Bob Dylan, one of the most beloved and influential songwriters of all time, turned 75 this week. News outlets have been commenting on how with Dylan’s age, the famous strains of his hit “The Times Are a-Changing” are still so relevant. While the mercurial singer is somewhat private about his personal life, the legends surrounding his past connections to Orthodox Judaism are fascinating.
- Strong Jewish Roots – Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Minnesota, Dylan’s Hebrew name is Shabsi Zissel. He attended cheder for elementary school at Agudas Achim, an Orthodox shul, and then Zionist camp in Wisconsin as a teen before making it big as a musician.
- The Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva – In the 80’s, a friend of Dylan’s was learning at an Orthodox yeshiva in Far Rockaway, Shor Yoshuv. Dylan came to visit, (some say alongside fellow Jewish counter-cultural icon, beat poet Allen Ginsburg,) and ended up forming a deep connection with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld z”l. Rabbi Freifeld later recounted that Dylan would drive out to Far Rockaway in his Ferrari or with a chauffeur to come speak with the rabbi about his questions about his Jewish heritage. The Rabbi always made time for him and Dylan was said to have thought briefly of buying an apartment near the yeshiva so that he could continue to learn there. Of the rabbi, Dylan once supposedly said when visiting him on a winter New York night, “It may be dark and snowy outside, but inside that house, it’s so light.” With all the fame and success that Dylan had seen, it is amazing to think how much he was awed by the simple authenticity of an Orthodox approach to Judaism.
- Chabad – While the early years of his fame were spent flirting with other religions, Dylan came back to Judaism in a highly visible way when he was a guest at the Chabad Telethon in September 1989 and 1991. In the years prior, his sons had their bar mitzvahs at Chabad.
- His Son-in-law – Dylan’s son-in-law, musician Peter Himmelman, is also observant. As Tablet reported, Himmelman eschewed major musical success because of his commitment not to perform on Shabbat and had a deep spiritual connection to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
- Shuls Around the World – Dylan has been spotted wrapping tefillin at the Kotel. He has also been seen across the country at various Orthodox shuls and yeshivas for holiday services and on Shabbat.
While Dylan’s music continues to inspire many, the Torah he has learned seems to serve as a great inspiration for him.