Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Confronting the Media, pt. 3

The next issue I'd like to deal with is that of goyish music. At first glance, music would appear to be similar to TV and movies in that it's not a necessity and there's a lot of garbage out there. But two factors make music a much different case:

a) There are plenty of clean alternates within goyish music. Firstly, there's classical music and the Kenny G/Joe Satriani instrumental stuff. No words, no problem. And for all the Eminems and 50-Cents out there, many classic rock songs are clean. Take Billy Joel's "Ballad of Billy the Kid" for example, or Simon & Garfunkel's haunting "Sound of Silence."

b) The argument for allowing music can be weakened by pointing out that there are hundreds of Jewish music CD's out there. So even if someone loves music, they have plenty of Jewish options to choose from, in which case, banning goyish music is no big deal.

I believe that the argument against b) can be explained by making a loose comparison to the cholov yisrael situation. Yes, we can have Klein's instead of Haagen Dazs, but the taste and quality of the ice cream is incomparable. And we can have New Square milk instead of Tuscan, but Tuscan actually stays fresh for more than a day. My point is, true, there's Jewish music out there, but most of it simply doesn't compare to the non-Jewish stuff. In a previous column, I discussed my attempt at quitting goysihe music, and the lack of solid Jewish music was part of the reason my attempt at quitting failed. And anyone who really wants to get into good music will inevitably want to listen to the goyish stuff. So I find it hard to invoke a blanket ban on all goyish music. When I was in Israel, I went to cousins of mine whose kids were big Simon & Garfunkel fans. Nothing wrong with that. (As an aside, one thing that made me an S&G fan was hearing the versions of their songs on Variations!)

Now we get to books, newspapers, and magazines. These are much different from the previous media discussed in that almost all of us are going to deal with them at some point or another on our lives. Whether it's a book report on "Tom Sawyer" or a research paper that requires us to read old New York Times articles, our experiences in school make it impossible to escape these media. So if a kid decides that he enjoys literature and wants to read more classics, what do you tell him? That really he shouldn't and for school it's only ok because the government requires it? Well, good luck trying to get the kid to sit still through secular studies after telling him that! Besides, I believe that there is a certainly what to be gained from studying secular classics. After reading R' Aharon Lichtenstein's "Leaves of Faith," it's quite apparent to me how his secular knowledge greatly enhanced the quality of his essays. And it's easy to draw the line between today's trash like Stephen King and wholesome 19th-Century books. So perhaps reading books should be encouraged and not discouraged.

As per newspapers and magazines, they're similar to music in that you can get the basic news from Yated and Hamodia. But there's a certain quality of writing you can only get from a Wall Street Journal or New York Times. I believe this is part of the reason the rabbis in part 2 read the Times. And for further analysis and opinion, you've gotta see the secular media. And from current events classes to research papers for college, newspapers come up quite often in our lives. So I find it impractical to ban these completely. If we stick with National Review and the Wall Street Journal and stay away from the likes of People and Vanity Fair, I don't see what the big deal is.

And finally, the internet provides the most difficult dilemma of all. On one hand, it provides instant access to more shmutz than any of the previous media mentioned. But in terms of necessity, one can make the case that internet is more necessary than any of the other media mentioned. The average person will be hard-pressed to find a decent job that doesn't require use of the internet. So perhaps the best approach would be to train children to use internet with a filter, in order to train them with these basic, vital skills. If someone shows up to work with no idea how to use Internet Explorer, they'll be in big trouble. The rabbis, however, have banned children from using the Internet. I'm assuming that they believe that when the time comes, these children will learn "on-the-fly" to use the Internet. Also, they believe that the great possibities of a child's brain being ruined by the trash on the net overrides the usefulness of knowing how to surf the web. I can hear those arguments.

The only thing bothering me is, if a kid sees his parents using the Internet for non-business purposes, what are they to think? That their parents are terrible?? That the rabbis are crazy Taliban-esque people?? So the possibilites for confusion are quite strong here. And when the kid grows up and has to use the internet for work, how will he feel? Will he feel horribly guilty for using the net?? Will he just say, "ah, screw it," and possibly come to abuse the internet??

What comes out is, perhaps moreso than any other medium, the lines for issur and heter must be very clearly delineated when it comes to net. Otherwise, the possibility for confusion is very strong.

I'll conclude next time with a brief discussion of implementing these hashkafos of confronting the media.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. My two cents: I returned to Judaism in my mid-30's. I try to keep the Mitzvot as best as I can: Shomer Shabbos, Kashrut, Torah Study.

Before I made my "return", I was a very active semi-professional musician. My interests were primarily Western Swing, Bluegrass,Traditional Country, and Jazz. Although I had played Blues/Rock and PoP music too, I pretty much confined myself to the former.

After becoming a Baal Tshuvah, I stopped going to the venues that featured Country, Bluegrass, Jazz, etc. However, I did privately keep up with my music.

Baruch Hashem,I've been a practicing Yid for 18 years now, with two sons in Yeshiva. However, my yearning to play music caused a great sadness and depression in my soul.

To satisfy my urge to play music, I attempted to learn "Jewish Music" and join the local Jewish Orchestas. What I found was that Jewish Simcha Music was not my cup of tea. Aside from being intrinsically Goyish in nature, I left the gigs reeling from the outrageously intense volume.

Recently, after much arguing with my wife, I sat in (incognito-w/baseball cap) at a few Bluegrass Jams. I knew that Halachically, this was not the best thing to do. However, for what I hold are mental health reasons, I made a compromise.
Predominantly, the tunes at these sessions are instrumental. When there are tunes with lyrics, they would not be objectionable to most observant folk. (When a Gospel tune is chosen with specific mention of Mr. "J" I politely excuse myself or refrain from playing.)

Since allowing myself this "unholy
indulgence", I've been much less depressed.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw my two cents on the matter into the fire.

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