From Shlomo "the Singing Rabbi" Carlebach, one gets stories and songs, song and stories.

There's the one about his childhood in Berlin. He went to the zoo with his mother. He asked whether the lion was Jewish and his mother told him that if the lion was still alive when they came back, he wasn't Jewish.

Then there's the one about the millionaire who came to visit his father who was also a rabbi. The family tradition was that any guest - most of them poor people - was to be fed first and then see his father. Carlebach kept insisting on feeding the millionaire, brushing away the man's protests with "you don't have to be ashamed to say you're hungry."

From such stories, one supposedly gains wisdom, the same kind that Shlomo Carlebach, who was here last week, usually teaches through song.

For almost 20 years, this portly Hasidie, or Orthodox, Jew with curly gray hair has been popularizing Hebrew religious texts through songs. Most of the songs are in Hebrew, but several, such, as "The Singing Wall" and "Return" he sings in English.

Carlebach chuckles and his eyes crinkle in merriment when he remembers how it all began.

Just before the Second World War, his family came to America and lived in New York.

"I was was walking through the village when I saw this man strumming a guitar. He only knew two chords and I thought I might be a dope, but two chords, I can handle, so I made him reach and I started cimposing."

Carlebach plucks his guitar and sings "Dai, dai, dah, dah, dai, dah."

By the mid-1960s he realized that "the young people weren't in the synagogues. What they were interested in was folk music." So he took his giutar and began to go among the young Jewish people who had abandoned their religion and were searching for something in other religious and along different spiritual pathways.

From Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, "hundreds of Jewish kids," says Carlebach returned to the religion of their fathers after listening to his songs.

And Carlebach conversation reflects his experience young people. He fills his sentences with '60s and contemporary slang. When he talks about his wife, he says that he had always hoped to "meet my soul mate" by the Wall (The Waiting Wall in Jerusalem). He calls the waiters in a restaurant "brother" and women strangers "sister". Part of the Jewish cabalistic tradition, he says.

Even after 15 years and 16 records, the idea of a Hasidie Jew with a beard and curls playing a guitar puts some people off.

It doesn't matter one whit to Carlebach.

The point to all his singing, Carlebach says, the point is: "Sister, the young people weren't in the synagogues before my concerts. And it's not because they don't like the religion.

It all has to do with the style of religion. You can tell people something, but they'll accept it better in a song, especially young people."

Not everyone agrees.

"He may be effective," says one Washington rabbi, "but he's not my cup of tea. I'm opposed to the art form. He's just part of the whole folk trend in religion, the instant appeal and instant good feelings."

Carlebach shrugs his shoulders about the controversy he stirs up, strums a few more chords and says:

"Once this man comes to the rabbi. He says that he and another man never see things eye to eye. "We never agree," the man says. 'Well' says the rabbi, would you like him to have the same nose?'"

He chuckles and explains that he's more interested in the "poor schlepper" than the "super-plush-way-out-in-Long-Island-synagogue" Jews.

There is even a Jewish tradition that Carlebach harks back to. During the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, Hasidie Jewish teachers revolted against the strict rules and scripture studying that was prevalent, and opted for spontaneity, joy and song.

"But," says Carlebach "they never did it in the concert ball they never brought it to the world. With my singing, I tell the world what Judaism is about."

With his popularity and following, Carlebach says he doesn't feel like a holy man. No, indeed he says, pausing to strum his guitar and hum it bit of "Return", before adding "But I do have my holy moments."