In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2007 / 4 Shevat, 5767

Was Bob Dylan among the most successful popularizers of Jewish philosophy?

By Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The world of Bob Dylan's songs bring to life a dynamic array of characters, themes, and melodies. But the one constant throughout Bob Dylan's career, is G-d.

While in real life (outside of the printed lyric that is) Bob Dylan's commitment and connection to Judaism is in some ways mysterious, mercurial, and marginal, as far as his feelings go, Bob Dylan is a religiously inclined individual. He is a man that shows a face interested in the mystical underpinnings of Judaism. He is a man that emerges with ideas that often run congruous to basic Jewish philosophies. He is a man whose yearnings hover surprisingly close to mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

In the 19th Century, Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin, better known as Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, fathered the Mussar movement. This brought a strong and overt focus on ethical development to Judaism. This also meant that one's flaws were to be highlighted in order to find room for improvement. Maimonides, in his Mishnah Torah, already preempted the overt style of Mussar by noting that the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah was the instrument by which we tell each other "wake up you sleepers from your slumber." In the song "Sugar Baby" off of the Love and Theft album, Bob Dylan gives us spiritual council — "Look up, look up — seek your Maker — 'fore Gabriel blows his horn." This is classic Mussar — reproach in its most raw form.

One of the most philosophically challenging issues in Jewish philosophy is the issue of Divine Providence, or G-d's interaction with humans in their present state. Many of our great sages have debated the level and intensity of Divine intervention. Rav Eliyahu Dessler has argued that hashgacha pratis (Divine guidance) can be broken into two components — that which is evident by the external eye and that which is evident by the internal eye. The external eye seems to tell us that this world is controlled by G-d in every sense. Every move we make, every animal that grazes, every flower that wilts is controlled by G-d. Our internal eye lets us feel that we still have some control, G-d lets some things just be. Rav Dessler further develops the reasoning as to why both perspectives are necessary. Bob Dylan is also stranded between this tension of the internal eye and external eye. This duality is clear in several of his songs. Bob Dylan's apocalyptical "Masters of War" portrays a demagogue that is physically capable and free to cause havoc upon the world. Still, Dylan realizes the eventual "judgment" awaiting the tyrant as he faces a time of reckoning before G-d. "Idiot Wind," which is a play on the Talmudic concept of a "ruach shtus," also works within the balance of this fine line between apparent Divine Determinism and Free Will.

What prolific Jewish author can fairly leave out some treatise on personality traits — or what we call Middos? Bob Dylan spends a considerable amount of time weeding out the traits that distance us from both humankind and our Creator. In the haunting "License to Kill," Dylan preaches — "Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled." This loaded line has dual meaning; it is both an ode to the Vilna Gaon's statement of stagnancy — "if you are not going up up you are going down down," and it is a reference to self pride, Gayva, if you will. Dylan's distaste for depravity continues in his classic "Blind Willie McTell," — "well, G-d is in heaven And we all want what's his but power and greed and corruptible seed seem to be all that there is."

We also believe that our imperative for becoming good people stems from the Divine that is within us. The fact that we are created in the image of G-d mandates a certain level of dignity that is due to other human beings. The Talmud in Tractate Brachos deals extensively with the concept of kavod habriyos — honor that must be accorded other human beings due to human dignity, even if it at times warrants the suspension of certain Mitzvos (religious duties). Bob Dylan is no stranger to the concept of Dignity as he belts into his piercing soliloquy — "Somebody got murdered on New Year's Eve. Somebody said dignity was the first to leave. I went into the city, went into the town, went into the land of the midnight sun. Searchin' high, searchin' low Searchin' everywhere I know, askin' the cops wherever I go have you seen dignity?"

According to the Rambam, one of the tenets of our faith is that we believe in an afterlife, olam habaah — The World to Come. While our sources are not hung up on this concept — it is a latent assumption that runs throughout our holiest works. Bob Dylan is in many ways fascinated with olam habaah. He has light references to the afterlife as is evidenced by the song "In the Summertime," and he has stark references as portrayed in the song "Are you Ready?" but the most sensitive and most Judaic reference is that which is stressed in the song "Trying to Get to Heaven." Dylan humbly claims — "You broke a heart that loved you. Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore. I've been walking that lonesome valley trying to get to heaven before they close the door." One cannot help but envision the powerful imagery of the end of Yom Kippur service, Ne'ilah, where the gates of prayer are ever so gently closing.

If we are going to trust anybody with Jewish values there needs to be some sign that the content is rooted in our Bible. References to Biblical verses run aplenty in Dylan's songs. The lyric "I and I, One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives," is a reference to G-d's comment to Moses. In the song "The Wicked Messenger" Dylan waxes a little more Biblical when he states that "Until one day he just appeared with a note in his hand which read, 'The soles of my feet, I swear they're burning.'" This ending refrain was expressed first by the prophet Ezekiel. There are echoes of Leviticus (see "I Pity the Poor Immigrant") and variations of Isaiah (see "All Along the Watchtower").

In what is perhaps Dylan's "most Jewish" moment, he pens a song that summarizes much of our history in only several stanzas. It is the blunt "Neighborhood Bully" that so eloquently expresses the isolation felt by our people who are so frequently deemed the aggressor and the troublemaker when in fact we are simply trying to stay alive. Dylan himself once said that his favorite stanza in the entire song is:

"Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace, They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease. Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep. They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep. He's the neighborhood bully."

We couldn't agree more, Bob.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn is spiritual leader of the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan. To comment on this column, please click here.

© 2007, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn