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Rabbis Tone Deaf?
Mon, 12/17/2012 - 19:00

The sentiments voiced by the White Plains rabbis welcoming Palestinian observer status at the United Nations left me disheartened (“Was ‘A Great Moment’ Too Alienating?” Dec. 7).

How can the rabbis in good conscience offer support to a movement whose leadership denies the Holocaust, balks at any Jewish historical link to the land and permits anti-Jewish hatred to be included in schoolbooks and other venues? The answer came a few pages later in George Robinson’s critique of Stephen Fry’s film “Wagner &Me.” Robinson correctly points out that “every Jew with even a passing interest in Western culture has a few of them — anti-Semitic artists for whom they will engage in special pleading.” Unfortunately the rabbis, much like Stephen Fry, hear the music but seem “tone deaf” to the composers’ true and well established beliefs.      

Lawrence, L.I.

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Wagner's Tannhauser overture was played at Herzl's request at the First Zionist Congress. Herzl took part in a public memorial to Wagner after his funeral. The reason for this is that music is abstract, not concrete. Herzl knew Wagner's antisemitism. The composer's views were odious and widespread. Still, music itself, without words or titles, can be taken by us in any way we choose.Even Wagner's librettos can be taken metaphorically, leaving us the ability to take what we find relevant and reject what we despise. Israel is a different context. There Wagner's music is a concrete manifestation and should not be performed publicly, but those wishing to hear this music can be better served by historic recordings and don't need to disturb public sensitivities.

I disagree with the analogy between listening to this music and the UN vote and its rabbinic supporters. Jews have always learned from cultures foreign to us but know how to reject what we can't accept. Wagner can stay in Hell where he belongs, but his music belongs to our imagination alone.