Shlomo Carlebach's Tangled Legacy: The famed rabbi's 'shadow side' demands attention in the #MeToo era.

Author:Pogrebin, Letty Cottin
Position:OPINION
 
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It was the maydekh's #MeToo movement 20 years ahead of its time.

In 1998, a report in the Jewish feminist magazine Lilith quoted women who alleged that they had been sexually abused by the late Shlomo Carlebach in multiple incidents dating back to the 1970s. You had to be brave and deeply scarred to level such serious accusations against Reb Shlomo, the charismatic rabbi who died in 1994 and whose music has been the soundtrack of Jewish life for decades. Not only are his liturgical melodies familiar to congregations of all denominations--he composed such universally familiar tunes as "Am Yisrael Chai" and many of the most popular and soulful melodies used in Friday night services--but his advocacy for women's expanded roles in Judaism was a major mitzvah back when Jewish feminism was still traif.

Yet testimony about his "shadow side" kept mounting, and women's mutually corroborated accounts of his "inappropriate behavior," including with girls as young as 12, were as ugly and chilling as anything we're hearing today. The Lilith article quoted multiple women--including two by name, a rarity at the time--describing incidents in which the rabbi fondled

them or rubbed himself against them to climax.

In the 20 years since the Lilith article, more women have spoken out, and defenders of the rabbi have pushed back, either because they disbelieve the accusers or because they feel it wrong to indict a man who can't defend himself. With the arrival of #MeToo, Jewish communities that had avoided examining their relationship to Carlebach and his music have begun to confront it. Some have distanced themselves from his influence, while others are reluctant to shun a man from whom they have drawn spiritual inspiration. But until now, one voice was conspicuously absent--that of his daughter.

Then, in January, Neshama Carlebach, a singer herself and the prime keeper of her father's musical flame, published a blog post in The Times of Israel publicly acknowledging the pain caused by her father. Its title: "My sisters, I hear you."

Because she is in no way responsible for what he allegedly did, I expected her to simply express sorrow and empathy and affirm that her "sisters" experienced what they said they experienced. And indeed, she writes, "I accept the fullness of who my father was, flaws and all. I am angry with him." She goes on: "And I refuse to see his faults as the totality of who he was."

But her essay, though heartfelt, falls into some of the traps...

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