Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who's writing Chanukah music, and what difference does it make?

This week there has been an interesting online conversation via blogs, tweets, and facebook, responding and reacting to Senator Orrin Hatch's Chanukah song.  He wrote the song, and doesn't feature much in the singing of it, and it was posted at Tablet Magazine, here.  It's an interesting situation - a US Senator, who is of the Mormon faith, writing a Chanukah song.  A story that makes it to the New York Times, and NPR's 'All Things Considered'.  So much more interesting than 'Jewish musician writes a new song for Chanukah'.

I'll be honest; I'm not a great fan.  The Jewish faith emphasizes deed over word.  As I listen to the words of Hatch's Chanukah song, I am struck that the primary message, other than 'let's celebrate', is about Religious Freedom.  But as a Reform Jew, I am troubled that it was this Senator who co-sponsored the recent amendment that failed to get the votes in the Senate health debate that would have restricted, through financial impediment, the freedoms of women to make choices about their bodies, based on their personal ethics and their individual faiths.  On another issue where the Union for Reform Judaism has taken a strong stand, Senator Hatch is on record as having a faith-based reasoning for holding back equal civil rights to gays and lesbians.  I believe in freedom of religion, fully understanding that some individuals and communities will hold views that I strongly disagree with.  I do, however, take issue with State or Federal laws that impose the belief system of one faith, or one element within one faith, on the rest of society.  Belief that life begins at conception is not a universally held scientific/secular belief, and it is not a universally held religious belief.  Belief that there is something lesser, or not God-given about the love and humanity of GLBT people is likewise something that only some people of some faith communities hold to be so.

I'm sorry if I'm taking all the fun out of the interesting headline but, as a person of faith, while knowing that we are all flawed and often fail to meet our own standards, it is important to me that words and deeds go together.  And, even more important, when I hear NPR reporting that there are no good Chanukah songs being written by Jewish musicians these days as part of their promotion of Senator Hatch's efforts, I have to offer a little something to set the record straight.  I'll be the first to admit that there's a lot of bad Jewish music out there; but there's also a lot of great stuff - too much to do justice to all the great songs and great artists you can find on the Jewish music scene today.  Below are links to just two of the more recent quality contributions to Chanukah: Michelle Citrin (a great song and fabulous youtube video that came out last year) and Beth Schafer, with a new Chanukah song, Night by Night, on a really great new album, Raise it Up, just released last month.  Below that are some links to some other sites, artists and albums and labels to get started.

Check them out.  And let me know what you think.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Julie Silver's Chanukah album, 'It's Chanukah Time'
Debbie Friedman's Chanukah album, Light These Lights
JDub records - innovative and contemporary Jewish artists - itunes for Jewish music
The Leevees - with a fun Chanukah album and a couple of great youtubes.
The Macaroons, a new kids band, with a fun song, 'Hurry up and light the candles'


  1. I understand your point of view regarding freedom/religious beliefs and how far you act upon them. But it is a minefield. Many animal rights people would ban Shechita, other people male circumcision. Others want female circumcision.

    Also what is the point of believing in something if you don't then act upon those beliefs? Hence IF you were to be elected office, would you suddenly choose to jettison those beliefs at that moment in time?

    And if you don't use your beliefs to pass legislation are you only going to use evidence and science? Science is without morality, it just 'is'. Some issues require judgements that are beyond evidence/science. Democracy is NOT about doing what is right but also doing what people want - even if their wants are not based upon science. Democratic politicians act upon what they want and what the voters want.

    The system is designed in such a way that we hope what is right is what comes out at the other end - but its not guaranteed.

    Would you pick and choose when to apply your beliefs and when not to? How consistent is that? What criteria would you use?

    These issues are not black and white, but full of greys, foggy ones at that.

    Moving away from Religion - In Scotland the largest party is the SNP. They are actually a minority administration. They wish to have a referendum on Independence. The other parties who are larger in total than the SNP were voted in with a clear anti-interpendance agenda and manifesto. They do NOT believe in it. Nor do those that voted for them.

    Hence they have decided to block the referendum so it does not take place.

    Wrong or right? Should they stick to their beliefs or let the ruling party rule and put it to the public?

  2. I appreciate your point - of course we act on our beliefs all the time. And, of course not everything done in the name of religion goes. And how we determine those lines is not simple. So let’s just go with the matter at hand. A Mormon Senator, with a voting record that cuts against what Reform Judaism in the USA teaches on a number of social issues, denying full civil rights and freedoms to some American citizens based on their gender or sexuality, decides to write a Chanukah song that makes ‘religious freedom’ the main message it extracts from the Chanukah story.

  3. But that is the paradox of democracy.

    he has the freedom to be elected on the platform to vote that way based upon his beliefs.

    There is no end to the circle of hypocrisy that true democracy offers us all!

  4. I don't really understand why this Senator felt he needed to write a Chanukah song. And, the very words of the song seem to go against what he is all about. That's kind of sad to me as someone who is jewish and someone who writes music. The consolation prize is that this song/arrangement has no soul and has no chance of being a big hit (just my humble opinion...hah). What makes a song is truth and real experiences. Too bad jewish crooners such as Barry Manilow, Barbara Streisand and so many others keep doing holiday albums that have nothing to do with Chanukah or any other jewish holiday. I do enjoy listening to Smooth-e Surburban Homeboy who sings/raps songs from the heart about being kosher, going to the hillel and true jewish experiences. I also love The LeVees music for this too. There are other songs about going to the movies on Christmas and songs about spelling Chanukah. These draw on experience. Not only does this person lack experiences but also seems to lack understanding. It is a kick in the face.

    There are no songs about Kwanza or Ramadan and while I have total respect for these holidays, you won't see me writing songs about them. I have no experience or truth to offer in those subjects.

    Maybe I will write a song about hypocritical politicians, I'll keep you posted.

    Reading about the origin of how this song came to be, someone had said that there wasn't a lot of great Chanukah music out there. That person doesn't have the Chanukah music collection or jewish music collection that I do which includes The Klezmatics, Joel Frankel, Debbie Friedman and the list goes on and on including The Bare Naked Ladies who I love for being famous AND writing a Chanukah song AFTER fame! :)

  5. Rabbi Andy Bachman posted this on Facebook - another Jewish response to Orrin Hatch's Chanukah song, courtesty of The Tonight Show!