Is It Proper…? Is it appropriate to listen to the music of Richard Wagner?


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Is it appropriate to listen to the music of Richard Wagner?

Rabbi Zev Leff

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A book that has nothing intrinsically wrong with it from a Torah perspective (i.e., it does not contain heretical or inappropriate sexual content) can be read despite the fact that the author was a non-Jew since one accepts the truth from any source, as the Meiri mentions often in quoting secular sources in his works.

The same would apply to music composed by a non-Jew that is intrinsically proper (i.e., it does not contain lyrics that are inappropriate or a beat that induces a feeling of abandon or wildness).

However, even a Sefer Torah written by a heretic is burned so as to not give ongoing recognition to the heretic. Hence, music associated with someone known to be a rabid anti-Semite and a symbol of Nazism probably should be avoided so as to not give recognition to such an evil person and symbol.

Also, when a person listens to that music despite its background, he reduces his sensitivity to the evil it is related to, which itself is negative.

­ — Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav
Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator

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Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Should the music of any composer be banned because of his/her private moral failings? Or should the music stand on its own merits, regardless of the personal life of the musician?

Throughout history, and including our own time, great musicians have composed music that has provided inspiration, elevation, and joy. When we listen to or perform their music, we are engrossed in the music itself; we are not concerned with the personal lives of the composers. If we could only listen to or perform music composed by sinless individuals, our musical experience would be vastly impoverished.

But music does not exist in a vacuum. If we despise the composer/musician, it is difficult to separate our emotions from the music itself. Whatever the merits or deficiencies in the compositions of Richard Wagner, his reputation as a racist anti-Semite hovers over him. His music was glorified by the Nazi regime so that it is difficult, especially for Jews, to listen to Wagner without also feeling his malevolent presence in his music.

Those who have strong repulsion to anything connected with Wagner should not listen to his music. For them, his music causes distress and pain. Those who know nothing or care nothing about Wagner should judge his music on its own merits. If they like his music, they are free to listen to it.

— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

Richard Wagner’s music has been boycotted by many Holocaust survivors because of his apparent affiliation with Nazi ideology and certainly his espousal of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

There is a shul in the UK, founded predominantly by Holocaust survivors, where, if the baal tefillah happens to drive a car of German origin, some of the congregants will walk out.

While that might be taking things to an extreme, the point is the level of sensitivity we should have. If there are a number of other car options, why should I support a company that likely benefited from the war? And if there is plenty of classical music around, why should I be deriving pleasure from an anti-Semite’s compositions?

As more years pass since that ineffable event and fewer survivors remain, the Holocaust risks becoming little more than history. It is paramount that we draw certain lines for ourselves, thus maintaining a certain level of consciousness regarding the enormity of the event.

— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

In the book The Face of the Third Reich – which is a historical sketch of the personalities of the Third Reich – the author quotes Adolf Hitler as saying that his dreams and villainous schemes began when he started listening to the music of Richard Wagner. So it’s understandable why one may feel it’s wrong to listen to the music of an anti-Semite who clearly inspired other anti-Semites to carry out heinous crimes.

Nevertheless it’s very difficult to label the music itself evil. Classical music is a form of art, which can elicit passions but the passions are those of the person listening. So if one has a predisposition to evil, music may bring out that proclivity, but it won’t bring out evil feelings in a person who doesn’t have such a predisposition.

So, for that reason, I don’t see anything wrong listening to the music of even someone like Richard Wagner.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz

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Rabbi Yosef Blau

When listening to music, reading a book, or looking at art, we rarely pay attention to the identity of the composer, author, or artist. Even when he or she is famous and we know some details of his or her personal life, it is considered irrelevant to the work. Not all famous artists were decent human beings and some were notorious anti-Semites.

Richard Wagner and his music, however, would seem to be different. His music is identified with German militants and his anti-Semitism is basic to his worldview. The Nazis lauded his work and saw him as crafting an atmosphere that led to their becoming the party that ruled Germany. These powerful associations make it difficult to separate the man from his music.

While there is no clear prohibition, I find it hard to listen to Wagner’s music, and I sympathize with those who won’t listen to it.

— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary


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