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A Boy-Band Full of Rabbis

April 9, 2012 | By

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Is Judaism ready for a boy-band invasion?

The five young men in the R&B group Shtar (literally, “document”) all went to rabbinical school together in Israel. Between classes and study groups, they shared an affinity for pop and R&B melodies–a common affliction for teens and college students, but considerably rarer within the walls of a yeshiva. The members of Shtar, now ordained rabbis, hail from all over the world–Israel, SeattleLondon–but they all currently live in Israel.

While some yeshiva students might regard this kind of music as a time-waster, the Shtar-niks felt otherwise. They started recording and producing music, creating a sort of alternate-universe album–the just-released Infinity–that borrows equally from cantorial music and Kanye West.

The group is strongest in its adaptations of traditional Jewish melodies–which never stray too far from the original, just enough to keep it fresh and upbeat. “Kel Adon,” the Shabbat morning song, is a perfectly hummable instant classic. “Modeh” is a laid-back, funky Motown number, based on the prayer that’s said upon waking in the morning–and it’s sort of the ideal wake-up music, energizing but not abrasive.

The few times that Shtar brings out its original lyrics, such as on the lead song “Infinity,” it’s awkward in the same way that many pop-music lyrics are awkward: simultaneously incredibly cheesy and incredibly honest. Overall, Infinity is a winner, a great new way to interpret the words that we’ve been singing for hundreds of years.

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