Matisyahu

Was the new Maccabeats video the final straw?

The artist formerly known as Matisyahu has given up his beard and, it seems, all pretenses of Orthodoxy. After posting photos of his stubbly shaven face to Twitter this morning, Matthew Miller wrote on his blog:

No more Chassidic reggae superstar.

Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality—not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity…to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.

The news sent a shockwave throughout the Jewish community, even triggering a JTA news alert which is normally reserved for terrorist attacks. The Internet’s virtual synagogue pews are already atwitter with speculation as to what this means for his wife, filmmaker Tahlia Miller, and their young children.

We take Miller’s words to mean that he’s done with Orthodoxy and is going to trust his own inner-spirituality. He is also no longer calling himself Matisyahu and intends to rebirth himself as a secular, albeit spiritual, musician.

Heeb congratulates Mr. Miller on his momentous decision and on the bravery of his public honesty. We also look forward to seeing him at Chulent with all the other recovering kiruv victims.

One can’t help but wonder if this is a bellwether for the rest of the ba’al teshuvah community. Few people have benefitted so richly from their Orthodox identity than Matisyahu, whose iconic hasidically-garbed appearance was oft stated to have had more to do with his rise to stardom than his talent alone. If Miller, whose feverish religiosity inspired so many others on the road to Jewish observance, couldn’t hack it as a frum yid, how can others be expected to maintain the illusion when the benefits are far less tangible?

The other question that looms is: Can Matthew Miller make it to fourth in the charts when he ceases to be a Jewish minstrel show? Is his music truly good enough that he will continue to be successful when he is no longer a poster boy for anything other than himself?

Writes Miller:

Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth.

We’ll take that as a maybe.

[Update] Miller just tweeted, “For all those who are confused: today I went to the Mikva and Shul just like yesterday.” Should we infer from this that he is still Orthodox but less rigidly so? How else do we interpret his words about formerly needing rules lest he “fall apart” and now reclaiming and trusting in himself and his intuition? We’ll just have to wait for a more thorough explanation.