Vegetarian Ideal

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
- Albert Einstein

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rapper Finds Order in Orthodox Judaism

Out From Behind Bars, a Rapper

...a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, the first clue that this is no ordinary Jerusalem man of God. It’s the rapper Shyne, the Sean Combs protégé who served almost nine years in New York prisons for opening fire in a nightclub in 1999 during an evening out with Mr. Combs and his girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Lopez.
“My entire life screams that I have a Jewish neshama,” he said, using the Hebrew word for soul.
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.

His transition from troubled adolescent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, shot at the age of 15, to
celebrity gangster rapper turned prisoner turned frequenter of yeshivas, is the latest chapter in a
bizarre journey that began with his birth in Belize 32 years ago. He is the son of a lawyer who is now
that country’s prime minister and a mother who brought him to the United States and cleaned houses for a living.

“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.

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...

On the December night in 1999 that Mr. Levi walked into a Times Square nightclub, he was a 19-year-old
enjoying the fruits of his first record deal and the hip-hop high life. The details of what happened
inside remain muddled, but after an argument broke out between Mr. Combs, then known as Puff Daddy, and a group in the club, shots were fired, and three people were hurt.  Mr. Levi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assault, gun possession and reckless endangerment.  He would not say whether he took a fall for his former mentor....he was deported after his prison release as a felon who does not have citizenship, a ruling he is appealing.

Mr. Levi  released from prison last year is often up at daybreak, wrapping his arms with the leather straps of tefillin, the ritual boxes containing Torah verses worn by observant Jews for morning prayers. Throughout the day he studies with various strictly Orthodox rabbis.

“What are the laws?” he said, explaining his decision to adhere to the Orthodox level of observance. “I
want to know the laws. I don’t want to know the leniencies. I never look for the leniencies because of
all of the terrible things I’ve done in my life, all of the mistakes I’ve made.”
On the sprawling stone plaza of the Western Wall, crowded with tourists and worshipers, he clutches a
worn prayer book whose leather cover was torn off by prison officials for security reasons. 

Arriving at a small hummus restaurant, he recited the blessing for bread over a piece of warm pita. With
him were two rabbis. Jeffrey Seidel, one of the rabbis, said he been moved by the depth of Mr. Levi’s
intellectual curiosity and dedication to Judaism.  Their current focus of study together: Sabbath laws. 

For Mr. Levi explains his attraction to Judaism, boundaries and rules:
“What I do get is boundaries,” he said. “Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You can’t just
do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself.
“All these rules, rules, rules,” he said with his hand on an open page of the Talmud. “But you know what
you have if you don’t have rules? You end up with a bunch of pills in your stomach. When you don’t know when to say when and no one tells you no, you go off the deep.”

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