Rivaled by few, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach succeeded in bringing many Jews closer to G-D. This he achieved through the love of his fellow Jew, expressed in his music, lyrics and anecdotes. His mark upon the Jewish world has been so significant that many of his melodies are regularly used in mainstream synagogue liturgy. Some have compared him to be the Jewish equivalent of Lennon as his lyrics and melodies continue to inspire and arouse the Jewish soul.
In light of the sexual allegations that have surfaced after the rabbi’s passing, Melanie Lidman’s Times of Israel article, “After #MeToo, some congregations weigh changing their tune on Shlomo Carlebach, questions whether a man’s legacy should be tarnished when he is no longer alive to defend himself? Furthermore, can we separate the man from the masterpieces he has created?
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the sexual misdeeds of many public figures have been exposed. In the court of public opinion, it does not matter whether the accusations are fictitious; it is the price the celebrity pays when they assign their lives to the public spotlight. Considered by many as a spiritual shepherd to the masses, Carlebach is ranked higher than the average celebrity. Persons such as these aren’t even afforded the pretext for unavoidable human error. When G-D’s artist turns out to be a fraud their artwork becomes dreadful as hell itself.
Due to differing factors, many allegations cannot be substantiated, which sadly leaves the door wide open to people who wish to take advantage of the situation. Although suggesting as much is distasteful to many, denying so suggests naivety and a lack of respect for the actual victims. Still, despite the very real possibility of deceit, sexual harassment problems in the world are too grave to dismiss.
The #MeToo movement has daringly exposed the sexual misconduct of many people and will continue to do so as more women become emboldened to tell their stories. These courageous women risk so much by speaking up against the patterns of abuse and harassment they have endured. Although we are not the perpetrators, we all bear the responsibility of allowing it to permeate beneath our social structures. We have a moral obligation to these women and to ourselves to believe even when the accused are no longer alive to defend themselves.
We have no shortage of world-renowned individuals, people who have made timeless contributions to the Arts and Culture. Some have survived serious scandals because their life-long contributions are considered so great that it overshadowed their personal flaws. The Jewish faith however, sets high moral standards and ethical accountability upon its followers. Regardless how prolific the contributions may be, it is very difficult to separate the art from the artist when the person in question is Jewish. Like it or not, any character default exhibited by a Jew is magnified by others decidedly more than someone who is not of this faith.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy is tarnished by consequences of both our moral duty and affirmation of his distinctive celebrity status. The only people who know the actual truth are the women who have come forward. G-D bless their souls for unmasking a lie that we may have perpetuated. But if it is a lie, as only you would know, then you must forever bear the responsibility for degrading and destroying a great man’s legacy and the beautiful art he has created.