Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

October 23, 2014

by Rabbi Louis A. RiesercarlebachbioWeb1

Anyone who met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach knew they were in the presence of someone extraordinary. Known as the guitar-laying rabbi, he reshaped Jewish music, created a unique outreach that embraced everyone regardless of background, and brought new life to Judaism around the world. Carlebach began as an emissary from Chabad Hasidism but morphed into a messenger of love and acceptance for all people. His music, with compositions numbering in the thousands, is sung in services across the breadth of the Jewish community. Often people do not even know that it was Carlebach who composed these “traditional” tunes. He reached out to hippies in the Haight-Ashbury and Jews in the former Soviet Union, brought a new spirit to Jews in Israel, and had a word of encouragement even for the beggar on the street.

This is the first extended biography available in English. It chronicles in exquisite detail the arc of Reb Shlomo’s life. We hear of his concerts, when and why he composed certain tunes, and who accompanied him. We learn of people whose lives were changed through their encounters with Carlebach. His charismatic power is evident. As with many leaders, there is a controversy surrounding him, and that gets recounted in this volume as well. For some readers, the detail may be excessive, but I found that its cumulative effect gave a feel for Carlebach’s tremendous impact.

This book tells an important chapter in the life of twentieth-century Jews.

This review appeared in the third issue of Congregational Libraries Today


If Only Modern Israeli Leaders Were Like Rabbi Carlebach’s Hippies

January 15, 2014

By Rabbi Gideon D. Sylvester carlebachbioWeb1

My great aunt was a difficult woman. She loved nothing more than to bait my father, regaling him with graphic descriptions of frying the bacon for her son’s breakfast. Then puffing on her cigarette, she would dismiss our entire heritage with one sentence: “Religion is the source of all conflicts.” She was not alone in her views; sadly, her aggressive image of religious Jews is becoming increasingly pervasive. It need not be that way; Judaism commits us eternal watchfulness, moral responsibility and, where possible, peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. It also promises that ultimately we will live side-by-side, even with the wicked of the world. So it’s depressing to hear the naysayers composing obituaries for the American led peace process, even as it soldiers on.

Dr. Natan Ophir’s new biography of the hippie scholar, musician and storyteller Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy,” offers a wonderful antidote to my aunt’s perspective and the negativity of some of our people. Carlebach was indeed deeply attached to the biblical land of Israel, a proud Zionist and a lover of the Jewish people. He also loved humanity.

As he entertained Israeli troops during a round of heavy fighting, he told journalists that what made the Israel Defense Forces special was that as each soldier loaded their weapon; they silently prayed that before their bullet reached its target, the messiah would arrive to end all wars.

His love of peace was rooted in the Jewish sources, but perhaps it also owed something to his intriguing relationship with the rebellious Jewish American hippies. As an Orthodox rabbi, he worked tirelessly to return them to the fold, but he also admired their idealistic search for meaning and their peace-loving ways.

Ophir writes that after the Six Day War, foreseeing the urgent need to build bridges with Arabs who had fallen under Israeli rule, Carlebach made the following outlandish proposal to the Israeli government:

“Give me 5,000 free tickets to bring holy hippies from Los Angeles and San Francisco and we will go to every Arab house in the country and bring them flowers and tell them we want to be brothers with them . . . we have to live together.”

When he performed at a women’s prison in Ramleh, he Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

November 26, 2013

by Greer Fay Cashman carlebachbioWeb1

In advance of the 19th anniversary next month of the passing of the popular Singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who even from the grave has influenced thousands of young Jews to approach religion with open hearts, Dr. Natan Ophir has published a new, comprehensive biography of the charismatic Carlebach. It includes a foreword by the singer’s daughter, Neshama Carlebach, who has followed in her father’s footsteps and become a popular singer in her own right.

An excerpt from the foreword shows the extent of Neshama Carlebach’s appreciation for Ophir’s dedicated work: “I know that Dr. Natan Ophir has worked to clarify the diversified aspects of my father’s rich career. He has recounted relevant events and unearthed a surprising wealth of factual evidence. Undeterred by the daunting task, Natan has worked to present a comprehensive portrayal that will now enable others to come forth and fill the many spaces in time. I appreciate his sincere connection to my father’s legacy, and I know the world will benefit greatly from his devoted efforts at constructing this first book length biography.”

Some of Shlomo Carlebach’s closest associates, who continue to disseminate his legacy, have read review copies of the book and expressed high praise for the definitive biographical study, and its meticulous research and attention to detail. Although other books have been written about Carlebach and all have been eagerly snatched up by his followers, there is consensus among the reviewers that none are as comprehensive and allencompassing, in terms of the rabbi’s life, music, concerts and contributions to Jewish liturgy, as the work produced by Ophir.

This review originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post


Getting A Read On Carlebach

November 21, 2013

by Ari L. GoldmancarlebachbioWeb1

There has been a huge outpouring of material about the life and music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach since his death 19 years ago at the age of 69. There have been memoirs, articles, hagiographies, photo collections, magazines, records, tapes and hundreds of Youtube entries. There even was a Broadway show, “Soul Doctor,” which ran for nearly 100 performances until it closed last month.

Now comes a comprehensive biography of the great man, called, simply, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” It was written by Natan Ophir and published by Urim Publications. It runs over 500 pages with footnotes, timelines and a discography that includes all the songs Carlebach recorded. Little about him seemed to escape the author’s eye: There are lists of all the people he ordained as rabbis and accounts of hundreds of weddings he performed and concerts he gave.

For those who were first introduced to Carlebach through “Soul Doctor,” as well as for those who grew up with Carlebach and his music, there is much in Ophir’s volume to explore and enjoy. It is also a good way to fact check the play.

Did he really have a romance with the African-American singer Nina Simone? Read the rest of this entry »


Carlebach event at the OU Center

November 3, 2013

Carlebach ou center

A wonderful evening of Reb Shlomo Carlebach at the OU Israel Center. 130 people enjoyed the music and recollections of Howie Kahn and the presentation and stories and history of author Rabbi Dr. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) on the occasion of the launching of his new biography on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.


Motzei Shabbat celebration in the wake of the 19th Yahrtzeit of Reb Shlomo Carlebach

October 23, 2013

OU Israel Center Nov 2 2013 jpg


A Review of The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

February 19, 2013

CarlebachBereishisIweb1

From Jewish Media Review:

The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach provides a glimpse into the unusual way in which the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach received and transmitted Torah. It also aids the reader in bridging ‘œRabbi Shlomo Carlebach the great composer/singer’ and ‘œRabbi Shlomo Carlebach the great scholar/teacher.’ Those who sing his songs, but do not learn his Torah, only sing half a song. When Reb Shlomo speaks of Abraham and Sara, you are sure he is speaking about his own grandparents. When delving into the lives of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, it is as if he is speaking of his own parents.

The teachings in this book of commentary are not just meant to be read – they are intended to be enjoyed and experienced as œholy music. Ultimately, they are intended as a lesson in living a holy life. Wherever Reb Shlomo traveled in the world, he brought several suitcases of holy books with him. This book makes Reb Shlomo’s teachings accessible to help us carry on our journey through life.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (Reb Shlomo) was born in Berlin, Germany in 1925. He grew up with his twin brother, Eli Chaim and his sister, Shulamith, near Vienna where his father, Rabbi Naftali, was Chief Rabbi. In 1939, as the war began to escalate and the Nazis’ grip tightened, Shlomo and his family miraculously escaped to New York where he spent time learning by some of the greatest Torah scholars of the last century, such as Rabbi Ahron Kotler, Rabbi Shlomo Heiman and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Even as a young boy, Shlomo’s vision and clarity of thought set him apart from his peers as being amongst the most brilliant of the scholars. Through that vision, courage, and a deep love of all people, Shlomo took on a mission and set off on a path that many didn’t believe in.

Reb Shlomo believed that to uplift, inspire, and bring joy to every human being was truly his reason for existing. Through his words of Torah, his music and his stories, Reb Shlomo touched the hearts and souls of all who were blessed to hear him. He sought to remind people that they are never alone, that there is one God who loves them, and that every person has a unique and important mission to discover for themselves. He was able to mend the spirits and lives of the most broken, distraught people worldwide, people of all faiths and cultures. Much of Reb Shlomo’s life was spent traveling the world, where he would sing with the poor, the lost and the lonely, and always swear he learned from them.

Even since his passing in 1994, many lives have been influenced and touched by Reb Shlomo’s teachings, messages and melodies.


A Review of The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

December 13, 2012

by Susanne M. BatzdorffCarlebachBereishisIweb1

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Genesis comprises an edited collection of his comments on the Torah as originally taught in private homes, synagogues, and concert halls. It exemplifies an oral transmission of the Torah, since the tone is warm, conversational, down-to-earth and, unique to Carlebach, the spoken commentary is interspersed with song. His words, he believed, were comparable to the body, while his melodies represented the soul: both he blended together to teach and impart a love of Torah.

Carlebach expresses his belief that God welcomes every human being, high or low, rich or poor and that prayer is simply talking to God. Through music and speech he moves anyone earnestly searching for meaning in life not to give up the search. This book contains many profound thoughts, and the reader needs to take time to absorb them. Readers familiar with the biblical text will derive new and useful ways to view the familiar stories and characters. Admirers of Carlebach’s music will welcome this insight into his explications. The editor does not state whether he plans to continue publishing additional volumes of Carlebach’s Torah exegesis, but it is surely to be expected.

This review originally appeared in the AJL newsletter.


The Carlebach Bootlegs

March 7, 2012

by Jonathan Mark

Thousands of hours of audiotapes yield mystical insights from the scholarly side of Reb Shlomo, as well as 300 lost songs.

After Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s passing in 1994, “Carlebach minyans” have blossomed around the world, driven by the fact that anyone can sing (and daven) along with the music famously recorded by him. But if the music lives on, Reb Shlomo’s Torah teachings have suffered a more elusive afterlife. Singing along is one thing, but how can one study along with, or even find, his unrecorded, unpublished teachings that were often casually spoken in situations as ephemeral as they were enchanted?

“The good news is that Reb Shlomo was, by far, the most bootlegged Jewish artist of all,” says Shlomo Katz, director and editor of the recently created Shlomo Carlebach Legacy Trust. “He was recorded everywhere, constantly — concerts, classes, conversations. It became clear,” says Katz, a musician and teacher in his own right, “that we had to form a central place to house everything, not just for archival purposes but for disseminating and publishing, and for the kovod [honor] of Reb Shlomo.” It’s something that Katz, who at 31 never met Reb Shlomo, has been working on informally and now professionally for several years.

Reb Shlomo’s teachings were mostly unstructured, jazz-like expositions ranging from the Zohar to stories of Moishele the Water Carrier, to the Holy Thieves, improvised without notes, and differing — depending on his evolving scholarship and consciousness — from one session to the next. In his endless travels, he would often take at least two suitcases, one for clothes, one for a portable library — volumes of Ishbitz, Rav Kook, Reb Nachman — a moveable feast that fueled his teachings at the next port of call.

The trust, a project administered by the Carlebach family, has collected some 21,000 hours of Reb Shlomo bootlegs — mostly audiotapes, with about 1,000 hours of video — according to the trust’s website. More than 95 percent of these tapes have yet to be transcribed and processed, says Katz, who is editing the tapes from his home in Neve Daniel, Israel.

The gathering and transcribing of tapes began, in fits and starts, even before Reb Shlomo’s death in 1994. However, the coordination of the project under the trust, based in Jerusalem, began in 2009, says Katz, who is being assisted by about a half-dozen people working on the tapes in various locations.

The tapes have already yielded nearly Read the rest of this entry »