What is the 'Carlebachian legacy'? I have heard that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an Orthodox Rabbi who brought tens of thousands to Orthodoxy through music and stories. I read recently that Neshama Carlebach, the daughter of Carlebach, announced that she has “made aliyah” to Reform Judaism. What can you say about the Carlebach legacy, if there is one?
[Administrator's note: Shlomo Carlebach was a popular singer and storyteller. Some said Orthodox, others Hasidic. You can find his music and much more about his music and life in an online search. In the interests of full disclosure, one of the panelists who is responding to this question has authored a book on Carlebach.]
Indeed, in the interests of “full disclosure”, I should reveal that my son Menachem is a Carlebachian Hasid. One day, he asked me to help him research a college paper to analyze Reb Shlomo’s songs. I ended up spending two years writing a full length biography which was recently published by Urim Publications under the title Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy, Jerusalem, 2014. So for a proper answer to this JVO question please see my book www.CarlebachBook.com. Here below is an abbreviated response.
Neshama Carlebach and the Reform Movement
Neshama Carlebach has expressed praise for the Reform Movement’s “inclusiveness”. She sees this as reflecting her father’s legacy in “striving for unity, love of humanity without judgment, and honest respect for the individual/collective journey of the soul”. Neshama’s interpretation reflects that part of her father’s life where he reached out to people of all faiths and persuasions. Reb Shlomo sang with the homeless on Riverside Park near his home in Manhattan, welcomed all seekers in the House of Love and Prayer that he founded in San Francisco, and went on concert tours around the world. Sometimes, his “outreach” work was dramatically universalistic, especially considering how he and his family barely escaped the Holocaust. This is illustrated in his concert tours in Poland to a 95% Catholic audience in January 1989 and July 1992.
When Neshama was hosted at the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial in San Diego December 14, 2013, she announced that she is “making aliyah to Reform Jewry. This proclamation was listed as one of the “Top Ten Reform Movement Moments of 2013”. More recently, when Neshama was scheduled to lead a Reform congregation in Florida on Yom Kippur, she was quoted as explaining:
Although I love Reform Judaism, I don't like to define myself by a particular stream of Judaism. I want to reach out and personalize spirituality and prayer through my songs and discussions with the congregants.
Most recently, “Soul Doctor”, the musical drama of the life and universalistic message of Reb Shlomo, has begun playing at the Actors Temple Theatre in Manhattan – http://www.souldoctorbroadway.com. It stars Josh Nelson as Reb Shlomo. Nelson, who is music director for the Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial Convention, is also the new partner of Neshama, both professionally and romantically.
Who was Reb Shlomo Carlebach?
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach died twenty years ago, on October 29, 1994. In The New York Times obituary, Prof. Ari Goldman designated Shlomo Carlebach “the foremost songwriter in contemporary Judaism.” Recently, Goldman reiterated this statement, adding that it has never been disputed. Similarly, in 1997, music historian, Robert L. Cohen, referred to Shlomo as “the most prolific composer of liturgical folk melodies in this, perhaps any, century.” In a later article, Cohen explained that Carlebach “opened the gates for a new generation of niggun makers” by creating music with a Hasidic flavor that could be accessible to young Americans and create “new wings for our prayers”. The 2011 Jewish American Chronology recognized Shlomo as “the twentieth century’s most prolific and influential composer of Jewish music” and as “a key ambassador of spirituality, especially to Jewish youth.”
The Carlebachian Legacy
Now to your question. Reb Shlomo began his outreach career as an emissary of Chabad (1949-1954), and then set out on an independent path as a pioneering outreach worker of Judaism. He influenced countless people around the globe. Today, the Carlebach legacy spells different messages to diverse communities. For some, Reb Shlomo is a founding father of the Jewish New Age. For others, his name is still anathema – it was expunged from the official accountings of the Haredi Lakewood Yeshiva where he studied from 1943-1948. Some have attacked him vituperously for deviating from standard boundaries of Orthodox Judaism, and especially for his practice of hugging everyone whom he met.
But for many people, Shlomo was, and is, an inspirational figure. For devoted followers he is the saintly Rashban, an honorific acronym implying a reverence reserved for leading Talmudic scholars and Roshei Yeshiva. Contemporary Carlebach minyanim “have elevated him and his approach to a kind of mythic status” as the modern Jew’s counterpart to Hasidic rebbes “that the Haredi world has enshrined” – “Like these rebbes, he is frequently resurrected in stories, songs, aphorisms, and teachings that are meant to shape the attitudes and religious character of those who invoke his memory”.
Reb Shlomo’s Universalistic Message
As noted above, Reb Shlomo’s universalistic message is dramatized in the Broadway musical, Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rockstar Rabbi. He is billed there as a “modern-day troubadour” who “ignited the spirit of millions around the world with his soul-stirring melodies, transformative storytelling, and boundless love”. Similarly, Sojourn Records advertises Reb Shlomo’s music as an inspiration to broken-hearted and lonely souls. 
Shlomo was able to blend in with many different types of communities because he reflected sundry images to diverse audiences. Prof. Shaul Magid uses the metaphor of a mirror:
Most remember him as a mirror …. each of his followers heard what he or she wanted and constructed him in their image. The Orthodox offer one reading, the neo-Hasidim another, Diaspora Jews another, Israeli Jews another; leftists read him one way, Jewish militants another. The point is none of them really know… He bequeathed a “Judaism of uncertainty” (“what do we know?” was his catchphrase) so that everything could be reviewed and revised, in the spirit of love and not separation, on compassion and not exclusion.
These universalistic messages echo a trend in New Age Religions to focus on “healing and personal growth” as part of a “psychologization of religion”. By reinterpreting Hasidic teachings to address contemporary concerns, and by dramatizing them with song and stories, the Carlebachian message creates a new psychological world-view that is universalistic in its appeal.
The Future of the Carlebachian Phenomenon
The remaining question is how the Carlebachian legacy will live on in the 21st century. If dating websites are an indication of sociological trends, then indeed, a new definition is being created when “Carlebachian” is selected as an alternative to standard categories of religious identity. Part of the reason that people choose “Carlebachian” for potential marital partners is because the Carlebach name has become synonymous with a Judaism imbued with spirit, joy, and love interspersed with individualism.
The future of this Carlebachian phenomenon is part of a larger assessment of Orthodoxy. According to the 2013 Pew Report, out of 6.7 million American Jews overall, merely 10% identify with Orthodox Judaism, and of these, a very small percentage, only 3%, are Modern Orthodox. Haredization (“sliding to the right”) coupled with losses to the left seems to be decimating their numbers even further. One response to revitalize Modern Orthodoxy is reflected in the continuous popularity of Carlebachian Minyanim. Even mainstream Orthodox synagogues incorporate Nusach Carlebach or hold an entire Shabbat Carlebach. This transforms the prayer experience from decorous and somber to joyful and ecstatic. Furthermore, Carlebach Minyanim tend to generate an empathetic social community filled with caring for the individual.
How will the Carlebachian legacy influence the future in a time when Jewish identity formation is in a state of flux? As Hasia Diner observed a decade ago:
Definitions of Jewishness may be more elastic than they have been at any time in the modern past. But that elasticity, a hallmark of American culture, may indeed hold the key to the continuance of the ‘eternal people’ in a new and uncharted age.
If this elasticity will apply to the Carlebachian legacy, then it will be interesting to see which parts will continue to have relevance for the 21st century. I would place my bet on the neo-Hasidic empathetic part. More on that in another article.
On the divides between Reform and Orthodoxy please see my answer to a JVO question - http://bit.ly/1hJgaV0
For an autobiographical interview with Neshama Carlebach (published July 21, 2014) see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrYw6R1EpW4. This is a series that examines the role religious faith plays in shaping an individual's personal and professional experience. Neshama Carlebach describes her changing phases of faith.
 See Paul Berger, “The Prince and Princess of Jewish Music Find New Love, ”The Jewish Daily Forward, published August 24, 2014, issue of Sept. 5, 2014, http://bit.ly/1qai7n9. Nelson is the protégé of Debbie Friedman (1951-2011), the Reform Jewish songwriter whose influence on contemporary liturgical music was “perhaps second only to Carlebach’s”.
 Ari L. Goldman, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach,” New York Times, Oct. 22, 1994.
 Ari Goldman, “Why Carlebach Matters,” The Jewish Week, May 8, 2009.
 Robert L. Cohen, “Jewish Soul Man,” Moment, Aug. 1997, 58–64, 83. The article is available on the web: RlcWordsAndMusic.net, http://bit.ly/1zrcSU0.
 Robert Cohen, “New Wings for Our Prayers: On American Jewish Music,” Open the Gates!, vol. 1, 2005, excerpted in Tikkun, March 27, 2008, Tikkun.org, http://bit.ly/1t15zMS
 Mark K. Bauman, Jewish American Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic (Santa Barbara, California: 2011), pg. 119.
 An example of this is the New Age Encyclopedia first published in 1990 which gives special entries to Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman, emphasizing their role in creating New Age Judaism. See J. Gordon Melton, Jerome Clark and Aidan A. Kelly (eds.), New Age Encyclopedia (Detroit: 1990), sect. 70 (pp. 87–88), sect. 171 (pp. 242–245), and sect. 272 (pp. 404–406).
 This is detailed in my book pp. 419-425, and in a forthcoming book in Hebrew.
 The acronym Rabbenu Shlomo Ben Naphtali is used by devoted Carlebach Hasidim. See for example, the facebook page of Kesher Rashban. One of the photos describes Rashban in Yiddish as the continuation of the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) and an exponent of the Hasidut of Ishbitz and Breslov. Created in Dec. 2007, Kesher defines itself as the largest online archive for Reb Shlomo’s Torah and Songs – see https://www.box.com/rashban.
 Adapted from Samuel C. Heilman, Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 2006), pg. 291.
 On the “psychologization of religion and sacralization of psychology” see Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Leiden, 1996/Albany, N.Y., 1998.
 See Natan Ophir, “Psycho-Spiritual Innovations in the Neo-Hasidic Renewal of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Reb Shlomo Carlebach,” 4th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualties, March 20, 2012, Haifa University, http://bit.ly/1AGGzgT
 For example, see SYAS, SawYouAtSinai.com. Carlebach is the only category named after a specific person. Frumster.com presents categories from Modern Orthodox Liberal to Yeshivish-Modern but Carlebachian is the only definition named for a specific rabbi. See Sarah Bunin Benor, Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism (New Brunswick, New Jersey: 2012).
 See Jack Wertheimer, “Can Modern Orthodoxy Survive?,” Mosaic, August 2014, http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2014/08/can-modern-orthodoxy-survive/
 Shaul Magid, American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society, (Bloomington, 2013).
 Hasia Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1645 to 2000 (Berkeley, 2004), pg. 358.
Though I met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach half a dozen times and had a personal relationship with several members of his family, I cannot say I knew him well. It is hard to engage with a legend.
“Reb Shlomo” was an unorthodox Orthodox rabbi. So it is not surprising that his legacy is in dispute. Since his death in 1994, many a rabbi has come forward to proclaim he is the true Carlebachean heir and any number of synagogues have laid claim to being the authentic inheritor to the Carlebachean spirit. Only history will judge which, if any, deserves the title. Beyond dispute, however, is the fact that Reb Shlomo transformed many lives through his music, his teaching, and his presence. His melodies have entered the mainstream of Jewish prayer and ritual. And though his Torah has not been as diligently catalogued and transmitted as has his music, there is hardly a person who encountered Reb Shlomo who has not gone away without a memorable interpretation. This should not be surprising. He was a gifted scholar from his youth. He was also a free spirit.
Unchained by the formalistic ideology of the Orthodox movement, Reb Shlomo moved comfortably among Jews of any background, of all levels of observance, and without regard to gender.
Even so, it would be a mistake to question the reputation (for bad or good) of Reb Shlomo on the basis of the religious affiliation of any of his children. Every competent adult is responsible for his or her own choices. Personal responsibility is a hallmark of Jewish theology (Deuteronomy 24:16). Children will often take a path different from the one in which they were raised. The fact that Yishmael lived a wild life does not diminish the legacy of Abraham nor does the boorishness and poor marital choices of Esav diminish the legacy of Isaac and Rebecca. Jewish history is littered with cases in which children of eminent rabbis have converted or disaffiliated. To accordingly pronounce the life and legacy of those rabbis as worthless, however, is an unwarranted and vulgar revisionism.
It is an interesting challenge to try to summarize the legacy of such a powerful personality. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's life included many chapters: shaliach for the Lubavitch movement, Orthodox rabbi, Hippie rabbi, singing rabbi, advocate for the Soviet Jewry movement, inspiration for Jewish Renewal, and more. You are correct that he inspired many people to return to their Judaism, but it was not only to Orthodoxy. Rabbi Carlebach taught and played at synagogues of all stripes as well as in the secular world, such as the Newport Folk Festival and folk clubs. His deeply rooted teachings, Hasidic stories, and songs encouraged people to embark on their own spiritual journey. Those journeys led them to explore Orthodoxy, but also Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism. His music, stories, and, more recently, his teachings can be heard in synagogues across the Jewish spectrum.
I had very limited experience of Reb Shlomo during his life, but I constantly meet people who were influenced by him in profound ways. I have met Jewish composers and song-writers who owe a debt to Reb Shlomo either because they build on his style or because he helped create an openness toward innovative new music. I have met people who returned to Judaism because of their encounter with him; they speak of his unbounded, loving welcome that led them to believe they had a substantive home in Judaism. Even people who had very limited contact with him recall the joy and the energy he elicited from his audiences. I don't suggest that this is the limit of his legacy, but these are certainly significant elements of the heritage he leaves us.
His daughter, Neshama Carlebach, attended the national convention of the Union for Reform Judaism last year. She writes that she felt something in that gathering that reminded her of her father's teachings. Moved by her warm welcome, she declared that she made aliyah to that movement. And she defined that aliyah, saying, “I have not abandoned anything that is intrinsic to me; I’ve simply expanded myself and been elevated.' I believe that she, as do so many others, blends the lessons and legacies of her father with the conditions and aspirations of her present life.
Perhaps the legacy of Reb Shlomo is that he inspired and empowered individual Jews to rediscover and reshape their own relationship to Judaism. I am hard-pressed to think of another teacher whose followers are to be found in every corner of the Jewish world. It is quite an achievement.
Copyright 2020 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.