"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Is There a Jewish Connection to Celtic Punk/Rock?

It was Monday, October 2: Yom Kippur. I’d attended a Celtic festival two days earlier, and I was hoping to see Celtic-punk band Flogging Molly live for the 10th and 11th times later that week. During the shacharit service, denied of food and drink, I was overcome by an amusing yet perhaps delusional thought. I looked at the burly men hoisting Torah scrolls on the bimah, and it seemed as though I was looking at burly men holding bagpipes. My worlds of Judaism and Celtic music/culture had seemingly collided.

There’s nothing unique about this fusion, either in my life or at large. Several years ago, when I went to an Irish festival for the first time, I enjoyed the experience with what I called a “carload of Jews.” When I went to Ireland last year, I searched far and wide for a “shamrock dreydl.” The story of Irish Jewry was captured in the 2003 documentary Shalom Ireland; the film's soundtrack was recorded by a Celtic-klezmer hybrid band named Ceilzemer, which consisted of members of the Freilachmaker Klezmer String Band (which itself cites a Celtic influence) and the Irish band Driving With Fergus.

I’m a Jew in love with Celtic rock/punk, both because it’s fun punk rock diffused with a nice variety of melodious sounds and because it’s a compelling, proud cultural expression. Perhaps I’m overanalyzing all this and it’s silly to try to find a Jewish connection to another culture. On the other hand, I’ve wondered for the past few weeks whether there is some kind of connection that I’m tapping into.

I thought back to an enlightening blog post by Alicia Jo Rabins, the fiddle player for New York-based klezmer-punk band Golem. In the post, she cited her appreciation for the pioneering Celtic rock of the Pogues and Shane MacGowan & The Popes and talked about the similarities in punking up and rocking out to different varieties of traditional ethnic music. I e-mailed Alicia to ask for her two cents, and we seem to be on the same page:
I'm definitely inspired by all sorts of musicians who take traditional music and then update it or merge it with contemporary influences …. Irish music (via the Pogues) was the first folk tradition I really heard. Plus, I could totally get into their take on it, because they obviously had this attitude of "respect tradition/fuck convention" which is pretty much my philosophy. So I can't speak for the rest of Jews, but I know that hearing the Pogues … definitely inspired me to deal with my own tradition the same way, both musically and in my life.
I tried getting in touch with New England Celtic punks the Pubcrawlers, whose accordion and tin-whistle player goes by the name “The Rabbi,” but I never heard back and I don’t know if this fellow is actually Jewish. I also sought out various folk-punk bands that combine Jewish and Celtic styles. Massachusetts-based Josh Lederman y Los Diablos, the self-professed kings of “Irish-Jewish folk-punk,” did not respond to my requests for comment. New Orleans’ Zydepunks, which also incorporate zydeco and other folk stylings, noted that while they love klezmer music, none of their band members is Jewish.

And then there's Menashe Yaakov, guitarist/vocalist of New York’s White Shabbos, which allegedly formed as “a Jewish answer to Irish punk bands like Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.” The “connection” can best be heard in the White Shabbos songs “Shabbos Holy Shabbos” and “Pitchu Li” (click here to take a listen). Menashe doesn’t think there’s much of a connection in general, but it does make its way into White Shabbos’ music:
If anything, I like Celtic punk because it sounds completely non-Jewish. … Besides for our punk influences, we're also really into traditional Irish, Bluegrass and Country music. So we're not just imitating the Celtic punk bands; we also have the same influences as they do. We finally found a Jewish bagpiper and he's awesome, so you'll [be] hearing the pipes all over the second record, in [addition] to mandolin, tin whistle, fiddle and possibly banjo. ... You'll hear the Celtic influence even more on Redemption Songs [White Shabbos’ second album, which is slated for a spring 2007 release].
Maybe there is no Jewish reason to appreciate Celtic rock/punk besides its “shiksa appeal.” But one thing’s certain: I’m not the only one.


Peter Singer in Heeb and Kapparot Follow-Up

There are two articles I've been meaning to post about, and I shan't wait any longer!

The brand-new issue of Heeb is called "The Food Issue." As usual, Heeb has combined its trademark hilarious, edgy, un-P.C. Jewish shtick with a commendable social message. This issue features a six-page feature article about Animal Liberation author Peter Singer, a philosophy professor at Princeton University who comes from a Jewish background. Singer talks about the AgriProcessors kosher meat scandal, animal suffering in the Jewish tradition, factory farming, the myth of free-range, and more. Click here to read the article, or better yet, go buy the issue or subscribe to the magazine. It's amazing that Heeb has given Singer the platform to get out messages such as the following:
Any being that can suffer has an interest in not suffering. It’s a somewhat broader category than pain because you might say that a hen in a cage is suffering because many of her basic instincts are frustrated. She can’t lay her eggs in a nest, and that causes stress every time she needs to lay an egg. She can’t really stretch her wings. Those sorts of things are suffering rather than pain. She may also experience pain—her feathers have rubbed off because the cage is so crowded and her raw skin is constantly pushed against the wire. We need to recognize suffering as well as pain because animals do have other needs than the need to avoid physical pain.
A few days before Yom Kippur, an Israeli newspaper ran an article highlighting the widespread opposition to the practice of kapparot, in which some Orthodox Jews wave chickens above their heads--supposedly to transfer their sins to the birds--before the animals are slaughtered at the scene (click here to read my original post about kapparot last year and click here to see my follow-up post about cruelty-to-animals charges stemming from a New York kapparot ceremony). I thought the highlight of the article was the following quote from Rabbi Gilad Kariv:
Slaughtering chickens is an unfit custom that goes against Jewish feelings regarding animals. ... Anyone who walks through the markets can see that the manner in which the chickens are held before the Kapparot is insufferable. There is no veterinary supervision and no concern for the feelings of these poor creatures.

heebnvegan Goes to Church!

This morning, I attended an Episcopalian church's Blessing of the Animals service in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. I went with several friends, who got their hamster, Dizzy, and 9-week-old kitten, Tucker LeRoy, blessed. There were dogs everywhere, among various other species. I recommend checking out one of these Blessing of the Animals services; it was a very fascinating example of how animals are viewed in religious contexts.

My favorite quote from the program was: "Forgive the many ways in which we have abused or exploited animals through our ignorance and greed, or kept silent in the face of their needless suffering." You could easily substitute ts'aar ba'alei chayim for those last two words. This line seemed like an animal-inclusive version of all the atonement prayers that Jews recently recited on the High Holidays. Another gem was:

O Lord, who has looked upon all his creation and declared that it was good, we thank you for the animals, with whom we share this earth, and particularly for those which you have given into our care. We pray that you will guard them and tend to their necessities, relieve their suffering, protect them from exploitation, and let each of us see in them the beauty and glory of your creative hand. As you raised your servant, Francis, to declare oneness of all your work, give us reverent spirits, and help us to be instruments of your loving providence, that we all may be bound together in your glory.