Just as Judaism is an ethical and spiritual lighthouse – so too were The Beatles.
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. Similar to Judaism, the religious allure of The Beatles was a vital factor in allowing the group to endure.
They were spiritual apostles who evangelized a kind of gospel that resonated with tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people, across a broad spectrum of the planet. Their own personal search for a meaningful spirituality was a major part of their attraction.
Joining the Beatle religion was nothing more than a matter of “belonging to the community” of like-minded people who enjoyed their music and definitely agreed with the idea, tone, focus and message. They preached a fantastic gospel – and through music – not lectures and shiurim. Just as many secular Jews benefit from belonging to the Jewish community and don’t go all the way into it, a large global community became part of the “Beatle community” by listening to their songs and loving what they stood for and trying to follow their incredible lives. They inspired us and left us in awe of them – as does the most orthodox Jew does for Hashem.
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. This weekly time-honored Jewish practice of “freeing ourselves so we could embark on a more spiritual path” is exactly what The Beatles projected to the world.
Theological parallels between Judaism and The Beatles
The Beatles were present in our world for exactly seven years from August 1962, when Ringo joined the group, until August 1969 when they completed the recording of “Abbey Road” – exactly seven years – to the very month. Seven is a key number in Judaism. 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. The Sabbath year, also called the sabbatical year or sheviit, is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel.
The Beatles recorded 12 studio albums. Twelve is a perfect number, also signifying perfection in anything to do with rules. There are twelve divisions of heaven called the Mazzaroth, which God uses for signs and seasons. Hence, the 12 symbols of the Zodiac.
Another way The Beatles and the Jews are linked is that it is believed that the direction of music changed on Thursday June 5, 1967 when the “Sgt. Pepper” album was released. Seventy-two hours later, on Monday June 5, 1967, the Six-Day war broke out. Just as “Sgt. Pepper” changed music and popular culture, so too did The Six -Day War change Israel and Diaspora Jewry – as well as much of the global economic and geopolitical affairs. These two major events occurred in the span of just 72 hours – which is four times eighteen – eighteen being the number for life.
The Beatles legacy was about community and repairing the world.
The deeper meaning of The Beatle legacy is based on an authentic, basic Jewish concept of belonging to a community.
The Beatles personified the concept of “unity” which predates the coming together or joining a community. They personified the Hegelian idea that the whole is worth more than the separate parts and that society should become closer together. How Jewish is that? What’s more Jewish than community?
With Jews, a similar type of “unity” is expressed as individuals become “unified” and a “perfect whole” when they join the Jewish community in events or spirit. Where would Jewish civilization be without the concept of community?
That is exactly what was at the core of The Beatles’ message. The Beatles were a “unified community” of four. They were also the major focus/component of a “community of Beatle fans/lovers” who came together in a community to celebrate their music and message.
All that a Jew has to do to “belong” to the community is to sing along in synagogue or break bread with other Jews. The various Jewish customs and liturgy provide the exact same function that songs do for members of the Beatles community: to unify the community. Although the function of community in the world of The Beatles may be more superficial and less demanding than a Jew’s responsibility towards the community, the concept is the same.
The Beatles’ legacy was predicated on them carrying out tikkun olam.
The phrase tikkun olam means that as man shares a partnership with God, humanity is instructed to take the steps towards improving the state of the world and helping others, which simultaneously brings more honor to God’s sovereignty.
There is no doubt that The Beatles reached the masses with a message of love, peace and personal fulfillment and happiness. They were taking the first step in implementing tikkun olam – to elucidate the realization that there is a problem with the way man is acting in the world and that it must be corrected.
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?
Joel Benjamin is the author of two research studies on the musical and historical legacy of The Beatles (ArjonPublishing.com).