Dear Rabbi Ross. Over the past few months, you have helped so many parents with all types of problems. We decided to add a fun one to the mix. Our oldest son (NAME REDACTED) is 14 years old, and he’s a sweet and well behaved mentsch. Recently, he has started listening to non-Jewish music, and it’s driving us crazy. The lyrics are inappropriate, the singers are disgusting role models, when the girls sing it’s Kol Isha, and the weirdest part is, it sounds horrible. We are worried, not only for our son, but for the younger ones as well. Should we stop this? If so, what’s the best way? Thanks in advance. A & C Lesser - Brooklyn
It was just a few years ago that I was relaxing and listening to the Beatles and Abba’s greatest hits. Non-Jewish music used to be much simpler and safer. I agree with your opinion that non-Jewish “music” these days is just horrible. As a musician, I try to be open minded about all types and genres of music, but every once in a while, there are times when I cringe even when I hear certain “Jewish songs.”
Then again, I’m sure many people felt the same way when the Beatles came out. Music is a funny subject, as it is constantly evolving. It seems that children have a way of developing tastes in music that drive parents crazy. In any case, it seems from your question that more than one thing is bothering you. Not only are you bothered by his choice of music, but the religious aspect concerns you as well.
It’s important to understand that every family is different when it comes to music. There are some very Yeshivish families that only listen to Jewish music, and there are modern families that couldn’t care less. There are even some families, that disapprove of the more “upbeat” Jewish songs which often sound like (or imitate) secular music! You son might come from a Yeshivish family, but if his friends listen to other types of music, it won’t be long until he gets hooked as well.
In any case, it’s much easier to figure things out if you separate the issues. Let’s start with the religious part. There are different opinions as to whether listening to women sing from a recording is prohibited. There are many variables involved, and as always, you should let your son ask the Rav of your shul. Telling your children, “You shouldn’t be listening to this type of music and it’s Halachically wrong”, is not a very good idea. It just causes resentment for Yiddishkeit.
Incidentally, the above holds true for many other things. If your children are doing something you don’t approve of, feel free to discuss it with them. Don’t make everything into a religious issue, otherwise your children might associate Yiddishkeit with negativity.
Instead of giving solutions or ideas this week, let’s try and fully understand the problem. There is a certain appeal that non-Jewish music holds over all children. It’s fun, original, and is in English. Yes, there are fun Jewish songs, and some are in English, but originality isn’t one of our stronger points these days. As one of my non-Jewish friends told me, “90% of Jewish music sounds the same.”
A very popular Jewish producer told me, “Every singer asks me to make their music different.” Our music is supposed to be Heartzig! It’s supposed to have a special “Ta’am” or flavor. We’re trying too hard to imitate non-Jewish music, and ironically, it’s causing more children to stop listening. End of rant.
Here are some things to think about:
Have a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.