Dec 9, 2012

No Idols: One Rabbi's #Channukah Reflection on the #Maccabeats

(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Be The Match: & giftoflife

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I discovered my soul through Jewish a cappella. 

Thanks to a visit to my shul by the pioneer college Jewish a cappella group Pizmon, I felt (as a 15-year-old!) the stirring of what has become became my life's calling as a rabbi. Pizmon represented a fresh Jewish voice for me, drawing me closer to Torah and offering an appealing, creative mode of Jewish expression. I applied to List College (a double-degree program of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary) just to be in Pizmon. More than 21 years later, I remain inspired by the power of that experience and do everything I can to foster that kind of energy for others.

But when the Yeshiva University Maccabeats and their ten-million YouTube hits emerged onto the scene, my first reaction was frustration. Here was a succesful extension of what Pizmon helped birth on the American Jewish college scene. But where were the female voices? Where was the harmonizing of diverse Jewish expressions into one glorious sound? I was, of course, thrilled by the well-produced Jewish sound, but was so pre-ocuppied by what wasn't there that I didn't notice the beautiful revolution the Maccabeats represent. 

Experiencing their most recent release "Shine" says it all. 

The mainstream Orthodox world has rejected "Western" thinking and the value of scientific study, including Greek Philosophy. This approach has deep roots in the early rabbinic period, when Jewish leaders had conflicted, complicated reactions to their Greek counterparts. The Maccabeats' earlier Channukah and Rosh HaShannah videos depicted Greeks as "the other", continuing the rejection. But this new video, with a powerful focus on the mitzvah of being a Bone Marrow donor, depicts those same "Greeks" as scientists in a lab, celebrating a "match," in which a potential donor and recipient are paired. 

The combined image of Greek mitzvah heroes and a Modern Orthodox Bone Marrow Drive is itself a miracle, not to mention the fulfillment of the Jewish mandate to save a life. Look what magic Jewish a Cappella can communicate and unleash in the world.

It's not that this egalitarian rabbi ignores the absence of women in the music. But this Channukah I've realized that the Greek idols in the Jerusalem sanctuary were most threatening because they cut down Jewish expression, and the danger of an extremist reaction is a poor legacy to demonstrate. The holiness of my Jewish a cappella journey (that's precisely what it was for me) can harmonize in an expansive musical holy of holies with other vibrant Jewish voices.

May the lights we each bring combine to pierce through darkness and add holiness to the world!