Carlebach Minyanim and Nigunim
- This has been worrying me for a while.
- Shlomo Carlebach wrote wonderful tunes that without doubt help people to make their prayer and song spiritually richer.
- But some people say he also behaved inappropriately: there are allegations of sexual abuse of minors and of other sexually inappropriate behaviour.
- These allegations are anecdotal and appear online in a few places: so far as I can discover, during his lifetime he was never charged formally with any offence.
- There may be something in these allegations; and there may be nothing in them.
- So – “innocent until proved guilty” and sing on?
- I’m not sure it’s so simple.
- If I were a victim of sexual abuse by Carlebach, how would I feel every time I saw another Carlebach Minyan starting up? And how would I feel every time one of his songs was started up to turn a service into a rousing chorus?
- I would feel neglected by a community that seemingly doesn’t care whether or not I was abused.
- Having thought about it for a while and investigated a little bit online, it seems to me that the allegations are sufficiently serious to need some kind of investigation (the only investigation I have seen mentioned online does not seem to me to have been sufficient). The international Jewish community should find a way of setting up a credible investigation into the allegations, followed by a report (difficult, but not impossible – there are some precedents we could draw on). That report would either conclude that it is beyond reasonable doubt that Carlebach behaved improperly; or that there is no credible evidence that he behaved improperly; or that there is some credible evidence, but insufficient to be sure either way.
- After that, individuals could make up their own mind about what that meant for their own attitude to his music.
- But until then, the only message we are giving is that we don’t really care. To embroider a theme from Blowing In The Wind, if we have sufficient ears to hear the beauty of Carlebach’s music, we should have an equal ability and desire to listen to the cries of those who claim to have been abused by him.