The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the landscape of social, communal, and religious life. Within the Jewish community, reactions to the virus have taken many forms. One of the most visible and criticized populations, the Hasidic community of Brooklyn, has been the focus of attention from the media and press, and has responded in unprecedented ways, both in political and social arenas. Our close study of the evolution of a particular instance of atypical musical permissiveness in the period preceding COVID-19, and its subsequent development during the pandemic period itself, follows this metamorphosis, limning the shift in communal norms as expressed through the Hasidic embrace of the music of Ishay Ribo. Ribo, an Orthodox Jewish Israeli singer-songwriter, has produced a musical oeuvre that creatively draws upon Biblical and liturgical language to create original lyrics in modern Hebrew, in a soft-rock musical style. This unique fusion has garnered surprising popularity in the secular Israeli world, but has also made inroads into the American Hasidic community which had previously distanced itself from modern Israeli music, specifically music with modern Hebrew lyrics and in that stylistically differs from the community’s sonic norms. Ribo was introduced to the Hasidic music scene before the pandemic, but the marked uptick in the popularity of his music became most evident during the height of this period, as public gatherings and political engagement in the Brooklyn Hasidic community increased. In this study, we argue that these coeval phenomena are interrelated rather than coincidental, and bespeak a larger trend toward openness and interaction with the other that was bolstered by the circumstances of COVID-19.

Author Biography

Tzipora Weinberg is a Doctoral candidate in modern Jewish history at the Skirball Center for Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. As MacCracken Fellow, her research involves the traditional mores extant in Hasidic and Lithuanian life, with an especial focus on the lived experiences of women within those communities. She has served as Max Weinrich Fellow for Baltic Jewish Studies at YIVO, and is currently the Sophie Bookhalter Fellow at the Center for Jewish History, where she explores the literary, religious, and educational accomplishments of Orthodox Lithuanian women in the twentieth century.

Gordon Dale is the Visiting Professor of Ethnomusicology at The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) at HUC-JIR/New York. He has most recently conducted extensive research in the Hasidic communities of New York and Israel, and is currently working on several projects related to the mystical music canon known as nigunim. Dale is currently the Executive Director of The Jewish Music Forum, a project of the American Society for Jewish Music, and is a past-president of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Special Interest Group for Jewish Music. He holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY, an MA from Tufts University, and a BS from Northeastern University.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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