STAMFORD, Conn. (JTA) — When is it kosher to listen to the Beatles on the Sabbath?
When your chazan adapts the Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service to the melodies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Lenny Solomon, the founder of the song-parody group Shlock Rock, employed “nusach Liverpool” for a service in late December at the Young Israel of Hollywood, an Orthodox synagogue in South Florida.
“I’ve never had more pride in anything else that I have ever performed,” said Solomon, who has been in the Jewish music business for 25 years. “I had created something new that could be sung in the shul. This is something that I had never done, and I was beaming by the time the services ended.”
The service was the culmination of a years-long project for Solomon that has included the release of a CD with 21 Beatles’ songs set to various parts of Shabbat services and liturgy.
On the CD, “Shalom Aleichem” is sung to the tune of “With a Little Help from My Friends"; the “V’Shamru” portion of kiddush is set to “The Long and Winding Road"; “Ein Keloheinu” sounds like “Let it Be"; and the Havdalah service is set to “Imagine.”
The story of the CD began in 2004 when a friend and neighbor asked Solomon, who lives in Israel, for the 40th birthday gift of a CD of the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat set to Beatles music. Solomon was skeptical but the neighbor, Allen Krasna, sent him an Excel spreadsheet with the Beatles’ songs in one column and the prayers and songs of the Shabbat service on the left.
Solomon went to work.
Working on and off, he needed nine months to take the 35 tunes and incorporate the melodies to the words of the Shabbat prayers.
Solomon recorded the CD, “A Shabbat in Liverpool,” in 2005, but it took another five years to obtain the proper licensing to release the project. The collection finally was released publicly last November as a 21-song CD, which is available for sale at Amazon and other retailers. (Samples of the collection are available at shlockrock.com.) Solomon was in the United States promoting the CD.
Dec. 24 marked the first time that Solomon actually used the songs in a real service. The reaction at the Young Israel of Hollywood seemed to be mostly positive.
“I enjoyed it and sang along with Lenny,” said congregant Avi Frier. “I think it will take awhile, though, for something like this to really catch on and became mainstream, like the Carlebach minyanim.”
It was hardly the first time Jewish services have been set to secular music. Some of the most popular Shabbat tunes originally were secular songs, such as “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (“Evening of Lilies”), a Hebrew love song written in 1957 by Yaffa Yarkoni.
“Every song that comes into this world has a holy spark,” Solomon said. “It is the obligation of the Jewish musician to take the best melodies of the secular world and bring them from the side of darkness to the side of light. This will cause the Jewish people to get closer to God and hasten the redemption.”
Krasna, whose request spawned the creation of the CD, agrees.
“I’m in favor of anything that is done in the service that elevates one’s spirituality,” said Krasna, a lifelong Beatles fan. “Certainly, Conservative and Reform synagogues may embrace this kind of thing more easily, since they always look for ideas to make their services more relevant to the times. But I believe there is a place for these tunes even at Orthodox synagogues.”
Solomon sees the Beatles service as a work in progress.
“My first effort at leading the service was not perfect,” he said. “I do hope I’ll have the opportunity to do this again, so that other congregants can learn the service and appreciate the rich Shabbat liturgy in a brand-new way.
"I’m also convinced that there are many people who ordinarily do not attend a synagogue but who can be introduced to the holy words of our Shabbat prayers through this music.”