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ROCK, REVOLUTION & REBELS:

USING CONTEMPORARY SONG LYRICS TO TEACH JEWISH IDEAS

Rabbi David Levin-Kruss
Director of Jewish Education for Europe for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

 

Introduction 

Imagine the scene. Heads huddled over texts. Learners gesticulating, talking and even arguing with each other. A typical scene at a classic yeshiva, no? No. Take a little bit of a closer look and you will see that the students are not studying Bible or Talmud but teasing out the Jewish and personal implications of the words of modern songs.

I came to this method of teaching Jewish values almost by chance. I was nervous about speaking at a highly diverse retreat for young people and remembered that I had attended sessions in which popular songs were mined for their Jewish content. I decided to choose a few favorites and do the same.

It started out as a “trick” to get participants interested. But as I researched deeper, I realized that these songs are pregnant with meaning and often act as modern commentary on classic Jewish texts.

 

Why does this method work?

 

A few examples of insights and how they were used educationally

 

Is this something I can do myself in my educational work?

Of course. Here are some of the many ways to do this.

 

What are pitfalls to look out for?

 

Can you suggest some songs to get started with?

Sure, below are my favorites:

Exodus – Bob Marley

Forever Young – Bob Dylan

Go Down Moses! – African-American traditional

Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan

If It Be Your Will – Leonard Cohen

Rivers of Babylon – Boney M

Samson – Regina Spektor

Spanish Train – Chris De Burgh

Story of Isaac – Leonard Cohen

Turn! Turn! Turn! – Byrds

 

I guess I am letting on my tastes and age with these but there are many more.

 

Feel free to be in touch with me (dlk@jdc.org) with your suggestions or with any questions.