JERUSALEM — The tall man in the velvet fedora and knee-length black jacket with ritual fringes peeking out takes long, swift strides toward the Western Wall. It’s late in the day, and he does not want to miss afternoon prayers at Judaism’s holiest site.
“We have to get there before the sun goes down,” he says, his stare fixed behind 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."
As a teenager he started reading the Bible, relating to the stories of King David and Moses that he had first heard from his grandmother. At 13 (bar mitzvah age, he notes) he began to identify himself as “an Israelite,” a sensibility reinforced after finding out his great-grandmother was Ethiopian; he likes to wonder aloud whether she might have been Jewish.
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 they help explain his attraction to Judaism.
“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.”
I wonder if he considered the possibility that his great-grandmother was Ethiopian Orthodox?