Dbars Torah (sanctity of words)
Hip Hop and Rabbinics both share a cosmic reverence for Words.
Judaism and Hip Hop have a particularly intense relationship with words. Just consider the slang: word up, the word is bond, word to your mother. Y’heard? Word. You say more words in one song of rap than an entire album of other genres. It’s like comparing Jewish daily prayer to other spiritual practices. Compare the single word meditation ‘ooommmmm’ to what the amidah sounds like to the untrained ear - ‘bababdbdbdbdb’ the only thing I’ve heard that matches that kind of word per the second ratio is rap.
In Judaism, Gd created the entire universe with 10 Utterances. That’s right, 10 bars created the entire uni-verse. The big bang was just a hot verse! Second to Illmatic as greatest bars ever
The first directive from G-d to a human, was for AdAm to Name the animals, to describe the animals with his words. Framing their existence with his vocabulary. And for an MC, it’s a divine delight to develop the essence of your self-proclaimed MC name.
It says in Pirkei Avot "Anyone who says something in the name of the one who says it brings redemption to the world"
In the same way Lil Wayne says, “They say I’m rapping like big tupac andre 3000 where is Erika Badhu at?” - paying homage to those greats who came before him by name. Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Andre Benjamin, and Erykah Badu. You can be sure that each of these rappers has lines and songs intimately connecting themselves to their predecessors.
This is remarkably similar to any page of Talmud, where an argument or proof text will often start with Rav Kuni said in the name of Rav Jose said in the name of Rav Akiva and so on, redeeming those who came before and further legitimizing the current discussion. What sparked this remixing of past voices into the present? This is the equation of Oral Traditon and all traditions have to start somewhere.
Rap’s humble origins (started from the bottom now we here) can be traced to the recession in the late 70s, when the five boroughs of New york city chose to cut music and band programs. Given that that was a cornerstone of self-expression for many teens, they took it upon themselves to create an instrument when there were no instruments. Bronx Dj, Cool Herc, took two record players, plugged them into the public park’s electrical outlet, Borrowed two of his parent's records, and began looping certain parts from each record back to back creating a unique new beat out of disparate pieces of music.
It's over this loop that the rapper raps. In Response to not having instruments a genre of music called rap along with the culture of Hip Hop, was born. By creatively sampling the music of the past, a person in the present could converse or ‘rap’ with, these remixed old voices.
Elsewhere in the 70s... Not the 1970s I mean, like common era 70s. The cornerstone of Judaism was torn from Jewish hands. The long-standing Temple in Jerusalem with its High Priests and sacrifices was destroyed by the Romans. Amidst the destruction, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakaii cut a back-room deal with Emperor Vespacian to get the Jews out of his hair and out of the cisterns where they were hiding from the Roman blade. Rabbi Yachanon said “Give me that little place in the boonies called Yavneh, the Bronx of Judea-Samaria, as well these dope sages that I know. Let us retreat there, admit defeat, and collect our thoughts.”
And after about 600 years, and many generations, the Rabbis finally finished collecting and recording their thoughts into what we now call the Talmud. The Talmud consists of The Mishna, succinct recollections of what was said by the masters before the Temple was destroyed remixed with the Gemara - centuries of rabbis rapping with each other about the Mishna. It is this conversation, foundation in the Talmud, that has continued to follow the wandering tribe turning them into the people of the Book. and it’s this store-house of accumulated knowledge about how to live a holy meaningful life, not contingent on physical structures, this empire of words, we seek to not lose in assimilation.
Jews traditionally learn in conversation with what’s called a chevruta, a learning partner, with the text set in between them. The Talmud defines a chevruta as “Two scholars learning together sharpening one another.”
Traditional Jewish learning is not at all like a library, which comes from the monastic tradition, it is however very much like a battle rap session.
My words against your words about what’s real, pushing each other’s content and style to outdo the last thing said by your opponent. While swords sharpen swords, in both battle rap and chevruta you can take things too far and incredibly Judaism has its own Biggie and Tupac - the epitome of a rap battle gone awry. His name was Rabbi Yochanan and he was the greatest torah scholar of his day. He loved his only chevruta and disciple Reish l’kesih, a former gangster, but now a holy man. still Reish kept it G with torah learning. Rav yochanan exalted Reish La’keesh’s intellectual gangsta complaining after Reish La’Keesh’s death “While these new chevruta bring me 25 proof-texts as to why i am right Resih lechaish brought 25 reasons why I was wrong.” and that is why he was so valuable to R. Yochanan. He was the ultimate verbal sparring partner.
Incredibly, As many knife fights as Reish had in his former days it was the point of a word, a low blow insult from R. Yachonan that killed Reish l’keish because WORDS can be THAT BIG OF A DEAL - - L’shone Ha’ra, evil speech, the rabbis point out, is equal to murder.