By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is May 30, 1959.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l pens a response to a Rebbe who is teaching in Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky’s Yeshiva of South Shore (IM EH Vol. I #96). The Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Dishon, had asked Rav Moshe about a certain individual artist who once had an excellent reputation. This artist had composed a number of musical compositions that had captured the hearts of the Torah community. Unfortunately, the artist had gone astray. Is it permitted to listen and sing the tunes that he had composed while he was still “fully kosher?”
[The issue has to do with giving a “good name” to evildoers which would violate a principle found in the Talmud (Yuma 38b.)]
Rav Moshe zt”l rules that there is nothing wrong with doing so for tunes that he had composed while he was “fully kosher.” For tunes that he had composed after his fall, Rav Feinstein writes, “it is likely that we should not be stringent since tunes do not essentially have to do with matters of Kedusha, however, Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh should avoid it.”
Rav Feinstein bases his ruling on the fact that some authorities (See Meleches Shlomo on Maaser Sheini) are of the view that the Yochanan Kohain Gadol who had promulgated many decrees in regard to Maaser Sheini – was, in fact, the same Yochanan Kohain Gadol who eventually became a Sadduccee. These decrees, however, were made while he was still “fully kosher.”
Rav Feinstein addresses the fact that the Rambam specifically points out that this was NOT the Yochanan Kohain Gadol who became a Sadduccee. Rav Feinstein writes that this would not mean that the Rambam held that it would have been forbidden to publicize his name along with the enactments – because why create a halachic argument on something when you do not have to?
He further writes that tunes, are essentially a matter that has nothing to do with a Davar Shebekedusha and should be no different than inventions of machinery or medicine.
THOSE THAT FORBID
Rav Menashe Klein (Mishneh Halachos Vol. VI #108), without mentioning the view of Rav Feinstein comes to the exact opposite conclusion and writes that it is entirely forbidden to do so – even in regard to the tunes composed while he was still “kosher.”
Rav Moshe Stern (Be’er Moshe Vol. VI #74 in the notes), the Debriciner Rav, also forbids the matter and even writes that it is forbidden to sell tapes of such individuals. Indeed, Rav Stern writes that one must even look into a person who would even stoop to sell such tapes. Interestingly enough, Rav Stern also does not mention the more permissive view of Rav Feinstein on the topic.
And while, most of the readership of this article, are not Skver Chassidim, the Halachic publication of the Skver Rebbe’s Kollelim (Zera Yaakov Gilyon #26) cites the more stringent view of Rav Moshe Stern in their halachic conclusions – ignoring entirely the view of Rav Feinstein.
ONCE AGAIN AN ISSUE
While this debate, at first glance, may seem to center about a somewhat esoteric area of Halacha, very recent revelations in other news, have brought this halachic matter to the fore once again. What is the status of Eruvin and other works and rulings of those that have gone astray?
The issue therefore calls for a closer examination of the sources that are cited in order to understand what is the actual halacha. The stringent view compares the cases to a Sefr Torah that is written by Apikorsim which should be placed in Geniza and not used. Rav Feinstein, however, cites the Pischei Teshuvah in Yoreh Deah (281:2) who rules that if the author of the Sefer Torah became an Apikores after he had written the Torah – there is nothing wrong with the Sefer Torah.
This latter point is highly significant and it is somewhat wondrous how the stringent authorities could have overlooked this Pischei Teshuvah.
Rav Feinstein further writes that the “giving a good name” would only refer to the period of time that he was acting properly and correct, and thus would not be considered a halachic problem. Rav Feinstein also distinguishes between matters of Kfirah – religious infidelity and matters of personal failing in the area of unseemly activity.
It is not that the personal failing in unseemly activity is not problematic. The Shach writes (YD 251:1) that someone who regularly fails in one area of halacha is deemed an Avaryan. The Netziv (Shailos uTeshuvos maishiv Davar Vol. I #8) has a responsa that deals with a Sofer who was not careful in his halachic observance and concludes that the Tefillin that he had written are still kosher, but do require examination.
TIMING IS CRUCIAL
Getting back to how the Be’er Moshe and Mishne Halachos might address the aforementioned Pischei Teshuvah, one can only assume that they questioned how it would be possible to ascertain exactly when the musician went astray. The answer to this question would lie in the notion of a Chezkas Kashrus (see Krisus 12a) – every person begins with the status that he is considered kosher until the moment when something new has clearly developed. Thus, even according to the stringent view one would have to research when the problems first began and only stay away from that which developed after that time.
Timing would also be an issue even according to the responsa of the Netziv – as one would have to ascertain what Tefillin the Sofer may have written after he became lax in his halachic observance. Indeed, even Rav Feinstein’s permissive view did not apply to Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh – timing would therefore be an issue for Rav Feinstein’s view as well.
It is also clear that Rav Feinstein’s lenient view was predicated upon the idea that music is essentially something that does not directly relate to Davar Shebekudasha.
What about Torah writings, however? This issue is also somewhat nuanced, as it depends upon how we understand the issue of Elisha Ben Abuyah mentioned in Rav Feinsteins’s responsa as well. Did all the Torah of Elisha Ben Abuya mentioned in the Talmud strictly come from the time period before he “went astray?” Rav Feinstein understands this to be the case, but other authorities explain otherwise.
One last thought. Might the halacha here be different if we were to view the fallen artist, or other person under discussion, as having been subjected to the throws of mental illness or addiction? Certainly, while the subject is yet under these influences and has not received treatment nor recovered, there would be no discussion and no distinction. But if it was determined that the “fall of the artist” was due to mental illness – and he had subsequently recovered – might the music of that era be permitted – even for Bnei Torah?
It is also important to note that in all this we must not lose sight of the enormous Chillul Hashem and damage to human beings that surround such questions. This also includes damage to the innocent family members of those who have gone astray. May Hashem prevent such devastation in the future and may we see only yeshuos and nechamos.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org