Monday, November 07, 2005

Orthodox Rock Star

Frum singing stars, and concerts are getting more and more inappropriate, with crazed fans and immodest body language:

Washington Post:

It's good to be Gad Elbaz, an ultra-Orthodox singer whose cool sound, stage swagger and good looks have won him legions of young fans. But it is also difficult, for reasons embodied by Etti and Rachel, two giggling teenagers who pressed up against the backstage gate at a concert here last week hoping to catch a glimpse of the 23-year-old pop idol.
"He is so handsome," gushes Etti, 17, whose ankle-length skirt and turtleneck sweater fit the modesty requirements of the ultra-Orthodox dress code while the pink accents and "Abercrombie" insignia suggest she is not immune to the dictates of fashion. "He's also good and sweet."
Rachel, 16, nods. The two, who didn't want to give their last names for fear of angering their parents, have driven two hours from the coastal city of Netanya to see Elbaz perform, and the barrier required at all ultra-Orthodox concerts to separate men and women could not keep them from reaching the male-only backstage area. Asked where their parents were as the two snaked past security guards, Rachel offers a nonchalant flip of her hand.
"Oh, we left them at the Western Wall," she says, referring to the holiest place where Jews pray.
There are thousands of Ettis and Rachels in Elbaz's life -- problematic if necessary elements of his unique stardom and of Israel's changing ultra-Orthodox society.
Elbaz appreciates the fans who made his recent album a top seller, attend his shows by the thousands and request his music with such frequency that his popularity has crossed into Israel's secular world, where religious devotion is generally considered uncool.
But the e-mails calling him a "world-class hunk," the frequent phone calls pledging love and the adoration visible at his shows have put Elbaz in hot water with some of Israel's most powerful rabbis. They fear the Elvis-like effect he is having on the young female portion of the highly traditional community, known as Haredi, where song is considered nearly as powerful as prayer.
The ultra-Orthodox establishment does not quite know what to make of Israel's first Haredi heartthrob. Is this happily married man who studies the Torah four hours a day a threat to their insular world? Or are his balladeer's voice, hip two-day beard, and pious lyrics a way to preserve Old World traditions in the age of Britney Spears?...
The show was held a month later after Deri's rabbinate coordinated the event. It began with a warning that any inappropriate behavior -- that means you, young ladies -- would mean instant cancellation. Boys and girls used separate entrances and watched the show from opposite sides of a barrier. Deri, who did not attend the event because of his daughter's engagement celebration that evening, received updates by cell phone.
"It's totally possible to be a popular singer on the Haredi street and maintain the boundaries of Jewish law," says Deri, who worries that the shows could lead to prohibited physical contact between unmarried men and women or cause exuberant young women to violate the rules on modesty. "Okay, maybe the girls won't jump all over him if this is followed correctly. But he will still be just as popular."..
On a cool recent evening, a line of men and women winds down a hillside path toward a stage in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that is the site of archaeological findings dating to King David's rule. The frantic rhythm of Hasidic rock, heavy on the horns, echoes through the narrow valley.
Halfway down the slope the path forks -- women going in one direction, men in festive fur hats to celebrate the Sukkot holiday going the other. Under a thatched shelter backstage, Elbaz sips coffee with Mordechai Ben-David. At 54, Ben-David, known as MBD, is a superstar of what he describes humorously as "Hasid rock," which sounds something like the ska band Madness singing the Psalms.
"We have our own Taliban," Ben-David says of the criticism Elbaz has received. "But I think this trouble he's having with the rabbis is good for him. He knows he's being watched."
After a rollicking set by Ben-David that has his sidelocks twirling, Elbaz takes the stage. A crowd of men stretches before him as he begins a peppy pop song celebrating the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Some young men sway to the music; others join hands to dance in large circles.
The women remain out of sight behind a series of dividers more than 100 yards away. They watch Elbaz on a screen, many of them smiling broadly at his image and the sound of his clear, powerful voice in the chilly night air.
After his three-song set, Elbaz pauses to sign an autograph for Etti and Rachel, just before the two girls are whisked away by security guards amid mounting complaints from the male audience nearby.
"Tell Gadi Elbaz we're lovesick over him," Etti says over her shoulder as she is escorted back to the women's section.
posted by Yeshiva Orthodoxy
at 1:57 PM

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