The Rapper’s Sabbath


shafran1By Rabbi Avi Shafran

Despite having eclectic tastes in many things, I have no appreciation of urban music. And so I had never heard of Q-Tip (the person, that is; the object is familiar to me). He is apparently a rapper. Presumably with clean ears.

I was introduced to Mr. Tip’s existence by a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report about his embrace of Shabbos, a concept he apparently encountered while playing a role, as a drug dealer, in a film about some Chassidishe boys who were lured into smuggling illicit substances.

The motion picture was “inspired” – the producer’s word, although it sits somewhat uncomfortably here – by the case of some young American Chassidim who were in fact recruited in the 1990s to carry illegal drugs overseas.

The ideals and commitments of most frum Jews make them unlikely committers of crimes like drug running. But, sadly, illegalities of many types, including that one, do exist in the Orthodox world. Not every Jew in the Orthodox community lives an Orthodox life.

So it was probably inevitable that some enterprising screenwriter would come across the reports about Chassidim tragically drawn into the easy money of drug smuggling and recognize an entertainment potential. What a winning crazy-mix of imageries: the peaceful, devout world of Chassidim, and the violent, amoral one of organized crime. Payos and payoffs, one might say. Amazing it took so long for someone to come up with the idea.

Whether the resultant film is a work of art or an act of Jewploitation I leave to film critics. But, reportedly, it portrays the Chassidishe world in a generally positive, accurate light. The protagonist, who is at first tricked into boarding planes with “medicine” for “rich people” and eventually gets sucked into the abyss of the drug trade, brings great pain to his family, which is in turn portrayed sympathetically.

Similarly portrayed, it is reported, are the beauty and wonder of a Shabbos, when frum Jews turn off the world and spend a full night and day in oneg, tefilla and Torah, floating on a tranquil cloud of time with family and friends. That is apparently what enchanted Q-Tip. And others, too; the idea of a day without meetings, media or mobile devices has attracted fans far and wide. A national effort to promote “the Sabbath” has been promoted of late, and a recent book intended for a general readership is dedicated to singing “the Sabbath”‘s praises. Maybe Q-Tip even read it.

To be sure, there is much to be said for being disconnected and focused inward for a day each week. (Although the Torah considers Shabbos, alone among the Torah’s laws, to be a special “sign” between Hashem and, exclusively, Klal Yisroel – and even forbids its observance to others).

But Shabbos, of course, is more than a “day off.” It is intended to be a sort of spiritual recharging for Yidden, an infusion of holiness into the six days that follow.
Which is not exactly how Q-Tip understands things.

“I’m going to enjoy Sabbath on Saturday…” he is reported to have declared. “And then when the sun sets on Saturday night, I’m going to raise the roof!” Well, actually, he didn’t say “the roof,” but you get the idea.

It is easy, of course, to be amused by a misunderstanding of Shabbos as mere “downtime” in preparation for a hearty party. But those of us who are shomer Shabbos might still learn something from the rapper’s words. We could stand to think a little about whether we haven’t been swabbed with a bit of Q-Tip ourselves.

When Shabbos ebbs away – especially during the long days of summer – are we saddened a bit by the imminent loss of its kedusha, pained at least a little to emerge from our day-long cocoon of connection with the Divine? Or are we itching, well, if not to raise the roof (or whatever), to barge as quickly as possible back into the “real” world, to listen to the news, check our e-mail, get in our cars – surrender without a fight to the mundane?

If so, perhaps we shouldn’t smile so condescendingly at Q-Tip and his Motzoei Shabbos plans, but rather recognize a bit of him in the mirror. And resolve to not only enjoy Shabbos but to absorb it, and to take some of its kedusha along with us into the week.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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  1. a nice reminder, of what Shabbos is suppose to mean. When I was a teenager I could not wait for the long summer Shabbosim to end and call my friends to see what and where we could do and go. Now that I have teenagers I enjoy my Shabbos with them and become sad when Shabbos ends – I know longer look to “go out” Motzi Shabbos but like to extend that “down time” and connection with my kids and husband, before we are swept up into the hectic week ahead.


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