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The journey from rapper to prison inmate for trying to gun someone down in a club back to rapper to Orthodox Jew in Israel may not be a likely story but it’s a true one for the rapper Shyne, friend of Sean Combs. And his interest in Judaism started way back before he shot up a club–when he was thirteen. Shyne claims that he is a rapper with a Jewish soul–an Orthodox Jewish soul apparently.
In the article, “Rapper Finds Order in Orthodox Judaism in Israel,” New York Times reporter Dina Kraft tracks Shyne’s rather unorthodox journey:
“As a teenager [Shyne] started reading the Bible, relating to the stories of King David and Moses that he had first heard from his grandmother. At 13 (bar mitzvah age, he notes) he began to identify himself as “an Israelite,” a sensibility reinforced after finding out his great-grandmother was Ethiopian; he likes to wonder aloud whether she might have been Jewish. He was already praying daily and engaged in his own study of Judaism at the time of his arrest but only became a practicing Jew, celebrating the holidays, keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath under the tutelage of prison rabbis. In Israel, he said, he had undergone a type of pro forma conversion known as “giyur lechumra” (pronounced ghee-YUR le-kchoom-RAH).”
So where does this leave him, now that he’s out of prison?
“Living as Moses Levi, an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem (he legally changed his name from Jamaal Barrow), he shuttles between sessions of Talmud study with some of the most religiously stringent rabbis in the city and preparations for a musical comeback. . . .”The science of Judaism” as Mr. Levi refers to it, has become his system for living, a lifeline that connects him to God and becoming a better human being. He sees no conflict fusing the hip-hop world with the life of a Torah-observant Jew.”
So apparently, the Orthodox Judaism hasn’t exactly helped Shyne’s street cred as a rapper–hence the need for a comeback. Or maybe it’s that his 9-year stint in prison didn’t exactly help his musical career. Either way, I always find it fascinating to read about someone’s choice to completely alter his life and devote himself wholeheartedly to a faith tradition. Conversion is endlessly riveting.

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