Carlebach, Cosby, and Separating Art from Its Artist

UPDATE 12/8/2014 6:30 PM: Since posting this article last night, I’ve been contacted by quite a few people with firsthand accounts of Carlebach’s abuse, specifically, inappropriate phone calls, inappropriate flirtations, and most seriously, molestation of minors. 

A few weeks ago, my shul (synagogue) held its annual Carlebach Shabbos. Benzion Miller, the Aron Miller Memorial Choir, and roughly 1,500 people showed up to sing, and dance, and celebrate the life, music, and legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. There’s no question that Shlomo Carlebach touched the lives of tens of thousands with his music, his passion, and his apparent utter devotion to God and the Jewish people, and returned souls to Judaism at a time when religion seemed on the decline. But there was a darker side to the legend, a side that forces the uncomfortable question: Can we separate the man from the legacy—the art from the artist?

So there I was, sitting in my pew, 1,500 people around me, all singing Carlebach. I couldn’t help myself. It’s impossible not to sing along. The melodies are beautiful in their simplicity, saturated with soul, and electrifying in crowds. It’s impossible not to be swept up in the frenzy. My fingers drumming along to the melody, my feet tapping, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth despite my best efforts to the contrary, I sang along with everyone else. How could I deny it? In a room filled with people from the far-right to the far-left to the non-observant, all singing the same music, all united in a way they have never been before, and will likely never be again, how could I not be swept up by the crowd? Men in shtreimels (circular fur hats worn by Hasidic men) with long, untrimmed beards, dancing with their fellow Jews, some wearing knit kippot (skull caps), some with ponytails, some in suits, some in jeans and a t-shirt; has anything, in the history of the Jewish people, ever united people so different, than the music of Shlomo Carlebach?

Following the service was a Carlebach dinner held at a local catering hall, with our scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Sammy Intrator, Carlebach’s long time right hand man. He started the night off with a song, and once the crowd was warmed up, he began to talk about Reb Shlomo. He told us story after story about Reb Shlomo’s compassion, his love for his fellow Jew, how deeply his desire to foster peace and love in this world ran, and how in-tune his soul was with God and the world. In true Carlebach style, he told us some of the stories that Carlebach used to tell, singing them exactly as Carlebach used to, bringing them to life with as much of the emotion and heart as he could. Carlebach’s stories always make me cry. As hard as I try not to, they always manage to get me.

Carlebach had an amazing gift for touching the souls of people with his stories of Chassidus (a more spiritual and mystical approach to Orthodox Judaism), and how the simplest Jew could have the greatest impact; his stories keep alive the memories of fallen communities and dynasties that perished with time and in the Holocaust, and the memories of the great men and women that would otherwise be forgotten. You would have to be lacking a soul not to tear up at the story of Chatzkele Lekavod Shabbos. And as I sat there listening to Sammy Intrator reincarnate Carlebach so beautifully for his very captive audience, I felt a little dirty. My holy brothers and sisters, I remember—I REMEMBEEEEEEEEEER—the Shlomo Carlebach that I grew up hearing so much about, the great man who reunited Judaism in the Diaspora, but I also remember the Shlomo Carlebach who fondled women who came to him for guidance, who masturbated on women who worshipped him, and who covered it all up by telling them that they were holy, and special. I remember the stories I’ve heard firsthand from people who experienced the darker side of Carlebach. And as I sat there laughing and crying as Sammy Intrator spoke, I felt myself tearing apart.

A battle was raging in my head: How can you sit there and listen to this when you know what he really was, and what he did to those women? But, but, look at the holiness he brought to this world, the people he united, the masses he returned to Judaism, the power of his music, and the strength of his enduring legacy! Yeah, but his legacy was built on the backs of an endless string of victims! But, but look! Look at all these people, singing, and crying, and laughing, and loving, and opening their hearts to one another! Surely that must count for something! Maybe, but who will remember the victims, and how is it right to sit there and tacitly support a man who caused so much damage?

I don’t know.

Honestly, Carlebach is a difficult subject for me. My inner conflict was punctuated by the recent resurgence of rape allegations against Bill Cosby. I loved Cosby. I loved his show, I loved his comedy, I loved his smile, I loved what he represented. Just like I loved Carlebach. It’s always this way. It’s always the people you love the most who hurt you the worst. Of all the people who had to be sexual abusers, of course, it had to be Shlomo Carlebach, and Bill Cosby. Right in the childhood. Right in the heart. Cosby is easier for me to throw under the bus, because while I’ve enjoyed his work, it’s never touched my soul. Carlebach is special to me. Carlebach represents a Judaism I’d love to see in this world. I mean, I suppose he would, if not for the small matter that he was a sexual abuser. Why does it have to be so difficult.

Both Cosby and Carlebach got away with what they did for so long because of how loved and cherished both they and their work were. But can their work stand alone? Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? It’s an ongoing question for me. On the one hand, I see the beauty that Carlebach brought into the world, and I don’t want the world to suffer the loss of what Carlebach gave it because of his sins. Perhaps the beauty, and holiness he facilitated was there already, waiting only to be discovered and brought to light, and he was only a conduit. Perhaps we would have had it through someone else, someone less flawed. Perhaps we should therefore allow what he revealed to stand while we leave him to rot.

On the other hand, as blogger Elan Morgan pointed out on a friend’s Facebook page:

IMPORTANT: We cannot separate the men from their art when they used their status from that art both to commit and conceal their violent behaviour. To continue to share their art is to continue to share one of the weapons they used to commit their crimes.

Perhaps we do more harm than good by perpetuating the tools of these people’s abuse. Perhaps we are contributing to the pain felt by Carlebach and Cosby’s victims, who for so long were denied justice, by touting the instruments of their abuse as something worthy of praise and enjoyment. Perhaps we make those men that much more acceptable by refusing to give up what they created simply because our lives are enriched by the fruits of those poisonous trees.

Or maybe there’s a baby to be saved somewhere in the putrid bathwater. Maybe there’s a message, some truth, a little good that can be salvaged from these men’s abominable lives. Might the message not be valid regardless of its source? Can we not keep the moral values Cosby preached while damning the damaged he caused to 17 (and counting) women, or the love and acceptance exhorted by Carlebach while distancing ourselves from the man himself and his actions.

There are a million answers to these questions, and frankly I haven’t found mine yet. It’s something I struggle with every time I hear one of Carlebach’s songs, or see the popularity people like Eitan Katz, or Yehuda Green have because of their similarities in musical style to Carlebach. I still feel dirty and conflicted when I sit in shul and hear one of Carlebach’s tunes used for lecha dodi (Song to greet the Sabbath sung by Friday night prayers), finding myself at once moved and repulsed. To be honest, I still use those tunes myself when I lead the prayers, because I know the congregation likes them and will sing along. I don’t know what the balance should be, or if there even is one to be had. Maybe you people can help me out; what do you all think?


75 thoughts on “Carlebach, Cosby, and Separating Art from Its Artist

  1. Apikorus al ha'esh says:

    I don’t want to be one of those loyalists who parrot blindly the “he was never convicted of anything” line, but when you talk about “endless strings” of victims, who, exactly, are you talking about?

    And let’s say you’re 100% right. Let’s say he was a sexual abuser, uber alles, and singer and rabbi and spiritual guide played a distant second, third, and fourth. Let’s say you’re longing for a leader who is or was “less flawed.” Good luck. Take what light and wisdom and depth you can get, wherever you can find it.

  2. The main error in this article is that it is based on a sensationalist write up of 1998 in the feminist magazine Lilith whose accusations have not been properly documented. If you are lacking concrete evidence then it is hearsay and slander. A pity that you need to spread rumors that have yet to be substantiated about a person who died 2 decades and is not here to defend himself against such allegations. What is worse is that Asher Lovy took the literary privilege to invent two new accusations which weren’t even in the original libelous article.

    • “When he asked her to show him around the camp, Rachel says she felt “what an honor [it was] to be alone with this great man.” They walked and talked of philosophy and Israel, of stars and poems, and she remembers being “just enchanted.” He asked her for a hug, and when she agreed, “he wouldn’t let go. I thought the hug was over and I tried to squirm out of it. He started to rub and rock against me.” So unsuspecting was she, she says, “that at first I thought, ‘was this some sort of davening?’” She says she tried to push him away, while he “was dry humping me. Until he came.” And though she does not recall the words that he spoke, she remembers his communicating to her that it was something special in her that had caused this to happen. “It felt cheap, but he had said thank you.” The next day, he didn’t even acknowledge her presence.” – See more at:

    • Shira says:

      A woman from Europe wrote in to Lilith after the article was published, saying only that Carlebach had treated her the same way.

      Are you saying that all the women who reported that he had abused them were lying?

      • Dear Shira, I did not use the term “lying”. My point is that Sara Blustain, an accomplished journalist, used her literary license to dramatize the stories that she heard. I was able to interview some of the women mentioned in her article in Lilith and found that there was somewhat of a “gap” between the final story as published as opposed to the original testimony. Therefore, the Lilith article needs to be treated like many a journalist piece published in a fairly sensationalist mode. It doesn’t mean that it is all wrong. It just means that it is not to be considered as indisputable evidence that a court would accept to convict someone of a criminal action.

    • I’m one of the ones he touched….he touched my breasts and my buttocks…and touched my friends as well. We were so young.,..and then we figured it out..and went to our advisors and other adult chaperones.. And there were others who stepped forward…and we were told he was exuberant. Bull-oney. He was a pedophile. A repeat offender. And his people knew all about it and they lied for him. His music is chilul ha’shem.

  3. MCW says:

    “My holy brothers and sisters, I remember—I REMEMBEEEEEEEEEER—the Shlomo Carlebach that I grew up hearing so much about,….” I am confused. WHAT exactly do YOU remember? The stories that other people told, or something that happened to YOU? I am not diminishing the issue, just curious as to what YOU are saying.

  4. Dr. Natan Ophir says:

    The so called “Rachel” is a pseudonym. I was partially successful in identifying her and I spoke by Skype to the woman who received her “testimony” directly from her. Unfortunately, Sara Blustain, the author of this article in Lilith, has dramatized and unnecessarily exaggerated a story that boils down to a rather innocuous and insignificant event. It is not wise nor fair to keep on repeating this rather flimsy accusation.

  5. Zeisa says:

    Charges were never brought or anything “proven” because Carlebach had passed away. I heard Carlebach live only once, at Columbia U. on a Friday night in the late 1970s. We were all very excited and it was so disappointing. He talked endlessly about his own greatness. If I hadn’t been on the clean-up team I would have left in the middle, as many people did. With that self-image, the accusations were hardly a surprise.

    • micha says:

      I was with Shlomo endless times and never heard him aggandize himself or “talk about his own greatness”. The opposite, he was, from what I saw, remarkably, outstandingly humble, actually. People had strong reactions to him, but I question the veracity of what you are saying.

  6. Shmuel says:

    As it says in the gamera it is possible to take the good and through away the bad and that’s ur answer
    It says I think about r shimone that learned by his rabbi and everyone asked him but he is worshipping idols how could u learn by him so he answered them I take the core the pits and the holynes and through away the klipah

  7. Yossi Chajes says:

    I’m not sure whether I’m more puzzled by what kind of intellectual/cultural/artistic/religious world will be left after today’s righteous judges have purged it of all those who have sinned (or have been so accused) since the dawn of civilization…or by people thinking that it’s actually ok to be judge, jury, and executioner.

  8. Yossi Chajes says:

    I believe the questions are asked very selectively, excepting those who have long ago dismissed western culture as dead, presumably also immoral, white men.

    I also believe it’s very different to accuse Cosby of crimes for which he can and presumably will stand trial and at least offer a defense (remember “innocent until proven guilty?”) than it is to accuse R’ Carlebach of crimes in the absence of any such opportunity for cross-examination of the accusers, or defense of any kind.

    • Actually, the statute of limitations has passed on Cosby’s crimes, at least most of them. It’s yet to be seen if there are any victims recent enough for a trial, either civil or criminal.

      And no, it’s not just a question asked of people who are long dead and buried who can’t defend themselves. This is a question asked whenever a prominent rabbi covers up sexual abuse. Rabbi Yisroel Belskey is a prime example. He is someone I grew up respecting, someone I respected into my adulthood because I saw him as a smart, balanced, well thought out man. And then he defended Yossi Kolko, even when Kolko plead guilty, even after the victim’s father jumped through all the hoops Agudah’s psak called for. It was difficult for me to give up my respect for a man I’d truly admired. It’s still somethign I struggle with.

      The same is true of the Novominsker rebbe. I respected him as a rabbi who was also a social worker, who always seemed in tune with the issues that we face today, and appeared to be less radical than some of his peers. Now when I see him, I feel the same way I do about Carlebach.

  9. Joe Helmreich says:

    Asher, my problem here is that your piece seems to rely on a questionable assumption that everyone is either an angel or a devil. That if someone is accused of having done bad things, then, for whatever they good they did, they were “only a conduit.” Leaving aside these two people and the specific allegations against them, your piece seems to disregard the extraordinary complexity of human nature and the polar extremes that might exist within individuals.

    • I don’t think so. I think I spelled out pretty clearly in the first few paragraphs how great Carlebach’s accomplishments were. I do not think people are one dimensional. I acknowledge that people are capable of both good and bad, and that nothing is really black and white, but shades of grey. The question is at which shade of grey to we say it’s too dark, and that’s the question I ask with this piece.

  10. ezra radoff says:

    There are plenty of other events that are not in dispute that people gloss over with Carlebach also. He was a relatively semi-talented musician for his genre. People really get carried away with that and forgive things they wouldn’t in anyone else..

  11. Isser Coopersmith says:

    Asher, I assume you are observant. Basically, everything you related is based on hearsay yet you condemn both men. Innocent until proven guilty. I really see no reason for printing this diatribe of loshon hara.

  12. Bonni Kraus says:

    I find it very frustrating that even after so many women have come forward and said plainly that this is what happened to them there are still people who call this “flimsy evidence” and “hearsay.” Seems to be that was exactly why Bill Cosby was allowed to continue his heinous behavior. How many people need to say the truth before someone will accept it? No wonder victims of rape keep quiet. I am not saying one must accept questionable testimony – but when you have such a multitude . . .

  13. Excellent dilemma….I think the ability to appreciate the irony of how such beauty can come from such a dark place is the key. Also, i think you MUST separate the music from the man…he was a music sculptor of the heart, would u say a heart surgeon who is a sex abuser did not sew up the valves correctly? it is like using money or power or fame to seduce and control….As a musician myself, i do believe that music is a scientific/spiritual art, and can be used to control or to connect….his melodies ARE amazing, the art is powerful and it is truly there, but the magnification and pedestal lifting of the MAN Carlebach must stop.

  14. Asher, I felt this piece was very fair, and asked very difficult questions. The men disputing/correcting you aren’t looking very deeply. Is it too much for them to say, “I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it is terrible!”? Or is it easier for them to say “innocent until proven guilty” and “Lashon Hara is bad!”

    Denying victims a voice is worse – far worse – than lashon hara any day. As to whether to enjoy his music, as conflicted as you feel, it sounds like his music and legacy been tainted to the point you’re deeply unhappy about it. Everyone is entitled to their threshold, and I respect whatever you decide yours to be. And so should EVERYONE else.

    • That’s the thing that makes it so hard. I love his music. I love singing it. It makes me really, really happy to sing his music. But the better I feel singing his music, the dirtier and guiltier I feel about it.

      • eschwebel says:

        I had a similiar dilemma when i heard first account experiences from other people….my suggestion would be to stay away from it for a while and regroup re your mindset, don’t sing or play it, and come back to it when you are able to see the melodies for what they are, a broken flawed sad man that is just reaching out for help….remember although he may have done these things, the music he was writing was probably an outcry for help to help him get past himself…he may have been so broken over the fact that he was doing these things and needed all that “love of Klal yisrael” to fill him up…good luck with it, and i truly relate to this post, speaking the truth is important in a controlled setting

  15. Emil Berkovits says:

    I do find it sad that this has become a public issue at this time. I had heard of his behaviour some 50yrs ago from teenage girls. I, personally, feel that music is music and do not think of where it comes from.

  16. I am speaking in the abstract here…not about Cosby or Reb Shlomo. A person can be separated from their art. When the Israeli philharmonic decided to play Wagner in the early 60’s it was controversial because how can they separate the man from his Naziism? But they did precisely because the orchestra believed that music comes from a different olam, a different world, a different realm than ones beliefs of behaviors.

    • Michael-Meir says:

      Wagner’s “Nazism”? Wagner was an anti-Semite, without a doubt; but Nazism per se didn’t exist during his lifetime. Later the Nazis adopted his music, but that doesn’t retroactively make Wagner a Nazi.

  17. Dear Asher, You wrote in your Dec. 8 update that you have “been contacted by quite a few people with firsthand accounts”. The 500 page academic biography that I wrote about Reb Shlomo which was published in English is about to appear in a Hebrew version, but although I have interviewed dozens of women, it has been very difficult to find a verifiable story of “abuse”. Because well-meaning writers like yourself publish serious accusations, it is important to try, if possible, to distinguish between vague rumors as opposed to first hand evidence. Is there anyone to whom you have spoken who is willing to be interviewed and/or go on record publicly?

  18. Asher, I don’t mean more stories about phone calls. I found the diaries of Reb Shlomo in his home in Moshav Meor Modiim, and there are literally thousands of people each year whom he phoned, and not surprising, if some calls were not appreciated. Nor am I referring to hugs given in a social context in a public place. There were tens of thousands of these as well. I am looking to determine if there is any evidence of a “sexual abuse”, that if reported in his life time, could have led to a court trial.

  19. Asher, I have not yet found a trace of “JerusalemMom” on the web. Maybe if she reads this thread, then she might contact you (or me) and confirm that she is a real person with a true story, and then say how she can be reached.

  20. Dear Asher, This perhaps is the difference between us. You read a comment by JerusalemMom and assume that indeed here is clear and evident proof that Jerusalemmom “was molested by Carlebach”. I am more cautious. Why? I hesitate to rely upon someone who writes calumny on FB, especially when they don’t use an identity that can be verified. I’m not saying that the story is not theoretically possible. I am asking that on a blog like yours, where hopefully, at least some people, are assuming that you are writing with authority, authenticity and reliability, that we take a step back and be cautious before reinforcing rumors that have not yet been proven in court or at least in a carefully researched and/or documented analysis. Is that not a fair request when someone’s character reputation is at stake? Especially, if he has not been around for the past 20 years to answer?

    • Natan, I have been asked by Jerusalemmom to remove her comments and your responses to them. She felt, as do I, that you stepped over the line. I’m leaving the comments that weren’t directed at her. I’ve given you plenty of latitude, and have approved all of your other comments in the interest of fairness, but it is not ok to badger someone who discloses their abuse, regardless of how highly you regard the perpetrator, or how financially invested you are in his sainthood.

      The fact that Vicki Polin has coopted the Carlebach issue is indeed unfortunate. Not because she’s lying about what he did, but because she is generally an unreliable source. I specifically omitted any mention of or reference to Polin in my piece for that exact reason. I don’t need Polin to make the case. People like you like pointing at Polin and using her as a muzzle. You like holding her up and telling everyone that since you found one unreliable anit-abuse blogger, surely they must all be unreliable. Hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

      As for your biography. You couldn’t possibly have done your homework. You couldn’t. There are so many firsthand accounts out there of what Carlebach did to women, and it is statistically improbable that they’re all lying. But you have an image to maintain, and you have a book to publish, so damn the real story. There’s always readily available sand for people like you to bury their heads in. I’m not approving any more of your comments on this article, and I certainly will not allow you to harass someone for telling their story. The “Dr” in front of your name does not give you the right to stand on supposed academic standards, and from that high ground snipe at people with a story you’d prefer not to hear. Open your eyes and ears. The story is there, begging to be read.

      • Dear Asher, Just how did you arrive at your conclusion about “financially invested in his sainthood”? I’m surprised that you can slander someone so easily and freely without knowing the truth.
        • About those “first hand accounts”, I suggest that you email me privately what you are talking about. I have spent countless hours searching for them. Again, I’m not talking about phone calls and hugs. Please send me any leads to a case of actual “sexual abuse”.

  21. Titbayesh Asher! How could you compare Reb Shlomo and Cosby. LEHAVDIL RABA! Carlebach never drugged anyone and he never raped anyone – from what I gather, 95% of the time it was consensual acts between consenting adults. Whether you agree with this lifestyle or not, he was on the road 200+ days a year making it very hard to maintain a traditional healthy relationship. He certainly made mistakes and hurt some people along the way, but not people who clearly weren’t into it; it was the lukewarm confused people who perhaps didn’t speak out because they were starstruck and liked the attention – he certainly shouldn’t have been hitting on these people. I’ve come across other reports where he rejected obsessive fans convinced that ‘Shlomo loves me’, and they went on to make up lies. Either way, it is clear that Reb Shlomo tried his absolute best to light up the word – gevalt, did he succeed!

  22. I went to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado when the Ted Haggard scandal broke. In some ways it was heartbreaking, but I had long ago stopped putting pastors on pedestals so it wasn’t earth shattering. But, I have personally wrestled with the same questions, the same thoughts….how do I reconcile vile behavior partnered with beautiful messages? Ted Haggard’s sunday messages saved my marriage, they changed my husbands heart at a time that was crucial for us as husband and wife. How do you throw that out because of what a “man” did? I am not condoning Ted’s or anyone elses actions, and neither do I excuse them, and if they can be prosecuted or they lose their jobs and positions in the church I say YES!! but I can’t say that what he taught was wrong just because he didn’t live it himself. I do not give the credit for the saving of my marriage to Ted Haggard even though he spoke the words. I give the Credit to God. All Ted did was speak God’s truth. It is on him that he preached as a hypocrite and it is on me if I throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  23. There is a connection between his sins and his worldview. I think the Carlebach philosophy is pro-sentiment and emotion, against reasoned debate and casts a childlike glaze of idealism over Jewish life in pre-war Eastern Europe. This sentimental idealism although pleasant is at the end of the day a dangerous approach to life — it doesn’t prepare us to deal with moral ambiguity or complexity. I wish Carlebach spent less time swooning about wonder rabbis and beautiful simplicity and instead used his intellect to confront his own demons.

  24. Bob Jacobs says:

    The tentative conclusion works for me–especially with Carlebach. Let the goodness speak for itself, hopefully dissociated from the man and his deeds. Not to emphasize and enshrine the man but simply emphasize and enshrine the good feelings and music that someone brought to us. Good deeds, if you will, the Jewish concept of “mitzvot,” should speak for themselves and be able to stand on their own separated from the source–as does so much of the Jewish tradition. Go ahead–tell me the source of our tradition!? Isn’t it really simply G-d-inspired?

  25. fossin says:

    I really liked this piece, and it’s definitely something I’ve struggled with myself. I personally have never heard of the accusations against R’ Shlomo, but I’ve become so jaded to these “types” of things. It feels like every other week there’s someone else…There was the Rabbi in DC spying in women in the mikva…before that there was the Rabbi in Lawrence who was giving “extra special” marriage counseling. It’s seemingly one thing after another. I feel like I’ve discussed this with many people, and have yet to have a firm understanding on the matter.
    I’m not sure what the “null hypothesis” should be – that bad people do bad things, and said bad people are bad throughout their whole life and have nothing to add except pure evil..? Take an extreme example – Jerry Sandusky…no question the guy did pretty horrible stuff, and yet, I’m sure there are some people who felt like he was a nice guy…maybe there was someone who felt like he even was touched by him in a positive light (pun intended)…so how can we reconcile when all of a sudden these people we admired/looked up to/was inspired by…how can we reconcile the good they bring?
    I think the deeper question isn’t whether we can glean any positiveness out of these people (which I think you can, with a sprinkle of skepticism)…I think the bigger question is: what does it say about us humans in general? Especially when it comes to issues of sex. We’re a hyper sexual culture, and that’s not going anywhere fast, and as a society, we have a very poor grasp on how desire, sexuality, and the like, effect us. As a man in society, it kinda scares me. You look around and see these “great” people doing these acts, and a part of me thinks – if they can do it, who’s to say I can’t. and then i think – the only difference between the cosbys/sanduskys/whoever is that they did it, and i didn’t, but it seems like I’m as likely to do something as horrible as they did, and that scares me.
    But then there’s a part of me that feels that- yeah, we all have the ability to commit heinous crimes, so yeah, you need to remember that, and keep that in mind, so you don’t commit them!
    I might be making this up, but i remember hearing a story about R shlomo zalmen aurbach…he quoted the gemara that says – Ain aputrupus l’arayas (figuratively – no one is a safeguard against immorality) and he basically said “Ain aputrupus means ain aputrupus…there’s no safeguard…myself included”…

  26. This article of reading has taken so much of my time..and it is all HOGWASH..WHICH MEANS BULL..SHIT!!!… i was brought up with brother and Shlomo were best friends..I remember him as a teen when i was just five years old till adult..he never..never never did any thing or intimated any women as they is a total fabrication…I was introduce to the world outside of Lubavitch.due to him..I am a very attractive woman.where Sinatra asked to meet with me..when he was introduced to me.. so were so many very famous people ..who had befriended me the 60’s….might i add i am in my 70’ to give you an idea..I have mingled with the most celebrated people in the world and I know Shlomo Carlbach..only as one where his followers till this day..really knew whom who he was..and the liars..and people you mention..was totally uncalled for…this is one time..if Shlomo was alive..I would defend him without question….period. He certainly cannot defend himself, and if he was guilty of anything it was he had boys and girls sit together in his audience..during his performances….that is it…..Miriam …Gross…Berlin

  27. george says:

    First of all comparing Reb shlomo to Cosby is disgusting. Second don’t forget that there were a lot of women that met him who came from regular Ultra Orthodox homes and when shlomo greeted them and tried embracing them and giving them a kiss on the cheek that may be unOrthodox but that’s not sexual abuse and when hearing it from these women they may be repeating the story as if he sexually came on to them, and Usher you’re attacking Dr OPHIR as if he makes no mention of any accusations of sexual abuse in his book while in fact he does and he writes exactly what he said here in the comments in other words.

  28. Mr. Lovy,
    I thank you so much for having the courage and eloquence to share your thoughts in this article with the virtual world.

    I think until we really know people, it’s much easier to separate someone’s art from their deeds or in this case, their crimes.

    Who among us hasn’t had the experience of noticing someone physically beautiful and finding them less so after even briefly conversing? I have found the opposite can be so as well.

    The physically less attractive, even those malformed or challenged physically might be found attractive after the realization that what they have inside is so valuable and beautiful.

    While both cases are still alleged rather than proven – that is both in the case of Cosby and Carlebach – the public is increasingly getting to know the whole person and Understandably, at a certain point of familiarity with the profane disgusting or criminal, we all make choices.

    sports teams suspend or even ban players, institutions remove offending donor’s names from libraries and honor rolls and yes, lovers of music decide the massive number of similar reports and the thoughts that are evoked upon hearing the tunes override the value of it. And at the very least, we can think twice about lauding and glorifying the offender.

  29. If I began tearing wings or legs off of live animals, I would not be respected in any Rabbinical circles. If I violate the other 7 Noachite laws, like having a court system, I can be accepted. Bottom line, this is as unkosher as roasting a pig over a Torah.
    We cannot convict people without a court system and the right to face their accuser. If R. Shlomo was alive an could be brought into a court that would be different. But how in an extremely non-halichic way, a dead person is being drug through the mud without due process. That is anti-Jewish. I don’t know if he is guilty. I do know that this does not result from a proper court system and it violates the core of the Torah. In any event, his music came from the Holy One. If he had flaws, that does not mean that the music was flawed. Many of our prophets were flawed, but it did not discount their prophesy.
    Without access to a proper court system, this nothing short of Lashon Hara. Yes – some very honest person may claim to be abuse. But that is not excuse to avoid the court system.

  30. AY says:

    First of all, I think that this article is great. I am having the the same dilemma with the Bill Cosby situation. I don’t have as much knowledge about the Carlebach accusations. But the dilemma is still there.
    Maybe if we go to a real extreme, it can help. Let’s look at Afolf Hitler, Yimach Shemo. BY NO MEANS AM I COMPARING THE TWO. Again, I’m going to the extreme to see if you can separate the art from the artist no matter what they’ve done. I think if he was a great pianist, we would all agree that we would absolutely shun his music.
    Now, how heinous do we consider rape, sexual abuse, and molestation? I consider it evil.
    If the accusations are true about Shlomo Carlebach then in my book, I would lean to the fact that I’d absolutely feel uncomfortable singing and listening to his music.
    I guess because of what you mention, Asher, that if he used the power he had acquired from that music itself to abuse people, it wouldn’t seem right to enjoy it.
    At the end of the day for me, though, one person being abused is not worth a thousand people being uplifted.
    The dilemma of actually enjoying the music remains..

  31. Hope says:

    Anyone who has been abused by someone they love, revere, appreciated faces this dilemma. Does love outweigh the effects of the abuse? So many abusers are Charismatic, Talented Individuals and this in itself muddies our ability to come to judgement. Is there a statute of limitation on pain, on PTSD, on the lack of self esteem, inability to trust – an endless list of long term effects of abuse then can be listed here. Are victims of less value than an abuser? Why should it matter if the abuser had something to give to society. Most abusers walk free while their victims suffer. One of the consequences for brilliant abusers is that their brilliance may stand but it is forever stained just as their victims scarred souls. I, for one have no interest in commending this type of artist. It’s time that we courageously seek the truth and stand with victims of abuse – no matter who the abuser.

  32. Here’s a third current event to consider with Cosby and Carlbach: recently, the physics lectures by award-winning physicist Walter Lewin have been taken down from MIT due to a sexual harassment incident.

    This is a huge loss of outstanding educational material that has been invaluable to tens of thousands of students around the world. There’s much debate currently going on about whether this is a suitable response, e.g.

    In all three cases I think it would be piling tragedy on top of tragedy to discard these rare peaks of human achievement. On the other hand, I believe we owe the victims the strongest respect. They should have the right to (anonymously) block the appearance of their assaulters’ work anywhere it will cause them pain. But on the long term we are all dead, and I think that in the long term, like Wagner, we should allow these individuals to be forgotten while their work lives on to enrich us.

  33. Michael-Meir says:

    Many of the Psalms are traditionally attributed to King David (never mind, for a moment, whether that claim has historical validity). Shall we remove the Psalms from our liturgy because the Tanach says King David was a sex offender? (After a voyeuristic incident he took Batsheva, another man’s wife, and arranged for her husband’s death.)

    I don’t have a good answer.

    I spent many hours in my teenage years in the 1970s listening to Shlomo teach and sing. I played backup guitar at one of his public concerts and at several private gatherings (typically for Havdalah). While I never personally witnessed anything bordering on criminal misconduct, nor did I hear of any allegations (not even third-hand) during his lifetime, he was definitely a touchy-feely kind of person who enthusiastically hugged numerous women without regard for the traditional constraints imposed by shomer negiah (i.e. avoiding even the slightest physical contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex). So, much later, when I read allegations of misconduct I unfortunately couldn’t protest that the alleged behavior was entirely out of character for the man I knew.

    When I composed the music for my sister’s wedding I created a slow and ethereal instrumental setting of Shlomo’s immortal “Od Yishama” to serve as a meditation before the processional. Would I do the same thing today? I don’t know.

    [Note: I was not Orthodox, so his violation of shomer negiah didn’t bother me at the time. It was only in retrospect that it took on a certain unwholesome significance.]

  34. ann b-d says:

    The moral of the whole story is: beware of putting falliable human beings up on pedestals; they just might topple over and crush you!

  35. Sof Maarav says:

    Asher, First thank you for sharing what is a painful personal dilemma in such a public and potentially dangerous way. Dangerous to you in that lashon ha ra done in comments sections is often much more brutal than would ever be said to your face. The discussion seems to have gone off your original dilemma which is, should I keep singing these songs when acts the composer might have committed seem to cancel out all the joy and holiness within them. My answer comes from trying very hard to teach Genesis to young children. Not only do the people whom we call Patriarchs do some horrendous stuff, G od seems more often than not disinterested in that fact. And Haz”l seems most interested in twisting it all up to “prove” that their behavior (the Patriarchs, not Haz”l) was entirely in the right and saintly. But I am guessing that you begin your Amidah invoking their names anyway.
    My take on it is this–the music is sacred and joyous not because the righteousness of the man who composed it, and not even the ratio of righteousness and predator that might have been in one man, but because YOU bring holiness and joy to it with your body, voice and kavanah. Whether he was faking it or not in HIS lifetime, I have faith that G od has dealt with it , What’s left is a body of music that may be able to achieve something good when paired with the kavanah and vocal gifts you have. Is it not our duty to take everything we find in this world, however lowly or even repugnant and try to elevate to serve Heaven? That’s exactly what you’re doing. Before you sing, you might offer a simple declaration that says, “I am about to sing a song that I sing because I find it works well as a tool to achieve holiness. But I know that for some people, it may have the opposite effect. If you are someone for whom these songs causes a revival of a painful memory, please know that that is not my intent. And if the pain is too great and hearing it will be unbearable, please let me know and I will choose a song of different origin.” Do not even mention his name. In addition to fame and infamy, there is a third possibility–anonymity, which may be the most appropriate outcome and legacy.

  36. He touched more than my soul. He touched my breasts, my buttocks, and he tried for the inner thighs. I was a kid. I was almost flattered. Then I figured it out. As did my friends who he also touched. His songs are chilul ha’Shem. It’s just that simple.

  37. Pingback: On Carlebach | kovaat itim

  38. I am sick and tired of the whining about Shlomo Carlebach being dead and unable to defend himself. The man lives on as Shlomo Hatzadik, Saint Shlomo. His memory is endlessly invoked. It is not just his musical notes but his persona that is vital to the Carlebach industry and cult. You can’t have it both ways; you cannot glorify him as the personification of holy goodness but angrily invoke his death to squash his sordid side. Am Yisroel Chai, v’od avinem Shlomo chai. The special pain of molesting lives on for his many survivors.

    Sir Jimmy Saville, the most popular DJ/celebrity in the UK was exposed after his death as a serial child molester. His family did the right thing and removed his tombstone.

    His supporters have to do their reckoning and stop glorifying him as the personifcation of loving kindness. I understand loving the music. I cannot understand or accept the beatification of the man.

    If you want to insist he cannot defend himself because he is dead, than stop treating him as a worthy living presence. You can’t have it both ways.

  39. Martin says:

    I guess it is hard to be famous and make such an influence on countless lives and be perfect. They were human beings with temptations, the problem is not the actual famous people, the problem is the people who surrounded them, protected them and knew, they are the real ones to be judged because they knew and were covering it up and had they did something, then the picture would have been different, these famous people could have changed and served time, or gave some form of justice to the people they hurt. But now, I question after a person dies and can’t defend themselves or at least admit and have some form of remorse, what benefit can it do to the victims I question. Yes, it would be something if Bill Cosby would just say I made a mistake, I am sorry I hurt them, but where are those cover up people, how can they live with themselves?

  40. After removing Carlebach from the most-admired list, let us also get rid of any anti-Semitic artists, more dangerous than Carlebach, such as Chopin, T.S.Eliot, ee cummings, –well, most artists before and many during our lifetimes. Too little is left. We just have to seperate man and his work.

    • I think there’s an appreciable difference between someone whose art inspires Anti Semitic sentiment, and someone who actually, with his own hands, abused more women than anyone can count.

  41. Ari says:

    I think part of the problem is the perception that our righteous people and heroes are fundamentally flawless, while our villains and criminals are inherently merit-less. But the harsh reality is every person is a lot more nuanced than that.

    Carlebach wasn’t being disingenuous when he helped the poor or rescued teenagers from cults. Cosby wasn’t building up a date-rape ring when he was promoting the values we cherish.

    What both men allegedly (and if by sheer numbers alone, appears to) have done is dispicable and deserves our overt and enraged condemnation. But to claim that even those who commit an act as atrocious as their’s have nothing to add is dangerous in its own right.

    Perhaps this answer is twofold. First, we must be much more vocal in our condemnation of Carlebach’s sexually abusive actions. Then, and only then, we can embrace the other side of him. Because while his significant positive contributions may have been what attracted those women he allegedly molested (and the tool he used to keep them quiet about it), to dismiss them as mere tools for his monstrous behavior alone is to disavow ourselves not just of the beauty of his music, but the nuance to see good in everyone.

  42. Shula says:

    This is almost identical to what I just sent; I put the wrong email address, so this is to correct it.

    I was a 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl, enthralled with his music. I was in seventh heaven when he offered me a ride home from a concert. The driver and another person sat in the front, and he sat with me in the back. When he put his arm around my shoulder I was stunned but delighted; and then his hand started massaging my breast. I was 15 and completely naive, had no idea what was happening, but somehow felt embarrassed and ashamed. I just continued to sit silently without moving. This continued until I was dropped off at my house. He told me to come to his hotel room the next morning, and I did! He hugged me very tightly, and I stood frozen, not really understanding what was happening. Then the car came to pick him up, and again I went with him in the car and he dropped me off at school. And I never said a word to anyone, never! I’m a grandmother today, and can still recall that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the confusion and feeling ashamed. I never spoke about this, ever. But all of these comments of denial make me feel I have to confirm that these things happened. He was 40 years old, I was 15. He was an experienced 40 year old man and I was a very naive 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl. In those days we never talked about sex. I had never even spoken to a boy! I didn’t associate him with ‘a boy’ – he was like a parent figure, he was old. But I felt it was something to be ashamed of.
    Your article is extremely important – these are conflicts that we have to deal with in life, but if no one ever brings them up, then each person, in each generation, has to over and over again re-invent the wheel of faith. The struggle for faith is hard enough; when these issues are so wrapped in secrecy (and I’m one of those that kept the secret for 53 years!)

  43. jerusalemmom says:

    Dear Shula-I had an almost identical story to yours…I was a religious high school girl. 16 years old. I went to his house for a class-his wife opened the door and told me to go downstairs to wait for him. I was the first person there. As I was looking at his incredible library of Judaica he came down-hair and beard wet from the shower. Before I could blink he was on me. One hand down my blouse, another up my dress. I froze in fear. I was so lucky that other people came minutes later for the class and I was “saved.” It has taken me close to 40 years to talk about it. Why bother? People who were his followers give answers like “I can’t believe that” -or “we don’t want to know.” Or “he’s dead and can’t defend himself.”

    May g-d grant you peace of mind and may you heal completely. Enjoy your grandchildren and teach them to NEVER EVER let anyone touch them without their permission.

  44. Pingback: On singing pieces by Shelomo Carlebach (1925-1994) or having “Carlebach Services.” | Coffeecups

  45. Eva Schweber says:

    Growing up MO on the Upper West Side, I knew at a young age to be careful around Carlebach. I couldn’t tell you how I learned that, but it was just one of those things the community made sure girls knew.

    That has always shaded my response to Carlebach’s music. But only the music he recorded. When his music is sung in shul, that transforms it into something else. Somehow cleaned of any associated taint.

  46. Ezra Wise says:

    As you probably are aware, the lawyer for the Carlebach family is rather successful in litigation. Have they already sued you in court? If not, I recommend that you check with your sources and be sure that all you published has proof and that the women will submit depositions and testimonies in court. If not, you stand to lose a ton of money should you lose the court case.

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