A strange sort of dissonance happens when I listen to songs from my childhood.
More often than not, I listen with a growing sense of disgust and shame, as I realize just how messed up the messages of the lyrics are.
Take this song below – the Miami Boys Choir’s very catchy “Stand Up.” I remember listening to it as a teenager, and watching the music video, and feeling empowered and inspired by the strong “stand up!”
But now it strikes me as all sorts of wrong.
I wasn’t even paying very close attention to the lyrics now. I had the song on in the background as I did some work.
But then I listened to it a few more times, as I realized – this whole song is about how “other Jews” are defiling the Torah, how “they” introduce tumah from “other cultures,” and how “we” (presumably Orthodox people like these boys and their parents, rebbeim, and choir leader) are the “only Torah defenders.”
Forget about songs that proclaim the Jewish nation’s oneness and chosen status, the need for Jews to stand against the nations of the world. This song goes farther than that.
It sets up the “right” kind of Jews in opposition to the “wrong” kind of Jews.
Some of my secular or non-Orthodox friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have puzzled reactions when I say things that reveal the deep divisiveness fostered in Orthodox communities. They tend not to understand why people from my former community wouldn’t accept them, or why Orthodox organizations wouldn’t work with Jewish organizations that just happen to be Conservative or Reform.
I tell them bluntly most of the time, “because they don’t consider you or those organizations ‘really’ Jewish. They think you and those organizations are perverting the Torah.”
Their reaction then tends to be more puzzled. “But isn’t Torah about lovingkindness and loving your fellow Jew? And doesn’t Orthodox Judaism believe in the idea of shiv’im panim l’Torah (seventy ways of interpreting Torah)?”
Yeah. But Orthodox Judaism is less about loving your fellow Jew as he is, and more about loving him for the Orthodox Jew he could be. It’s about disdaining and deriding all other forms of Judaism and being the warriors, the kana’im, who defend God’s honor.
And now when I listen, I’m left with this feeling of doubleness. I sing along, I belt the lyrics, I remember crowding around the computer screen with my siblings to watch the music video.
And I shudder at the implications that I can recognize only now, knowing that I can’t even hope to explain this to most of my family and friends who see nothing wrong with the mode of thought embedded in these lyrics.