Culture, Global, Religion


“The primitiveness of rap and the consumerism of the mall threaten to trivialize the literary culture that is the pride of Judaism.” — Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

NEW YORK, JUNE 5, 2006 — Leading rap artists and producers were stunned this week by remarks made by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, outgoing Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, during his farewell commencement address.
“Nigga said what?” asked a stunned Marion “Suge” Knight, rap impresario and founder of Death Row Records. “Motherfuckin’ Chancellor don’t quit, do he?”
“JTS keeps throwin’ shit our way,” said rapper DMX. “When we gonna say enough is enough, you gotta put up or shut up?”
The night of Rabbi Schorsch’s remarks, there were reports of gunfire outside New York’s “Hot 97” radio station involving bodyguards for rapper T.I. and members of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

“Streets is tense, that’s all I’m sayin'” said Nas, author of the 2002 rap anthem “Momma It Ain’t Time,” widely regarded as an attack on the Conservative Movement’s practice of ordaining women rabbis. “We been puttin’ up with Issy’s tantrums for years, but this was way over the line.”
Experts worry Rabbi Schorsch’s remarks could ignite a rap war rivaling the deadly East Coast-West Coast battles of the 1990s.
“Rabbi Schorsch basically took a flamethrower to a gas station,” said Toure, the popular television personality and Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone. “Right now, everywhere you look, peeps is like —What’s the next move?'”
The debate, outrage and introspection sparked by Rabbi Schorsch’s comments pervaded the hip hop industry. “I just can’t believe he’d go off on us again,” said an incredulous James “Clock Box” Maler, a breakdancing subway busker frequently found on the New York Subway’s A Train. “Issy’s been a playa hata for years, but I ignored him the way I always ignored the reactionary elements of Jewish tradition. Now it’s personal.”
A visibly shaken Jay-Z, President and CEO of Def Jam Records, said Rabbi Schorsch’s remarks were out of bounds. “JTS has gotta know this won’t be taken lightly,” he said. “Sure, I’ve done battles with Dizzy Dave [Kraemer] and my nigga Gillz [Dr. Neil Gillman], but we knew the rhymes was friendly. Schorsch, he’s taken that shit to a whole new level. I mean, the hood is on fire right now.”
Some commentators noted the irony in Rabbi Schorsch attacking the culture and values of hip hop. “What’s frustrating is that in many ways, Rabbi Schorsch shares a lot in common with the hip hop community,” said Michael Eric Dyson, noted cultural critic and author of the forthcoming Terrorizing the Other: Homophobic Discourse in the Lyrics of Dr. Dre, Big Pun and Ismar Schorsch. “To hip hoppers, it’s like getting backstabbed by a brother.”
Rabbi Schorsch’s comments have already inspired a response. Two days after the commencement address, legendary rappers Busta Rhymes, Ghostface Killa, Xhibit, Redman, Method Man and Lil’ Jon released a collaborative track on Itunes titled “Solomon Schechter Grundy.” Among the most incendiary lyrics was “To that nigga called Schorsch/ Ya know ya voice is gettin’ hoarse/Think it’s time for a divorce/Drop ya ass in bloody borscht/Nigga.”
“Shit’s getting’ wild, and the question is, where’s it gonna end?” asked KRS-One, a veteran of several rap battles, including an extended lyrical joust with JTS Provost Jack Wertheimer in 1994. “Issy’s gotta know, you step to the plate like that, you in the game. There ain’t no backin’ down.”
Rabbi Schorsh’s battle with the rap industry goes back more than a decade. In 1991, he remarked that the Jackson 5 sample on Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” revealed an intellectual and creative lethargy that had pervaded hip hop music. “And yes, I know what O.P.P. Means,” Rabbi Schorsch insisted during the annual assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “Don’t even go there, bitches.”
In 1996, appearing on BET’s “106 and Park,” Rabbi Schorsch publicly challenged Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs to a dance off. Mr. Combs ignored the challenge, an act Rabbi Schorsch interpreted as “an admission of defeat no less momentous than Korah swallowed whole by the earth!” More recently, Rabbi Schorsch claimed that Eminem stole the idea for “8 Mile” from his upcoming monograph, 8 Miles to Halakhic Illumination in the Later Responsa of Yosef Karo.
The current controversy adds fuel to ongoing speculation that Rabbi Scorsch had a part in the still-unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. “He was at a Rabbinical Assembly meeting in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996,” said British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, director of the documentary “Biggie and Tupac.” “That was the night Tupac was shot. And on March 9, 1997, when Biggie was killed, the Rabbi was attending a Camp Ramah reunion in LA. It all adds up, you just need to do the math.”


  1. about time that punk got put on blast. We should reach out to MC Serch, the Beasties, Northern State and Paul Barnam to get the Jewish hip hop perspective.

  2. Y’all muthafuckas should see the bling bling on the chance-dawgs T-fillin….
    It’s bangin!

  3. Mr. Jolson EV! I’m so enthused to see that you’re keeping in step with the proud Jewish tradition of blackface, and that Jewschool’s oh-so-enlightened, sensitive and multicultural readership is eating it out of your hand! Everyone sing it with me now: “Mammy! I sho iz comin’ home, Mammy!” Who’s up for watermelon?
    See you in Jerusalem in a few days, cracka!

  4. WHAT THE F?
    Personally, I think that only the most uncultured troglodyte would fail to perceive the poetry that is xtant in orthodox underground hiphop, granted little of this makes its way onto Hot 97. Only the least appreciative clod would fail to take note of multisyllabic wordplay a la Eminem, or of — yes, thi s is a plug — multilingual rhyme schemes a la Y-Love (and to a lesser xtent even Kanye). Kanye’s storytelling ability is also notable.
    Perhaps someone might want to look in to their primitive ass theological theories that have known to come through JTS?
    NOT to mention, aren’t they supposed to be “progressive”?
    I scoff.

  5. Don’t even try to trip Michael!
    Issy’s been tripping, trying to front like he’s not a phat MC. Isn’t that what he does every Shabbos freestyle from the lecturn? Its about time the streets called him to account!

  6. Wow Michael,
    are you seriously comparing a satire on how messed up the Chancellor’s speech was and how indefensible it is for him to blame hip hop for JTS’s issues to blackface?
    I just wanted to make sure.

  7. Can someone please e-mail me and explain what this story is exactly?? I am from MN and have just found Judaism through spiritualism in the last 3-4 years and have NEVER heard of this spat in NY between the Rabbi and the rappers. I’m stunned …Just from reading this article, it being all I know of the story, I would like to say my opinion so far is that JayZ, Suge, Busta, and even Xzibit (who I love(d)) , can all goto hell if there is one. They suck compared to ANY of the Jewish rap/hiphop/reggae that I’ve heard. They are manufactured, MTVborn, fake, sellout radio rap. ANY Jewish music, rap, hiphop, reggae or anything, is pure, full of passion, life, respect, dedication, loyalty, pride, compassion, and TALENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So someone please e-mail me at [email protected] and help me out.

  8. Y-Love,
    I gotta be honest with you. Notwithstanding some of the politics and cynicism behind it, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about theology at JTS.
    It is possible to separate Schorsch from the institution in a way. I’ve been there for two years, learned much. Passed the Chancellor in the hall one. Only time I’ve seen him. Whatever he says at a ceremony, he does not get to define my academic, Judaic or theological experience of the place.

  9. Wow Michael,
    are you seriously comparing a satire on how messed up the Chancellor’s speech was and how indefensible it is for him to blame hip hop for JTS’s issues to blackface?


  10. Look what you gone and done Ruby K. As we speak Michael is trying to fashion a noose out of his nargilla pipe and hang himself. Sheesh.

  11. Hi, kaytea. This is a satire. Suge, Busta, JayZ, and company didn’t say any of the things attributed to them here–it’s just a joke. It’s based on (sadly real)comments made by the outgoing head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which you can read about here.
    ANY Jewish music, rap, hiphop, reggae or anything, is pure, full of passion, life, respect, dedication, loyalty, pride, compassion, and TALENT!
    Do you really believe that? While there is lots of wonderful Jewish music in the world, there is also plenty which is lousy. As there is in all religions.

  12. nice piece… but anyone else think the chance’ was referring to jewish hip hoppers like subliminal and hadag nachash, more likely to be taking up the attention of seminarians than the likes of Jay Z?

  13. I am falling halfway out of my chair right now from the laughter. I was at the grad ceremony and was blown away by his remarks. I went out front on the steps to have a smoke when 10-15 guys from the Rambam Boom Boom crew rolled up and asked me if Issy was still talking? I had no idea what they were interested in, but now I know. I guess his dis was in the rumor mill for a while and they were just seeing if he had actually said what he was rumored to be saying. Yikes. Now the JTS is gonna be fodder for all the Upper Upper Upper West Side hip hoppers. Matt Barr!!! Where are you???

  14. yitz,
    chill out bro. first off, the piece is written hyperbolically cuz it’s… (wait for it)…satire.
    were chancellor schorsch’s comments out of line? yes. is that the opinion of the vast majority of the students and faculty of the school? (i go there. i know) yes. is the piece funny? hell yeah.
    however: speaking to JTS’ theological sophistication (a subject re: which i don’t think you outlined quite well and resorted instead to profanity), i know of no other religious/academic institution that explores philosophy and theology in a more mature and sophisticated fashion than the seminary. when once, theology was discussed in open forums on TV, in the university, theology has become the red headed stepchild of religious studies. JTS retains its integrity, boasting some very important voices in the field of modern theology, namely heschel, kaplan, gillman, gordis and few know that solomon schechter wrote a brilliant work on rabbinic theology with an eponymous title.
    and eminem? a joke. you wanna talk about real sophisticated wordplay? talk about mos def. talk about kweli. talk about floetry. these are poets, a la the book of psalms and the song of songs. eminem is like balaam, a false prophet leading the way to misogyny, homophobia and hate.
    simply my two cents.

  15. Balaam was a “false prophet”?! He only said the words that God put in his mouth, nothing more and nothing less! What more do you want?

  16. dear BZ,
    in the proper tradition, factual evidence must be thwarted in favor of rhetorical flourishes.
    yes, according to the biblical traditio, Balaam did nothing “wrong,” but the way he is treated by the rabbis implies a state of character much more akin to the “poisoner” than man of God. He doesn’t even get a share in the world to come, no matter what he does. bummer. cf Pirkei Avot, ch. 5 (or 6? i forget… didn’t sleep much).
    BESIDES: are you really implying that eminem is God’s messenger? please. 😉

  17. You’re right. Both of you, and one of you to a lesser xtent.
    To you with the blogspot link — I was referring specifically to one set of teachings. Inevitably, what makes sense in my head will make less sense on a blog. 😀 Granted, I consider some of their — what is it, biblical criticism? — coursework and documentarian outlooks, esp. when it comes to Navi, to be bordering on… perhaps this is not the forum for this discussion.
    I also really don’t know what you mean by mature and sophisticated. As opposed to immature and half-baked?
    While I’m not doubting them as a conduit for information, as an institution of higher learning, or anything — I mean, a lot of v. prominent people have come through JTS historically — it’s some of the things that they are teaching that upon hearing, strike me as abhorrent and elicit a response roughly equiv. to ideological “fightin’ words”.
    I still think that hiphop music, even by 90-year-old bubbes & zaydes, can be appreciated with the same level of intellectual effort as one gives to Baroque. Some rappers are poets no less prolific than Robert Frost. But singing about the West Side somehow isn’t as grand as opining about deserted woods with a horse.

  18. A lot of the things in that speech I can’t really understand per se, as I’m staunchly not Conservative. However, I think, even in context. in the 5th and 6th paragraphs, a serious lack of understanding is reflected.
    One would not say this about haikus. One wouldn’t say this about limericks, quatrains, or any other form of quick poetry. Put those poetries over a beat and it’s the harbinger of intellectual armageddon and the poster music for “instant gratification”?
    But, maybe he’s only talking about pop culture. So say “pop culture.” Say American Idol. Say Britney. His jumping to rap music — even if the only reason it’s so salient in his mind is because of the snow graffiti — just raises my eyebrow. ESPECIALLY b/c he decried rap music in a Jewish context.

  19. Y-
    so things leave you cold. that is what er like to call “personal taste”
    personally, many things leave me cold, and some of them are probably things you hold dear.
    here is where we disagree: i don’t like to smear things i have no direct experience with. oplease don’t insult my school if you have not taken a class there. it hurts my feelings. especially since you come off looking like someone who speaks about something he knows not.
    also: modern and postmodern scholarship to me are very spiritual things. i have been spirtually inspired by much of my coursework. is some dull? yes of course… it’s skool. duh. but there continue to be immensely impressive and imspiring educators at JTS. even apart from the school, the reading i do (which tends to be jewish scholarship or comic books;-)) is what keeps me spiritually alive. reading: it’s a serious part of our tradition. and yes, i do all this and learn Torah too. they are undissolvable aspects of my spiritual life.
    here is where we agree: the Chancellor, while i respect him for many a thing, made some inappropriate comments, and since this is a forum on hip hop, i’ll stick to that. HIP HOP CAN BE AMAZING. okay cool. we’re both down. you know how much i am down? i work for your record label. i am planning your tour.
    here’s the thing: hip hop is not just “cnn for black people.” it’s poetry. it’s call and response. it’s maybe jazz legitimate heir. it’s the most innovative music out right now, for sure. however: rap can also be hatefilled and ignorant. so can other genres of music, such as country, rock, etc
    here’s a fun drash: the Chancellor called rap primitive. we read that badly, but in classic midrashic reappropriation, we examine the word he used. Mai “primitive?” what does it mean? primitivism was, in the art of pablo picasso, a progressive technique, recapturing the nativisitic art of our common ancestors in africa and ancient times. the primitive aesthetic can tap into a primacy of emotion and meaning that so called “cultured” art can’t even dream of accessing. the music that makes us cry is primitive, as is the music that makes us dance (what’s more primitive than dance!) the fact that hip hop reaches this potential enough to be characterized as so says something good.
    that’s enough outta me. let’s have a heart to heart face to face soon, y. cool?

  20. no no no no no no no no no!!!!
    I’m not dissing your institution and I was trying so hard to make that clear! I was speaking strictly about the statements regarding hiphop…my theological issues aside. I’m not dissing anyone, please understand that. Chaviva di’li— even in the post which I think you’re referring to, I thought I qualified that.
    If I offended you, I apologize. Please forgive me if I came off like some 3rd-party outsider with no point of reference just bashing your school on a tirade standing on some ideological pedestal. It’s so not like that.
    All I am decrying is the apparent lack of appreciation for xactly what you described — the innovation & poetry of hiphop.
    And I

  21. All that being said, the food at JTS still sucks.
    That is, unless yer Grillin with Gillman!
    I wonder if back in the day, they had Hanger Steaks with Heschel?
    Y-Love, I think you’re absolutely right. What gets me so much is how far the guy went with some writing in the snow. He seems so far removed from the students of the institution. Imagine if he had engaged some of the undergrads in a conversation about whether or not rap is meaningful and intellectual (it is). I doubt he even thought to do that.
    And that tells you what kind of leader he is, I guess.

  22. enough of the drama ; back to the music, says i!
    what do people think about the nature of hip hop today?
    it seems that hip hop is the last vestige of a populist musick. chuck D had something right there. jazz and blues have become gentrified (in many cases at least), now a new segment of classical music it seems. country music keeps up a sham-like veneer of appeal to the people, but it’s super-commercialized.
    and while rap has its share of falunting conspicuous consumption (i am looking at YOU mtv cribs), at its best, hip hop speaks to the soul, to the nefesh. what do you think?
    also: what about the notion of the primitive mentioned before. remember: similar critiques were leveled at jazz, another supposedly uncouth and “exotic” musical form… is it a coincidence that both are “black musics?” i think not.
    i agree with you, BD. when i read the part about the snow, i didn’t quite believe it myself.
    Y- no worries man. i was serious about the talk. i’d love to schmooze. what do you think about the jewish/israelite influence on first wave ska, like desmond dekker? (not reggae… that comparison is SO done to death).

  23. I wish more effort were made in distinguishing between the hiphop of KRS-One, Q-Tip, and Big Pun (underground, not the “boricua, morena” song) and the “rap/pop” of Lil’ Jon and T.I.
    Here’s a good way to distinguish artists from the two categories: if there are more “songwriters” than artists, chances are…
    Unfortunately, artists from category “B” get more publicity and more $, and thereby proverbially “ruin it for everybody.” But the hiphop from category “A” is that what you referred to, that speaks to the soul. My mashgiach from yeshiva, shlit”a, called freestyle “devarim ha’yotzim min ha’lev”, words from the heart (b/c they come out too fast to be thought about). He said you can see someone’s spiritual level by hearing them freestyle — b/c you hear the words they put out instinctively. SO true.

  24. Nu Kinderlach, really, this is a hurricane in a thimble. I happen to have had dinner with Ismar tonight at Darna and the matter of the rap came up (thank you Prophet’s donkey). He really doesn’t know about these things, nebbish, he meant disco.
    So never mind, continue to do Hashem’s work, even if you are conservative, and don’t let yourselves be seduced by anything other torah, even as Balaam himself, a nice goy that he was, did not let a talking donekey stop him on his way to say foolery, or prophecy. either. Nu sometimes it takes donkeys to wake up smart people. Nice work.
    Now, please turn down the music, a little, it’s late.

  25. “Terrorizing the Other: Homophobic Discourse in the Lyrics of Dr. Dre, Big Pun and Ismar Schorsch”
    It was great simply to have thought of that title.

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