Shlomo Carlebach revisited

A very sad and unfortunate scenario is rapidly developing wherein the memory and personality of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is being demonized and his teachings and songs are being rejected and ostracized by certain individuals and groups.

Although the charges which have been leveled against him are legally and Halachically unsubstantiated, I want to express my deepest concern and sympathy for the women who have recently stated that they have been sexually harassed or abused by him quite some years ago. I do not question their veracity or sincerity and sincerely hope that they will be able to overcome any negative effects caused by their experiences. I am the proud father of four wonderful daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters and their respect and honor is of the greatest importance to me.

Far from seeking any exoneration, my focus is on the life and contributions of Shlomo Carlebach.

Quite some years ago, I was the director of a Jewish children’s summer camp and Shlomo came to sing and interact with the campers. The results were phenomenal. I believe that his sincerity was highly contagious and positively affected many thousands of people – past, present and future.

His extraordinary efforts on behalf of Russian Jewry are legendary. Many are the tales of his sitting alone with badly wounded Israeli soldiers and refusing to leave their side, singing to them until they came back to life.

I was not aware of his many teachings and anecdotes until my grandsons in Israel, well-versed in Torah, showed them to me and told me of their admiration for him.

This is not an attempt at a biography of Shlomo. Rather, it is a statement of the huge contributions he made to Jews in all fields of life, a life which was all too short.

Now, a serious flaw has been attributed to him. But is Shlomo alone in this unfortunate and sad situation?
I will confine myself to only one of our greatest kings and musicians… King David. Far be it for me to even suggest the slightest comparison between the two. Nevertheless, the realistic facts speak for themselves.

King David’s sin was not hidden from us. That is the beauty and strength of our Torah and Jewish heritage. His sin with Batsheva was exposed and admitted. It included the death of Uriah. It was clearly the low moment in David’s life.

Yet, in all my readings of the Torah and its commentaries, I have never seen any suggestion that David’s Psalms should be purged from our Bible. I have never heard the proposal that the beautiful songs of his writings should be eliminated from our music. His heartfelt Psalms and prayers continue to be on our lips in times of sadness, difficulty and joy.

Human lives are complex and there is only one Judge in the world. God is compassionate, Shlomo was compassionate. Perhaps we, too, can show a measure of compassion.

May his sins be forgiven and may his music continue to be a source of joy and inspiration to us all.

About the Author
Norbert Weinberg received Semicha from Yeshiva University in 1957 and has served communities in Quebec City,Canada,New Bedford MA, Fall River MA, Norwich CT and Newton MA. He has authored a number of books, the latest of which are "A Time To Tell" and "A Time To Share." With his wife, Susan, he lives half a year in Newton MA and half a year in Israel. Three of his daughters live in Efrat and one in Monsey, New York. Most of his twenty-four grandchildren live in Israel, as do his thirty-five great-grandchildren.