Sunday, April 15, 2007

Top 10 Acapella Albums for Sefirah

After reading some reviews of the Acapella albums that have come out this year for Sefirah and after a comment by Anonymous on SWFM blog, I decided to come out with my own Top Ten list. I do not know how to post pictures yet of album covers but if you click on the album it will take you to a web page to hear clips and view them. After the list I will explain why i rank them this way. These are also only the albums I own since I felt the others were so bad.

1. Yosef Karduner - Osef Lididi Limei HaOmer
2. Yehudah Solomon- Beyond Words 1
2. Yehudah Solomon- Beyond Words 2
2. Yehudah Solomon- Beyond Words 3
5. Chassideshe Otrois- Volume 1
6. Shabbos Tisch
7. Chassidesh Otrois - Volume 3
8. Miami Boys Choir - Around the Campfire
9. AKApella - Premium Blend
10. Beetachon- All

Honarable mention goes to the CDs with the Febrengens of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt'l. They play these tracks on Shmais Radio and the CDS are available in Crown Heights.

The reason I picked Yosef Karduner as my #1 is because the album is filled with real neginah. It is only him singing with his voice recorded over to create the harmonies. It is also very easy to sing along in harmony and reach some sort of deveykus by focusing on the niggunim on this album.
Yehudah Solomon I put in second but not by far. The amount of research and time put into these albums are amazing. Besides Yehudah's voice, many of the niggunim on these albums are not previously recorded and gives people the chance to learn many niggunim that can be traced back to the Tzaddikim of hundreds of years ago. Just like the Karduner album it is easy to harmonize as well as reach deveykus if you focus on the niggunim.
The Chassidishe Oitrois album was the first CD in an new revolution of Chassidishe niggunim being available on CD which was professionally recorded. Anyone who wants to hear what Chassidim sound like while singing real niggunim must listen to this CD. There are three CDS in this set so far. I think he first one is the best and the third one is very good as well which is why I put it at #7. The second volume is good as well but I think there are other Acapella albums that are out there that are better.
Shabbos Tisch is very similar to the Chassidishe Oitrois album but focuses on different niggunim in following the success of the Lchaim Tisch album which cannot be listened to during sefirah or the three weeks.
The Miami Boys Choir CD came out recently and is definitely an excellent album and is worth all the hype. They sing alot of their old popular songs minus the music. Just like the Karduner and Solomom albums it is very easy to harmonize with the songs which is the case of many of the Miami Boys CD. The reason why I do not have this album higher on this list is because of one thing on the album that drives me crazy. The album is called At The Campfire so Yerachmiel Begun must of thought it would be cute to have chirping and crackling during the entire album to make it seem like you are actually at a campfire. I don't know how that cant drive anyone crazy while trying to listen. I also think they should have put Nikadesh on the album as well. Maybe they will come out with a Volume 2 for the three weeks minus the campfire noise.
The first AKApella album is very creative and fun. I agree that is completely acapella but I think the album is on the borderline on whether or not it is appropriate to listen to during sefirah and the three weeks if you don't listen to recorded music. The new AKApella album i am not going to buy because I do not like any of the songs that are on there and they should have stuck to the same type of format as the first one.
Beetachon is real Acapella. For anyone who was ever on a college campus and attended an Acapella concert, they know what I am talking about. All of the singers have extreme singing talent and they are able to create a few albums that are all very good. The reason I put this at the bottom of the list is just like the AKApella album. It is great music but because of the fun they are having while singing it takes away from the spirit of the Sefirah and three weeks period.
I would love to hear if there are any other albums people felt I have left off this list or have the name of any albums I might enjoy that I have not heard of.

Jewish Interaction with Non-Jews Part 2

In my post here I spoke about an experience I had where I work with the interaction I had with one of my non-Jewish co-workers. In my last two posts as well the issue was discussed about giving tzedaka to non-Jews. As best as I can, I want to summarize some of the things the Rav of my minyan said in his drasha over shabbos which related to these issues that I have been posting about.

This past Shabbos, we read the Torah portion of Shmini. One of the things that this parsha concentrates is the laws of Kashrut and which animals we can and cannot eat. Of the animals we can and cannot eat the Torah is clear on how we can differentiate on what is kosher and not kosher. As an example, a fish which is kosher needs to have scales and fins and one that does not is not kosher and an animal must have split hooves and chew its own cud and those that do not are not kosher. The one exception to the list of these animals is the bird. There is not a clear distinction between the birds that are kosher and not kosher. With this in mind there is a bird mentioned called the Chasidah bird. The name Chasidah has the same root as Chesed and Chasidus. The reason (I believe it was Rashi who was quoted) why the bird is called this is because it does chessed within its own group by sharing food. Even though it shares within its own group the bird does not share with those outside its group. The Rabbi then went further to explain this by quoting the Ishbitzer and saying how we should learn from this bird. The Jewish people are a small group and always helping each other. A persons natural instincts is to be comfortable and want to do Chesed within there group because it what they are comfortable with and what they will get the most pleasure out of. The Ishbitzer says that we have go beyond our comfort zone and help all those around us even though they are not is our comfort zone. This is what the chasidah bird failed to do which is why we need to learn from the Torah we need to go beyond and help all. The Rabbi concluded with an example of a story of Rav Aron Solovechik ZT'L. While walking home from shul on the Lower East Side, Rav Aron saw a drunk man passed out lying in the street. Being that this is New York the typical reaction would be to walk by and ignore this person because of fear and because of the rushing everywhere mentality. Rav Aron went over to this person and asked him where he lived. This drunk replied he did not know. Rather than leaving him there, Rav Aron picked him up and took him to every apartment building in the area until he found someone who recognized this man and was able to get him home. The Rabbi used this story to conclude that we should always go the extra step beyond to help whoever needs it no matter who they are since everyone is Hashem's creation no matter what.

There are some things that were said in addition during the drasha but I only put a few of these things into the post as they related to my previous posts.

Tzedaka to a Non-Jew? Part 2

After reading some of the comments from the first post, my friend wanted me to post the following reply. :

First of all, the sad fact is that many orthodox Jews refuse to give charity to non-Jews. They make excuses and say that until all the Jews in the whole world are taken care of, why should we help non-Jews. So I think Rav Hirsch's comments are very important to note. Also, some orthodox Jews will still claim that there really is not a strong obligation to give to non- Jews, they are clearly wrong and misinformed. They say it is a priority to give to Jews, which is true, but they use this as a rationale to exclude all others. How sad and how untrue this is to the Torah!

As to the subway panhandler, Rav Hirsch says " Never turn a poor man empty away, even if it be only a scrap of bread you give him." To me the word "Never" is quite clear and categorical. There are no exceptions for times when we suspect he might use the money for other things. Nor does the MTA and their cold-hearted signs discouraging us from giving to homeless people take precedence over the Torah. If we don't want to give it is easy to find an excuse and to rationalize.

Remember, when Avraham Avinu saw three strangers in the desert? He literally ran to help them. He did not ask questions. He did not make inquiries. He did not suspect them of not really needing help. He did not make excuses as to why he has no obligation to help them. No. Indeed, he ran to them, despite the fact that he was 99 years old and in great pain from his recent bris. He literally ran to help them and to do acts of kindness. He left the presence of Hashem who was visiting him in order to do an act of kindness for three complete strangers. Well, we all know the story of who those "strangers" really were. This is what it is to be a Jew. It is to do acts of kindness and love that are unconditional and with a cheerful heart and with eagerness and zest and not to make excuses or ask all sorts of questions before we help.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Tzedaka to a Non-Jew?

My friend who will one day be a guest blogger on this blog asked me the following question. Do you think that it is a mitzvah to give tzeddaka to a non- Jew? I answered him that each situation is different and it is possible in my opinion that it can be a mitzvah to give a non-
Jew money. After i answered him that he emailed me the following piece from Rav Hirsch

The Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. In Section five, chapter 88 (page 428 of the Grunfeld tranlated edition) he says as follows:
"Everyone in need has a claim on your charity; those poor who are not Jewish, even those who practice idolatry, are cared for in like fashion, as are all parts of one all-embracing mankind. However, to the ger-toshav, -- i.e. to the non-Jew who, not practicing idolatry, has undertaken to fulfil the seven general duties, the law accords a claim on your charity fully equal to that of a Jew."

I think my friend was asking me this because he feels that many orthodox Rabbaim today will tell you it is not a Mitzvah to give Tzedaka to a non-Jew and wanted to know why. I cannot defend Rabbaim who will say something like that especially now after my friend showed me a Torah authority who says something else.