Connections Between Judaism and Rastafarianism

Evan Salzberg

December 2, 2009





My entire life I have been surrounded by Judaism, as I was growing up my parents started becoming more and more religious. I began to view Judaism as a way of life rather than as a religion. Although considered a religion, the Torah teaches us many laws and practices that can better our lives. There are sets of commandments that Jews must follow according to the Torah. Just like Judaism, Rastafarianism is too a religion but can be looked at as a way of life instead of a religion. There are many similarities between the two religions of Rastafarianism and Judaism as well as differences, but it is easy to see the connection between them.

Judaism traces its origins to the time of creation. Jews worldwide continue to the Torah that was given by God to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. What makes the Jews so special is that they were the ones who accepted the Torah. Within the Torah there are many requirements and laws that Jews are required to keep. Ranging from dietary laws to prayers three times a day.

When I became a bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen, I wasn’t quite sure how to accept the responsibility of becoming a man. I knew that I could now be called to the Torah and be given an alliyah. Once you are a bar mitzvah you can be called up to read the Torah during prayers. Another important aspect of the Jewish religion is the importance of prayer. Many prayers require a ten-person group of men, known as a minyan. A minyan is very important for reading the Torah, without it many prayers cannot be performed. Within Judaism numbers of people are very important. Judaism exemplifies the importance of unity between people and this unity is proven through the minyan. Without ten men many prayers cannot be fulfilled. Although these prayers are not required to be done in a physical building dedicated to prayer, the grouping of ten men enables these prayers to be done. The use of the minyan shows that the Torah also stresses the importance of a congregation. Rastafarians also hold what is known as a Grounation or a religious gathering. A grounation is similar to a Jewish service and it is believed to have come from African Americans who converted to Judaism through slavery. Many Jews owned slaves in southern United States and many escaped to Jamaica. This continues to link the two religions by showing how the Jewish voice could make it down into Jamaica and further into the Rastafarian movement.

Within the last year I was first introduced to Rastafarianism and I was immediately able to see the connections to Judaism. Just like the Jews were oppressed in Egypt through slavery, blacks from Africa were exploited and brought out of their homeland and were forced into slavery around the world. One of the hotspots for African slave trades was Jamaica. During the 1920s in Jamaica there was an uprising against the oppression that they were forced into. Rastafarianism was founded on November 2, 1930 when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned emperor of Ethiopia and takes on the name Haile Selassie I.

An important aspect to Jewish laws the dietary laws that are written in the Torah. Although complex, Jews are asked to follow these laws closely. Jewish dietary laws are also based off the teachings of the Torah. Only animals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves can be considered Kosher, this rejects animals such as pigs, rodents, and reptiles. Also the mixing of meat and dairy is not permitted. For example, you cannot have a glass of milk when eating a steak. There are many explanations as to why there cannot be a mixing of both milk and meat but one explanation states that milk represents life while meat represents death. The combining of both life and death would clash with each other and thus shouldn’t be done. The eating of beef is permitted but only certain parts of the cow are allowed. Only fish with scales or fins are permitted when considering seafood. Hard-shelled crabs and lobster is not allowed. Under Jewish law, birds of prey and scavengers such as hawks, eagles, are prohibited, but domesticated birds such as chicken, turkeys, and geese are permitted. Like Judaism, Rastafarians also have their own set of dietary laws that they call I-Tal. Following the Old Testament the I-Tal rejects pork and shellfish. Unlike Judaism, Rastafarians are required to be vegetarian. The foods which they eat must also be completely natural for example they cannot have a can of tuna fish because since its in a can its not completely natural. The food in which the Rastafarians eat is also supposed to be as raw as possible.

Within the Torah there are sets of commandments that all Jews are required to follow. The commandments are as followed:

1)  ‘You shall have no other Gods before Me.’

2)  ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’

3)  ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’ 

4)  ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’

5)  ‘Honor your father and your mother.’

6)  ‘You shall not murder.’

7)  ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

8)  ‘You shall not steal.’

9)  ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’

10)      ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.'

What’s important to notice about these commandments is that simply put, they help simplify ones life as well as making the way of life ultimately better. Judaism stresses the importance of living a ethical life.

Like Judaism, Rastafarianism too has a set of commandments that each Rastafarai is asked to follow. Rather than ten, Rastafarians have thirteen commandments and they all revolve around better oneself as well as being accepting of others. They are as followed:

1)  H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Israel, Conquering Lion of The Tribe Of Judah, 225th descendent of the House of David.

2)  One must know and acknowledge the Bible and the teachings of Jah Rastafari above all things.

3)  One accepts and holds in reverence the person of His Majesty Haile Selassie as the living manifestation of Jah (God) in the flesh.

4)  One must know that the so called death “death” is not an eternal phenomenon, one only sees “death” happening in life-a Rastaman knows not of death but of life everlasting. 5) One seeks after the world of life, Jah Life (The Kingdom of Jah) and not after the material things of this world, for they are only temporary (Kingdom of Babylon).

6)  A Rastafarian is a Jew by nature, being a righteous one of principles, dignity and love for God.

7)  A Rasta cannot afford to be “color blind.” Jah is universal, Jah go and do as he wishes, Jah can take on any color he pleases.

8)  All people are of Jah Rastafari regardless of color.

9)  A Rastafarian must accept the oath of the Nazarite, such as the forefathers- Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Jess-us Christ, and Ras Ta Fari.

10)      A Rastafarian must be a man of peace, love and unity, living in harmony with Jah, man, and nature. Living without violence, corruption and envy towards his brothers and sisters.

11)      A Rastafarian must accept and observe the laws of the Ten Commandments, which Jah left early mankind, comprising of every prerequisite for a flourishing communal life. 12) It is and should be the will of all Rastafarian to liberate and eradicate all iniquity (evil) from all the world.

13)      Repatriation is a must for all Rastafarians. Repatriation from Babylon (western concepts and false teachings) to Zion land, the Promised Land, African Land. A physical and spiritual repatriation to the land of ‘I n I’ (our) fore parents, with clean hands and pureness of heart”(Wadadah, 7).[1] 

It’s important to consider the second commandment of Rastafarianism because it shows the connection between the two religions of Judaism and Rastafarianism. It says, “One must know and acknowledge the Bible and the teachings of Jah Rastafari above all things”, the acknowledgement of the bible helps draw the connection between the two because Judaism so heavily depends upon the Old Testament or the Bible. The old testament is a major influence in the Rastafarian religion and is the bridge that ultimately links the two religions together. Rastafarianism accepts the old testament and shapes much of its religion around it, Rasta’s also accept the set of ten commandments that were given to the Jewish people and follow them closely.

Many of the important holidays that revolve around the Jewish calendars exist because they are based off events that have occurred throughout history. The holiday of Passover commemorates the exile of the Jewish people from Egypt and their journey from Egypt to their homeland of Jerusalem. During the holiday Jews are required to avoid eating bread to help them relate to the conditions that their ancestors faced during this difficult time of transition from slavery to freedom. The road to freedom was not an easy one and man Jews died during the exile from Egypt. The journey too was not quick and easy but instead took forty years in the desert until they reached Jerusalem. Many of the holidays that revolve around Rastafarianism are centered around the life of Haile Selassie and various events that have occurred to him. Some of the holidays include; the coronation of Selassie on November 2, the ceremonial birth of Selassie on January 6, Selassie’s visit to Jamaica on April 21, Selassie’s personal birthday July 23, the emancipation from slavery august 1, and Marcus Garvey’s birthday on august 17. Within each religion many of the holidays revolve around events that have shaped and formed the history of each religion. It is important to never forget where you came from and by commemorating past events both Rastafarians are able to celebrate their pasts.

Rastafarianism is considered a religion but it can also be regarded as a lifestyle. There are excerpts that have been pulled from the Old Testament that Rastafarians then dub into their own religion. The commandment to not cut ones hair was taken from Leviticus 21:5 which says “You should never mourn by shaving bald spots on your heads, shaving the edges of your beards, or slashing your bodies.” This is why Rastafarians often have beards and dreadlocks. Although the Old Testament doesn’t say anything about dreadlocks Rastafarians believe that dreadlocks are a representation of a lion’s mane, which represents strength, Africa, Ethiopia and the Lion of Judah.[2] Here we see Rastafarians pulling excerpts from the Old Testament that the Jews follow so closely and help shape their own religion. In orthodox sects of Judaism, you will find the men with long beards that they keep in order to observe and respect the Torah. The beard not only shows ones dedication to the Torah but it also illustrates wisdom. As one grows older and continues to follow the Torah and learn more and more they continue to show their respects to the Torah by keeping their beards growing, and with age comes wisdom.

Within Judaism there are many symbols that help shape the identity of the Jewish people. On each doorpost of a home of an observant Jew,  you will find a mezuzah that is a constant reminder of the presence of God within the home. The Torah also requires the wearing of tzitzit that are a reminder of the mitzvahs or good deeds that you are supposed to do.  Tzitzit are tassels that hang on the four corners of ones garment. Also the yammicah is worn to cover the top of your head during prayer, this is worn out of a sign of respect. One of the most popular signs of the Jewish religion is the Star of David, and is supposed to represent the Shield of David. There are many opinions as to what the star actually represents. A good explanation is that the top triangles point upwards to God while the bottom triangles point downward to the real world. [3] Just like Judaism, Rastafarianism too has its own set of symbols. One of the most well known symbols of Rastafarianism is the Lion of Judah that is said to represent Haile Selassie as King of Kings. The Lion of Judah also represents strength and Africa as well. Also, when considered Rastafarianism the colors red, gold and green are also important. Red is said to represent the triumphant church of the Rasta’s as well as the blood of the martyrs in the black struggle for liberation. The gold represents the wealth of the African homeland while the green represents Ethiopians beauty and lush vegetation.[4] Although Judaism doesn’t use the colors of red, gold and green it can be said that they Jews can relate to the colors of the Rastafarians. Red could relate the constant oppression that Jews face worldwide, as the gold and green can apply to the beauty and wealth of the native homeland of Israel. The use of symbols in both religions seem to further spread the identification of each individual. Whether its Jews or Rastafarians, they use symbols to show their connections as members of each religion.

Another important topic to consider is the role of women. In many Jewish laws, the requirements are directed towards men, such as ten men in a minyan, or the requirement for men to wear yamachas when praying. It is easy to rule out women and state that they do not have any importance. This is not the case, women can be considered separate but equal when regarding Jewish law. As their primary role women as considered to be a wife as well as a mother. They are also the spiritual influence that surrounds a family, and this has great importance. The role of a mother also outweighs any commandment, meaning they can be exempt from a commandment if they are fulfilling their role as a mother.[5] With regard to Rastafarianism, the primary role of the woman is to maintain a household. Women within Rastafarian customs are asked to maintain a natural form, this asks women to not wear make-up or put any products in their hair. There also is a dress requirement that states that they should dress modestly and avoid wearing short skirts.[6] Just like Rastafarianism, women in orthodox sects of Judaism are asked to dress modestly; this includes wearing long skirts and modest non-revealing shirts. Modesty allows women to carry on with their lives without the public constantly analyzing their figure. There is also a sense of dignity and self respect that comes with dressing modestly.

Rastafarianism during the beginning wasn’t an all “one-love” inclusive of all faiths religion. Leonard Howell one of the first preachers of the Rastafarianism movement came up with a set of 6 commandments that started the Rastafarian principles. Many of these principles were abandoned as the Rastafarian movement developed and they were as followed:

1)  Hatred for the white race.

2)  The complete superiority of the black race.

3)  Revenge on whites for their wickedness.

4)  The negation, persecution and humiliation of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica.

5)  Preparation to go back to Africa.

6)  Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of the black people. [7]

Unlike Rastafarianism, where the basic fundamental commandments have changed throughout the development of the religion, the Jewish commandments that were given to them on top of Mount Sinai have not changed over the course of time. These laws were given to the Jewish people the same way that they are today, and are continued to be followed just as they were at the time that they were given.

Although Rastafarians state that alcohol doesn’t belong in the holy temple of the body because it makes you stupid. They have an open mind to marijuana and think that it helps open your mind and assist in reasoning. Just like marijuana, or ganja, the holy herb, Ilay, and Callie is considered a holy sacrament to them, Jews place wine on a higher level than other types of alcohol. One source stresses the importance of wine saying that dating back to ancient times wine was used for ritual uses and is continued to be used today during important religious holidays as well as weekly Shabbat services. “In the Jewish culture, wine has importance because of the role it plays in almost every holiday and religious service.  The Sabbath is a weekly observance, and on the Sabbath, the Kiddush is said over the wine, a special prayer specifically for wine.  Wine is thus an integrated part into the weekly life of a Jew, and has tremendous significance in many every day aspects of Jewish life”[8] Just like wine is highly regarded within the Jewish religion, the same goes for marijuana within the Rastafarian movement. Jews drink wine during special ceremonies or services just like the Rastafarians smoke weed. There are what is known as “nyabinghi” which is when there is a dance held on Rasta holidays and special occasions. Prior to the dances, they spend all day resting and reasoning which is when there is an informal gathering of people who sit around in a circle passing around a chalice and smoking weed and discussing. Rastafarians chose to smoke weed to put them on a higher level of understanding. Rasta’s does not abuse marijuana just like the Jewish people does not abuse wine.

When considering the Old Testament, it is believed that the Jews are still waiting for the coming of the messiah and do not believe that Jesus was the messiah. Since I grew up in an orthodox home, I would always here that “Mashiach”, or the Messiah, could come at any time and that it was important to better you’re life in preparation for the coming of Mashiach. According to the Jews there hasn’t been the coming of the Messiah, the same does not apply for the Rastafarians. Rasta’s not only believe in the coming of Messiah, but they list two separate events in which the Messiah came. They acknowledge the coming of Jesus but believe that Jesus was black. They also believe that the coming of Haile Selassie to Jamaica was another coming of the Messiah. During his visit, Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife immediately became a Rastafarian when she saw Haile Selassie. Another reason that many believe that Selassie was the Messiah was because a great drought had been greatly affecting the land and when Selassie came to Jamaica, he also brought the rain. April 21, the day Selassie came to Jamaica in 1966 is considered a major Rastafarian holiday. [9]The people within Judaism continue to wait for the coming of the Messiah and continue to pray for that day. 

Another important topic within each religion is the idea of an afterlife. Within Judaism, the Torah states that there is existence after death. There are also different levels of afterlife where their soul is cleansed and ultimately ends up in the Garden of Eden that is believed to be the place of spiritual perfection. It is argued that the wicked never reach the highest point of the Garden of Eden.[10] Unlike Judaism, Rastafarians don’t believe in an afterlife. They believe that Africa is the heaven on earth and that true Rasta’s are immortal both physically and spiritually believing that they are “ever living”[11].  Afterlife differs between the two religions, as Judaism believes in existence after death, Rastafarianism doesn’t consider death and considers true Rasta’s to be ever living. Afterlife is also discussed within Reggae music and the band Third World wrote a song 96 Degrees in the Shade and the chorus is as followed:

“Some may suffer and some may burn
but I know that one day my people will learn
as sure as the sun shines, way up in the sky
today I stand here a victim the truth is I’ll never die” (Third World).

This song lyric is very important in showing how people within Rastafarianism through song lyrics show the connection between struggle but with the understanding that one will never die. Even through all the hardships that many people have faced through slavery and oppression, they will forever live.

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday, is celebrated to commemorate the time that the Jewish people were given the Torah. Within the Torah are the five books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. A Torah also encompasses all the laws and traditions of the Jewish religion.[12] What makes the Torah so special is that the Jewish people were the only people at that time to accept all the laws that it required thus linking the Jewish people with the Torah. This also linked the Jewish people and God making them the chosen ones for they accepted the scripture of God. Like Judaism, Rastafarian too has a text in which they follow known as the Holy Piby also known as the “Black Mans Bible”. This book is widely accepted by the Rastafarian movement for the theological aspects of the book. The Holy Piby was written by Robert Athlyi Rogers and was written between 1913 and 1917. The Holy Piby is not the only scripture that the Rastafarians use. One of the most widely used bibles within the Rastafarian religion is King James Bible that has been around since 1611. The reason why Rastafarians use this 400 plus year old bible is because they believe that all the other bibles since this time are corrupt. Rastafarians interpret this bible differently than the Christians and believe that many of the passages are attributed to Haile Selassie. The Promised Key is another book that the Rastafarians consult. The book was written by Leonard Howell and contains aspects of Rastafarian foundations as well as preaches Rastafarianism. This book is very similar to that of The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy that was written by Rev. Fitz Balintine Pettersburgh and published in Kingston Jamaica in 1921. [13] There are more books that Rastafarians consult but many of them preach the teachings of God as well as black supremacy. Each religion shows a connection to God in the sense that they accept Holy Scriptures as the fundamental core to their religions.

The slave trade also has a great importance when considering Rastafarianism. Large numbers of blacks were extracted from Africa and held in captivity outside of their native homeland. Over 700,000 slaves were brought from Africa to Jamaica and were treated poorly. Rastafarianism is an escape from the exploitation of slavery.[14] Just as the spread of Rastafarianism revolves around escape from the escape of slavery, the same can be said for Judaism. When the Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt, they emigrated all over the world, not just in Israel. The spread of each religion an in some ways be linked to the escape from slavery. Judaism is spread through emigration. Just like blacks, Jews faced hardships in many of the places they attempted to live and were often time not accepted in these areas and thus were forced to move from place to place.

Rastafarianism was able to spread due in large parts of the growing popularity of reggae music worldwide. One of the most influential artists who preached Rastafarianism at the beginning of every performance, as and within his song lyrics was Bob Marley. Bob Marley spread the word of Rastafarianism through music just like Matisyahu is currently doing to spread the laws and teachings of Judaism through pop culture. Matisyahu through his lyrics is able to show how Jews too have been struggling for long periods of time and he does show by incorporate these teachings through his lyrics. In his song Jerusalem, Matisyahu writes:

“In the ancient days, we will return with no delay
Picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We’ve been traveling from state to state
And them don’t understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be

And they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea
Not the country but the dwelling of his majesty” (Matisyahu)

Bob Marley helped show the world the religion of Rastafarianism and he did so through music. On the eve of his last performance in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23, 1980 he started his performance by preaching “Yeaah! Greeting in the name of his imperial majesty, emperor Haile I. Selassie I. Jah! Rastafari! Who liveth in I and I. I ‘tinually ever faithful, ever sure. They say experience teaches wisdom but there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air…” Bob here shows so much passion towards the Rastafarian movement and it is so clearly obvious through his words that he is completely dedicated to what he believes in. In the same ways that many reggae artists talk about the return to Zion or the African homeland. Matisyahu does the same by talking about the native homeland to the Jewish people that is Jerusalem. Both religions have their respective Zion, Rastafarianism connects their roots with Africa as Judaism focuses on Jerusalem. Each religion continues to exist due to the dedication of those who continue to live their lives through the teachings of both Judaism and Rastafarianism.

Judaism is often over looked because many modern Jews who are not as religious that do not truly follow the laws that are written within the torah. There still exists a growing number of orthodox movements who continue to exemplify deep passion and wisdom for the teachings of God. In the same ways people like Bob Marley and many other Rastafarians believe in the teachings of Haile Selassie and God. In many ways Rastafarians are just like the Jewish people. Members of each religion strive to live ethical lives as well as praise God and consider God to be the controlling factor in their lives

In so many ways are Judaism and Rastafarianism closely connected. Although differing in a few things, the connection between the shaping of each religion is almost identical. Women are treated as protectors of the household and share many of the same beliefs regarding commandments, dietary laws are in existence as well as scriptures that are used to shape each religion. The Rastafarian movement is very new when being compared to the Jewish religion and it seems as though Rastafarians pulled out many of the important aspects of Judaism to shape their own basic principles.

Both Jews and Rastafarians have shared lives of hardship and exploitation. Although far removed from slavery, Jews continue to feel the effects of these practices and face hardship through anti-Semitism just like the blacks face when they were oppressed by the white colonial powers that brought them into slavery. Judaism preaches the importance of living an ethical life through love, unity, and kindness to others. These principles can too be applied to the Rastafarian movement as well. At first I knew very little of Rastafarianism and basically just linked them with smoking ganja and preaching the mighty emperor of Jah, but I learned that there is more to Rastafarianism than that. I grew up in a virtually orthodox Jewish home and I was always surrounded by Jewish teachings and laws and I saw many of the same principles within Rastafarianism as I was doing my research paper. Although Rastafarian doesn’t completely parallel Judaism, there are many aspects that are pulled from the Torah and Jewish law that help make Rastafarians live better lives through kindness, unity, love of one and other, and to praise God.










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[2] Rastafarai, Religion Facts URL:

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[7] Rastafarai, Religion Facts URL:

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[9] Rastafarai, Religion Facts URL:

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[11] Rastafarai, Religion Facts URL:

[12] Judaism 101 URL:

[13] Important Books In Rastafarian Theology May 28,2003 URL:

[14] Rastafari and slavery October, 2009 URL: