Carlebach, R’ Moshe Feinstein and Chabad

I know there are many people who feel uplifted by his tunes. However, the Halachic perspective on this controversial figure, needs to be known.  I am aware that Vicki Polin had been accused of many things including hyperbole, but it cannot be argued by anyone who has a fidelity to historical fact, that as years progressed he became more “progressive” and there were serious accusations.

Reb Moshe Feinstein wrote an opinion in among a section of his writings one would not normally read Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer Vol. 1, No 96. In that, my reading is that until he became more progressive, his songs were fine. After that, they were to be avoided.

One Shabbos Shachris, without much forethought, I chose a Carlebach tune for Kel Adon. (Let me say that it is Halachically very problematic to sing Kel Adon in any tune, unless one does this in a form of Aniya (answering). The Chazan says a stanza and the Kahal repeat it. The same is true of Lecha Dodi. There is a special Kedusha and Mesora to this form of Answering which is an endangered species and I urge Ba’alei Tefilla and Chazonim to re-introduce it, even with song. This was the very strong opinion of the Rav).

I finished davening, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל as was his custom, thanked me for the שחרית and then asked me to sit down. He relayed a story between he, the LR and R’ Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Groner had been a friend of Carlebach, and had learned with him. After Shlomo went down certain paths, Rabbi Groner wondered what approach he should take vis a vis his relationship with Shlomo and inter alia his music/influence.

Rabbi Groner told me that the LR was very firm. Although the LR always stressed Kiruv (bringing people closer to God), he did do so again in respect of Shlomo. The LR instructed Rabbi Groner that all efforts should be made to be warm to Shlomo, however, and this was a big however, this was never to be done within the Mosdos (institutions) of Chabad. One should find other ways.

Rabbi Groner then regaled me with stories of Shlomo and his brother’s brilliance in learning, but he asked me not to do this again. Suffice it to say, that within a Lubavitch Mosad, I never sang a Carlebach song during Tefilla. I admit, I was also influenced by R’ Moshe Feinstein’s Tshuvah, which although is kind, and doesn’t mention Shlomo by name, is known by his Talmidim, to have Shlomo in mind.

I’m not here to judge Shlomo. However, I do think that anyone with a fidelity to Chabad absolutely must follow the LR’s instructions. Some will not know, others I know ignore these instructions. I mentioned my conversation with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, and he affirmed that he had heard it from his father himself as well. R’ Chaim Tzvi will quietly discourage Shlomo’s tunes in his Chabad House.

Make up your own mind about those who choose to not follow the LR’s very clear dictum. Do they know better?

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

18 thoughts on “Carlebach, R’ Moshe Feinstein and Chabad”

  1. The Rebbe didn’t say anything about his tunes. All he said, according to your report, is that Lubavitcher mosdos should not officially have any connection with him, and all efforts to reach out to him and bring him back should be made in a private capacity. Singing his tunes, especially posthumously, is a separate issue that the Rebbe didn’t address.
    There is a report, which you can take with as much salt as you need, that he did teshuvah on the morning of his last day.


    1. Reb Moshe did, and Rabbi Groner considered bringing his tunes into the Mosdos a lower darga than bringing him into the Mosdos. It beggars belief that the LR would not allow him to have an official presence in Chabad, but would permit his tunes to be played. Either way, Rabbi Groner certainly liked the tunes, but would not allow them


  2. Shloimele came to Mt Scopus for an afternoon (1967?,1968?) and I knew zero about who he was. All I remember is: that I thought it was weird that he sang in a ashkenazi accent.

    A YU Rabbi learning some tshuvot on mixed singing, mentioned Carlebach in passing. He said that the Jewish musically-interested community has largely forgiven him for his transgressions, in the sense that his tunes are ubiquitous throughout many religious circles.

    This Rabbi said that since his death, Upstairs will be dealing with him, but his deeds cannot be compared to the deeds of those people who put cameras into Mikvaot, and molested chidren, and molested young women. With Carlebach there was no coverup, everything was consensual.


    1. Mixed singing was but one issue. Upstairs deals with all people. To quote Marc Shapiro:

      This concerns Israel Najara, and Talmid of The Ari, and author of the popular and Shabbat zmirah, Kah Ribon:

      “R Chayim Vital, in his Sefer HaChezyonot, records that while drunk, Najara engaged in homosexual acts. He also mentions that Najara had sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman. Because of this, Vital wrote that ‘the hymns that he has composed are in themselves good, but whoever speaks to him and whatever leaves his mouth is forbidden, because he always used foul language and was a drunkard his whole life’.”

      Early editions of Sefer HaChezyonot apparently omitted Najara’s name. Shapiro comments that, “Had this information been public knowledge in earlier years, it is unlikely that Najara’s hymn would ever have been adopted, even though, as we have seen, Vital asserted that his hymns are without objection.”


  3. Can anyone declare with certainty that Carlebach was not chozer beteshuva? And assuming he indeed was fully repentant for the acts to which he was accused, would this have impacted the positions of RMF and/or the LR?


    1. Not sure that I’ve ever read that claim. Didn’t he die suddenly of a heart attack? Either way, does that mean things from then on are fine or does it mean the stuff from before remains that way. Reb Moshe seemed to make a distinction. I’m not judge and jury. Nor can I intuit what the LR would have said, although there is no doubt he would have welcomed him with open arms were that the case.


      1. RMF in his teshuva is very clear (to the extent that the person in question was Carlebach, and given the dates and substance of the teshuva, it would certainly seem to be that way) that there is absolutely no halakhic prohibition to play or sing Carlebach’s nigunim, whether or not the tunes in question were written when he may have publicly committed certain transgressions, with the caveat that Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh* should be stringent. RMF very clearly states that to the extent that sins were committed they are to be deemed as L’teavon (it is worth noting that this teshuva was written in 1959 and the “only” offense committed by Carlebach under discussion is the immodesty of his performances before men and women sitting together; I do not know if the more serious accusations that were alleged against him are alluded in this teshuva or if they occurred after this teshuva was written, though I would posit that they all fall under the category of transgressions committed l’teavon) is accused of command he remains a proper Jew who believes in the sanctity of the Torah, and were he to have written a sefer Torah it would certainly be kosher for all intensive purposes. Moreover, why does the burden of proof need to be on Carlebach that he was chozer betshuva? To the best of my knowledge, as opposed to the sins to which R. Moti Elon has been convicted along with the public shaming of David Hamelech who also underwent a very public teshuva, the accusations made against Carlebach were made posthumously and as such I do not believe he lost his chezkat kashrut. I also do not know what is the relevance with the fact that he had a heart attack while mid-air at the age of 69 long after any of these incidents allegedly occurred and we all know the Mishna that if a Rasha proposes to a woman on condition that he is a pure tzadik, we must assume that he repented at that moment. I agree you are not judge or jury, as I certainly am not, and given the posthumous accusations and RMF’s halakhic analysis, IMHO I believe that no posek can render a decision that undermines the halakhic validity of Carlebach’s music, and the burden of proof rests with that posek who rules otherwise.

        A neighbor of mine made aliya from Staten Island and was present at a kiddush in which one of the shul members took out a fancy bottle of sherry cask whiskey and poured a shot glass for a fellow member, who politely declined, at which point, HaRav Reuven Feinstein, Shlit”a, who overheard the exchange told the man that if he would not drink the whiskey, then R. Reuven himself would do so. At which point, he was asked how could he do so when his father himself said that a ba’al nefesh should refrain from drinking such whiskey, to which he replied: “When my father was referring to a ba’al nefesh, he was talking about someone on a much higher level than me!”


        1. Kohelet, an admirable attempt at defending. I do not believe I will change your mind, nor do I wish to get into a “Sin count” or describe whether things are L’Teavon, especially when under the influence, Vehamyvin Yovin. That being said, the Master of Kiruv, the LR, would not allow him to perform just for men, in his Mosdos, let alone be influenced for Tshuva within Lubavitch. One can surmise that this was because he was concerned that his charisma may affect T’mimim. As to B’aal Nefesh. It’s used by the Mishna B’rura and many others. I am not one of these, so I can’t comment 🙂 My article however was designed to highlight that there are definitely issues, and certainly they played out in a real way for me. I do play Carlebach with my band, but I can tell you that many, Chassidim and Litvaks, will specifically exclude his songs from my list!


            1. Why m’lihatkhila are you not taking comments on this topic? Were David HaMelekh not to have done teshuva, once could make similar assertions regarding his Mizmorei Tehilim as you are making vis a vis Carlebach’s music.

              As to R. Yonatan’s pronouncement in Masekhet Shabbat, I refer you to HaRav Yaakov Medan’s monumental work on this topic entitled David u-Bat Sheva: The Sin, Punishment and Tikkun baed on his earlier article published in Megadim ( and the beginning of the article directly directs this Gemara in Shabbat. R. Medan takes the position that perhaps David’s actions did not constitute a sin from a legal perspective (e.g., Uriah had given Bat Sheva a get, he was mored b’malkhut, etc.) but from a moral perspective he had committed a great sin as so powerfully demonstrated by Natan’s mashal kivsat harash and the fact that after the incident with Bat Sheva, David’s reign of power effectively crumbles. Also, I believe that you cannot simply whisk away the reference to David HaMelekh in this context with the Gemara from Shabbat otherwise you are selectively choosing which Gemarot to quote and would need to discuss R. Yonatan’s statement together with the following two:

              אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: לעולם אל יביא אדם עצמו לידי נסיון, שהרי דוד מלך ישראל הביא עצמו לידי נסיון ונכשל (סנהדרין קז.)
              והיינו דרבי שמואל בר נחמני א”ר יונתן, מאי דכתיב: +שמואל ב’ כג+ נאם דוד בן ישי ונאם הגבר הוקם על? נאם דוד בן ישי שהקים עולה של תשובה. (עבודה זרה ה.)

              The second source is particularly interesting as it is attributed to the very same Tanna you quoted, and if indeed R. Yonatan is of the view that David HaMelekh did not sin, then what could he be referring to when proclaiming that he raised the yoke of repentance?


            2. Kohelet, I just found your comment in Spam. You will note that I was stating the opinions of others, and not my own. I’m not a Rav to Pasken. Regarding Dovid Hamelech you forget that his Mizmorim were written with Ruach HaKodesh. Why do you think they were canonised! What I was trying to say is I’m not getting into the Dovid Hamelech episode. Reb Moshe, of course, was well aware of it 🙂


      2. See my comment above, where I linked the report about his teshuvah. You may take that report with as much salt as you like.


            1. A respected elder recounted that in Chicago they asked r Moshe feinstein if they should allow the reform to use the mikveh for their converts.
              Reb Moshe responded that they should give them access but the mikveh lady should not be involved in any way.


  4. I disagree with your interpretation of Rav Moshe’s teshuva. He write explicitly that there is no prohibition.


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