Who Said Jewish Boys Can’t Rap?
Meet Matt Bar: Bible Raps
Learn Torah, bit by bit, from alphabet, to sentences, to pages, with phrases from sages oh baby…
Rapper and educator Matt Bar infects his students with Torah. He’ll take a lesson plan, spin it on its head, and bust out rap lyrics that get kids crazy about learning. These lyrics from his song “Rabbi Akiva and Raquel: Learn Torah” not only teaches the story of Akiva’s struggle to study, but also teaches students they can learn anything if they try, bit by bit.
Incorporating passages of Torah, commentary and Midrashim, Bar may get the prize for developing a curriculum that get students running in Hebrew school doors to learn. Bar thought using his hip hop talent would just make his job a little easier, but instead he became the unofficial “Best Hebrew School Teacher Ever.” Now other educators are looking to follow suit, starting a phenomenon – a Bible Raps phenomenon.
“We feel rap is the perfect genre to carry on that tradition in a modern midrashic pursuit as rap is the most popular genre of music today and really allows you to say a lot of words, tell a whole long story, in a short period of time,” Bar says.
Just take a listen to “Cain and Abel: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Bar introduces the idea of social action and presents injustices that still go on today since that time.
No – I ain’t feelin’ that, turn on the news and the news is revealin’ that.
Single mom going crazy, working two jobs can’t provide for her baby
People in Darfur like “Who’s gonna save me? Enslave me?”
Am I my Brother’s, my brother’s keeper?
I’m all about my people, I’m all about my people.
Ha Shomer Achi Anochi.
Finding himself focused a lot more on Sunday school preparation than his big city performances, Bar said he realized being a Jewish educator was a better fit for his passions than a “rock star.” He decided to take his five or so Bible Raps to PresenTense and see what they could do.
Through the PresenTense Institute, Bar met his musical partner in this project Ori Salzberg, and was able to receive funding to begin a tour. Bar is now on tour across camps, schools and Birthrights, performing his full-length Bible Raps album. Twenty schools across the country are piloting his new curriculum program, incorporating the CD in classrooms with the help of a teacher’s guide.
The program also provides a rap lyrics writing workshops, which is one way to get students thinking about their Jewish identity even if that means helping a student express they have no clue what Judaism is about, Bar says. For others who know Torah well, they can use the writing of lyrics as a gateway to the sources, he says.
For Bar, rap was always a tool and outlet for expressing himself and his identity (i.e. “I’m not white, I’m Jewish” lyrics). “Rap has allowed me to become close friends with a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise get down with,” Bar says. “It’s allowed me to be part of a culture…I am hip hop by the very fact that I couldn’t articulate myself without using hip hop language.”
Bar uses hip hop language for his own Torah learning. As a self-labeled high-holiday Jew, Bar says he always intuitively knew he was Jewish to the core and had an active relationship with the mystery of it all. But, he realized, if he is going to do Bible Raps for real, he needed to learn Torah more comprehensively. So he went off to Pardes, an Institute for Jewish Studies in Israel.
The tradition of Jewish thought is an amazing well of wisdom that has an ongoing dialogue between the generations about the mystery of it all going back 3,000 years, Bar says. “I love shouting down into this well and hearing how the echo returns. Sometimes I record this echo and call it ‘curriculum,’” he says.
The curriculum, Bar believes, crosses all denominations. We’re about Torah, he says. We trust the core texts’ gravity. “It’s your world and your orbit. We just wanna focus your lense, inform the choice of the reform, trade favorite Rashi readings with the Orthodox. No limit,” he says.
Cross posted at The Jew Spot
Monica Rozenfeld is a freelance writer and works for a Jewish non-profit committed to innovation and best practices in Jewish education. Monica is the founder of The Jew Spot – a labor of love that has taken up most of her free time (happily). You can also find her articles cross-posted on sites such as Jewcy, Jewlicious and PresenTense.