Shabbat Talmud Study: Should Temple Emanuel Continue to Sing the Music of Shlomo Carlebach?


This week it hits home.  Louie C.K. is one thing. But Shlomo Carlebach is quite another.

We are in the middle of a series about the relationship between sublime art and troubled artist.  Do we still take in the comedy of Louie C.K., watch the films of Dustin Hoffman, listen to the symphony conducted by James Levine, let ourselves enjoy the genius of Kevin Spacey?

Last week we saw two approaches, both of which left us unsatisfied.  Reuben, first-born son of Jacob and Leah, slept with Jacob’s wife Bilhah.  How to understand this sin of Reuben in the context of the life of Reuben?

One approach is that of Jacob, who says in effect in his death-bed scene at the end of Genesis: Reuben, you are your sin.  I cannot see the rest of you because of your sin.

The other approach was that of the rabbis in Shabbat 55b who say: it did not happen. Don’t bother me with the evidence.  He would not have done it. He could not have done it.  He did not do it.

Total rejection or willful denial.  Is there a third move?

Tomorrow we will consider the recent soulful reflection of Neshama Carlebach on her father Shlomo Carlebach. She does not deny his sins.  Nor will she equate his sins with the totality of his humanity.

While most of us have not watched Kramer vs. Kramer or The Graduate in a hundred years, those of us who daven regularly encounter the music of Shlomo Carlebach every week.  Tomorrow Elias will be with us and will do a Shlomo medley.  Shlomo Carlebach’s art is gorgeous and is ubiquitous in our services. But Shlomo himself was famously problematic in ways that damaged real people who trusted and looked up to him.

Rabbis and cantors, rabbinical students and cantorial students, are in the midst of a hard conversation about what to do with such beautiful music that comes from such a troubled source, namely, a human being with flaws-who has been dead for some time and can no longer do teshuvah.

What do you think we should do?<

Shabbat shalom,
Wes