Bob Dylan celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday. That number has great significance in Judaism. King David lived to be 70 and it is thought that 70 is the lifespan of man. This is the reason that a second bar mitzvah is observed at age 83 (70+13).
Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, is the only songwriter I know to have made reference to Akeidat Yitzchak (the biblical story of the binding of Isaac) in a song. In “Highway 61 Revisited,” Dylan sings:
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”
I remember listening to this song in a wonderful course I took in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The course, taught by Prof. Rabbi Neil Gillman, looked at different artistic representations of the binding of Isaac. I’m sure Dylan would get a kick out of the fact that his song was being studied by future rabbis at the Seminary. By the way, it’s interesting to note that Dylan’s father’s name was Abraham so perhaps the song had personal meaning for him as well.
Bob Dylan was born Jewish, became a bar mitzvah, and then converted to Christianity in the 1970s. In recent years, Dylan has embraced his Jewish roots. Michael Billig wrote an informative article for MyJewishLearning.com about Bob Dylan’s views on religion.
Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!