by Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
“The shortest route to wealth and fame for a female in our present society is for her to exploit her physicality.” – CNN Panel
“Let leaderly women be examples to younger women, with modesty of dress and honorable conduct, rather than seductive dress, and over-pleating of hair, and outward fashion.” – New Testament
“‘Those who lead the nation spiritually must be holy, for I am holy, and they represent Me,’ says the Lord.” – Torah
We ask – “why, still no revival?”
Why still not the Hosea 3:4-5 prophesied mass-influx of Jewish people into “Messianic” synagogues, associations, and conferences?
Above, we see on the left, a picture of a Messianic worship singer/songwriter at the release-party for her newest album. She is wearing a see-through blouse clearly exposing her bra and bosom through the shirt, and a low neckline making her upper breast area and cleavage directly visible.
At the right, pictured on the stage at a Messianic international conference, is another female worship leader wearing a “super-mini-skirt” so short it exposes her frontal midline underwear: that is the most polite wording I could find to describe what is visible. What becomes visible if she raises her arms in worship?
And we ask – “why no revival?”
Why does God not bring in the Jewish masses to our long-running works and assemblies?
I offer for consideration that “musical-worship artists” who behave this way have forgotten who they are and what they are doing ––– they are simply taking the standard worldly path to pop-music popularity: use music as predicate to expose your body to the world, and get people to ally the experience of your music to the delusion of being intimate with you. Money and fame follows, as day follows night – if the talent and beauty are worth the $1.99 per song one pays for access to them. This kind of exploitation is possible on the male side of the matter as well. Young men should not be on the stage in skin-tight “bicep & six pack” t-shirts etc, with pocket New Testaments rolled up in their t-shirt sleeves like a pack of cigarettes. It is possible for both sexes to misuse their sexuality on stage – rather, on pulpit being mistreated as if it were a mere stage.
I have been a Messianic worship musician since 1978.
It has been my blessing to have been reviewed by The Messianic Times as one of the founding influences of the entire Messianic genre, and in the words from Joel Chernoff of Lamb, “an accomplished and popular songwriter.” My songs, like “Fall Upon Us Now,” and “Halleu,” and “You Are My Rest” were standards at conferences all over the world for decades, and have been repeatedly covered by international artists like Helen Shapiro, Barry & Batya Segal, and others, and found their way into dance-collections, etc.
I may have something of value to say about strong worship musicianship.
Here is what I do have to say.
An exposed female bosom or a skin-tight highlighted six-pack have no place on a worship pulpit.
Have I become your enemy, because I tell you the (obvious) truth? (Gal.4:16)
A super-miniskirt or skin-tight display of anyone’s pelvis from any angle is never an appropriate mode of dress for a worship leader on a service pulpit.
Have I become your enemy, because I tell you the (obvious) truth? (Gal.4:16)
The very need at this hour to say such “no-brainers” out loud, shows how massive and serious the Messianic Movement’s fall has been from an accurate stand for the values espoused by The Scripture we claim are our defining body of ethical guidance.
A worship leader is a spiritual leader.
Every one of us, male or female, falls under the rubrics of 1Timothy 3, etc.
For women to stand the bima, or to present themselves at worship-product release events or worship services as Believers, while clearly displaying their cleavage, breasts, and legs up to and including the visible border of their undergarments is an absurdity.
An absolute absurdity.
What is next?
“Twerking” on the pulpit as worship? Lyrics with vulgarity to fit in with “hip-hop” culture?
Male worship singers could easily fall into this trap as females have into the exposed-skin-utility trap: strength display is part of the hardwiring of human males calling attention to themselves through public performance. I know male music minsters – serious ones – who are wrestling with this: these patterns are primal in men and women. “There is a way that seems right to a human, but the result of it is death,” cautions Proverbs.
Only someone having “a conscience seared as with a branding iron” could expect the God of The Scripture to bless such conduct with success: and “success” in our line of work and calling, means massive influx of Jewish people who become “disciples of Messiah,” who “observe all things whatsoever I (Messiah) have taught you.” Nothing else is “success.” If you start a corn crop, you can’t claim “success” because your field is full of crows, and you suddenly claim to be a bird-farm. A spiritual conference full of lusting boys keen to see that “wonderful worship singer” – when “wonderful” is not because of musical artistry, spiritual depth, or poetry of lyrics; but because she is “hot” and along with her overtly derivative “wannabe Rihanna” music, she shows her stuff … leads nowhere different than any pop concert.
The artist above with the exposed bosom not long ago recorded a song on a recent album that quotes Scripture while sounding like a woman moving toward a sexual climax. It is Tina Turner. It is Beyoncé. It is Shakira. What out is not, is worship. It is – an utter moral contradiction.
The Messiah never taught flesh-exposure as a worship value.
He never taught the manipulation of human lust to make money or gain fame as a godly path, or as a component of worship.
Pagan cultures inculcated sexuality into their worship.
It was something God directed us to repudiate utterly.
I call to the people now in Messianic worship music service to put a stop to this insanity.
God can only be reasonably expected to bless is what is in line with His expressed will as affirmed in the ratified record of Scripture. Gaining a large(r) following by exposing the female form of our worship leaders to the eyes of those with no right to see it (“woe unto ones who increase what is not rightfully theirs” – Isaiah) ––– may gain a singer a larger following; but, were we not taught, “What does it profit a singer to gain the whole world as fans, but lose her soul?” And not her soul only, but the overlords who make the administrative choice to encourage or permit such conduct on their bimas, and use it to fill seats at their conferences or events. (Romans 1:32)
“The way is narrow that leads to eternal life, and few are they who find it.” is what Yeshua our Messiah taught.
“Imitating the way of the nations that surround us” has always been the path into ruin for our Jewish nation.
I teach my own congregation in Manhattan this question: “Why would the all-powerful and all-knowing God of Israel WANT a lost son or daughter of the House of Israel to enter our congregation, and sit down next to YOU?”
I ask the same of the upcoming generation of Messianic music ministry: why would the God of Israel WANT a son or daughter of the House of Israel to see what you and yours do and how you do it, and want it to represent Him, His Word, and His Will for our scattered, and barely returning nation entering the 21st Century?
I hope for better things.
Better things seen.
And better music heard.
A cessation of imitation of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and the two Justins; a return to genuine depth of lyric and innovation of music.
When musicians start acting more like Bob Dylan, Keith Green, Steve Camp, Kim Hill, and 2nd Chapter – and less like Shakira or Kim Kardashian ––– we will most likely see more genuine “spirit” at our spiritual conferences, events, and congregations: if, putting aside these pop fame-seeking techniques, the ability to write innovative lyrics or music actually exists in those now occupying the stage via these means. We have a happy present tense “sign unto good” as King David called it in Psalm 86:17, in the recent rise of the Israeli Messianic Jewish musical group, “Miqedem.” They seem to “get” worship – and are making a positive impact in the Two-Testament Jewish world. I hope it what we have seen so far reflects “the real deal” in Levitical service (I do not know them personally yet) – and may Heaven grant that we see more of this kind of music ministry in the days ahead.
I say this without any consciousness of boasting: I composed, arranged, wrote and performed worship music across four decades that made rooms, auditoriums, and even stadiums stand on their feet and hurl themselves into ecstatic worship. What extracted such response from a crowd was not mere imitation of current hit music, nor exposed flesh to appeal to the opposite sex in any direction, male or female: it was that the words and music gave a called generation a way to affirm their calling in the language and emotional setting very specifically giving accurate voice to their calling. Nothing musically moves a kibbutznik pioneering a kibbutz on hotly contested ground than a song that gives voice to the specific values, joys, and challenges of kibbutz life.
Too much of what I see and hear now looks like practice for a shot at “American Idol.” Indeed, some worship musicians have made a try to get noticed by that entirely secular venue – and become and American “what?” What was that last word in the title?
May an older brother in the faith and the word advice you, Write “for” God – and “for” His people – and not “for” a hit?
And watch what happens.
And please, literally, for God’s sake – and for Zion’s sake – wear a real shirt and a real skirt – or pants that don’t look like your pelvis and legs were painted the color of the slacks? 🙂 The old clothing-tightnesss paradigm, “Be sure you can ‘pinch an inch'” governed several previous generations of godly women who took to the stage to lead worship by masses; and it well-served them and the congregations they fed. They could be clearly seen to be attractive women, without making male avoidance of fixation on their physicality a Herculean feat of mind control and focus. 🙂 And – it should go without saying – the rules of modesty that apply to both genders: worship leading is an equal-opportunity and equal responsibility vocation. Miryam and Devorah stand alongside King David and Asaf in the annals of Hebrew worship – and I doubt either one of them dressed like a Top 40 Pop artist when leading in it. The Torah precept from Exodus 20:26 applies: “And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.’” We are exhorted by Scripture to be cautious about how much of our bodies is exposed during our sacred service. This is not “prudishness” – this what I have long called “respecting the fire.” Skin is skin – we should hold an attitude of respect for the positive power of what nakedness is, and its ability to distract from focus upon the Ineffable One: the God whose form we are forbidden to contemplate or represent.
One rabbi and musician’s opinion – for whatever it may be worth
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
New York City • 22 June 2018