The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Sefirah Albums"

There is a story that when the great Tzaddik, R. Chaim Ozer, zt'l, met the holy Rebbe from Modzitz, the author of countless holy niggunim (melodies) that are still part of our davening today, Reb Chaim asked the Modzitzer: "I understand where chidushim (new ideas) in Torah come from but where do your holy niggunim come from?"

The Rebbe responded, "When my heart is so filled with love for Hashem that it overflows, the result that comes out is a niggun."

In contrast, today we have a very different phenomenon in the Jewish music scene. What often seems to be the case these days is that when a JM composer's bank account is no longer overflowing, he sits down, turns on some rock and roll radio station and then puts some pasukim (Biblical verses) to a tune that resembles the rock song.

So, instead of a holy niggun, like those written by the Modzitzer Rebbe, we have very unholy songs that, rather than elevating the rock music, diminish and sometimes debase the pasukim.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than during the time of Sefiras Ha'Omer. For 2000 years, observant Jews totally refrained from listening to music during a substantial portion of Sefirah in commemoration of the deaths of 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva's students. Only on Shabbos would they engage in zemiros, since there is a prohibition against mourning on Shabbos.

However, in the last number of years, great minds in the JM scene have determined that, notwithstanding this 2000 year history, observant Jews can no longer hold out without Boro Park Rock music for 32 days. So, they have created an entirely new phenomenon, and market, called "Sefirah Albums". Relying on a technical halachic heter (leniency) that purports to permit music that is played without instrumental accompaniment, they produce acappella albums that are targeted specifically for this period of the Jewish calendar.

Many posking (halachic decisors) are very opposed to this concept. Even among rabbanim who are willing to concede that the technical heter is, b'dieved, ok, I have yet to meet any Rav who thinks Sefirah albums are a good thing. Nevertheless, each and every year a new batch of these new CDs comes out.

Most of these CDs are pretty awful. More recently, they've become brutally bad as digital technology has allowed producers to do weird things to distort the human voices. This is not surprising since one should not expect much from Jewish music that comes not from a spontaneously overflowing heart, not from devaykus (attachment) to the Master of the Universe, but from an underflowing bank account.