Matisyahu Comes Clean

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.

What do you think?

About The Author

Daniel Sieradski

Daniel Sieradski is a writer, web designer, new media producer and Heeb's resident Digital Strategist. He is also the founder of Occupy Judaism, ProgressiveJews.org, Jew It Yourself, Jewschool.com and a billion-and-one other digital age Jewish ventures. He has been called "a major figure of the Jewish Internet world" by the Forward, which counted him among the 2010 Forward 50, and a "professional thorn in the side of the American Jewish establishment" by Haaretz.

33 Responses

  1. Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg

    One thing for sure- It underscores why in any community, those that are looked up to as models should be the elders, the learned, and the wise.

    Looking up to sports heroes (say O.J. Simpson or Tiger Woods) or music superstars (insert your favorite fallen star here) can backfire badly when said hero or celebrity fails to behave in way way that reflects why there were seen as larger then life.

    As a frum Jew who was sometimes compared to Matisyahu from a branding perspective of using chassidic looks proudly and as something that sets me apart as opposed to hiding it, I’m sad and shocked that he’s cut off (did I see right?) his peyos… which would mean to many that he has left orthodoxy totally. However, being a baal teshuva on a spiritual journey, it’s a normal occurrence for people becoming more religious to feel a need to show external trappings of Jewishness that they can see in the mirror… and if he decided to put on a kippah and shave (with a shaver) his beard, I think that this would be seen as a bit of a shock but mostly simply watching a Jewish celebrity find his comfort level within Orthodoxy.

    From a business standpoint (which is NOT what a person should base religious decisions on!), as a marketer my opinion is that he’s just made the worst decision of his life.

    Happy Chanukah Y’all!

    Reply
  2. Zev Goldberg

    I think shaving your beard doesn’t mean throwing away Orthodoxy. That’s quite a leap.

    Reply
  3. Shai Canaan

    ‎>Fill in the blank. If you forget Jerusalem, you forget your right arm. if you forget ________, you shave your beard.

    “Jerusalem, if I forget you,
    my Norelco is going to get stuck before im done”

    if he didnt do it just before Chanuka, i would say the guy had some issues to resolve, but since its too coincidental, i believe its a cheap marketing ploy. not caring how many swing votes he will bring down with him. ben zona mityaven.

    Reply
  4. Yerachmiel

    As a religious Jew, and a fan of Matisyahu – I can’t help but believe that his rise to superstardom has G-d’s hands written all over it. He turns his back on G-d, I expect G-d to turn His back on him (Mattisyahu)… Another washed up self-righteous musical act… Kinda sad… No ha’koras ha’tov to G-d for all his million$ – that’s really sad…

    Reply
  5. Elad

    Ironic that you use Matisyahu’s recent spiritual growth to promote your own agenda, just as you criticize Orthodox Jews with using him for theirs. Guess you have your own minstrel now.

    Reply
  6. Daniel

    It happens a lot, a guy begins doing lots of external Judaism, without understanding the principles, the when the “High” is gone, the whole thing seems meaningless, but the truth is that, he has never gone into it, he was always looking for “experiences” and as he gets used to it, he goes forward, for the next “high”.

    this is not spirituality guys, stop fooling yourselves, it is only your imagination going wild, as the truth is, that, Judaism, is not based on gut-feeling, it is based on 613 laws, and endless rational thinking.

    Sorry for my broken English Daniel

    Reply
  7. Rachel

    Each one of us is faced with the daunting task–often confusing, very often fulfilling, and almost always full of hits and misses– of finding who we are, what we believe, and “where we are going” on our own life journey. Why not let our thoughts, words, and actions reflect the sacredness and respect that many organized religions propose as being fundamental by focusing more on ourselves, and less on others? Regardless of which branch of whatever religion we all believe we belong to, why not live and let live? Is he really harming any of us by his decisions? Will he ever know his “real” motivations? Will we? Should that keep us from living our daily lives in a way that would make us and a higher power (call it what you will) proud?

    Reply
  8. Hector

    @Daniel

    Judaism based on “endless rational thinking”? I thought we left that to the ancient Greeks. Judaism has to be more than just “endless rational thinking” because that does not inspire faith, it merely contains it.

    Reply
  9. Sheryl Smith

    As a Jamaican practicing Judaism for 7 years, I am disappointed. We have become a people with short-attention span, latching on to the next new “cool” ideology, one that we perceive separates us or makes us special (Kabala, Buddhism, Scientology etc). Matisyahu’s actions appear to underscore the aforementioned. Fearing I too may be going through a phase by using the religion to ward off spiritual confusion or embarking on a journey purely for experiential reasons, I delayed converting. However, with seven years of practice, struggle and wrestling with not only an ideological shift but also one of identity, now believe I am ready. Identity and ideology should partly be knowledge based permanent not fluid and not endorsed prematurely. It is when the “high” has left the body/senses that one should push forth, not abandon their identity as Matisyahu appears to have done.

    Reply
  10. Daniel

    Hector, from my point of view Judaism is completly within rational thinking, I have been studying Judaism seriously for more than 25 years, and I`m convinced that as deep as I have gone, in Judaism, there is no place for “faith” by its popular meaning, the Jewish faith is absolutely based on logical thinking, which might be one of the reasons why Judaism is the only religion that still standing, literately in the same way it stood just after the Torah has been given at Mount Sinai.

    Sheryl, perhaps, you should get some consultation with a rabbi before you make such an important decision.

    best regards for all

    and again sorry for my poor English Daniel

    Reply
  11. Jerry

    Too bad that having peyos and a beard and wearing tzis tzis means you’re a good Jew. As one who grew up in aConservative household, I got on and off the Lubavitcher bus long ago. I say it takes all kinds of Jews to make a world, and if the artist formerly known as Matisyahu wants to be a different tins of Jew than what he was yesterday, Amen. His music is still great. It will be more difficult for him to sell it without the Hasidic garb, but if he can keep up e quality, he’ll be the next M&M

    Reply
  12. Yocheved

    Going through the meat grinder of the media is a horror. Here is a guy who is trying to have a life and family and experience a spiritual journey and he finds himself playing a character in a movie. He is 32 years old and his hair was going completely grey and he suddenly looked 60ish and it may have been distressing for him to keep carrying a mode of appearance and behavior that had become molded in the heat of media attention and began to suffocate him. Does this have anything to do with his dedication to Torah and mitzvot? No. We are in a period of Jewish growth and exploration. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn said that “America is nisht andresht” (America is not different) but what does that really mean…? We are figuring it out friends. Some feel it means sticking to cultural elements from 1700-1800s Russia or Poland in dress, music, food (no avocado at Pesach b/c they had none in Russia etc.). That is one way and it is interesting but it is hardly the only way. What about focusing on Israel and the exciting opportunity to go home and herd sheep in the hills, wearing flowing robes and sandals, making wine and olive oil from the land. That is another way. What about living in the NYC pressure cooker with different Western cultural interests all mixed into an intense experience of Judaism in a shul where there is money oozing out of every corner. That is another way. and on and on and on.. with infinite combinations… The most important thing is to be in touch with ourselves along the way and I appreciate Mr. Miller’s honesty. I hope he will be allowed privacy. One would have to be insensitive not to see that he looks overwrought and unhappy. Given our natural tendency to judge each other, it is clear why ahavat Yisrael is such an important core mitzvah. If we all apply ahavat Yisrael with seriousness – as Hillel taught – we will generate a light of love and warmth that will shine on all around us. Shalom brothers and sisters.

    Reply
  13. Nathan

    Perhaps the one thing that sets humans apart from other animals is the ability to choose. The power of keeping mitzvot is not so much due to the mitzvah that a person might keep, but to the choice that led to its performance. For someone who chooses to keep kosher, daven, keep Shabbos, or any other mitzvah, these are daily choices that can be rejected any given day, which adds to their strength.Every day a person continues to make a choice along a life path adds strength to that path. And it’s an individual choice, whether it’s a beard, a kipa sruga(knit), a woman covering her hair or not, each person’s choice – public or private – must be respected as it is between that person and God.

    Reply
  14. yehuda

    can’t be critical about a normal circuit of life… what matters is not how deep you fall; rather how high you bounce back. he’s only human

    Reply
  15. David

    This is ridiculous. So what. On can keep Shabbat without a beard. Observancy has nothing to do with having a beard. I for one have one, but it is an external not part of the core. All of this commentary shows why we have lost all sense of what authentic Judaism is. We are an Israelite Nation and that Nationhood is an internal connection on the National level to the light of the creator. This expression is confused for “religiosity.” Now Matisyahu is seeing that you can keep halacha and still be authentic. No need for the external trappings of a particular “sect” to keep you straight.

    Reply
  16. mihEl

    All people will understand went they understand the created and the word that he have giving to us not to hunt out borther but to love all people in this world we all are bless to be able to get up and to see the new day and it a bless from him be thank for the blessing each day is a new day i9n the book of life

    Reply
  17. Akiva

    Better to have a Jew minus a beard than a beard minus a Jew, no?

    Matis was always one to be the subject of conversation. How much more so now? To Matis I would say: “be true to yourself. You’re an inspiration to so many for so many reasons.” To all of the haters and doubters out there, I’d say: “why are you expending all this effort wondering whether or not Matisyahu’s still on the frum train? Don’t you have something better to do?” Let HaShem worry about him. Shalom!

    Reply
  18. David

    Your contempt for the religious community is depressing and just plain sad. You probably also feel pretty dumb that you jumped the gun on his decision-the beard doesn’t make the “frum yid”

    Reply
  19. Aliza

    Having a beard does not make one an orthodox Jew. Many Jews find, when discovering Jewish law and Torah life, that in order to learn how to live that lifestyle, they must follow the rules to the strictest level. Many feel more comfortable doing that, while they learn the laws. Then, when they have reached a level of knowledge, they can relax some of the stringencies they have adopted. This does not mean that they give up Orthodoxy.

    I liken it to cooking. When you first start learning to cook, you follow a recipe *exactly* – never deviating. Once you are comfortable knowing how to put ingredients together to get the right results, you can step back from your cookbook a bit. You know the rules of cooking. You know what ingredients go well together. If you want to use a little more dill than the recipe calls for, that’s okay. As long as you’re still using dill.

    Using your Hebrew name, wearing a black coat and having a beard are the guidelines for *one group* of orthodox Jews. Finding your place in the many-leveled, multi-faceted Orthodox world takes time and learning.

    Reply
  20. DT

    First of all, it’s rather disgusting to congratulate someone on giving up Orthodoxy. If you want to be respected a secular Jew, you should respect people’s choice to be religious. Secondly, since when does shaving a beard equal giving up orthodoxy? There’s a HUGE number of Orthodox who are beardless. Perhaps not so many Hassidim, but Hassidic does NOT equal orthodox!

    Reply
  21. Matisyahu Goes Blonde | Heeb

    […] further from his super Orthodox roots. You may remember that he shocked fans a few months ago when he tweeted a photo of himself clean-shaven, after years of rocking a full beard and the other hirsute trappings of Orthodox Jewish […]

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