Bob Marley: Bringing Judaism to the People & the Jewish Roots of Rastafarianism
When one thinks of Bob Marley, the first thing that conjures up in the mind is probably not how Jewish his music is – and even his look, yet Bob Marley and many Rastafarians express the message, soul and experience of Judaism.
Bob Marley is known and respected not so much for his talent and music – but what he put into the music, and what it represented to him. When his album, “Exodus” was named the album of the century by Time magazine, Time said, “Every song is a classic, from the messages of love to the anthems of revolution. But more than that, the album is a political and cultural nexus…” More than mere entertainment, his music has a message and Bob Marley lived it. In the words of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame upon his being inducted, “His lyrics mixed religious mysticism with calls for political uprising, and Marley delivered them in a passionate, declamatory voice.” What made Bob Marley a legend was his soul, passion and vision that he infused into his music – that is what drew the people to him and his music, what made him an icon of idealism and wisdom. What people don’t know however is that those are the roots and soul of Judaism and the Jewish experience.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!” Is a quote of Bob Marley, but is based on the essential teaching of Judaism to immerse one’s intellect in the study of wisdom: “Freedom cannot be experienced without being immersed in the study of Torah”, is a quote from the Oral Teachings of the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). For Judaism and the Kabbalah teach that wherever the mind is, the person is – and so freedom can only be found in he / she who has a mind filled with Divine Intellect and wisdom. In fact, Bob Marley’s encouragement and the Rastafarian religious practice of cannabis use is based on the same premise. They say that in order to experience the mind one needs to use cannabis and that it brings a person to enlightenment and awareness; That idea is a Jewish ideal (without the cannabis), to live a higher life, to free our minds, to feel our soul and the soul of God, which is achieved and experienced through meditation, immersing oneself in Mikvah, being happy, loving the world, isolated soulful prayer, and deep study of the Torah.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches, “When a person intimately knows that all that happens in ones life is for the best, as everything that happens in ones life comes from God – this is an experience of the world to come” In that lesson, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we live a life of duality: good days and bad days, people we like and people we don’t, pain and pleasure, love and hate – but life is not intended to be lived in a duality. The “belief” in one God is horribly misunderstood – for in Judaism there is no such thing as belief, for belief is an idea. In Judaism we experience, we know, we live – we live the oneness of God that expands all boundaries and limitations of understanding – God is one means that there is only God – all that we do, know and experience is God – ONE, and that is something to experience. The pain of life, the bad days and hatred that we experience all stem from a lack of experiencing the oneness of God, the all encompassing reality of an intimate relationship with God. When a person works on this through meditation, study of these works and learns from true teachers – a person can live a redemptive, heavenly and expansive life of the “good days” where all is good. This is the soul of Jewish experience and the inner yearning of every one of us. Bob Marley just used different words.
Bob Marley sang his soul for people to leave “Babylon” and yearn to return to “Zion”. Babylon represents all things mundane, lacking soul, lacking intellect, negative, hatred, racism, abuse, sadness, etc – but especially people and nations who do not seek spiritual enlightenment. While Zion represents the redemption of all those lackings and exiles, all those stresses and evils to a life of good, peace, love, music and soul.
This has been the teachings of the Jewish people for eternity. The depth, mysticism, soul, music, yearning, striving, studying, praying and singing is the soul of Jewish experience – but we’re in exile, in Babylon; but even worse is that we don’t know it anymore. More Jewish people in North America than ever would associate Woody Allen with Judaism before Bob Marley; would associate boring services and sermons with Judaism before a soulful concert and would associate negative connotations and experiences before an uplifting, enlightening, incomparable and awesome experience when thinking of Judaism – because we are in exile.
Bob Marley spread the message of Judaism through the medium of music, but his listeners did more than listen: they thought about his message, they chewed it over and rethought about their lives. Writer Christopher Farley said the following regarding Marley’s song, “One Love”, “”One Love” is, of course, a Jamaican reggae song. But most listeners don’t see it as being part of any one region – it has been embraced around the globe as an anthem to the human spirit. The song’s title has also become a greeting – people the world over will say hello and goodbye with the words “One Love.” A few years ago, the BBC chose “One Love” as the song of the century.” The impact is not only universal, but even more so it was personal. The reason why his music, lyrics, energy, passion and vision had such an impact was because it was true, and truth hits the soul.
During my nine years of studying in Israel, one of the most powerful experiences for me was the realization of how the Jewish people today have not experienced what Judaism is and can be. When in Israel, we studied around the clock – staying up till 3 in the morning, waking up at 6 or 7, and going strong all day (some naps here and there!). The more one learns the more one experiences the infinite amount of material, wisdom and knowledge there is available and how finite we are. Davening was something that took hours and hours everyday as we felt the power of praying to God, talking to God, yearning for a greater reality and loving and appreciating the life we live. We danced and sang during daily minyan as the level of passion was only matched with the level of vision and how badly the Jewish people need Jewish souls to learn and experience what it means to be a Jew, to bring the Jews from “Babylon” to “Zion”, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Let us all forget everything we have ever learned, thought or experienced in Judaism to make way for a richer, truer experience. Let us listen to our inner yearning for a spirited, spiritual, deep, meaningful, lively, soulful, mindful, expansive and I-let-my-Jewish-soul-rock-out-with-God experience of Judaism. We have begun a number of gatherings, learning sessions, discussions, classes, Kabbalat Shabbat Guitar Services and more here in Halifax to strive to actualize the potential of the Jewish people, singing, “Let’s get together & feel alright”.
May all your Chagim be beyond your wildest dreams,
Rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue,
Halifax, Nova Scotia
(An Article in The Shalom Magazine of Atlantic Canada, September ‘09)
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