Matisyahu has an interesting interview on Aish. They have a strange disclaimer at the beginning of the article where they state that they don’t endorse everything Matisyahu says and does. I never thought that they endorsed everything any writer or interview subject says or does.
In answer to the question “Can we set the record straight: Are you still a religiously observant Jew?”, Matisyahu responds:
I don’t really know what the word “religious” means. I believe deeply in God, and if we mean that Torah and Mitzvahs are our guide for the journey, then yes some will call me “religiously observant,” but others will see the external changes I’ve made and say that I am not. Perhaps labels based on these types of externalities are too simplistic, or just convenient. I certainly understand that my position in popular culture lent value to those external elements. My recent changes are part of my own journey, and are not a rejection of the inspiration that gave people.
I am still committed to Judaism, to seeking truth through halacha and observance. I find a tremendous amount of inspiration and truth within Torah and Judaism, but I had taken on certain minhagim, customs, and stringencies that became habit – either because at one point I had connected to them, or simply because I had been convinced that “religious” Judaism had to look a certain way. Over time some of these external aspects, like the beard, had become deadening and oppressive for me. I had to take a step back.
So it seems that Matisyahu is still observant but unfortunately he made a typical BT mistake of going too fast. Shaving off your beard would certainly be considered normative in the Beyond BT universe and in the Aishosphere. And there are occasions, especially in regards to earning a living where the halacha would allow the removal of a yarmulka. In fact Ron Coleman wrote a post about not wearing a Yarmulka at work a few months ago.
Let’s give Matisyahu a collective Brocha that he should continue in his growth in Torah and mitzvos, and successfully meet the challenges that continued fame will bring. Enjoy the Aish article and enjoy the music.