Matisyahu and His Fame Filled BT Path

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.

13 comments on “Matisyahu and His Fame Filled BT Path

  1. Due to recent unhappy current events I became seized by a desire to shave my beard. As I went to announce this intent to my wife I accidentally stubbed and injured my toe. Either Hashem was warning me away from shaving or punishing me for being a wus and telling my wife.

  2. I think that there are many things to learn from Matisyahu’s continuing journey. At the same time, we are enjoined not to judge someone until we’ve been in his place. I’m not sure if anyone has been as publicly observant and as popularly successful as Matisyahu. I wish him the best.

  3. Eating on Tisha B’Av, as Joe Lieberman was observed doing during this Vice Presidential run, may be called “striv[ing] for a more individualized pathway of following Torah and Mitzvos” by some people (I doubt he’s one of them) but it’s neither orthodox nor “observant.” (I am mystified how it even qualifies as “striving.”) This not some chumra [stringency] or custom found among a particular group within orthodox Jewry: Fasting on Tisha B’Av is normative Jewish halacha.

    Someone like Joe Lieberman, who was so much in the public eye, has to save his “striving” for the private sphere. But when acknowledging that he doesn’t really do some mitzvah or another, I can hardly imagine why we would wring our hands about about his being condemned to life in a “box” or his perceived need for “chizuk.” As others have noted, when you call yourself orthodox on that level of public visibility, you simply have to walk the walk on normative practice. Indeed, non-observant “observant Jews” cause a lot of problems for BT’s in particular: “Why do you have to cover your hair? So-and-so is very religious and she never covers her hair.” The examples are endless and have all been discussed here.

    I’m far more sympathetic to Matisyahu, who is a BT in a truly unique situation. I have no problem with the Aish disclaimer, however; again, unlike most other people, he has this in common with Senator Lieberman: He’s a public person, and his conduct — including making a career in the entertainment world — is far more under the microscope than a typical subject of an Aish profile or interview.

  4. I agree with Mark Frankel-IMIO, the disclaimer was unnecessary, and the subject of the interview was nothing new to anyone who has followed the discussions here on a wide variety of issues.

  5. I just hope Matisyahu isn’t forced into the same box as Senator Joseph Lieberman, who ended up calling himself “observant” rather than “Orthodox Jewish,” meaning that someone who strives for a more individualized pathway of following Torah and Mitzvos gets told he/she can’t use the “Orthodox” label.

    I’m thinking also of actress Mayim Bialik, who has a strong connection to Jewish observance. It’s very hard to state where on the Jewish continuum one goes from being “observant” to “Orthodox.” Maybe taking off the yarmulke and the beard demotes a man from “Orthodox” to “observant”? For a woman, could it be that wearing pants and not covering her hair (for a married woman) demotes her from “Orthodox” to “observant”?

    Years ago, people used to use the phrase “Conservadox” to describe people who were “not quite” fully Orthodox; I’m not sure whether that would be the equivalent of “observant” today. Would the “half-Shabbos” texters be called “Conservadox”? I hate labels, and I am sure that Matisyahu also hates labels as well.

    Whatever the case, I wish Matisyahu all the best on his journey, with much success in both ruchnius and gashmius.

  6. Shmuel, why shouldn’t we be positive. Matisyahu is a Jew who is trying to find the Torah path that’s right for him.

    That’s been a theme here for the last 6 years.

    I’m disappointed in the tone of the questions and the disclaimer on the Aish site. The man needs support from his fellow Jews, not a disclaimer, which I think is like a slap in the face.

    At least Matisyahu got to tell his side of the story, which is one of the classic BT prototypes, with the added complication of being a “chassidic reggae superstar”.

  7. Interestingly, when he shaved his beard in December, I posted about it and got contacted right away from one of his former roommates in yeshiva, who is still very close with him. He is still observant, but felt trapped with the label of being a “chassidic reggae superstar”.

  8. He appears to be dropping external trappings or stringencies, but it’s not clear to me from the Aish piece where he draws the line between those things and basic mitzvos. I hope he gets and takes good advice, rather than winging it based on feelings.

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