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As is usually the case, Israel's bestselling music album last week featured Hebrew lyrics and an artist familiar with the basics of Judaism.
But in a departure from the norm, the same album also topped the charts in 24 other countries, reaching worldwide record sales of 4 million copies in its first week. Confessions on a Dance Floor, the latest album by pop empress Madonna, ruled the charts around the world, bolstered by an aggressive media campaign on MTV and other music outlets.
As with most of the 47-year-old singer's previous nine albums, Confessions inspired controversy even before its release, with the 12-song collection drawing condemnation from some Israeli rabbis for allegedly invoking the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria, a sixteenth century Kabbala scholar who lived and taught in northern Israel. The singer responded to worldwide media coverage about the affair by denying that the song, entitled "Isaac," was about the famed rabbi.
Appearing on American celebrity program Extra, the "Like a Virgin" singer told fans, "These are people making comments who are not informed. The song 'Isaac' is about the guy who sang on the record... It's not about Isaac Luria."
Confessions' first single, "Hung Up," has dominated Israeli radio since its release last month, and has topped the singles charts in a number of countries.
In addition to putting "Hung Up" in heavy rotation, Israel's Galgalatz radio station also premiered "Isaac" for Israeli listeners around the time of Confessions' release. Praised for its "galloping beat" and "intriguing dynamic" by Rolling Stone, the song interlaces Madonna's English-language lyrics with a Hebrew spoken-word section by Yitzhak Sinwani, a fellow Kabbala enthusiast identified by Madonna as the song's true namesake. Fans of Middle Eastern pop will recognize Sinwani's contribution from another song that made waves around the world - Ofra Haza's "Im Nin Alu," an international club hit based on the same ancient rabbinical saying used by Sinwani.
Though "Isaac" drove much of the pre-release publicity for the album, the mini-controversy didn't appear to have harmed or aided Confessions' impressive first week sales. Hailed by critics as an effervescent return to Madonna's dance club roots, the album is the singer's sixth to top the American charts. Previous Madonna records have sold more than a quarter of a billion copies worldwide.