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:
Last week, we discussed the issue of children listening to non-Jewish music. I received a lot of emails over the past few days, many expressing a strong opinion one way or the other. Some people were shocked that I seemed to imply that it's ok to listen to women singing, while others didn't understand what the problem is.
As per the Halacha, it is forbidden for men to hear women singing. However, there are circumstances in which it might be permitted. I will not elaborate except to repeat what’s been written many times in these articles. In case of doubt, ask your Rav.
If you have no problem with your children listening to all types of music, no one is forcing you to read this article. However, many people understand the amazing strength of music and the power and influence it can have. When your children listen to certain songs, it can have a very negative effect on their behavior or attitude.
Music is an integral part of Yiddishkeit. We sing beautiful songs throughout Tanach, we have a Sefer Tehillim, and music was a daily feature in the Beis Hamikdash. Yes, music can inspire us and raise us to great heights, if used properly. The reason we’re not supposed to listen to music at certain somber times of the year is because it makes us happy.
On the other hand, like many other things, there can be a serious downside. Listening to music that was composed with hate, jealousy, or any other inappropriate thoughts, can have a detrimental effect on you and your children. This doesn’t mean that all non-Jewish music is evil – it just means that you need to be very careful with that to which your children are exposed.
I have incorporated several of the suggestions and comments I received from you, and as always, some of these ideas might work for you better than others.
1) Try to expose your children to different kinds of Jewish music, starting from when they are young. You might enjoy a specific genre of music, but your children have their own preferences and should be given the opportunity to develop their own taste.
2) Let your kids have an MP3 player, once they show an interest in music. Help them load on songs from your computer. Obviously, this should be done with adult supervision and guidance.
3) They might choose their selections based on the way the first five seconds of a song sound. That's their prerogative. You can offer suggestions, but let them develop their own playlist.
4) Play music in your house frequently. Record players might be gone, (my kids used to call them giant CD’s), but you can easily set up a Bluetooth system. Having music playing when children are young helps them in many ways. They develop better rhythm, and have a more upbeat attitude (pun intended).
5) Children’s CD’s and music, such as the Marvelous Middos Machine, 613 Torah Avenue and Uncle Moishy, are fantastic, educational and entertaining. Especially in a car ride, there are some fantastic story tapes/music which children really enjoy. My kids’ personal favorite is the Golden Crown. However, I have also found that having music playing in the background while kids are playing, relaxes them and enhances the general atmosphere.
6) As they grow older and their (Jewish) music choices irritate you (“What’s wrong with the Rabbi’s Sons?”), try to be open minded. Making faces will just make whatever they’re listening to seem more appealing. However, it is okay to casually mention that it’s not your taste, or the kind of music that you find enjoyable.
7) If your older kids begin to listen to non-Jewish music which is inappropriate - perhaps glorifying violence, hatred, or immodesty - you can explain why it's a problem. One father told me he had the following conversation with his 15-year-old, and it worked. “Ari, I appreciate that you enjoy this song. However, here are the comments he made about Jews last year. Do you feel comfortable listening to his music, knowing he hates us?”
8) There is definitely an appeal to non-Jewish music. If your child really wants to listen to a certain popular song, it might not be worth the battle. Every case is different and you should ask your Rav for guidance.
9) If your child insists on listening to non-Jewish music, give him some choices. Pick some of the songs that you might have listened to growing up, and let him listen with you. At the very least, it will narrow the amount he's exposed to. Keep in mind this might not work if his mind is set on a specific singer or song.
10) Gershon Veroba has a few CD’s out called “Variations”. It's similar to Shlock Rock, but a little more “New age.” It might help get the itch out of the kids.
11) The best time to start your kids on a good, wholesome musical path, is on Shabbos. Sing Zemiros with excitement, and let them sing along. It doesn’t only have to be Shabbos songs. It can be any song which you think they might enjoy and get them involved. You can even take this one step further and try playing a game at the Shabbos table called, “Guess the song.” We enjoy playing this very often. I hum the intro to any Jewish song and the kids challenge each other to see who can name the song as quickly as possible.
Remember, many of us listened to what our parents considered horrible music, and we turned out OK. If you have no control over what your older child is listening to, don't turn it into an ongoing battle, or make it a public issue in your home in front of the younger children. You can insist that he respect your wishes and not play it loudly, or introduce such music to his siblings.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I appreciate that my weekly advice columns have been picked up and printed in several newspapers and other publications. If you are reading this article in a print media, that’s wonderful. However, you can subscribe to the emails by visiting www.yidparenting.com – this way you can comment on the blog and be a part of the discussion.
Have a good 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.