Video: A Reader Writes: The Professor and What is Considered ‘Jewish’ Music



Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and often writes letters and articles in frum publications regarding contemporary issues in the Torah community. Professor Levine also often shares his thought son various matters via email with friends and acquaintances. I wish to share with your readers his remarks in a recent email and then counter them with my own thoughts. I have the greatest respect for Professor Levine, which is precisely why I feel that using his take on the following matter is more effective than simply writing about it out of the blue. 

Professor Levine comments on a video of Arele Samet, a fantastic Yiddishe singer, singing at a wedding:

Watch the video first (click on the screen):

[media id=7 width=400 height=300]

Now that you’ve watched the video for yourself, read Professor Levine’s comments:

I know that people are going to think that I am an old fuddy duddy, and, indeed, I am 67. This means that I grew up with rock and roll and all that stuff in the 50s and 60s.  I supply this information as a prelude to my comments about a video that I was just sent… It is at… at a wedding in Israel…

“I have to admit that I only viewed the first few minutes of this video. This part sounded very much like rock and roll. It is beyond me how this qualifies for the being considered Jewish music, whatever this means.

“Of course, this is not the first time I have complained about what today is considered Jewish music. It seems that to be Jewish music today, the ‘music’  must be loud, and it must have this primitive, driving beat. Indeed, it is often so loud at a wedding that I regret not having brought earplugs!

“Some time ago I was at an affair at which the loud music literally drove me out of the wedding hall into a hallway. Even here I could still hear what to me is simply noise, but at least it was tolerable on my eardrums.

“A few others were also outside, and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned that I felt the ‘Jewish music’ being played inside the hall sounded like rock and roll to me. A fellow replied, ‘Yes, and it is not even good rock and roll.’ A few minutes later I learned that he was Andy Statman of Klezmer fame! 

Professor Levine then provides a link to the following video, and others, featuring Andy Statman, Professor Levine states: “To me this is music!!!”

To watch the videos, click on the screen:

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Professor Levine concludes by stating:

Of course, I have to admit that recently one of my granddaughters put on a song by Lipa Schmeltzer while we were driving in car. This also left me totally cold!
“As I said I am sure that most of you will consider me an old fuddy duddy.  (Reb Shlomo, why can’t they play more of your music at weddings?)

Now, while I fully agree that Andy Statman is a fantastic musician, I thoroughly disagree with Professor Levine’s assessment of the first video featuring Arele Samet. It is beautiful, lively and geshmack. And it is actually a disservice to everyone to take a normal, good, geshmake singer and claim that the music is “simply noise,” is not Jewish, or is rock-and-roll. I don’t know if it has to do with being a “fuddy duddy” or not. But at this time, when everyone seems to be just waiting to jump on the next singer and claim that his music is “not Jewish” or is “too rocky,” it is damaging, in my opinion, to say that a good heimishe singer’s music does not qualify as Jewish.

Arele Samet is a beautiful singer and the music in the video above is geshmack and uplifting. If your taste in music is klezmer, that’s fine with me. But don’t disparage other music as being unJewish when it is anything but.


C. Z.


  1. At weddings, even if the music played may be good, the volume is so loud that you can’t hear the music, it’s just noise with abeat.
    Try wearing earplugs that typically lower the volume by up to 30db and you’ll hear much better music (if the band knows how to play).

  2. As another “old fuddy” who dates from the Sixties and has a life-long interest in music, I would like to make the following comments:

    The first video is indeed rock and roll. You can tell because the beat is accented on the second and fourth beats of the measure. However, it is identifiably Jewish and comparatively unobjectionable, unlike most of the “Jewish” rock I have heard (I won’t name any names here). Most of the “Jewish” music I have heard in recent years is by no stretch of the imagination Jewish. Putting Hebrew words to a Weltlich rock song does not make it Jewish. I have heard borrowings at weddings that come from rock songs that are about things which one couldn’t mention in polite company, much less at a chasanah. (And the vocalist’s movements here leave something to be desired – that’s the sort of movement that got Elvis Presley banned in the Fifties.)

    However, the second video (if you can get past the wretched sound recording) isn’t particularly great either. It sure isn’t regulation traditional Klezmer. So I wonder about its traditional Jewish status too.

    Maybe we should try for some originality – real American Jewish music which is neither rock nor resurrected Klezmer, but blends elements of all the Jewish traditions – Ashkenazi chazzanuth,Chassidic nigunim, Klezmer, Israeli, Sephardi, Yemeni, etc. – to give us something new and danceable but unmistakably Jewish.

  3. At my next wedding, earplugs will be taped to each sitting card for comfort and medical health. Jewish Music is different for varied chassidic groups, sefradic clans, yeshivas, baali teshuva, American frummies, etc. Some love yiddish lingo, ivrit loud and clear, english with jewish themes, classical chazanus and more and more. There is no agreement on this, and finally we should agree to DISAGREE. Kids and youth prefer one beat, while seniors go for a softer beat.

  4. Has anyone thought about the mazik beYodaim that the bands are perpertrating on the attendees of a wedding in being the cause of hearing damage to people?
    Isn’t it interesting that you find that almost all of the members of bands playing today are wearing ear plugs?
    It is ashaming that nothing is being done about it.
    Unfortunately the advertazing in these blogs for these bands and so called baal menagnim only encourage such practice.

  5. It is too bad that C. Z. did reveal his name. I always feel better dealing with people whose names I know.

    Be that as it may, I would like to share with everyone my latest email on this topic. The subject is

    More on Is This Really Jewish Music?

    When I sent out my email with my opinions of what is today called Jewish music, I forgot about this great example of Jewish music.

    [link removed due to objectionable content]

    I think that you will find it an eye opener!

    I think this song is stilled played at many Chasanas. Perhaps when they play it they should have a large screen and show this video. Now this I would stay in the hall for.

    Professor Yitzchok Levine
    Department of Mathematical Sciences
    Stevens Institute of Technology
    Hoboken, NJ 07030

  6. Well at least I agree with him on one thing. The part about most of us considering him a “duddy fuddy”. (but maybe I’m not making a good comparison between the two videos, as I didn’t get past 10 seconds on the 2nd one – you call that music?!)

  7. when calbach was a live lots of the rabbi’s said his music was not to be listened to either. Jewish music has always been influenced by the music of that time and place, lots of old nigunim were BAR songs!

  8. in my opinion jewish-rock and roll combinations are NOT JEWISH .you cant add kosher to trief to make it kosher
    but non beat music with jewish music is jewish …

  9. regarding the andy statman video
    BLUEGRASS! i didnt know that was klezmer too i guess some southerner must have dropped into boro park and said hey this here jewish stuff is real good
    and tell professer whatshisname that that WAS rock music when he was a kid but rock music now is much rockier and the lyrics much less acceptable
    so make ur kids listen to klezmer and chassisishe music from the 70’s but please when u have trouble with the fact hat ur kids
    are listening to fm radio when the think u dont know keep ur complaints to urself
    and to the professer buy earplugs i reccomend Flents(tm) 33 decibel nrr(noise reduction rating!