Just as Judaism is an ethical and spiritual lighthouse – so too were The Beatles.
Similar to Judaism, the religious-like allure of The Beatles was a vital factor in allowing the group to endure. They were spiritual apostles of sorts, who may not have explicitly sought converts, but they evangelized a kind of gospel that resonated with numerous devotees across a broad spectrum of beliefs. The search for a meaningful spirituality was an important part of their motivation. In this respect – they were a religion – like Judaism.
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Most religions have their roots in spiritual awakening. The Beatles had a powerful appeal to a generation, in calling forth a spiritual bonding. They sought out wonder, meaning, and innocence in their lives and music. A huge global audience of young people looked to them for the answers and spiritual guidance.
With no formal rituals, the gospel according to The Beatles is a story of spiritual and personal exploration. The central concern of their simple message was their unfolding philosophy, which always pivoted on freedom of one type or another – political and spiritual. The human problem, in their eyes, was one of limitations and constraint. We can’t reach our full potential if we are inhibited.
In the same way, the Jewish idea suggests that we need to free ourselves from the limitation and entrapment of our physical world – at least once a week on Shabbat – to free our soul and our bodies from the trappings of the physical world.
One of the most intriguing facts about the legacy of The Beatles was that they were present in our world for exactly seven years; from August 1962, when Ringo joined the group, until August 1969, when they walked out of Abbey Road Studios for the last time. Exactly seven years, down to the month.
The number seven has theological origins, as God created the world in seven days. It also represents spiritual perfection and fullness or completion. The “Sabbath” meant that at least one day out of seven would be reserved for “spiritual” matters – to enable a working person to have one day of the week devoted exclusively to the soul.
Another interesting fact is that The Beatles recorded 12 studio albums. Twelve is a perfect number, also signifying perfection in anything to do with rules. There are 12 divisions of heaven called the Mazzaroth, which God uses for signs and seasons. Hence, the 12 symbols of the Zodiac.
The Beatles historical legacy certainly provided the backdrop for a “spiritual renewal” in the last half of the 20th century. Were they given seven years to help us to spiritually, free ourselves? Were we (the world in general, including Jews) given seven years to recognize this?
PARALLELS BETWEEN THE BEATLES AND JUDAISM
The legacies of The Beatles and the Jews share many similarities:
1). Like Judaism, The Beatles’ story has its legends, celebrates annual events, interpretations, and liturgy (songs).
2). The quasi-religious faith in the power of their music and them as cultural icons rendered the range of physical spaces that they occupied or passed through sites of crucial importance, imbued with sacred meaning. Just as the Jews have “holy” sites, so too does the Beatles legacy.
The Cavern Club, the Abbey Road crosswalk, their childhood locations. Just as Eretz Yisrael is geographically relevant and meaningful to the Jews, Liverpool, Hamburg, London, and India provided the “holy land” backdrop for the Beatle legacy.
3). In Judaism, the unique liturgy and prayers are the link that carries us from generation to generation. Beatle songs perform the same function by keeping the sound and messages fresh in everyone’s mind.
Just as Beatle songs are a joy to sing and listen to, so too are many Jewish prayers. All Jews connect to their Jewishness via songs and prayers. Just as with Beatle songs. You don’t even have to know all the words, just hum along and you are part of the community.
4). The Beatle legacy represented the good nature of humans: i.e., love, peace, love your neighbor, contribute to the welfare of your community, etc. Nearly all Beatle songs were about good feelings towards others, love, peace and understanding.
While it has been presented was nothing more than naive optimism – it was not. They were able to formulate and project these concepts through their music and their physical presence.
They didn’t write down what they thought and ask others to read it and agree. What they sang about and represented was the sacred truths and hopes that has been part of Jewish tradition for thousands of years. The Beatles presented very Jewish ideas, concepts and aspirations.
5). As many Jews believe, The Beatles’ ideology presupposed that something was wrong with the world. They practiced their own version of “Tikun Olam” and tried to make the world a better place by the goodness and spirituality that came across through their music.
While we are conditioned to think it will be the Jews who will be required to bring forth “Tikun Olam,” nothing in the literature even remotely suggests this.
As The Beatles reached the masses with a message of love, peace and personal happiness, they definitely brought about the first stage of a “Tikun Olam,” the realization that there is a problem with the way man is acting in the world.
The world was definitely slightly “repaired” due to their message and image of what they were or what they projected. The reaction after they broke up was “if The Beatles would get back-together.”
Unfortunately few of them recognized that a higher power had created them for a reason – to “repair” the world – and they did this, slightly, by creating a the core of a thinking (particularly in western countries) that said, “We need to more for our community.”
This is a core, Jewish concept- the idea that we need to bind together for the common good. Who does “community” better than the Jews? The Beatles left a world behind them where at least some people cared and got their message. They shaped the next five decades with an outline that is 100 percent Jewish in thinking and belief.
7). Just as only a minority of Jews take their heritage seriously and devote the time needed to derive benefit from the treasures that exist in the thousands of years of Jewish literature, few people pursue “Beatle literacy.”
Just as the Beatle legacy is presented through books and documentaries as a historical narrative – full of dry facts and figures of the “what” – much of Jewish communal religious life (even in orthodox circles) has become dry and so very predictable. In the same way, very few Beatle fans seek out a higher level of understanding of their music and historical legacy.
THE BEATLES TAUGHT THE MEANING OF COMMUNITY
The Beatles personified the concept of “unity” and were the epitome of the term “community.”
When the movie “A Hard Day’s Night” was released in the summer of 1964, the world first observed The Beatles as a “group.” A tightly-knit community. It was to Beatle fans what “coming together as a nation” was to the Jews a Mount Sinai.
We all joined their “community” just by sitting back and listening to their musical treasures. We join the Jewish community by agreeing to belong and commit to the community. It’s been that way since Sinai and remains as strong as ever where Jews everywhere still want to come together and form communities/shuls.
Most of the world never sees the inner workings of a Jewish community to understand the real meaning of the word “community.” However just by listening to a Beatle song, they can benefit from being part of a community.
The Beatles’ unique sound was a result of their voices and musicianship blending into one. The four of them were also bound together on the physical level into one perfect, unified whole. The term “The Beatles” can be used in either singular or plural. It can be “Beatle music” or “Beatles music.” “A Beatle song” or “a Beatles song.”
They displayed the same “oneness” in their physical state as the “oneness” of their sound. They are of the one and the many; separate entities, but also a complete whole.
The Beatles were a “unified community” of four. A similar type of “unity” is expressed by Jewss, who are individuals, but become “unified” and a “perfect whole” when they join a community of Jews. With The Beatles, all you have to do is listen to one of their songs and you are a member of their community.
All a Jew has to do to “belong” to the community is to sing along in synagogue or say a prayer along with other Jews. The liturgy provides the exact same function that songs do for members of the Beatles community.
The deeper meaning of The Beatle legacy is based on an authentic Jewish concept relating to the benefit of belonging to a community.
Joel Bainerman has published 15 books on the musical and historical legacy of The Beatles which can be viewed at: www.arjonpublishing.com. To arrange a lecture for him on the subject of “A Jewish Perspective of The Beatles” contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org