Rav Shmuel
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Rav Shmuel

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos




After a few years of playing to full crowds in Jerusalem, the Holy City could no longer contain Rabbi Rav Shmuel. So he came to New York, where he soon built a following in the bubbling antifolk scene centered around Sidewalk cafe. Shmuel is a real rabbi and teaches Jewish philosophy and the Talmud at various Manhattan universities when he isn't playing solo or touring the country with his band Gefiltefish (yep, they've opened for Phish). Not to worry, he doesn't do klezmer. With Testosterone Kills, carmaig de Forest, Linda Draper, Dibs, Daud Art Sorority for Girls and Michael Novick. 94 Ave. A (6th St.) 7:30, 2 drink min. - New York Press

"Time Out New York"

Rav Shmuel is an acoustic-guitar-wielding Orthodox rabbi with a genial stage presence and a number of pretty, funny songs. Plus, the night we caught him, he shared a duet with rapper Timothy dark and covered Radiohead! - Rav Shmuel

"Phishy Rabinnics"

The Rosh Yeshiva at IDT's call center, Rabbi Shmuel Skaist (Rav Shmuel) once told the press that he doesn't fit into conventional sectarian categories. He is, rather, "a hassid of God." Raised and ordained in the New York area, Skaist oversaw youth outreach programs for the Orthodox Union before relocating to Israel, where he taught at Bar Ilan University's overseas program, the Bat Ayin Yeshiva (a hotbed that has spawned musicians like Raz Hartman and Eden Mi Qedem) and the Neveh Tzion Yeshiva for American youth at risk.

Around this time, Skaist began flirting with rock stardom, fronting bands like Jerusalem's Not Yo Momma (together with Mike's Place resident lead guitarist Yoni Becker and the Heedoosh drummer Ari Leichtberg) and then New York's Bartlebees jam-band. Soon Skaist was living in the US again, gaining a following as "the Phish rabbi" by doing outreach in concert venue parking lots, guest lecturing on the campus Hillel House circuit and performing original folk-rock songs regularly at the Sidewalk Cafe in the Lower East Side. "When I'm in that world, I see myself as an ambassador of Judaism," he has said of the bar gigs - years before Matisyahu ever hummed a niggun.

Now that overtly Jewish music is ready for its mainstream close-up, the Grammy-winning Jewish Music Group has released twin Skaist albums, the cheeky folk-rock of Protocols and the more traditional hassidic-style B'yameinu. Protocols presents us with a wayward existence desperate for repair - song titles like "Dumb World," "Realistic" and "Last Chance" say it all - but Skaist maintains a healthily silly attitude through most of the disc, pointing out the colorful quirks of friendship on "Big Talkers" and pretending to confirm an infamous early-1900's anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on the title track. The album gets sinister towards the end, with the refrain on "Confused" proclaiming, "I want to be enlightened...but I'm only confused" - effectively kicking off the section of increasingly darkening final four songs of the disc.

Along the way, Skaist and his team of Doghaus Studios engineers/session men go for a sonic landscape that is low-fi yet adventurous. The opening "Dumb World" sports a rapid-fire verse phrasing structure that evokes dub-punk-pop auteurs Sublime at their folkiest. "Talkers" rides an infectious groove until it closes with a Chili Peppers-like coda. And with its sweeping rock feel, the optimistic "I Feel Love" is topped by an Edge-like soaring slide guitar part throughout.

Protocols is contemporary, fun and accessible but made heavier by a nuanced, early Dylan-like smirking sense of doom. B'yameinu, on the other hand, goes for a more naive yet traditional feel. Here Skaist ironically sounds far less at home, and his loose vocal style doesn't work as well - the "contemporary hassidic" genre is crooner fodder, after all. The majority of the album is marked by dry new takes on niggunim.

On the accordion- and cowbell-anchored klezmer polka of "Mattersdorf" and the staccato organ whimsy of "Maoz Tzur," Skaist starts to have a bit of fun. B'yameinu's best moments, though, come when the disc reprises Protocols territory, as in the case of the folk-reggae of "Hashem Melech" and "Ani Rotzeh." - Jerusalem Post

"Rabbi on the Street"

Terrace was on tap last Thursday, as it is every Thursday and Saturday night and, increasingly, Wednesdays and Fridays as well. What made last Thursday special was the Guinness. Most nights, when you go out to the Street to drink a beer, what you get is watered-down Old Milwaukee — "Beast," in Princeton parlance. But even without the pricey Irish hops, last Thursday would have been remarkable: Rabbi Shmuel Skaist (Rav Shmuel), an Orthodox rabbi and regular fixture on the East Village music scene, played his acoustic guitar for a crowd of about 30 students.

Rabbi Skaist is originally from New York, but spends much of his time in Israel, where he teaches philosophy at Bar Ilhan University. Since 1995, Skaist has been a fan of the band Phish, a wildly popular jam quartet now immortalized in a Ben & Jerry's flavor, "Phish Food." Phish concerts are generally pretty psychedelic affairs, the province of Frisbee-playing, reefer-toking kids. Skaist, who has a long beard and sidelocks, probably stands out at these concerts less than you might expect. He is laid-back and disarming, part rock star, part Raffi in tzitzis. He goes to Phish concerts because he likes the music, but he also sees them as a unique opportunity to reach out to other Jews. Skaist estimates that something like 30 percent of the fans at a given Phish concert are Jewish, most of them nonobservant.

Skaist played in Terrace's front room, a large, wood-paneled space furnished with scuffed red leather couches and a piano. The only light came from the white candles that were clustered around the room. The event was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Life, and so Terrace couldn't open the taproom until the show was over, a policy that galled Skaist: "Is it because I'm a rabbi? Because I drink beer, you know."

The turnout for the event was mainly the CJL crowd — a few yarmulkes, and lots of Hadassah T-shirts — although other people wandered in as the night went on. Because the fliers for the event had billed Rabbi Skaist as the "Phish Rabbi," many came to the show expecting to hear covers of Phish songs. Most of them stayed even after realizing that Skaist was playing his own stuff. Skaist played a graphite guitar — "With graphite, you're not supposed to have to tune it so much. I guess I'm doing something wrong." — with a daisy pattern on the strap.

Skaist introduced many of his songs with anecdotes. One of the songs, the "Ode to Patrick and Tom," is about two college students who dropped out of school and traveled the world looking for the secret to life. In every city that they visited, Patrick and Tom went to a bar, and at every bar they were directed to a local holy person or wise man to consult. Patrick and Tom stayed for a week or two in each place until they came to Jerusalem, where their existential inquiries were met with shrugs. Having had no luck in the bars, Patrick and Tom sought counsel from a rabbi on the street. "I won't tell you what he said to them." Skaist said. "It was in Hebrew, but the basic idea was for them to get out of his way." Patrick and Tom decided to stay in Jerusalem, where they opened a meat-and-milk restaurant. "It was probably the most kosher restaurant in the city, even though Patrick and Tom weren't Jewish." Skaist said. "But it went under a few years ago, so they had to go back to Michigan."

By far, the biggest hit of the evening was "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion Are True," a tongue-in-cheek, rollicking tune whose chorus was: "Yes, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are true. I let the cat right out of the bag." Skaist prefaced the song with a discussion of a recent Egyptian television series based on the Protocols, and joked that if there was an international Jewish conspiracy, he wanted to be part of it.

After the show, Skaist went down to the taproom, where he chatted about philosophy, Madonna, rock music, and Jewish mysticism. The guy on tap duty asked him if he wanted Guinness or the standard club suds. The rabbi drank a Guinness. - Princeton Alumni Publications

"Billboard Album Review"

Matisyahu might get all the pop culture credit, being the first Hasidic rapper and all, but his album isn't actually all that interesting once one gets past the novelty aspect. On the other hand, the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Rav Shmuel's solo debut is an immediately likable bit of good-humored anti-folk that doesn't require the visuals -- or even the knowledge that, yes, Rav Shmuel really is a Hasidic rabbi -- to get across. Musically reminiscent of everyone from Barenaked Ladies (Rav Shmuel has a certain vocal resemblance to Steven Page) to Jack Johnson to the Moldy Peaches' Adam Green, Protocols is a likably shaggy folk-pop record filled with catchy acoustic guitar-based tunes and thoughtful but not hectoring lyrics. "Fatherland" is the most overtly spiritual song, with lyrics that question faith, but only in the same way that a devoted Star Wars fan will debate the specifics of whether Han or Greedo shot first. In other words, this is not a heavy record by any means, nor is it thematically forbidding for Gentiles. Much like the old slogan for Levy's Rye Bread used to say, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Rav Shmuel, but a fondness for laid-back, AAA folk-rock sure helps. (Also, extra points for the gutsy Elders of Zion joke implied in the title.) ~ Stewart Mason, All Music Guide - Stewart Mason in Billboard.com

"From Jamaica to Jerusalem"

On Nov. 1, 2003 in New York City, a young filmmaker, several dozen musicians and hundreds of fans gathered as part of an event titled the Unity Sessions.

The event, which featured a screening of a documentary called Awake Zion and two hours of reggae music, would not have seemed so out of the ordinary if the performers and attendees had been the predicted mix of Rastafarians and Bob Marley enthusiasts. Throughout the evening, however, yarmulkes and side curls were as common on stage as dreadlocks, and the audience was comprised of mainly Jews and African-Americans. As the night progressed, Religious Rastafarians swayed back and forth to the music alongside religious Jews.

Jews and Blacks of all backgrounds discussed the many similarities between the histories of Judaism and Rasta cultures. And that was point-to find common ground between two seemingly different peoples through music.

This coming weekend, a taste of what happened in New York City arrives at Washington University. Two of the featured artists at the Unity Sessions, Mattisyahu and Rav Shmuel, will be lecturing and performing Dec. 4-6.

Mattisyahu, who grew up in New York City listening to the sounds of reggae and early hip-hop, began discovering the similarities between Rasta culture and Judaism several years ago. The consequence of his discovery, and his continued study, has produced some of today's finest in Reggae, and has earned him the title "Hassidic Reggae Superstar" by the New York press.

Rav Shmuel, who also grew up in New York City, raised his musical-self on a steady diet of Reggae and its many relatives including Ska and Anti-Folk Rock. Rav Shmuel has also taught in universities throughout America and Israel, and has gained additional popularity while touring with the rock group Phish.

Both musicians have used their love for music and their devotion to Judaism to create common ground among various sects of Judaism and between cultures. Reggae music often speaks of an Exodus, leaving Babylon, returning to Jerusalem, and the connection with Mt. Zion, and in many ways could serve as a soundtrack for the Hebrew Bible. Further, the many teachings of Judaism could provide any Reggae enthusiast with a multitude of insight into the meaning and influence of a musical movement.

Ever since the idea for the weekend was introduced several months ago, interest and support has grown without end. Sponsors and organizers for the event include Aish HaTorah, Black Women Jewish Women, Chabad Jewish Heritage Student Association, Hillel, Jewish Student Union, KWUR, Student Union, and the Ufaratza Endowment for Chabad on Campus.

The weekend kicked off Thursday night, Dec. 4 at 10:00 p.m. with Rav Shmuel at Kayaks Coffee, where he discussed the musical and historical connections between Judaism and Rasta cultures. Tonight, join Mattisyahu and Rav Shmuel at Hillel. Rav Shmuel will be speaking after dinner at 8pm. The weekend will conclude Saturday night with a concert in the Gargoyle at 9pm. All events are free for Washington University students, and open to the entire Washington University and St. Louis community.

(Note: Rav Shmuel does not consider himself a Reggae Artist though you will hear Reggae influences throughout his songs...) - Adam Weinberg in Student Life of Washington U. in St. Louis

"This Rabbi Can Rock"

You shouldn't be faulted if after listening to the album Protocols, you thought it was the new BNL release. Protocols is not the product of a Jack Johnson or Steven Page, but rather, a rabbi with a long beard and peyot (side locks). And no, the artist is not Mattisyahu -- it's Rav Shmuel.

The unusual story of Shmuel Skaist begins when he was a rabbi in a yeshiva high school for boys in New York area. Trying to come up with a way to get his unruly teenage students to stay seated and actually listen, he attempted something unconventional -- he brought in his guitar and started playing. "It was then that I realized the power that music had as a way to communicate with people," says Skaist who goes by the name "Rav Shmuel" when performing because that's what his students call him.

He then moved to Israel where he lived for seven years and worked with American students who were studying at various overseas programs in Israel. His classes were more MTV unplugged than Torah lecture, with half of the sessions spent playing guitar, and the other half sharing his views on life and the Jewish people's purpose in the world.

After his stint in Israel, Skaist returned to New York to head up the Yeshiva program at IDT -- the telecommunications firm which employs a number of religious Jews who combine their work with Torah study. Unable to give up on his love for music, he did a Google search for "Open Mike Night New York" and the results led him to the Sidewalk Café in New York's East Village. Audiences were initially taken aback by his rabbinic appearance, but once he started playing music, they responded positively to his sound.

"I started getting a little bit of a following," admits Skaist humbly. "Not thousands of people mind you, but after a while fifty to a hundred people would start coming to a show if they heard that I was playing."

The Jewish Music Group, a not-for-profit Jewish recording label, noticed the success and helped produce Rav Shmuel's first album: Protocols.

According to Skaist, two main components of his writing that set his music apart are honesty and humor. The honesty comes across in the form of his view of the world. But unlike some faith-based music, he tells his listeners what he thinks as opposed to telling them what they should think. "The most important thing about my music is that it's not preachy. I always found that the teachers who I had that were the most preachy, were the ones I listened to least, so I don't want that message to come across in my music."

Rav Shmuel also raises frank questions about faith that some in his position might see as taboo. "My music is honest. I ask questions about faith and about the world. Most of the issues are ones that I deal with myself, and I just hope that listeners can relate to them."

But aren't rabbis supposed to have all of the answers? Some could argue that it shows weaknesses in the Jewish religion if rabbis are asking questions so openly. Rav Shmuel disagrees. "If you look at our historic literature, you will find it is filled with theological questions," Skaist argues. "Take for example, two great rabbis of the previous generation -- Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. If you look at Rabbi Soloveitchik's writings he shares an intimate part of himself where he grapples with questions that show a certain internal angst. Rabbi Feinstein on the other hand was a halachist (legalist), and we wouldn't know one way or another if he had any internal struggles or questions. I think there is room for both types of rabbinic figures."

As serious as he sounds, Rav Shmuel points out that humor is also a vital component to his music. This is evident in the title track to his first release in which he suggests tongue in cheek that the infamous Tsarist anti-Semitic work, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," is actually true. "Humor is really just looking at the things we know in the world to be true, but showing the absurdity to them. It's a useful tool for social commentary."

Skaist believes that there is a deeper, almost mystical connection between the Jewish people and humor. "King David wrote in the Book of Psalms, that 'then [in the Messianic Age] our mouths will be filled with laughter.' Only then, when we look back on history and realize that there was a purpose to all of the suffering that we went through, will we be able to laugh. I think if we as a people were not able to laugh, we would not be able to survive."

In fact, Skaist actually sees a connection between the two mediums that he has been using -- humor and music. "Humor allows people to communicate. When you make someone laugh, you open them up, and then it's easier to get your message across. Much like music itself."

But is the world of rock music and pop culture really the place for a nice rabbi like Rav Shmuel? Skaist thinks so, but he makes a distinction between "lower pop culture" and "intelligent pop culture." Lower pop culture of the Brittany Spears variety is basically beyond help. "Advertisers are looking for easy messages, like boy meets girl -- everyone gets that," explains Skaist.

But according to Skaist, there is room in intelligent pop culture for an artist who plays good music and has an honest message. His role model is unusual for a man in his position -- Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. "I really looked up to Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam in the 1990s, because they were making great music, but the music that meant something. Every once in a while there will be people who make it into pop culture that make people think." Skaist wants to be one of those people.

Until that time, Rav Shmuel is content playing good music, making people think and perhaps making them laugh at the same time. Combining these interests is nothing new however. One summer Skaist headed up a group of Jews who followed the band "Phish." His group was called "Gefilte Phish," showing that Jews, music and humor go together like gefilte fish and horseradish. - Richard Rabkin in Jewlarious.com

"Folk This!"

Anti-folk is a new style of music that really isn’t very new at all— it’s a media buzzword, to be sure, but really, it’s just another way of saying folk music. Anti-folk’s lyrics may dig a little deeper than the folk music of 30 years ago, and its orchestrations may be different— take anti-folk luminary Elliot Smith’s horns and strings, for example, or Regina Spektor’s reliance on soft hip-hop beats—but the message (and, for the most part, the medium) is the same: a singersongwriter with a guitar, pouring his or her heart out to whoever’s listening.

Founded in dive bars and small concert halls centered in New York’s East Village in the early 1990’s, it was only natural that Jews were able to latch onto anti-folk’s burgeoning sounds.

Take Regina Spektor, for instance— born in Moscow in 1980 to an amateur violinist and a professional music teacher, she started playing piano early on. And, unlike most aspiring prepubescent musicians, she never stopped.

Spektor was brought up almost exclusively on classical music. Seeking religious and political freedom, her parents immigrated to America, and Regina was educated in the yeshiva system, switching to public school in 10th grade and discovering punk rock and hip-hop. Along with her newfound interests, her piano playing took on a more varied tenor, and she started writing pop songs. Eventually, she released two records on her own, an album of children’s stories and a pair of live albums.

On the brilliant Begin to Hope, her major-label debut, Spektor’s music is a study in understatement. The lead-off song, “Fidelity,” blends her piano with delicate drum-machine beats and a whispery string section, undeniably bubblegum but just as undeniably thoughtful. It’s a love song to music and to the passion of being alone: “I hear in my mind all this music … and it breaks my heart,” she finishes the chorus cheerfully, playing with the words into the microphone over and over again. Her voice cracks, jumps and segues through the words of her songs like a cross between Tori Amos and Tom Lehrer, sounding so happy that we’re not sure whether she’s crying for joy or just crying.

The rest of Hope follows in the triumphant mode of “Fidelity,” bouncing between high-culture allusions and airy, stream-of-consciousness, say-anything songs, the kind worthy of being called “ditties.” In “Après Moi,” Spektor sings in highfalutin’ French, singing so hard through her nose that it feels like a Paris accent and then switches, mid-sentence, to Russian. It’s a juxtaposition of high and low cultures, ducking our expectations and giving pretentiousness a sly wink. Some of Spektor’s longtime fans have decried the accessibility of Hope, but Spektor has always been equal parts bad-assedness and cuteness. When she sings nostalgically of finding a human tooth on Delancey Street, and three lines later revels in the beauty of tangerines (“So cheap and JOOcy!”), she’s not compromising anything—she’s just being Regina.

Shmuel Skaist stumbled into anti-folk accidentally. A Hasidic rabbi who was looking for places to play, he Googled for open mics in New York City and came up with the Sidewalk Café, a centerpiece of the anti-folk scene.

Flash forward a few years, and, after adopting Rav Shmuel as his stage name, he’s recorded the quaint and quirky Protocols, a mission statement that seems intent on turning Rav Shmuel into a trademark. His Web site, his Internet music video and Protocols’ album cover are all plastered with the iconic image of his grinning, jovial, beard- and payes adorned face.

Yes, Rav Shmuel is intent on breaking down every boundary he comes across, every obstacle to a common, secular or mass-market audience. Even his Web site begins with the caveat, “Rav Shmuel is a rabbi who hangs out in Greenwich Village … and loves The Dead.” His life story is a fairy tale of the Haredi world.

This all stops the instant that his CD slips into your player. The acoustic guitar and frenetic, fast-talking lyrics of “Dumb World” slip in, way too fast for us to catch every word sung, and a melody that gets stuck inside your head and begs for a second listen. His folk-tinged songs, catchy lyrics and mild voice stir into a panoply of blues, rumba and rock-influenced pop songs, as appropriate for the adult-contemporary crowd as it is for Saturdaynight synagogue jams.

Yet his subject matter is unquestionably Jewish. “Dumb World” talks about the comfort that comes with questioning the material world and how to take refuge in spirituality; “Big Talkers” is a fable with a moral that acting beats talking—it could almost be taken straight out of the Talmudic Aggadah. Only in the title song, in which Rav actually declares himself a member of the Elders of Zion and then asks rhetorically what he’s doing singing at an East Village singer-songwriter cafe, does he make an overt reference to his Judaism.

The rest of the CD sometimes struggles to match the energy and vitality of “Dumb World.” Shmuel succeeds most when he’s wholly embracing a single moment, like he does with the goodnatured spite of “Protocols” and the melancholy parting of “Realistic X.” On the other hand, there’s bound to be an element of weirdness in hearing a Hasidic rabbi singing “I dream about us in the park … I want to hug you, but I do not.” Shmuel’s earnest passion and cheerfully self-mocking demeanor turn these songs from little bursts of thought into real testaments of emotion. Personal and confessional, but never uncomfortable, Protocols hits all the notes it means to.

New York- and Jerusalem-based singer-songwriter Aliza Hava’s most electric instrument isn’t her guitar—it’s her voice. If it’s possible to sound angry and hopeful at the same time, Hava achieves it on “Independent Nation,” the first track of her new album Rise. Husky and vibrant, she bellows, “My feet are planted to the ground/I’m no longer spinning/ on the wheel to which we’re bound,” owing every bit as much to soul singers like Aretha Franklin and Eric Burdon of War as to similarly social-justice-minded, but less soulful singers, like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

In her live shows, she often performs with a subdued acoustic guitar and djembe, but the sounds on Rise are spunky and electric, layered with crashing drums and wonky guitar solos. It fills up Hava’s sound without weighing it down and balances everything so her guitar isn’t overwhelmed by her voice.

Hava’s songs are informed by both her spirituality and her activism. On “Worth of Water,” she sings, “We won’t know the worth of water/until the well runs dry.” “Rise,” the album’s title track, is Aliza Hava’s proposal to end the violence between Palestinians and Israelis. “My brother’s been shot down/My sister’s been battered and used,” she sings. (Hava’s not being entirely metaphorical here: her brother, Dan “Mobius” Sieradski, is a left-wing activist and the webmaster of JewSchool.com and OrthodoxAnarchist.com.)

The song actually rocks—like a boat, like an ocean—with a beat that is steady and churning, almost impossible not to sway your body to. “We will learn to sing, not to fight/Unless it’s for our freedom right,” she bellows. If everyone in the world were singing along, the situation in the Middle East would look a lot different than it does now.

Maybe that’s the most essential way that anti-folk really isn’t very anti-folk at all. Like its parent movement, anti-folk is trying to change the world, to yell at it a bit and to make it a little bit more beautiful. - Matthue Roth - in worldjewishdigest.com

"Fighting Antisemitism One Song at a Time"

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are true and I am a member of standing / But I’m undercover as a singer/songwriter right here at the Sidewalk café.”

This is the catchy chorus of Rav Shmuel’s new hit video and song, which is being passed around on YouTube like a hot falafel. The irony-filled animated film features the rabbi playing indie rock and sends up clichés by the dozen. The rockin’ rabbi, as he is known, takes to the stage bearded and sporting impressively long sidelocks; but there is no hora dancing or cantorial singing in his repertoire, just unadulterated indie pop.

“Protocols,” the title song of his debut album, was written in reaction to a string of antisemitic incidents that Rav Shmuel experienced. One time, a man in Manhattan’s East Village came up to him, shouted “Heil Hitler,” gave the Hitler salute, smiled and then waited for the Rav to respond. The Rav wrote the song as his response. His favorite performance of this hit was at an open mic near his hometown in Nyack, N.Y. A slack-jawed audience of locals, already stunned by the Rav’s appearance, was treated to him dancing Borat-style with a grin, and singing “We gonna have fun” in his most exaggerated Eastern European accent until he stopped short with the words “just kidding.” The Rav joked that he is eagerly waiting for the song to become a hit in the Islamic world. Such appreciation of irony is characteristic of his approach to the fight against antisemitism, which he believes is here to stay. “Humor is a great tool to reach people, and one not appreciated by mainstream organizations. More grass-roots art-based efforts are needed,” he said.

The Rav’s musical home is the East Village Sidewalk Café. Unlike those at the clubs of Israel, the country in which he lived for eight years, his audiences at the Sidewalk get past his image and don’t tease him with “Moshiach, Moshiach,” as he often experienced in Tel Aviv. The Sidewalk hosts the yearly Anti-Folk Festival, which he has also headlined. The Rav described anti-folk as folk with a slight punk edge, without the safe feeling of traditional folk. “The anti-folk artist is not necessarily in alliance with his audience,” he explained.

And about the obvious comparison of him with American Jewish reggae musician Matisyahu, Rav Shmuel smiled and said: “He has been great for me.” But he is quick to point out the differences. The 42-year-old father of six doesn’t share the wide-eyed wonder of one who has “found” faith later in life. The Rav’s family consists of Orthodox rabbis going back generations. Though he was raised in Hasidic schools, unlike Matisyahu there are no cherubim’s “sparks” or “lions of Zion” in his lyrics. “My values come through in a more subtle way,” he said.

The album “Protocols” was released last fall and acclaimed by Billboard magazine. It pokes holes in the surfaces of the world without explicit Jewish reference, such as in the song “Dumb World.” He sings of love without melancholy and critiques reality TV and the culture of celebrity, revealing a bizarre congruence in the social outlooks of traditional Judaism and indie culture.

Although Rav Shmuel is a teacher at a yeshiva in Newark, N.J., don’t expect to see any of his traditional students at his gigs; the Rav makes it a point to keep his musical career and his Talmud teaching (not to mention community standing) strictly separate. But he does want other students to see him. The Rav is working on more videos and will tour during the summer. His goal is to play at every college campus across the country, bringing the message of the importance of getting past appearances. As he sings, “It’s important not to conjecture, just to know.” Rav Shmuel is not undercover; rather, his rabbinical persona is on the cover, with the rocker inside always finding a way to come out. - Adam J. Sacks in The Forward

"Old Salon.com article on Rav when he followed Phish"

http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/1999/08/21/gefiltefish/ - Felix Vikhman in Salon.com


Debut LP: Protocols
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2006



Rav Shmuel is a rabbi who hangs out in Greenwich Village and plays original compositions on his guitar. He has a beard and sidelocks and he loves The Dead. He does not see an inconsistency between these two identities. Rather, he thinks of Judaism and music as complementary and often coalescing tools and methods for communication (blah blah blah).

Rav, who has taught Jewish Philosophy and Talmud at various Universities, has also toured the country with Gefiltefish, his first stateside band, playing sold-out parking lots before and after Phish shows. He does not play klezmer, although he does make the odd Maimonidean joke. He thinks of himself as a Rock Star.

Born in Brooklyn, Rav spent seven years in Jerusalem teaching by day and playing in the clubs at night before moving back to New York in 2001. Typing "Open Mike Night New York" into Google pointed Rav to the notorious Antihoot held in the East Village's landmark venue The Sidewalk Cafe. He quickly became a house favorite on a scene that has produced such stars as Beck, Hamell On Trial, The Moldy Peaches and, most recently, Regina Spektor. Within months he moved up to being a headlining weekend act.

Rav recently released his first album "Protocols". As Billboard wrote, "Rav Shmuel's solo debut is an immediately likable bit of good-humored anti-folk that doesn't require the visuals or even the knowledge that, yes, Rav Shmuel really is a Hasidic rabbi ... like the old slogan for Levy's Rye Bread used to say, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Rav Shmuel"

Rav's award winning animated music video, "Protocols" has been getting laughs and attracting attention all over the web. "Protocols" has been viewed over 75,000 times on YouTube.

So what we're talking about here people is a forty-something Orthodox Hasidic rabbi with six kids who is rocking the pants off of the East Village's freshest scene and using the web to take the world by storm!