Singing the blues in Iran and Israel

Singing the blues in Iran and Israel

Having things in common with people of other cultures can be good for one’s morale. We feel somehow reassured about the ultimate goodness of humanity, for example, when we work together with other religious groups to address social ills such as poverty, or speak out against the genocide in Darfur, or try to alleviate the ongoing misery in Haiti.

Still, some commonalities are saddening – and disappointing. Sometimes you don’t want to have anything in common with groups you abhor.

Last week, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that promoting and teaching music is “not compatible” with the country’s values. Specifically, “Although music is halal [what we would call ‘kosher’], promoting and teaching it is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic…. It’s better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills and fill their time with sport and healthy recreations instead of music.”

While commentators add that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cracked down on music not only for this reason but because he fears its use by the opposition, those closest to Khamenei say he has always disdained the art form.

Would that we could look at them in dismay, shaking our heads at their foolishness and paranoia. But then we read this: “Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has ordered rabbis to stop singing under the chuppah, saying it ‘cheapens the rabbinate.'”

According to the Israeli news source Ynet, in July the Council of the Chief Rabbinate agreed to strip rabbis who incorporate song and musical performance into the marriage ceremony of their authority to officiate at weddings. While statements like this have been made before, the council has insisted that this time it will be enforced more vigilantly.

The ruling was made, said a JTA report that ran in this newspaper last week, because “[o]fficiating rabbis have filed complaints with the chief rabbinate about the practice, claiming that they ‘degraded themselves’ during the ceremonies.”

Poor King David, singer of psalms and player of the lute. How could he know that the very music he used to glorify God would later be called into question, as would the musician himself.

Music was played in the Temple in Jerusalem; it is used during religious services today to enhance our appreciation of the liturgy; it furthers our joy at simchas and comforts our souls at times of mourning.

How is that a problem?


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