Dissonance

A strange sort of dissonance happens when I listen to songs from my childhood.

More often than not, I listen with a growing sense of disgust and shame, as I realize just how messed up the messages of the lyrics are.

Take this song below – the Miami Boys Choir’s very catchy “Stand Up.” I remember listening to it as a teenager, and watching the music video, and feeling empowered and inspired by the strong “stand up!”

But now it strikes me as all sorts of wrong.

I wasn’t even paying very close attention to the lyrics now. I had the song on in the background as I did some work.

But then I listened to it a few more times, as I realized – this whole song is about how “other Jews” are defiling the Torah, how “they” introduce tumah from “other cultures,” andย how “we” (presumably Orthodox people like these boys and their parents, rebbeim, and choir leader) are the “only Torah defenders.”

Forget about songs that proclaim the Jewish nation’s oneness and chosen status, the need for Jews to stand against the nations of the world. This song goes farther than that.

It sets up the “right” kind of Jews in opposition to the “wrong” kind of Jews.

Some of my secular or non-Orthodox friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have puzzled reactions when I say things that reveal the deep divisiveness fostered in Orthodox communities. They tend not to understand why people from my former community wouldn’t accept them, or why Orthodox organizations wouldn’t work with Jewish organizations that just happen to be Conservative or Reform.

I tell them bluntly most of the time, “because they don’t consider you or those organizations ‘really’ Jewish. They think you and those organizations are perverting the Torah.”

Their reaction then tends to be more puzzled. “But isn’t Torah about lovingkindness and loving your fellow Jew? And doesn’t Orthodox Judaism believe in the idea ofย shiv’im panim l’Torah (seventy ways of interpreting Torah)?”

Yeah. But Orthodox Judaism is less about loving your fellow Jew as he is, and more about loving him for the Orthodox Jew he could be. It’s about disdaining and deriding all other forms of Judaism and being the warriors, theย kana’im, who defend God’s honor.

And now when I listen, I’m left with this feeling of doubleness. I sing along, I belt the lyrics, I remember crowding around the computer screen with my siblings to watch this. And I shudder at the implications that I can recognize only now, knowing that I can’t even hope to explain this to most of my family and friends who see nothing wrong with the mode of thought embedded in these lyrics.

8 thoughts on “Dissonance

  1. The thing is, they’re just preaching to the choir. Nobody learns this attitude by listening to MBC. They already get it from everywhere else.

    When I first started listening to non-Jewish music I wouldn’t sing along to any song that didn’t match my values. Now I do. Either I’m inured to the bad values expressed therein, or I’m unthreatened by music that expresses things I disagree with.

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    1. They *are* the choir… ๐Ÿ˜‰
      And yeah… I’m more disturbed by how I didn’t recognize it back then, wasn’t immediately horrified, and did have this attitude…

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  2. Watching the video, I’m more struck by how, when I was little, the choirboys were tall and ineffably cool, and now they are just poorly choreographed little boys in ill-fitting vests. ๐Ÿ˜€

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  3. This explains exactly how I feel about Wicca and similar groups that have adopted witchery as a religion. I grew up speaking to plants, asking the moon to help lessen my menstrual pains, thanking the light for its warmth that the dark for a soothing space where to ponder and grow… But, as you already know, I am not religious. Many Wiccans and religious Pagans look at people like me with disdain. This is always puzzling to me. For how can any belief system. that speaks of love and trust, suggest that a person is not good enough just because they don’t believe exactly as they do. Makes no sense to me. And I find it embarrassing to witness… and to explain to others.

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  4. I just discovered your blog, and I’ve been enjoying it.

    A year or two ago I had an idea to do a series of posts on the Journeys albums, but I never got around to it. I had the idea on a long drive to NY when I put them on for nostalgia’s sake. Like you wrote, there’s that weird mixture of fuzzy nostalgia and enjoyment of familiar music mixed with deep distaste for the lyrics.

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    1. Thank you! If you ever do write that series of blog posts, let me know – I’ll link to it here ๐Ÿ™‚ I think that’s a fascinating idea, and I would love to read it.

      I’ve been trying to deal with this fuzzy-nostalgia-mixed-with-deep-distaste by digitizing Shmuel Kunda-type children’s tapes. I’ve got some here: http://opencuny.org/orthodoxjewisharchive/ The project stalled because… well, work, end of semester grading, etc. Also I’m relying on my sister to steal these tapes from my parents’ basement for me ๐Ÿ™‚ But I do hope to continue with it, and maybe write something about it at some point.

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