Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

As of this writing, it has about 170,000 hits on YouTube. It was uploaded February 24, 2013–this past Purim–and it has already spawned a sequel. Out of 1,000 people who watched it and rated it, it has a 10 percent disapproval rating. None of the comments are pareve–either the listener is bowled over or deeply offended and characterizes it as a grave chillul Hashem.

What is “The Aveirah Song”? What is its appeal? What has been the reaction to it? And what do Torah sources have to say about the matter?

The Aveirah Song is either a satire or parody that pokes fun at, well, something. The disclaimer at the end of the video claims that it pokes fun at those who perform sins. Its detractors claim that while this is what the producers claim that this is what it does, in reality it just parodies contemporary Orthodox culture, and has no redeeming spiritual benefit whatsoever.

The singer pronounces the lyrics with a chassidic accent, and they are set to a modern rap tune. To get a feel for it, here are some of the lyrics:

I eat a gid ha’nasheh, every bite

I put on my left shoe before my right

You think I don’t do aveiros?

Don’t even wonder

I never make a brucheh

when I hear the thunder

My wife wears a sheitel, not a tichel

I eat the herring without the kichel . . .

I go to shul and I’m just chillin’

I only put on one pair of tefillin

I never cry when I go to levayos

I eat the matzah, less than a kezayis

I don’t even care about chulev stam

I don’t even like Be’er Mayim Chayim

I go to the games with Derek Jeter

I always get married during sefirah

I do aveiros, oid ve’oid

I never go on trips on chol hamo’ed

I never daven tefillah b’tzibur

I listen to the tapes,

from Justin Bieber . . .

I always say lashon ha’ra

All my friends do avodah zarah

I’m such a tzioni, I sing Hatikvah

I don’t even pay when I use the mikvah

I changed my name to Sam,

from Shmuel

I don’t even like Eretz Yisruel . . .

I hope you like and I hope you enjoy,

This song about a Yid

who thinks he’s a goy.

Some of the more rigid teachers have, as one can imagine, busted a gut. Others have taken a more nuanced view. And yet others have embraced it.

Perhaps the first satirical remark we find in the Torah are the sarcastic words that the nation of Israel made toward Moshe Rabbeinu when faced with the anxiety of impending doom. They said (Sh’mos 14:11), “Are there no graves in Egypt that you brought us here to die?”

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch (Otzros Rav Hirsch p. 322) discusses this verse and comes to the conclusion that the Torah is teaching us that there are times when a sense of humor is necessary in order to deal with the tension and stress. He describes humor as a unique facet of Shaivet Yaakov, a byproduct of their bright intellect.

The Gemara in Psachim (117a) relates that humor, in proper measure, is a good thing as it brightens the soul and endows a person with agility and memory. The Tiferes Yisroel comments on this, citing the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 92:1), “There is no person without yisurin–troubles.” Jest and joking allows a person to forget his troubles.

The Gemara in Shabbos (30b) relates that Rabbah would begin each lecture with humor, and the gathered rabbis would laugh. Ultimately, he would become serious and teach effectively.

The production itself references a Gemara in Megillah (25b) which states that all forms of leitzanus [read: parody or mockery] are forbidden except for those that attack avodah zarah. The meforshim explain that the exception extends to kfirah and the banalities of the world around us.

The greatest of our rabbis used parody and wit in everyday conversation. A maskil once approached the holy Malbim and asked him a question designed to place rabbis in a bad light. The maskil said that it is known that when a dog approaches, it is safest to remain seated. It is also known that when a rabbi approaches, one must stand. “Rabbi,” he asked, “What should a person do when he is approached both by a rabbi and a dog?”

The Malbim responded, “An excellent question. We know that the Talmud teaches us that when an answer is not clear we apply the dictum, ‘Pok chazee mai amah d’bar–Go out and see how the nation conducts itself.’ So, let us do just that. You and I will go out and see what the nation does when we both approach.”

So what is the conclusion? Everything that Hashem has placed in this world has a time and place. Things can be used beneficially, and they can also cause harm. Each individual must take this into account for himself or herself. If one sees that excess humor takes one away from learning and spiritual growth, then that person should take the extra effort to learn a spiritually uplifting sefer or attend an uplifting shiur. On the other hand, life can sometimes get too serious, and then a break is uplifting. Unfortunately, some people do not understand that.

The Midrash in Koheles Rabbah 3:4:4 asks how could it be that Shlomo HaMelech, in discussing a period of mourning, explains that there is a time to rejoice? The Midrash answers that after a period of mourning one must attend joyous occasions and embrace life once again.

During the period of Chanukah, there is a special obligation to rejoice (Mishnah Berurah 529:19)–even for one who is engaged in acts of self-denial in order to do teshuvah. It is cited in the sefer Ohr Yisroel (compiled by Rav Yitzchok Blazer, zt’l, a leading student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, zt’l) that, on Chanukah, one refrains from any sad news because of the need for simcha. v

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