TRADITION QUESTIONS: Microcosms of Worlds

Chaim Strauchler Tradition Online | July 13, 2023

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What is it?

In June 2023, an Orthodox Jewish high school (and its music studio TABC 1600) released a music video devoted to Shabbat culture borrowing from the rhythms and the video style of hip hop.  The song “M’ein Olam Haba” written and performed by Micah Cyrulnik, is excellent. Micah’s talent and creativity come through (as do the skills of his TABC collaborators under the guidance of Jacob Spadaro). It’s noteworthy that a day school has created such opportunities for creative expression by its students.

With its catchy beat in the background, the video portrays the Shabbat lived by a high school student not as a religious burden but as a physical good comparable to a secular party whose music and visual imagery the video borrows. These boys are not being forced to keep Shabbat by their parents or teachers; they love their  “taste of the World to Come.” Shabbat is a fun celebration of life.

The online description reads, “This video is all about the transition from Erev Shabbos into that incredible feeling of Shabbos Menucha. Only on this special day can we truly get a taste of the world to come!” While reaching for the World to Come, the video is very much set in this world. The song’s lyrics include chicken soup, grape juice, and Shabbat shoes. Yet, the video provides another level for this physicality as the singers harmonize in a Lexus convertible – and celebrate a vibrant Tisch in a high-end home. This m’ein olam haba exists amidst much luxury and wealth.

And yet, the culture that these high school students describe has a religious component that nestles beautifully within this physicality. We hear of shnayim mikra ve-ehad targum and “no melakha that’s how I move.” The song captures something natural within this melding of the music, the material and the spiritual. There’s no tension as Micah hears his father call “Get out of the shower it’s almost shkiya” – only song.

Surprisingly, this physical component is baked into the very source for the term m’ein olam haba. While popularized in the Shabbat zemira Ma Yedidut, the term m’ein olam haba originates in the Berakhot 57b, with Shabbat as one of three examples. Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555–1631) explaining the application of this term to Shabbat first suggests that the menuha (rest) of Shabbat connects to the rest of the world to come. However, he concludes, by comparing Shabbat to the other examples in the Talmud, that it refers to the delicacies of Shabbat (as does Ma Yedidut with its “fat capons, quails, and fish”).

What questions remain?

For those who claim that American Modern Orthodoxy does not produce its own culture, we have a fresh counterexample. Yet, even here, there’s an outward-looking element. The boys welcome into their Friday night Tisch two Chasidic singers (Sruly Green and Melech Frank). These celebrity guests add Yiddish to the pre-existing beat; they don’t create the ruach – but they participate in it. What does this say about the feelings of authenticity among these teens? What does it say about the permeable boundaries around the Modern Orthodox community?

While the lyrics include a reference to rebbetzins, women do not appear in the video (as is typical for most music videos by mainstream Orthodox or Haredi musicians). Created by members of an all-boys school, perhaps we should not expect teenage women in the video (especially given hip-hop tropes). What part do young women have in the m’ein olam haba teenage culture that the video celebrates?

How much does the Shabbat that this young man and his friends celebrate cost? How much is the upper-class lifestyle a component of this m’ein olam haba?

Chaim Strauchler, an associate editor of TRADITION, is rabbi of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck.

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