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Neshama Carlebach and the Politics of God

The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach did not belong to any religious movement, but his daughter Neshama now belongs.

Neshama Carlebach. Her late father Shlomo would never have declared his move from Orthodox to Reform, because he was never Orthodox. He never belonged.

Neshama Carlebach. Her late father Shlomo would never have declared his move from Orthodox to Reform, because he was never Orthodox. He never belonged.
Photo Credit: You Tube

The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an enigma, for sure. His faith was not only unquestionable, it was big enough and unrestrained enough for thousands to use as they saw fit. He was a Rebbe in the finest and deepest meaning of the word—you could see the world changing as he walked by.

He certainly changed my life, so much so that my own Rebbe has received his ordination from Shlomo.

To say that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an Orthodox Jew is like saying that a beautiful flower is vegetation. It is, but the term is almost too alien to befit the life and works of this magnificent individual.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach would never have made a statement like “How I became a Reform Jew,” the title of his daughter’s JTA article – because to him being Jewish was a continuum, and he traveled, happy and unafraid, along this endless path, hugging and kissing Chasidim, Modern, Liberal, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, New Age, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and their wives.

He wouldn’t declare his move from Orthodox to Reform, because he was never Orthodox. He never belonged.

But his daughter, Neshama, now belongs. Utilizing the considerable cache of her last name, she announced her move to become a Reform Jew, indeed a delegate to the 2013 URJ Biennial convention on the West Coast.

It couldn’t have been easy growing up as Shlomo’s daughter. The way Neshama describes it, it was a nightmare, and I believe her:

As the daughter of this great man, I bear witness to the intolerance, cruelty and ostracism he suffered for daring to step outside the “daled amot” (personal space) of observant Jewish life. As his child, I suffered alongside him, when he tried to give me a platform to sing, the outcry from my Orthodox brothers and sisters invariably drowning out my voice and suffocating my love for Jewish tradition.

I can really see how living on the receiving end of the taunts and name calling and angry voices and enraged faces “of those who believed — genuinely believed — that what I called prayer was an affront to God,” as she describes it, her experience was terrifying.

But she couldn’t possibly argue that this was the sum total of her encounters with observant Jews. I would be the first to admit, even declare, that Haredi Judaism has been out of whack for some time. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik’s much lauded 1984 article in Tradition Magazine attempted to explain this post-Holocaust phenomenon, suggesting it was mostly because of the post-Holocaust thing. An entire nation was burned alive in Auschwitz, and in the black pit it left behind much fear, strictness and loathing have blossomed.

Still, my personal experience, albeit not as the offspring of a giant Rebbe, has been in observant shuls that were mostly accepting, encouraging, cheerful. Is it possible that wherever I looked, God in His mercy showed me only the nice shuls, while leading Neshama Carlebach only into hell holes?

I completely accept her argument about the involvement of Reform congregations with “Tikun Olam,” as she puts it. They appear to be socially active in caring for the poor and the needy, often in collaboration with local churches. Of course, it would have been nice if she cared to mention the Satmar Bikur Cholim program that goes out of its way to accommodate all Jews in need while a loved one is in the hospital, as well as showering Jewish patients with goodies every day, but especially on erev Shabbat. And the outstanding sacrifices of Chabadniks who rush to help Jews in need practically everywhere on the planet. Or the Gemach movement, which is broad and numerous and amazing, offering everything from interest-free loans to wheelchairs. Or the Tomchei Shabbat associations around the globe, feeding thousands of Jewish families. Or the Hatzolah volunteer associations saving Jews and Gentiles.

The Reform movement should be very happy for their new asset. Neshama Carlebach justifies everything they’ve been saying about their right to a seat at the table, never mind the sad fact that some of their congregations are majority-gentile. And never mind that their position on the 2-state “solution” supports destroying the lives of 650,000 Jews. And never mind that they’re seeking to influence religious life in Israel, even without living there—religious colonialism if I ever saw one.

But I’m not sure Reb Shlomo Carlebach would be so happy.

Don’t misunderstand me, he wouldn’t be angry, because—at least as I experienced him—anger was not something he did. But I suspect he would be sad.

Nevertheless, he must be keeping in good shape, on account of the rolling in his grave…

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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43 Responses to “Neshama Carlebach and the Politics of God”

  1. She lost me she she said her father was ostracised and she suffered the pain of that. Gimme a break! he was some poor misunderstood martyr? Not at all! He was lauded all over the world no matter how many aveiras he flaunted.These lefties really love to play the victim, don't they?

  2. i am disappointed.i really admired him and his music until i read of his sexual perversions towards young innocent jewish women. Just google his name to find the details.

  3. Yori Yanover says:

    See? He continues to provide joy to everyone, even after his death.

  4. Dan Silagi says:

    Welcome aboard, Neshama.

  5. Dan Silagi says:

    Too bad those harpies who accused him of this couldn't do it while Carlebach was alive, and able to defend himself.

  6. Dan Silagi . it wasn't just one accusation . check it out. i was shocked.

  7. Philip Trauring says:

    Are you referring to Chaim Soloveitchik's 1994 article in Tradition? I don't know of a 1980 article in Moment. If there is, can you provide a link?

  8. Yori Yanover says:

    I always depended on the kindness of readers… Thanks for the correction, now i don't have to look foolish.

  9. Dan Silagi says:

    Barry Wicksman One, one thousand…They could have made their accusations during Carlebach's lifetime, rather than publish them in a magazine three years following his death. I suspect that most of these were bogus, abetted by those who hated Carlebach because he wasn't "orthodox" enough for them.

  10. I loved Carlebach music, I loved Neshama's too. Probably, because I have known too little about them. Carlebach was obviously, the mixture of good and bad as it seems. But Good bye Neshama it was nice to know you.

  11. Yori, Yori, yori…you blame Neshama for dissing orthodox then you passive aggressively do the same to Reform…I was in San Diego at the bienniel. Lots of prayer and spirit. More Jews= Better World…..

  12. Tuvia Fogel says:

    There's always room on the Ship of Fools.

  13. Sarah Williams says:

    Farewell, Neshama–loved your music, pity your choice.

  14. Dan Silagi says:

    Tuvia Fogel One less berth is available because you're occupying one yourself, Tuvia.

  15. Joan L. Roth says:

    For starters news agencies are prohibited from taking photos off the Internet without asking permission, or crediting photographer.
    It’s a beautiful photo. Neshama and I were privileged to snap it , while spending time together only a week or two before Shlomo left this world. Shlomo Carlebach was never one to judge. He embraced each and everyone of us according to who we were … perhaps…, some …. of us… even then .. maybe … who were not so holy – Gevalt! ourselves. Through song, prayer and love, Shlomo lifted us up, elevated our neshamas to a place where now we feel entitled to proselytize our holiness. Forgetting from whence we come/ whither we go, as well as our obligation, not just to be, but to bring all our brothers and sisters with us – as our dear Rebbe did – remember? Shlomo was a big Tzadik, among other reasons, because he was our Judah – the one who knew, who understood and exemplified how imperfect we all are + were (including himself). He never stood above us – but with us – he never wrote an article, nor publicly spoke loshen hora against, not one of us – no matter how far off the derek we might have strayed. Yes, he is horrified right now – to hear what we are saying + thinking – not because of Neshama, of her, he would be proud telling it like it is – but on account of us. Our role in continuing to break her heart in some profound way – for the chutzpa to denounce his daughter, the spirit of our beloved Rebbe, whom he loved more than he loves/loves you and me and more than he loved/loves life itself. And, you can bet Shlomo is grief stricken, after all he did for us, gave to us – our hearts remain closed and regarding the deepest depths – we haven’t a clue.

  16. Yori Yanover says:

    My sincere apologies, some times we work very fast and don't pay attention. I removed the re-processed image, which is dreamy beautiful, by the way.

    I completely endorse what you said about Shlomo. I met him just weeks before he died and he changed me profoundly.

  17. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi – I endorse almost everything you say here, except that i know for a fact that many of those enemies that popped up after Shlomo's death were not Orthodox at all. The Orthodox adored his music and today it's probably the most popular wedding music everywhere.

  18. Dan Silagi says:

    "My Eyes Adore You" by the Four Seasons was our wedding theme.

  19. Bracha Din says:

    Neshama might be the best thing that ever happened to the Reform Movement….God has a plan and everyone is right on schedule.

  20. Natan Ophir says:

    Barry Wicksman, the accusations have very little basis in factual reality. You can read my conclusions which were recently published based on in depth interviews of the people whose names are mentioned in the accusations. See http://www.CarlebachBook.com

  21. Natan Ophir says:

    Yori, for an in depth analysis of the "enigma" of Reb Shlomo, who he was, where he went, what he did please see see http://www.CarlebachBook.com; http://bit.ly/1daHhaB; where the new biography of Reb Shlomo written by Dr. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) is described:
    Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy published by Urim Publications.

  22. David Steinberg says:

    Back around 1978, Shlomo took some of the chèvre to a hotel in Jerusalem for

  23. David Steinberg says:

    Back around 1978, Shlomo took some of the chèvre to a hotel in Jerusalem for

  24. She sounds like one mixed-up lady. Typical child of kooky parents, growing up without a firm moral or spiritual base. (I enjoy her dad's music; I had even met him years ago. But I kept a certain distance.)

  25. David Steinberg says:

    B"H
    Back around 1978, R'Shlomo took some of the chèvre to a hotel in Jerusalem for a symposium on the three branches of Judaism. A rabbi represented each of the 3 branches: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. I was dismayed listening to each Rabbi having nothing positive to say, but only blaming the other for Judaism's problems. It was really ugly. Then R'Shlomo, acting as a guest speaker, was asked to speak, and he said, "Sweetest friends, I AM NOT AN ORTHODOX JEW. I AM NOT A CONSERVATIVE JEW. (and with a chuckle) I AM NOT A REFORM JEW. I AM JUST TRYING TO BE A JEW!". At this point the atmosphere was transformed to one of love and acceptance. While R'Shlomo did indeed love, accept and treasure every Jew, it was obvious to anybody that spent considerable time with him, that he was totally dedicated to Torah true Judaism. Regarding any of R'Shlomo's halachally questionable actions, I personally have no doubt that he did it only for the sake of saving Jewish souls and bringing them back to loving Hashem and being Torah true Jews. He was hatzalah 24/7. R'Shlomo Carlebach ztl,wearer of a beard, yarmulke, tzizis, peyot, was constantly learning and teachingTorah, was a Torah genius, true servant of Hashem, shomer mitzvot chosid, lover of every Jew and all mankind, composer, singer, holy troubadour, baal tzedekkah, brother, friend, Rebbe and hidden tzadek. We don't have clue as to what he was really all about. He sacrificed his name, health, family and wealth to bring authentic Jewish light to his broth
    ers and sisters throughout the world. R'Shlomo was beyond any sort of categorization.

  26. Myra Estelle says:

    I agree with you, Bracha. We're supposed to love our neighbor as our self.

  27. Eliyahu says:

    Is this the same Rabbi Carlebach who sold our Asbury Park shul to a bunch of shvatzvas from Haiti who practice black magic satanria in the same place the Lord’s kohenim blessed Israel, then stole the money from the Logan Road Minyan, built himself a big fancy shul far from Interlaken, AND tried to steal our safer torahs? truth be told, I’ve never heard a Holocaust survivor curse out a rabbi in Hebrew before this. A lot of people cursed this Carlebach as a gonif, I just hope it’s not the same man. Madoff’s more loved!

  28. Dan Silagi says:

    I love your comment, Bracha, and totally agree with you.

  29. Dan Silagi says:

    Mine was Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Had I gotten married later, it might have been Carlebach — or Carly Simon.

  30. Anonymous says:

    And never mind that both the Reform and Conservative believe the Torah was written by HUMANS and is not the word of G-d given to the Jewish People at Sinai, where we made a covenant to observe it for all time!

    Can't wait for Neshama's future book on how she joined the so-called "Reform" movement and later became ba'al tshuvah!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Broadway ‘Soul Doctor’ to Close on Sunday
    By PATRICK HEALY
    Eric Anderson in “Soul Doctor.”
    Richard Termine for The New York Times

    October 8, 2013

    “Soul Doctor,” the Broadway bio-musical about the singing rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, will close on Sunday after 32 preview performances and 66 regular performances, the producers announced on Tuesday. The show received mixed reviews during its initial Off Broadway production last year, and had roughly the same reception when it re-opened on Broadway in August at Circle in the Square Theater.

    While producers were counting on Jewish theatergoers to embrace “Soul Doctor,” its ticket sales were never strong, and they have been anemic since Labor Day; last week the show grossed $111,912, about 16 percent of the maximum potential amount. The producing team, led by a newcomer, Jeremy Chess, has not disclosed the precise multimillion-dollar capitalization to stage “Soul Doctor” on Broadway; the musical is likely to close at a total loss for investors.

    The production features music by Mr. Carlebach (played by Eric Anderson), book and direction by Daniel S. Wise, and lyrics by David Schechter

  32. Natan Ophir i hope you are right. The interviews and research i have done seem to indicate the sincerity, disappointment and trauma these poor innocent ladies underwent at the hands of Shlomo ..Anyway, I will read your book.

  33. Natan Ophir says:

    Robert L. Cohen asks: Was there ever such an “embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions?” Cohen enumerates some of the seemingly contradictory aspects of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s life. For example: A thoroughgoing traditionalist, with Orthodox yeshiva education and rabbinical ordination, he outraged the Orthodox; a man for whom “pluralism” was an alien, ill-fitting concept, he was an implicit pluralist – teaching and singing everywhere, honoring rabbis of every denomination and encouraging others’ unorthodox paths.
    Cohen, Robert L. “Jewish Soul Man.” Moment, August 1997, 59–64, 83.

  34. Natan Ophir says:

    Who was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach? Often referred to as “the foremost songwriter in contemporary Judaism,” Shlomo was also a scholar who studied at three well known American Haredi yeshivot, Torah Vodaas, Lakewood and Chaim Berlin, and received ordination from Rabbi Isaac Hutner. He was born in Berlin in January 1925, grew up in Baden near Vienna, studied at Telshe (Telz) Yeshiva in Lithuania, and fled Europe with his family to New York where they settled in Williamsburg and then in Manhattan. In the 1950s, Shlomo studied psychology and philosophy at Columbia University, and also served as the personal outreach emissary of the 6th and 7th Chabad Rebbes (1949-1955). Subsequently, he forged a unique path of heartfelt inspirational Judaism, gave ordination to some fifty disciples, inspired thousands of followers, and influenced the lives of countless people around the globe.

  35. Natan Ophir says:

    Barry Wicksman.See page 424, footnote 39, where I thank some of the people whom I interviewed: Karen Blake, Linda and Bill Elyad, Yehudit Goldfarb, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Debbie Gross, Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Melinda Ribner, Sara Shendelman, Judy Tibor (Brodt), Diane Wolkstein, and numerous other people, for sharing their stories, answering my many questions, and helping me to try and understand the reasons for the accusations.

  36. Natan Ophir says:

    Barry, did you actually interview the women who are mentioned in the Lilith Magazine article? What I have found after recording a dozen in depth Skype and in person interviews with the women involved is very different from Sarah Blustain's assertations in Lilith.

  37. Natan Ophir says:

    Barry, Please see page 424, footnote 39 of my biography of Reb Shlomo, where I thank some of the people whom I interviewed: Karen Blake, Linda and Bill Elyad, Yehudit Goldfarb, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Debbie Gross, Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Melinda Ribner, Sara Shendelman, Judy Tibor (Brodt), Diane Wolkstein, and numerous other people, for sharing their stories, answering my many questions, and helping me to try and understand the reasons for the accusations.

  38. Natan Ophir says:

    Somebody seems to be erasing my responses that are posted here whenever I respond to Barry's comments. Who? Why? I asked for more information about the "interviews and research" about the "sincerity, disappointment and trauma".

  39. Barry Wicksman, I recently came across very disturbing articles and frankly don't know what to do about it. I have so many friends who adored – read worshipped – him that they would not listen to a single negative word. They whitewash everything he's ever been accused of and the victims were threatened. His music is everywhere – what does it mean now? I can't hear his name or niggunim without shuttering. Where to go with it?

  40. Natan Ophir says:

    Geborah, The allegations as publicized have very little basis in reality. Please see the discussion and references in the new biography just published about Reb Shlomo – http://www.CarlebachBook.com.

  41. Natan Ophir says:

    Geborah, I spent many hours interviewing all the people mentioned in the allegations, and have recordings of them. If you know of a "victim" who was actually threatened, or a real story with factual evidence, please send me the contact details as I am trying very hard to get to the bottom of this. Every time I track down a story, it turns out that there is very little to go on and it is mostly slander.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Neshama is now reform and Rav Shlomo Carlebach's grandchildren will certainly marry Christians.

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