Is Richard Wagner Forboden?
I am a big fan of classical music. I recently went to an opera featuring Richard Wagner’s music. When I later told a friend about this, he was appalled and told me I ought to be ashamed of myself as his music was played in concentration camps. I was shocked to hear this, googled only to find scant evidence. Either way, is it really wrong? Wagner died before Nazism emerged.
Richard Wagner’s music has been boycotted by many Holocaust survivors, especially when attempts were made to organise events in Israel. While it is true there is evidence his music was played in Dachau, “in order to re-educate the prisoners,” that cannot be blamed on the man himself and would not be a reason to boycott. However it is suggested he had an apparent affiliation with Nazi ideology and there is certainly evidence of his espousal of Anti-Semitic rhetoric.
There is a Shul in the UK, founded predominantly by Holocaust survivors where, it is alleged, that if the one taking the service happens to drive a car of German origin, some of the congregants will walk out.
While that might be taking things to an extreme, the point is the level of sensitivity we should have. If there are any number of other car options why should I support a company that likely benefitted from the war? And where there is plenty of classical music around why should I be deriving pleasure from an Anti-Semite’s compositions.
As we pass through more years since that ineffable event, and fewer survivors remain, the Holocaust risks becoming little more than history. It is paramount we inculcate ourselves to draw certain lines, thus maintaining a certain level of consciousness as to the enormity of the event.
The Torah’s Relevance In the 21st Century
In the portion of Bereshit we read how G-d sees it is not good for man to be alone so he created woman with the intent that she should be a “helper opposite him.” The classic commentaries explain this to mean, that if she is good to him then she is his helper. Otherwise she is opposite him and there will be tension. This to me smacks of sheer sexism. It implies that she has to give in to his every need and want and otherwise there will be chaos in the home. That doesn’t gel with twenty-first century thinking.
Try this: G-d says it is not good for man to be alone. Adam needs a partner to help him –but how does she help? By being a conformist? By towing his every line? Says the Torah, “No – by being opposite or against him. This means that the greatest help and assistance that a wife can provide to a husband is that she is dissimilar to him – that she is not identical to him – that she has her own perspectives and personality and unique character. By not being the same – by being something other to the husband’s personality then a tension is created a contrast is created – there are two different perspectives.
And this tension can be perceived in two different ways: One might typically see it as a negative phenomenon – but comes along the Torah and says, no – this opposition – actually constitutes the greatest help. Because if she was identical to him then there would be no opportunity for true growth. Every human being is fixed in his or her own orbit – intellectually, emotionally, and it is only by opposition – by being in a relationship with someone where he is not like she and she is not like he – this allows both of them to truly help each other.
A practical example: It is common in relationships that say the husband conveys an opinion and the wife disagrees with him. Sometimes it is difficult for any one spouse to listen to another one – it may be a dream, an ambition and she puts it all down. He then may respond angrily, may yell etc. what happens then? One of two things: Either she yells back and a fight ensues. Or, sometimes the woman who is more mature decides that she doesn’t need this hassle so she doesn’t respond anymore – let him do what he wants, however counterproductive or destructive she believes it to be. At least there is peace in the home.
The question is: Who loses most out of this? The husband loses most out of this because he is stuck in his own paradigm. He may be sophisticated and profoundly clever, and yet there is no one who is not limited – who cannot grow. Sometimes we are impulsive and make wrong decisions. Thus says the Torah, the woman constitutes the great help by being opposite him – by offering a different perspective.
It should be stressed that this is not a Biblical injunction that the woman should always be disagreeing with her husband – nor does it mean that she can criticise and put him down when she disagrees. But what is does mean is that it is wrong and unhealthy when someone creates a climate and atmosphere in the home where the other has to always acquiesce and yield to every point of view and dictate.
That, surely, is very relevant in the 21st century just as it would have been relevant since man and woman first came into being.
By Rabbi YY Schochet MA CIArb