BangItOut has coverage of 50 Shekel’s conversion to Christianity, and according to author Arye Dworken, Shekel’s departure from the faith is all our fault. Or more accurately all our faults for not treating the whackest of all Jewish MCs with kid gloves.

Animosity [as] strong and bitter [as that exhibited towards 50 Shekel on Jewschool] is usually reserved for pedophiles (like Michael Jackson) or murderers. Granted, Sheq shouldn’t be encouraged to rap but we seem to have forgotten that Cohen, at one point, was an Orthodox Jew trying to do something fun within the Orthodox community. Shekel didn’t deserve such blatant spite. He isn’t, uh, Judas. And the incredible thing is that Shekel never responded with equal malice. He just usually backed down and simply took the high road. His patience is a somewhat commendable quality.
The reason I’m responding to this with such attention and detail is, as a critic, as a Jew, as a human being with some sympathy, this story saddens me. While it may be acceptable in certain circles to belittle others to the extent that they have nowhere else to go but out, I don’t think there’s room for that here. Moreover, while the above-quoted critics may not care about Cohen’s transformation, they should. They drove him there after leaving him with exhaustion and depression. They had successfully broken a man.

Earth to Arye Dworken: If you ain’t prepared to battle, don’t step in the ring. Hell, did you sleep through 8 Mile? Trash-talking is as central to MCing as breath technique, and you can’t run crying to mommy every time you get ripped, be it by a critic or a fellow MC. You either improve your skills or you fold your hand. That is simply the nature of the beast. But this is hardly the point.
The last thing we at Jewschool would ever seek to do is to turn people away from Judaism. Perhaps it’s hard to see that with all the criticsm we wage against the Jewish religious and political establishments, and, at times, against Jewish individuals themselves, 50 Shekel being no exception. However, none of our criticism comes from a place of dislike towards Judaism, Jewish people, or even the Jewish State, but rather out of deep concern for the state of our community and our faith. In the case of 50 Shekel, frankly, his act was an embarassment, and it was incumbent upon us to say so.
Then again, sometimes we’re just snarky bastards. And perhaps that’s okay. I consider it, in some ways, bearing the torch of Yiddish humor, which is known for its biting wit and sarcasm. It’s a rare occasion that the things we say are actually intended to hurt anyone (albeit sometimes people need a little verbal joust to be shown the err of their ways). For the most part, we’re just being wise asses and being the progeny of old school alte kockers, you can hardly fault us for that.
Take, for example, all the hullaballoo over Heeb‘s recent slighting of the Hip Hop Hoodios. Heeb wasn’t really out to dis’ the Hoodios. They were happy enough just ignoring them. But the Hoodios kept pushing for Heeb‘s attention. When they finally got it in the form of a wisecrack, the Hoodios called for a boycott of the already struggling publication. Forgive me for finding their response pathetic. As the saying goes: Nevermind what the papers say. Just measure the thickness of the stack.
That being said, as Dworken points out, sometimes the people who comment on Jewschool are downright nasty, and quite frankly, especially towards me. So much so that, at times, I become disenchanted with the project and consider dropping it. But, unlike Shekel, I refuse to give in to the “haters.” A person who is truly committed to their beliefs and values does not cave in the face of such challenges. Thus I agree with Dworken, this truly is a sad story. I would’ve expected better from any MC worth half-his-weight in rhyme.
I can’t help thinking of the Columbine killers. What would’ve happened had their classmates not been so vicious towards them? And what would’ve happened if they had a shred of self-esteem and not have been so overly-sensitive to the tauntings of their classmates? Where does personal responsibility for one’s own reactions enter the picture? Isn’t that what the bar mitzvah symbolizes as a rite of passage? A young man’s entrance into personal responsibility?
And speaking of shreds, in defense of Shred Lexicon, if he was such a whack MC, as Dworken suggests, I find it highly unlikely that Chuck D of Public Enemy would be making a guest appearance on his next album, which he in fact is. In addition, Shred Lexicon is not an anonymous entity hiding behind a screen name, and we did invite Shekel to step to the mic and battle Lexicon. He ignored our invitation. (The irony is also not lost on me that Dworken insults Shred Lexicon in the same breath in which he derides us all for putting Shekel down.)
It is indeed a damn, dirty shame that 50 Shekel has abandoned his faith for another. If truly we had any part in the transgression of such a chilul Hashem, we sorely regret it. One of the goals of yiddishkeit and halakha, particularly the laws of lashon hara, is to foster an ideal in which language is used only to elevate and never to demean. Many of us have failed in this respect, particularly in this instance. And this experience ought to leave each of us with something to think about. Perhaps we could have all dealt with our criticsm of 50 Shekel more tastefully.
I take minimal comfort in the fact that we never stooped as low as The Ju-Tang Clan, who built an entire act around Shekel-bashing. The barely post-pubescent rap troupe released their own parody of “In Da Club” that repeatedly urges Shekel to kill himself. Anonymous sources close to Shekel allege that he may have actually tried shortly before converting.
When I first learned of this information several months ago, it never occured to me that anything we had written may have contributed to these unfortunate events. Thinking back on it now, I’m left somewhat despondent.
Our sincerest apologies to Aviad Cohen. I, personally, can only offer to do teshuva, and hope that he will as well.