Shlomo Carlebach

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A cover of a Carlebach record
A cover of a Carlebach record

Shlomo Carlebach (שלמה קרליבך) (known as Reb Shlomo to his followers) (1925 - October 22, 1994), was a Jewish religious singer, composer, and self-styled "rebbe" who was known as "the singing rabbi" in his lifetime. Although his roots lay in traditional Orthodox yeshivot, he branched out to create his own movement combining Hasidic-style warmth and personal interaction, public concerts, and song-filled synagogue services. At various times he lived in Manhattan, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Moshav Mevo Me'or Modi'im, Israel.

Carlebach is considered by many to be the foremost Jewish religious songwriter in the second half of the 20th century. In a career that spanned over 30 years, he recorded more than 25 music albums that still have wide popularity and appeal. His influence also continues to this day in so-called "Carlebach minyanim" located in many cities around the globe, including those in Israel.

Carlebach was also considered a pioneer of the Baal teshuva ("returnees to Judaism") movement, encouraging Jewish youth who had become hippies to re-embrace their Jewish heritage. However, some of his outreach tactics were viewed as too liberal by Orthodox standards and not in line with Halakha by proponents of mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

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[edit] Biography

Shlomo Carlebach's ancestors comprised one of the oldest rabbinical dynasties in pre-Holocaust Germany.

Shlomo Carlebach was born in Berlin, where his father, Rabbi Naftali Carlebach, was an Orthodox Rabbinic Authority. The family fled the Nazis in 1933 and lived in Baden bei Wien, Austria before coming to New York City in 1939. His father became the rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jacob, a small synagogue on West 79th Street in New York's Upper West Side; Shlomo and his twin brother Eli Chaim took over the rabbinate of the synagogue after their father's death in 1967.

Reb Shlomo studied at several high-level Orthodox yeshivos, including Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, and Bais Medrash Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. His voice and musical talents were recognized quite early during his days in yeshiva, when he was often chosen to lead the services as a popular Hazzan ("cantor") for Jewish holidays.

As is engraved on his tombstone, he became a devoted Hasid ("disciple") of Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (1880-1950) the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. From 1951-1954, he subsequently worked as the first emissaries (shluchim) of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, until he departed to form his successful model for outreach, literally teaching hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide

Reb Shlomo and his wife, Neila, had two daughters, Nedara (Dari) and Neshama. Neshama Carlebach is a songwriter and singer with her own following who has written and sung many songs in her father's style.

He died suddenly of a heart attack while travelling on an airplane to relatives in Canada. Seated next to him was the Skverer Rebbe, they were singing the Rebbe's favorite melody, which Shlomo had composed.

Reb Shlomo was very close with many famous Hassidic Rebbes, including the Amshinover Rebbe and Bobover Rebbe. Shlomo is regarded as one of the most successful Kiruv personalities of the 20th century, second only to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, reaching many Jewish souls through his outreach, music and teaching.

[edit] Musicology

Publicity poster circa early 1980s portraying him as "The Singing Rabbi"
Publicity poster circa early 1980s portraying him as "The Singing Rabbi"

Reb Shlomo began writing songs in the 1950s, primarily based on verses from Tanakh set to his own music. Many of his soulful renderings of Torah verses became standards in the wider Jewish community, including Am Yisrael Chai ("[The] Nation [of] Israel Lives"—composed on behalf of Soviet Jewry in the mid-1960s), Pischu Li ("Open For Me [The Gates of Righteousness]") and Barchi Nafshi ("May My Soul Bless God").

His public singing career began in Greenwich Village, where he met Bob Dylan and other folk singers. He sought out and used the same producers as used by famous folk records.

He moved to Berkeley for the 1966 Folk Festival. After his appearance, he decided to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area to reach out to what he called "lost Jewish souls"—runaways and drug-addicted youth. He opened a center called the House of Love and Prayer in Haight-Ashbury, where he reached out to disaffected youth with song and communal gatherings. He became known as "The Singing Rabbi." Through his music and his innate caring, many Jews feel that he "saved" thousands of Jewish youngsters and adults.

Marsha Bryan Edelman wrote:

"Some of the other Carlebach melodies that became regular parts of worship services were written for entry into Israel's annual Hasidic Song Festival. In 1968 a small-budget Israeli play called Ish Hasid Haya (Once There Was a Hasid) brought traditional Hasidic songs and stories to the generally nonobservant masses who filled its audiences. The success of this material inspired enthusiasts to revitalize Hasidic music by soliciting songs--in an ostensibly Hasidic style--to be presented in an annual Israeli festival, starting in 1969. The fascination with most things Israeli on the part of many American Jews after the 1967 Six-Day War led Israeli promoters to bring a version of the Hasidic Song Festival to North American audiences." [1]

Carlebach appeared as part of the Chassdic Song Festival in 1969, along with the Duo Reim, Tzvikah Pick, Nurit Hirsh, and others. This became a yearly event until 1979 with an album produced each year. These albums brought his music into mainsteam Israeli and religious Zionist circles. During this time, his albums were produced in Israel with a more liturgical and less folk music sound.Some of the muscians that he worked with during this period gave his music a more psychodelic tinge and a wider range of backup instrumentation. During this period, while Carlebach spent much of his time in Israel, his students founded Moshav Mevo Modiim.

Edelman continues:

"The only things "Hasidic" about most of these songs were their relatively short melodies and traditional lyrics. Still, the presence of catchy new tunes for brief liturgical texts encouraged the use of many of these songs in the prayers of American Jews looking for easy-to-learn melodies and more congregational singing--even by congregants who were not fluent in Hebrew. Carlebach's ve-Ha'er Einenu quickly jumped back into the morning services from which its lyrics were taken."[2]

On his return to NYC as his base, he increasingly was known for his stories and Chassidic teachings. As part of his performances he spoke of inspirational subjects, rooted in Hasidism and Kabbalah. Some of his teachings have been published by his students and many appear alongside his recorded songs. Carlebach spread the teachings of Chabad, Breslov, and he popularized the writings of R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbitz. For many of his listeners, Carlebach's Neo-Hasidism was taken as authentic Chassidism and became a bridge back into Chasidism.

In the years since his death, Carlebach music has been embraced by many different faiths as universally accepted spiritual music. Carlebach songs and niggunim (tunes) can be heard today in synogogues, churches, gospel choirs and temples worldwide.

[edit] Concerts and controversy

Carlebach's approach towards kiruv, or Jewish outreach, was often tinged with controversy:

"He operated outside traditional Jewish structures in style and substance, and spoke about God and His love in a way that could make other rabbis uncomfortable."[3]

At times, he would encourage mixed (men and women) dancing at his concerts and would often kiss woman upon greeting them:

"He was known for literally embracing his female followers—a forbidden practice among Orthodox jews."[4]

His standards of comportment were viewed as being too lax by Orthodox colleagues, distancing him from the Haredi establishment which adheres to the laws of shomer negiah (whereby physical contact with a member of the opposite sex is only permitted with one's spouse and very close relatives). An anecdote is told that when Carlebach was asked about his lack of adherence to the laws of shomer negiah by one yeshiva student, he responded (in a manner very uncharacteristic to him), "When your foolish rabbi knows as much as the average gentile about the Torah, come back and ask me the same question."

[edit] Discography

  • Haneshama Lach [Songs of My Soul] - 1959
  • Barchi Nafshi [Sing My Heart] - 1960
  • Shlomo Carlebach Live - 1961
  • Wake Up World - 1962
  • At The Village Gate - 1963
  • In The Palace Of The King - 1965
  • I Heard the Wall Singing [2 vol.] - 1968
  • Days Are Coming - 1973
  • Uvnei Yerushalayim - 1970s
  • Am Yisrael Chai - 1973
  • V'Ha'eir Eineinu - 1970s
  • Yisrael B'tach BaShem - 1973-4
  • Hisoriri - 1970s
  • Live in Tel-Aviv [Heichal HaTarbut] - 1976
  • Nachamu Ami - 1983
  • Shvochin Asader - 1988
  • Carlebach in Jerusalem [Al Eileh] - 1980s
  • Live in Concert for the Jews of Russia - 1980s
  • Even Ma'asu HaBonim - 1990s
  • Shlomo Sings with the Children Of Israel - 1990
  • Shabbos with Shlomo - 1992

[edit] References

  1. ^ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/culture/Music/TOSynagogueMusic/Hasidic_Carlebach.htm
  2. ^ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/culture/Music/TOSynagogueMusic/Hasidic_Carlebach.htm
  3. ^ http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=9867
  4. ^ http://www.arigoldman.com/articles/carlebach.html

[edit] External links

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