Torah Raps: Teaching the Bible Through Music

August 27, 2010
Source: The Forward  
Debra Nussbaum Cohen writes of two men, Matt Barr and Ori Salzberg, who call themselves Bible Raps Nation and travel from Jewish camps to Jewish schools to Hillel chapters on college campuses, connecting students with Jewish texts by writing rap music about the Bible. They sing about Jacob and Joseph, Noah and Moses, Jewish values and Jewish pride. They formed BRN two years ago, after they met in Jerusalem, and their approach is proving popular among Jewish educators, who are always looking for innovative ways to engage their students with Jewish texts and ideas.
BRN workshops operate as follows: Bar and Salzberg come to schools and camps, armed with knowledge of Jewish texts and professional recording equipment. After they hand out lyric sheets to their listeners so that the kids can follow along closely, Bar and Salzberg sing a few of their songs.
Then they have the school or camp group split up, with some kids going with Bar to write new lyrics based on a selected Torah theme, and others going with Salzberg to develop the beats. The groups later reunite and record their new song. Afterward, the Bible Rap guys distribute to the students an MP3 of their original work.
Bar and Salzberg started BRN with a tour of Jewish summer camps, backed by the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Since then, they’ve performed for some 25,000 students and educators at about 40 Jewish camps, 50 day schools and 20 college Hillels.
The project recently received a challenge grant from ROI which was matched by funds from two Jewish foundations. They’ve recently added support from the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation.
BRN recently hired an education manager and will bring on someone part time to manage the duo’s websites, and On the sites, they have a “Teacher’s Toolkit,” which contains raps, lesson plans and videos that are already in use in programs at Hebrew high schools, among others places.
Updated: Oct. 17, 2010