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Salzburg Music Festival Address by Rabbi Arthur Schneier

August 1, 2012 9:26 pm 2 comments

Rabbi Schneier's address at the Salzburg Music Festival.

The following is a transcript of an address given by Rabbi Arthur Schneier at the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria, 2012.

Your Eminence, Cardinal Schönborn, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to express my appreciation to the Herbert-Batliner Europainstitut, and its founder, Dr. Herbert Batliner, and to Dr. Erhard Busek for enabling me and my esteemed friend, Cardinal Schönborn to inaugurate the Salzburg Music Festival on a spiritual note, “Creator and Creation.” My admiration to Director Alexander Pereira for having selected Hayden’s Creation for the opening and inclusion of Ernst Bloch’s Avodat Hakodesh. The planning to feature the contributions of major faiths in subsequent years is also relevant when two thirds of the people in the world are attached to a particular faith.

Globalization has so far strengthened religion with an increasing realization that “man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The nature of our colloquium, “Creator and Creation”, leads me to Genesis (1:1) “And God saw all that He has made, and behold it was very good.” NOT PERFECT, God created an imperfect world, so that every man and women can help perfect it, and become a co-partner with the Divine in TIKKUN OLAM, building a better world.

Today, July 20th, this colloquium preludes the opening of the 2012 Salzburg Music Festival; it is also an anniversary of the closing of the Festival by Göbbels as a result of the July 20, 1944 plot. As a child in Vienna I remember the banning of Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn, as well as ‘Jedermann’, under the direction of Max Reinhardt. I could not have imagined that as a survivor of the Holocaust, I would have the privilege of addressing you in democratic Austria, a member of the European Union and seeing ‘Jedermann’ with my wife, Elisabeth on Sunday.

Man’s creativity and freedom of choice have expressed themselves in art, music, science and technology, in our civilizations. Civilization and culture have a symbiotic relationship. Our cultural development is derived from civilization.

Greece and Rome have greatly influenced the European culture. Greece with its ideas of art, beauty and philosophy, while Rome is known for its law, government-administration and engineering. Both shaped our political and social systems. Our moral values emanate only from the God’s law, the Torah. Our personal behavior, secular laws, democratic ideals, all of which determine our culture have their roots in the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. They are the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian heritage; they are the pillars of Western civilization. The Psalms authored by King David, chanted in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem and later on in synagogues and churches alike inspired composers; Franz Schubert wrote “Psalm 92″, Igor Stravinsky “Symphony of Psalms”, and Leonard Bernstein the “Chichester Psalms” among many others.

The noted British historian Paul Johnson, historian of religion, author of 40 books wrote in his book “A History of the Jews”:

“All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had the gift. To them we owe the equality before the law…the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person, of the individual conscience, and…(of)… personal redemption, and so of social responsibility, of peace as an abstract ideal, and love as the foundation of justice….”

Paul Johnson’s premise points to a vital aspect in the development and integration of religion and culture. Judaism places great emphasis on education and learning. “You shall teach them unto your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Appoint teachers for the children in every country, province and city, Maimonides decreed; it has been compulsory long before the introduction of public education. Just think of the Nobel Prize. Jews have won a lopsided 25% of that prize because of our emphasis on education.

The basic tenets of religious faith have shaped American civilization. The Puritans escaping religious persecution built their new world on the basis of the Bible. The Bible became the cornerstone of the American civilization. “Endowed by the Creator” is found in the Declaration of Independence and “One nation under God” is in the Pledge of Allegiance. Michelangelo’s Moses may be found at the ‘San Pietro in Vincoli’ Church in Rome, while a marble replica of Moses’s head faces the seat of the Speaker of the House on the Capitol Hill. The sculpture of Moses hangs above the table of the Justices of the Supreme Court. The morals contained in the Ten Commandments are fundamental for the law in the United States.

The Liberty Bell proclaims liberty throughout the land and to all inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10). And in the public square, religion properly interpreted speaks of human dignity, respect of the other, and freedom for all of God’s children. And when marginalized, it is at the expense of the welfare of society. A country that respects law will guarantee freedom for the majority and minority alike. This is the fertile soil for creativity.

The silencing of authors, the banning of composers, the burning of books are the actions of totalitarian regimes who suppress freedom of expression.

Totalitarian rulers suppress art that does not support their diabolic designs. I also remember visiting the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow during the Communist era, Wassily Kandinsky and Mark Chagall were relegated to storage and replaced by socialist art. Totalitarian rulers use art and the written word for propaganda.

What would we have missed had there been no Franz Kafka or Giorgio Bassani (Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis – Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini) to provide us with their critical descriptions of our societies, if Boris Pasternak (Dr. Zhivago) had not been able to publish in the West; if Marc Chagall or Amadeo Modigliani, Camille Pissaro or Mark Rothko could not have shown their innovative paintings; if Gustav Mahler or George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein or Ferenc Liszt had not had the ability to bring their musical talents to the public; if Irving Berlin had not been able to publish his songs, including God Bless America, to inspire our nation; if Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud had not been allowed to expand the horizons in the physical sciences and in psychiatry.

And the civilization wreckers of today, like those of yesterday who burnt my synagogue in Vienna on Kristallnacht seek to destroy the spiritual heritage of cultures; the destruction of the Buddhist statues, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and cemeteries. We witnessed the latest of such barbarism – the destruction of Timbuktu.

More than ever, we live in an interconnected world; we must preserve our faith, heritage and culture. At the time of globalization we must guard against homogenization, acculturation and forced assimilation. Mobility and migration bring about multi-cultural, multi-religious, pluralistic societies. Pride in one’s heritage yes, patriotism yes, nationalism and balkanization that have plagued mankind – nyet. Too high a price to pay. In Srebrenica on July 11, I was reminded of one of the tragic consequences of nationalism, when I spoke at the commemoration of the 1995 genocide in the heart of Europe.

At the height of the Cold War, in spite of the rupture and hostile state-to-state relations, cultural exchanges were the main venue of contact and communication. Van Cliburn in Moscow, Isaac Stern in China before the Deng Xiaoping reforms, and two years ago the New York Philharmonic playing in North Korea are all indications of the value and power of culture that speaks to the human heart.

“And Ada bore Jabal; he was the first of those who dwell in tents and breed cattle. The name of his brother was Jubal; he was the first of all who handle the harp and flute. And Zillah, too – she bore Tubal-cain who sharpened all cutting implements of copper and iron.” (Genesis 4:20-22)

We see that before copper and iron were sharpened to make weapons, first MUSIC was invented by Yuval to show the preference for peaceful resolution instead of conflict.

God is asking us to use the harp and flute before sharpening of weapons!

Music is the international language that transcends borders and divisions. May the renowned Salzburg Music Festival with the beauty of music be our instrument. Yes, an instrument of mutual understanding, peace and tolerance.


  • Kol Ha Kavod for a beautiful and inspiring address – it epitomizes that best of humanity
    and the highest of noble achievements. Thank you.

    Lois Kirsh

  • Sylvia. herskowitz

    Beautifully said! congratulations!

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