By Jonathan Mark
After Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s passing in 1994, “Carlebach minyans” have blossomed around the world, driven by the fact that anyone can sing (and daven) along with the music famously recorded by him. But if the music lives on, Reb Shlomo’s Torah teachings have suffered a more elusive afterlife. Singing along is one thing, but how can one study along with, or even find, his unrecorded, unpublished teachings that were often casually spoken in situations as ephemeral as they were enchanted?
“The good news is that Reb Shlomo was, by far, the most bootlegged Jewish artist of all,” says Shlomo Katz, director and editor of the recently created Shlomo Carlebach Legacy Trust. “He was recorded everywhere, constantly – concerts, classes, conversations. It became clear,” says Katz, a musician and teacher in his own right, “that we had to form a central place to house everything, not just for archival purposes but for disseminating and publishing, and for the kovod [honor] of Reb Shlomo.” It’s something that Katz, who at 31 never met Reb Shlomo, has been working on informally and now professionally for several years.
Reb Shlomo’s teachings were mostly unstructured, jazz-like expositions ranging from the Zohar to stories of Moishele the Water Carrier, to the Holy Thieves, improvised without notes, and differing – depending on his evolving scholarship and consciousness – from one session to the next. In his endless travels, he would often take at least two suitcases, one for clothes, one for a portable library – volumes of Ishbitz, Rav Kook, Reb Nachman – a moveable feast that fueled his teachings at the next port of call.
The trust, a project administered by the Carlebach family, has collected some 21,000 hours of Reb Shlomo bootlegs – mostly audiotapes, with about 1,000 hours of video – according to the trust’s website. More than 95 percent of these tapes have yet to be transcribed and processed, says Katz, who is editing the tapes from his home in Neve Daniel, Israel.
The gathering and transcribing of tapes began, in fits and starts, even before Reb Shlomo’s death in 1994. However, the coordination of the project under the trust, based in Jerusalem, began in 2009, says Katz, who is being assisted by about a half-dozen people working on the tapes in various locations.
The tapes have already yielded nearly 300 previously unknown or unrecorded niggunim, snippets of songs, sung or whistled or strummed on guitar by Reb Shlomo impromptu in the midst of his teachings. Reb Shlomo can be heard on tape dismissing the quality of some of these off-the-cuff tunes, but to his aficionados they might be comparable to the Beatles’ unfinished or unrecorded music that is now appreciated and available on the “Beatles’ Anthology.”
Read the full report by Jonathan Mark at The Jewish Week.