When you ask Rabbi Bruce Adler how he happened to become interested in country
music, he'll tell you that he's been a mountain man ever since the Israelites
stood at Mount Sinai 3,000 years ago and listened as God delivered the Ten
Commandments. Actually, mountain music and country music are somewhat different
and Adler leans toward the more traditional forms of mountain or bluegrass
He describes what he does as "kosher kountry." Kosher means fit
or acceptable. "My music is positive and clean and has similarities
to Christian country but, since I'm Jewish, that wouldn't really be an accurate
description. I've heard some people refer to it as Jewish gospel. As a rabbi,
my songs are kosher - they express reverence for God, committment to Torah
(Jewish sacred scripture) and the need for responsible moral living."
"I don't really consider myself a rebel," says Adler. "It's
just that what comes out of my heart and mind are rather different than
what most people consider mainstream Jewish music. Today, there are musicians
who set Jewish themes to rock 'n roll, jazz, raggae, rap and everything
else you can think of - but, so far as I know, I'm the only rabbi in the
United States, probably in any country, who does Jewish bluegrass. For this,
I've come to be known as 'The Bluegrass Rabbi.'"
The Adlers have released five albums on the Maplestaff label, entitled,
Walk Humbly With Thy God, If
It Be Thy Will, I Choose Torah, Eternally
Hopeful and Incredible Journey.
"On all four of our albums, my instrumentation of choice has been that
which is most often used in bluegrass - guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin
and bass. I also frequently include keyboard in my arrangements as it lends
a degree of versatility to the music and because the keyboard is capable
of producing so many different kinds of sounds and textures. This is fine
for country and other kinds of music, but because bluegrass has stricter
guidelines as a traditional form of music, bluegrass purists don't favor
the inclusion of keyboard."
As a songwriter whose songs have been recorded by other bluegrass artists,
Adler has to take this into account. "If I would want a traditional
artist to listen to one of my songs for possible recording, I wouldn't present
it to him or her with keyboard on it. So, in many cases, I've worked out
two different arrangements of my songs - one version with strictly traditional
instrumementation for the purists, and the other for people to whom this
is not a concern and who enjoy a more contemporary sound. I think if a song
is a good song, it can be rendered effectively in a variety of styles, but
some people embrace a particular genre of music almost religiously, and
I certainly respect that."
Even though Bruce writes all the songs and he and Donna share the singing,
they have different personal favorites as far as styles go. Donna prefers
the gentle, pastoral ballads and sweet spiritual songs her husband has written,
while Bruce generally favors the hard-driving, traditional bluegrass songs.
So, their albums include a lively mix of styles and even songs in Hebrew
which could only be described as Hebrew bluegrass.
Bruce and Donna Adler are both genuine rabbis and served as spiritual leader
and educational director, respectively, of Conservative Congregation Beth
Israel Synagogue, in Hamilton, Ohio, from 1984 - 1997. Bruce became the
rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tikvah in August, 1998. B'nai Tikvah is the
first and only Reconstructionist Congregation in all of Southwestern Ohio.
Bruce was ordained from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1983
and Donna, who is a Reform Rabbi, was ordained from Hebrew Union College
in 1987. The couple met in Niagara Falls, New York while serving two separate
congregations whose Sunday schools met jointly. "We immediately found
that we shared a mutual interest not only in spiritual matters but also
in music," says Donna. "Since then, both have been essential in
The Adlers have one son, Aaron, who is nine years old, and just now seriously
starting to show an interest in singing and playing an instrumement. He
knows a lot of his parent's songs and sings along, but as far as becoming
a rabbi like mom and dad, he's not quite sure about that just yet.
The Adlers' albums, are published by Maplestaff Music. I Choose Torah is
available on both cassette and CD, Walk Humbly With Thy God, If It Be Thy
Will and Eternally Hopeful are available on cassette.
To order, call B'nai Tikvah at 1-513-759-5356, the Adlers at 1-513-755-2334,
print out and send in this Order Form,
or E-mail Bruce Adler.
The Worldly Side