JERUSALEM (VINnews) — If you ever attended a Chareidi wedding in Jerusalem you cannot help noticing the drum sets and singers replacing a regular orchestra. The noise levels and joy are no less than a regular wedding, since the singers know how to imitate other instruments, but the source of the custom is less known to most people. The initiator of these drum set weddings was one of Jerusalem’s most colorful figures, R’ Avraham Steinberg, who passed away yesterday from the coronavirus at age 74.
Rabbi Steinberg was a caterer well known for his benevolence and kindness towards others. He would donate the sugar substitutes at the Meron celebrations on Lag Ba’Omer and used to bring sugar, coffee and milk daily to the Satmar shuls where he used to pray. He used to entertain poor people regularly at his table and when his uncle lost his house to fire many years ago, R’Avraham signed a check book and gave it to the uncle to use freely.
In the 19th century during a cholera epidemic, Rabbi Meir Auerbach, one of Jerusalem’s prominent rabbis and the author of Imrei Binah, had a dream in which he asked what was the reason for the epidemic. He was told that it was due to weddings taking place in Jerusalem with musical instruments in contravention with the laws regarding mourning the Temple. From this point on there was a strict enactment not to use musical instruments at Jerusalem weddings.
In a 2019 interview with the Marveh La’Tzamah magazine, R’ Avraham related that “for many years afterwards, weddings took place without an orchestra and even drums were not used. People would dance, since and be happy and the joy spread naturally as they sang…After a number of years some of the devout men of Jerusalem noticed the loud singing coming from the women’s section as they rejoiced with the Kallah and they made a regulation that one of the women would beat a drum and cymbals in order to drown out the noise of the women. My grandmother, Nehama Kletzkin A’H, used to go from wedding to wedding and beat a little drum in order to drown the noise of the women’s singing.
“After a certain period the drum passed from the women’s section to the men’s section. There was a Gmach (free loan society) where people would pick up a drum and come to the wedding where a relative would drum with all of his strength.
“When I grew up, I had an idea: Who said we needed to have just one drum and cymbals? Why not build a set of drums and cymbals and thus we could increase the joy within the weddings without violating the enactment about using instruments.
“When one of my friends got married, I took action. I came to the hall well before the time of the Chupah, set up a set of drums and placed big loudspeakers there. The Choson and his family arrived, the crowd started singing and dancing and I banged on the drums and cymbals. I had never learnt the art and I, like my fellow drummers at that time, relied on natural instinct and skills.
“Initially I would drum and the attendees would sing and dance as there was no concept of a singer at weddings then. After a while I saw the potential in adding a singer who would make order and sing the appropriate songs during the wedding. I started to drum together with singers who knew how to arouse the participants with their expressive singing and after a while every drum orchestra added its own singer.”
R’ Avraham related that there was some opposition to the new drum sets, since people thought that it might violate the terms of the Imrei Binah’s enactment. People referred the question to Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Breitstein who served as the secretary to the Badatz at the time. He responded by saying: “They allowed a drum- why should things change if there are three or four drums? They allowed cymbals- why not a few sets of cymbals? They allowed singing, why not use a loudspeaker?” After R ‘Avraham Mordechai ruled, the Badatz also decided that the original enactment did not include drums and cymbals and they are used at Jerusalem weddings to this day.
Fittingly, R’ Avraham Steinberg passed away after another of his Chesed initiatives which he orchestrated from his hospital bed. Last Wednesday R’ Avraham had been invited to cater a wedding but the wedding hall owners cancelled at the last minute. R. Avraham organized the event from his sick bed, searching for an alternative place despite his weakness. He made phone calls to every possible place and four hours before the wedding found an appropriate place for the Chupah and brought his catering to the occasion. Throughout the wedding he maintained contact and checked that everything was running smoothly. The next morning he was intubated and did not regain consciousness.
May his memory be blessed.