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Matisyahu’s “Jerusalem” is the perfect use of the Psalms in pop music


Who would have thought Jewish-themed Reggae music would sound so great?

Afraid of the past and our dark history
Why is everybody always chasing we?
Cut off the roots from your family tree
Don’t you know that’s not the way to be

Hailing from White Plains, New York, Matthew Paul Miller — AKA Matisyahu — is a Jewish-American Reggae musician who became popular in the early aughts as an intriguing mix of old and new: his appearance signaled Orthodoxy, and his accent seemed to channel Bob Marley. Interestingly, his art reflects both influences, melodically and lyrically. With the appearance of an Orthodox Jew and sporting a Jamaican accent, he excels at producing trendy music with deeply religious themes, and he’s made his mark as an accessible musician.

“Jerusalem,” from his album Youth, pulls as the refrain lyrics from Psalm 137, which expresses the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. Jewish sources traditionally attribute this psalm to Jeremiah.

If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget.
May my tongue stick to my palate
if I do not remember you,

The verse lyrics speak of all the trials the Jewish people have faced from their biblical exile to the Holocaust of WWII. Miller fills the text with imagery of suffering and the perseverance of his people.

Toward the end of the song, Matisyahu used lyrics from Matthew Wilder’s hit “Break My Stride,” for which Wilder got a writing credit.

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