was an oral storyteller who mastered the art of live performance.

Reb Shlomo was less explicit about the creative element of his tales than Buber. But he too had inherited the notion that Hasidic stories are meant to inspire, and therefore must always fuse the ethos of Hasidism with the needs of the contemporary listener. The message uniting all his stories, often heartrending yet always inspiring, is quite clear. They affirm life in the face of death, meaning in the face of absurdity, connection in the face of intractable loneliness, and sublime altruism and goodness in the face of unspeakable cruelty and destruction.

He frequently drew upon the sermons of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav together with lesser-known Polish Hasidic masters such as Rabbi Mordekhai Yosef of Izhbitz and Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno, whose works he helped to popularize among a contemporary readership. Reb Shlomo quoted from a wide variety of early Hasidic masters and on a number of occasions he actually handed out copies of Hasidic books, tailoring each selection for the intended recipient. Reb Shlomo neither quoted Hasidic teachings verbatim nor simply paraphrased their contents; he summarized and repackaged the message in a way that spoke to his contemporary audience.

For example, Reb Shlomo adapted an explanation of the biblical prohibition against a priest coming into contact with a corpse given by Rabbi Mordekhai Yosef of Izhbitz. The Hasidic master suggests that a kohen must not be allowed to encounter death because it will lead him to anger and frustration with the injustice of divine Providence. In a second teaching, R. Mordekhai Yosef adds that priests are tasked with serving God in a state of pure and constant joy.

Reb Shlomo, however, combined these two distinct homilies into a single teaching and then extended their relevance into the present day. We serve God through prayer and study, he says, and our worship must be founded in joy. Yet this pure joy is impossible after the Holocaust, to which our response can only be anger.

But all is not lost:. Young people today are so hungry for that light, for that meaning, for that melody—for the deepest inner dimensions of truth. Optimism and happiness, argues Reb Shlomo, must be maintained despite the brokenness of the Holocaust, although things cannot continue as they have always been. So the spirituality of contemporary seekers should be embraced, because it runs from new rivers and holy places untainted by our anger at the Nazis. Allegations of behavioral impropriety and sexual misconduct began to surface shortly after his death.

Some of these date to the s, when rumors were already circulating, and new allegations have continued to emerge into the present day. He acted toward young women in his orb in unacceptable ways, taking advantage of his personal charisma and of the trust his followers had in him. This is the case even by the standards of the time in which the events occurred, but is magnified when judged by the ethos of our own day. Continuing to see the good in Reb Shlomo and use his music—even if we acknowledge his bad behavior and condemn it—does send a message about how seriously these indiscretions are treated.

To do so requires a great deal of caution and sensitivity. Condemning such indiscretions in the strongest possible terms, it cannot be denied that he had a positive impact on many through neo-Hasidic performances filled with stories, teachings, and music. Reb Shlomo embodied the itinerant Hasidic master in the modern world, constantly moving from place to place and illuminating the people around him. And although Reb Shlomo changed particular laws or customs, especially those that erected boundaries between people metaphorically as well as physically , his commitment to Jewish practice was quite traditional.

Reb Shlomo experimented throughout his life, but, in the end, he never made a clean break with his past in the Orthodox world. In this sense, he may be said to have interpreted an idea central to the theology of the Izhbitz Hasidic dynasty. Most of us, said Reb Shlomo, are still within the framework of halakhah , but our dreams reach far beyond it.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

In rare times and under rare circumstances, the will of God and the halakhah as codified are not identical, and in those moments, we must have the audacity to break free and answer the call of the hour. Reb Shlomo also understood that the post-Holocaust Orthodox world, including that of the Hasidim, required a burst of creative energy combined with an eternal message of hope. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was an exceptionally creative and dynamic spiritual teacher. There he became close to the leadership of Lubavitch, who recognized his brilliant intellect and charismatic talents, and he enjoyed a short career as a Chabad missionary.

Reb Zalman would later describe his tremendous disappointment at the collapse of Western culture with the rise of the Nazis, noting that this Chabad group accepted his anger and bitterness without gazing at him askance. Reb Zalman was inspired by their spiritual depth, their commitment to contemplative prayer and religious experience, their relative openness to modernity, and their holistic approach to intensive spiritual education. He later recalled that:.

Accusations of sexual misconduct against Reb Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory

I was drawn to the Lubavitch tradition, a form of Chabad, because of its promise that one could become adept enough to attain certain mystical experiences in this lifetime…. I also liked the nature of the relationship between the Rebbe and the individual Hasid. In this kind of Hasidism, the Rebbe shows you the way, but you have to do the work yourself—rather than hang onto his coattails. Reb Zalman was particularly attracted to the Chabad emphasis on the inner work of each individual Hasid. Having met and been deeply impressed by R. Reb Zalman, along with Reb Shlomo Carlebach, spent several of his formative years as a Chabad emissary sent out to American colleges in order to expose people to the teachings of traditional Judaism.

He studied with the great theologian and preacher Howard Thurman, who exposed Reb Zalman to other religious traditions, particularly the powerful piety of his own mystical African-American Christian faith. Reb Zalman learned a great deal about spiritual leadership and community, and Thurman also showed him how religion could be taught in an experiential manner. In the early s Reb Zalman was beginning to push against the boundaries of Orthodoxy, although he was still part of the broadly-defined Chabad community. In a significant essay from that period, written for people totally unfamiliar with the world of Hasidism, he outlined the major tenets of Hasidic spirituality, including the Hasidic approach to study, song, introspection, and contemplative prayer.

He also noted that one can only become a Hasid through apprenticing himself to a veteran member of the community, and ultimately to a particular rebbe , since the inner life of devotion is a skill that cannot be absorbed through books. Reb Zalman also offers the following remarks regarding the nature of Hasidism and its relationship to Jewish practice and Orthodoxy, perhaps the clearest statement of his early thinking on the subject:. Hasidism really relates perpendicularly to any form of Judaism, including Orthodoxy. It views its mode of prayer not in terms of liturgical dissent from the Ashkenazi ritual, but in terms of the service of the heart.

Its field of action it views with an inner aliveness, with kavvanah intention.

Opinion | Shlomo Carlebach’s Tangled Legacy

It views God, Israel, and Torah as one, but with two aspects—the outer manifest one and the inner hidden one. It strives to impose interior recollection, joy and discipline, on outer traditional forms. The spontaneous is preferred over the dryly habitual. Yet it demands a higher awareness, and paradoxically, a pre-meditation within the spontaneous.

While basically, Hasidism has no quarrel with Orthodox Judaism, it feels that the latter is neither vital nor profound enough. Orthodoxy, while it teaches what ought to be done, does not, however, show its adherents how they may do this.

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Hasidism corrects this…. While Hasidism affords its adherents great individual freedom, it gives this only within the traditional framework.

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It would be a mistake to assume that Hasidism frees anyone from divinely given obligations: what it does is to provide him with the joyous, fervent wherewithal to fulfill them. This is a beautiful summary of the inner path of Hasidism, which infuses existing rituals—indeed, the entirety of Jewish practice—with new religious meaning. The performance of sacred deeds does not ever replace the inward glance, but neither does contemplation or meditation supersede the obligation to act. Already in this essay, we see that his emergent understanding of Neo-Hasidism is not wedded to any particular mode of practice or denomination.

It is a reservoir of spiritual wisdom that may be deployed in all religious actions and settings.

His drift began in the s, and, though he never stopped feeling and projecting a connection to Lubavitch, by the mids he had left Chabad and become increasingly distanced from Orthodox Judaism. His awareness of and appreciation for the spiritual disciplines from other faith communities, his sense of the problematic strictures of Orthodoxy, and its intellectual myopia, also led him into new realms. And, though his position on the subject changed over time, it was clear to him that halakhah as traditionally interpreted was no longer compelling and useful for the majority of American Jews.

He argued that Buber was alienated from Jewish practice and remained an outsider to the lived experience of Hasidism. Heschel, argued Reb Zalman, spoke with an indigenous Jewish vocabulary that Buber had lacked, but had forsaken the mystical aspects of Hasidism in order to emphasize the idea of a transcendent God to whose call mankind must respond with sacred deeds.

Reb Zalman felt strongly that a neo-Hasidic spiritual master must be alive in order to offer guidance and spiritual counseling. He felt that the writings of Buber and Heschel can inspire their readers, but without a living leader to inspire embodied practice, the religious growth of a Hasid can only progress so far. The relationship between a spiritual leader and his or her disciples was of great concern for Reb Zalman over the course of his life. It was the subject of his doctoral dissertation at Hebrew Union College and several subsequent books, but Reb Zalman also spent much of his career cultivating and inhabiting his role as a living neo-Hasidic teacher.

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He sought to develop ways of communicating the spiritual tools of the Hasidic leader to the contemporary American rabbinate. The modern rabbi, claimed Reb Zalman, is more like a rebbe than an Eastern European rav , whose primary task was deciding points of law and adjudicating disputes. The contemporary rabbi is called upon to offer spiritual guidance, and must therefore be schooled in the practical arts of pastoral psychology and how to interpret the dynamic spiritual world of Jewish theology in a modern and post-modern context.