Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Turning off the music

Do the halachic (Jewish legal) restrictions on a mourner reduce the mourner's joy or does the state of mourning naturally cause the mourner to lessen his or her joy?

There are various restrictions that accompany the year of mourning for a parent. You are not supposed to wear new clothing. You are not supposed to attend celebrations. And you are not supposed to attend performances of live music. Would mourners naturally refrain from these activities as inconsistent with their mental state or would we otherwise engage in these activities but for Jewish law?

While it's a bit of each, to me the impress of Jewish law goes further than a mourner would otherwise act. Maybe during the first few months I wouldn't have thought of going out and having a good time, but I'm feeling more ready to do so now. But I understand the halacha. These restrictions give shape a defined time period of mourning. They say to the mourner: "you may want to go back to your normal life, but not so fast. Don't forget that your parent died. Don't forget that something profound happened to you that has forever changed your life." Besides, even with these restrictions, I'm still pretty much living my life the way I usually do. Sure I'm giving up a few pleasures, but I can live without wearing new clothes and celebrating for a year.

The music issue is more complicated though. I've attended hundreds of live music performances in my life and they've been a source of profound pleasure. Music has taken me to places deep within my psyche. And New York is great place to hear live music. Summer in New York is saturated with free shows. All of which I've missed.

Not only have I not gone to any concerts, I've taken the matter even further than halacha requires. In the first month of mourning (Shloshim), I listened to no music at all. Even when I went to the gym and worked out, I watched news shows instead of listening to my iPod. (Watching CNN while working out was indeed painful.) Since then, I've severely reduced my listening to music for pleasure. If someone around me is listening, I will too. I'll turn on the radio for brief periods. And I listen to my iPod at the gym. But the kind of listening I did before my mother died, taking walks while listening to music, watching movies of concerts, listening intently to recordings of live music--I've given that up for now. I don't want to get too carried away by a musical experience. I don't want to be moved too far from my more serious, sober state.

I've thought that perhaps having a peak musical experience could be cathartic, perhaps even beneficial to me, deepening my appreciation for what I'm going through. It's possible. But I've put that aside for a year. I have, though, bought tickets to two concerts for after the kaddish year. I can't wait to go.

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