There’s been a lot of talk about Shlomo Carlebach and the allegations against him of sexual harassment and assault. Should synagogues continue using his music, in light of the allegations (which have long been known)?
There are three issues for me that make this a difficult question.
The first is that Shlomo Carlebach is no longer here to either defend or, indeed, indict himself. (It is not unfathomable to imagine Carlebach publicly seeking forgiveness for his behavior.)
The second is that Carlebach’s music is not used for entertainment purposes, but for spiritual and liturgical ones. This, to me, is cause for pause. Music in a service is intended to inspire and strengthen our prayers. Can a tune transport us spiritually when we know its composer acted inappropriately?
The third is Carlebach the persona. It’s hard to separate Carlebach from his music, which is why many Carlebach musicians imitate his distinct way of singing and chanting, which is intended to simulate a sort of nirvana-like spiritual state.
I don’t believe great works of art — music, painting, literature — should be banned or even avoided because of the artist’s personal life. After all, many artists are complicated figures when it comes to morality. If we stopped appreciating the art of less than stellar human beings, the world would quickly become a pretty gray place.
We can, however, respect and appreciate the art — and even the artist’s talent — without venerating the artist as a person.
Carlebach’s music isn’t going away. It has become too embedded in Jewish music. But maybe it is time to separate Carlebach’s music from Carlebach the person.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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