These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Bible Raps at Pardes

Posted on April 8, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Before Purim, alum Matt Bar (Year ’07-’08, Fellow ’08-’09) of BIBLE RAPS fame visited us at Pardes (and he stayed for the Purim spiel)! We videotaped him rapping for us during community lunch:

We also got to talk with him about why he tries to visit Pardes regularly, and got him to share some thoughts about the Jewish “aristocracy”.

These&Those: Matt, how often do you come to Israel?

Matt Bar: Twice a year, usually for gigs in Israel. This is my first extended stay in a while. I’m here for 3 weeks total; and I’m here to come up with a complimentary digital Torah package for the new Bible Raps album.

Th&Th: Could you please explain the concept of a ‘digital Torah package’?

MB: Sure; Bible Raps takes lines from the Tanakh – reordering them – putting our own inspiration into them – to serve as bridge between the oral and written traditions and the contemporary age. So all these raps are really text based, and “Rap Maps” are available online for all of our songs!

Two percent of all Google searches are for lyrics; so when people search for Bible Raps lyrics, they’ll find these “Rap Maps”… Basically, our lyrics are embedded with different kinds of Torah commentaries; both with basic Jewish vocabulary (like – who is Cain, Moses, etc.) and with interpretations (Medieval commentaries, social justice, environmentalism, etc.)

I’m at Pardes now mining sources for these Torah “Rap Maps”. That’s the reason I’m here in Israel. The Pardes teachers are the people I learned Torah from, and this where I always go to learn more Torah. They’ve always supported and oriented Bible Raps; so it’s natural for me to come here – to come back for their guidance.

Th&Th: Have any Pardes instructors inspired you in particular?

MB: If I have a rebbe it’s Michael Hattin. I try to mimic him in terms of how he approaches Torah and works with it in the classroom. He uses all the great sources of the past in order to make one clear lesson.

And, in terms of teaching, I learned from DLK – he’s my mentor in terms of how to use Bible Raps pedagogically. I’ve done a lot of co-teaching with DLK for Birthright – he includes Bible Raps on his source sheets – and he’s taught me to make Torah come alive for my students. We teach Torah by using the excitement that Bible Raps manifests – and take that excitement to the other texts.

Th&Th: So nowadays you’re blogging at the ‘S Blog’, but you also wrote a really interesting post over at ‘The Jew Spot’ about the aristocracy in traditional Judaism… could you break down your thoughts for TheseAndThose?

MB: Well, the USA was a revolution against the king and the aristocrats. Until the founding of America, aristocracy was in your blood. The aristocrats were exemplars of style & culture; standard bearers of morality, ethics, etc… But today – there are no standard bearers.

However, Judaism still has a form of aristocracy in the Jewish educator – and the crest is Torah. Jewish educators teach how to be. In the Jewish worldview – there still is a form of aristocracy – and I learned that by watching how my teachers comport themselves.

Judaism shouldn’t conform – nobody’s a perfect Jew, but there are standards. Through Bible Raps, I’m trying to put the emphasis back on being a wise scholar of Torah. Being in touch with the geniuses of past generations, in terms of how to live a meaningful life, is a big deal.

Marx wrote about how to relate to others, Freud and Nietzsche wrote about how to relate to ourselves, and Einstein wrote about relating to reality. But the geniuses of previous generations wrote about how to relate to G-d, tzedaka… How to live on earth in a meaningful way… and I want to tip the scale back to their Torah teachings.