Matisyahu … Chassidic no longer???

All of the Jewish blogs and news sites are abuzz this morning with news that Chassidic reggae superstar Matisyahu has shaved off his beard, cut off his peyos, and is embarking on a new journey.

Just released moments ago on his Twitter account, Matisyahu writes:

This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter [the photo to the right].

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.

Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth.  And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry…you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.

– Matisyahu

Update: For those feeling a little confused, Matisyahu later tweeted today:

“For all of those who are being awesome, you are awesome. For all those who are confused: today I went to the Mikva and Shul just like yesterday.”

I for one echo the thoughts of many other rabbis who have voiced support for Matisyahu. It seems to be a progression on his continuing spiritual journey rather than a step backwards. Furthermore, it seems to be a result of his thinking critically about his own spirituality and observance.

Update, 12/14/11: To the left is a new picture released of Matisyahu without a beard. This one is better than the one from yesterday, and his yarmulke is more visible.

Update, 12/15/11: For all those still wondering the big question of WHY Matisyahu shaved off his beard, HERE is an interview where Matisyahu explains the reasoning behind his decision.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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23 Responses to Matisyahu … Chassidic no longer???

  1. Wow, major surprise! And very interesting indeed. I wonder what his future holds.

  2. “I for one echo the thoughts of many other rabbis who have voiced today their encouragement of this move. ”

    Why should this sort of dramatic movement swapping be encouraged by “other rabbis” (I am assuming, none of them are Chassidic or Orthodox)? Today he changed to this, tomorrow it will be something else. Who knows, he may become a Buddhist or even an atheist next – will those rabbis be as encouraging since that too will be part of his “spiritual journey”. There’s something to be said about being stable in one’s ways.

  3. Rabbi Joshua says:


    Please forgive me, but your comment is a little ridiculous. Every time I write something you don’t like you always jump to the same thing … “no Orthodox or Chassidic rabbis would agree with you.”

    Well, I could give you numerous examples, but here is just one example from an Orthodox rabbi from a charedi yeshiva (Ner Israel) and now serves an Orthodox shul here in LA:

    If Matisyahu would have completely gone off the derech that would have been an entirely different matter. However, a beard does not a religious Jew make. Believe it or not but I called this nearly 10 years ago. For me the issue is that I am glad to see Matis wrestling with his observance to something he can more maintain and balance. He is still religious, but seems to be approaching Jewish life a little more progressively. There are plenty of Orthodox Jews who are clean shaven and do not wear peyos. Anyway, read the link to the blog post I just gave you. That is only one example of Orthdox rabbis who are thinking more openly on the matter.

    • >> “Gene, please forgive me, but your comment is a little ridiculous.

      I called that 10 years ago. (wink)

    • The Doctor says:

      I hope Rabbi Joshua returns to this discussion because Matthew HAS “completely gone off the derech” as many feared (and said) he would. Where there is smoke there is fire, and waiting for the flames to engulf you before calling out “Fire – Fire” is the path of folly! We have seen this before, all through the ages, and those of us who called it accurately in the beginning would have much rather been wrong about it (and sought his forgiveness) than to have been right.

      I will say again and again and AGAIN: This is why our people fear assimilation MORE than destruction, because it destroys not just the body, but the soul (of our faith) as well, and brings disgrace upon HaShem by causing the nations to say, “See how he prospers in everything he does? Where is the G-d he once served? Surely he has no power, and there is no wisdom in fearing him!”

      Rabbi should also read my responses below and remind himself what it means to be “Orthodox” in the face of rampant cultural relativism that has permeated (and brought down) the Christian church and is now infecting even the most observant Synagogues! For heaven’s sake, read this week’s Torah portion (“Nitzavim-Vayelech”) and see what HaShem says! If I may paraphrase… “I have blessed them… they will enter in… they will get fat… they will forget me… they will go after other gods… they will proclaim their own strength… and I will forsake them… and in their distress they will remember that I AM GOD!”

      Let us remember, we’re not talking about a “hyper-grace, once-saved-always-saved” message here. We’re talking about living out a Torah obedient lifestyle, as a light to the nations, as Mashiach taught: “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

      Sorry folks, when you dance with the devil, you loose. But where there is life, there is hope. Let us pray Matthew looks up to the Heavens as Nebuchadnezzar did to make sincere teshuva with a truly broken and contrite heart of confession and repentance, that he may be restored and truthfully proclaim to the world, “I will be light!”

      • Rabbi Joshua says:

        I just responded to your comment below. As for the rest of the discussion, it was pertinent when the post was originally written two years ago. Indeed, seems things have changed based on what you have shared (and for the worse).

        Shanah Tovah.

        • The Doctor says:

          Thank you for taking time to reply; and while I truly do not wish to belabor the point, the discussion is now even MORE pertinent than ever. Originally there was only (well reasoned) speculation, we now have incontrovertible results. This is not an isolated case, though it is certainly one of the more high profile ones. Perhaps those within the Jewish community (and without) who felt many fundamentalists were grossly overreacting in response to his “new look” will now see WHY the initial response was so negative from so many. “We told you so” brings nothing to the discussion. We have seen this before, through the ages, there is nothing new under the sun; and when it happens again we will make the same call – hoping we are wrong, fearing we are right, praying for restoration. Shalom.

  4. James says:

    I’m not Jewish by any means and thus certainly not Orthodox or a Rabbi, but I do know what it’s like to struggle with my faith. I’ve been hammering away at what I see as a form of “religious bigotry” for the past week or so on my own blog and don’t feel like it’s appropriate (at least for me) to judge Matisyahu out of hand. He’s making decisions he feels are necessary for his spiritual life. As far as I can tell from the Orthodox Rabbis (Chabad and others) who I “follow” through various forms of social networking and media is that there is “concern”.

    Matisyahu draws a lot of attention because he’s a public figure, but he’s also just a man who, like any other man, is continually negotiating his relationship with God. He’s lived by one lifestyle for the past ten years and, for his own reasons, he’s choosing to make a change. That does not make him “unstable” and may only mean he is on a journey of discovery. That part I can understand.

  5. Dan Benzvi says:

    Matis. act is just a nother example that Chasidot is becoming a dead horse.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      I would disagree. Chassidut is still quite a dynamic force within Judaism, and particularly has much in common and to contribute to Messianic Jews – with its understandings of “ivdu et HaShem b’simcha,” hitbodedut, devekut, etc. These, for example, all appear as practices within the Brit Chadasha.

  6. Dan Benzvi says:

    You forgot worshiping a false messiah…..

  7. Dan,
    That’s a small fractured minority that are considered Heretics by the rest of mainstream Judaism, and Chabad.

  8. Rabbi Joshua,

    I would like to know more about the parallels between Messianic Judaism and the Chasidim. Wthout using too much Hebrew phraseology, since my Hebrew is rather limited. Thx!

    aka Naomi

  9. Yarmulka says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the post including the pictures and updates


  10. Pingback: Matisyahu Performs ‘One Day’ with Boy Battling Cancer | Yinon Blog

  11. Diana Diaz says:

    Considering his relatively non-religious upbringing, that Matisyahu would make a change is not surprising. There was a cool factor to be had with wearing his Jewishness on his sleeve (so to speak) by dressing Chassidically. He was changing his dress slowly as his career progressed. If anything, it was a shock that he would look like he would be too religious to be nice, but was instead supercool, could beatbox, and sag decently well. “King Without A Crown” made an indelible mark in 2005 and still gets airplay. I’m going to miss the “old Matis” who dressed all in black and wore the beard and black hat. But then, that’s way back to how he looked when I met him in 2004. Even if it’s over, he definitely made an impact.

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  13. Karen says:

    Every word he says, every song he makes really inspire me 🙂

  14. The Doctor says:

    Just witnessed the “evolved” Matthew (I’ve stopped using his Jewish name because he has stopped being Jewish) in Kansas City (08/25/13) for myself and was disgusted with everything I saw. Watching him on stage – shaved like a skinhead, literally “humping” the speaker stacks, jumping around like madman, and slamming beers – while singing about David, Torah, and HaShem – was the most spiritually sickening experience I’ve ever had. We left after 5 songs, having driven 9 hours to see the concert, as a group of call girls were walking into the venue. The only saving grace was Levi Robin who sang wonderfully, but looked like a fish out of water. I know HaShem has spoken to him about playing with Matthew and he is like a bird caught in the fowlers nest. Pray for them both.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      I am sorry to hear about this … something many feared … and based on what you have shared … seems to have now happened.

      Originally Matis did not go off the derech , but there were indeed concerns.

      Hopefully this High Holidays he’ll do teshuvah.

  15. The Doctor says:

    And if I may address some previous comments in this thread – specifically as to the idea that beard (peyos, kippah, tzitzit, etc.) “do not a Jew make” – that is fundamentally true, but let us remember first and foremost who we are and what our purpose is…

    We are a people, set apart and special for and unto HaShem. Our entire purpose is, and has always been, to be a light to the nations; calling them to make true repentance (teshuva) by turning away from sin (breaking Torah) and choosing righteousness (observing Torah), and to accept by faith (for us, just as Avrohom) that it is only by the blood of Messiah (the lamb, Yeshua, the Torah made flesh) that any of us are saved (brought into the covenants HaShem established for His people.) THAT is the “good news” and THAT is the “same gospel” found in the TaNaK and the Gospels and Epistles. Now that is settled… now that we are brought out of Mitsrayim… now that we are free from the power of sin and death… NOW WHAT DO WE DO?!?!?

    Torah is the foundation upon which our entire faith system (and that of Christianity, though they are universally unaware) is built upon. And in Torah, HaShem is VERY clear about how HIS set apart and special people are to live, to work, to pray, to interact, to eat, to gather, to worship, and yes even how we are to look. And on every point, EVERY POINT, there are to be clear distinctions between US and the rest of the world. We did not decide this HaShem did, HaShem made the distinctions, HaShem set the terms and we are not free to change any of it! Rather, today as in antiquity, we are simply to live according to His will defined in scripture, and that means to be different than the world, SO THAT the world may see US and KNOW we are His. This is why our people have always feared assimilation MORE than destruction!

    So back to Matthew and the question of peyos, tzitzit, kippahs, and tallis… No, these things are not what “make one a Jew.” A Jew is not one outwardly by circumcision of the flesh, but inwardly by circumcision of the heart. We are saved (brought into the covenants) today just as the Hebrews were: by grace, through faith, as evidenced by our actions. And now that we ARE brought near, whether a native branch or wild shoot grafted in, what defines our existence? What is the sap we draw? Who we are and how are we to live? Torah!

    For us as for the Israelites, the question of Torah is never EVER a matter of obligation, it is a question of OBEDIENCE. It was for Adam (“do not eat, for if you do”), for Noah (“build me an ark”); for Avrohom (“take your son, whom you love”); for Moshe (“go tell Pharoah, let my people go”); for the Israelites 40 years in the desert (“to test them and see if they would OBEY my Torah); for Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego (“our G-d will save us, but even if he does not we will not bow”); for David, for Daniel, for Ruth, for the Judges, for the Kings, for the Prophets; for everyone in scripture, yes even Yeshua (“not my will Father, but yours be done”); and it is the same for us today, and it will always be. “Do NOT say this Torah is to hard…for it is in your mouth even in your heart… I set before you life and death, blessings and curses, therefore CHOOSE life.” Baruch HaShem!

    So no, outward things do not “make one a Jew.” Rather, it is being a Jew – which is by definition living in obedience to Torah by faith in Messiah (whether looking forward as Avrohom, or backward as we do today) – that GIVES MEANING to the tzitzit, payos, kippah, tallit, tefillin, mikvahs, kashrut, Shabbat, Moedim, and everything else in Torah. One can certainly do all these things without being Jewish. But only a Jew will truly live out these mitzvot with courage and steadfast determination, and with complete sincerity and unity of heart, mind, soul and strength – for no other reason than this: “Know that Hashem is Elohim; it is He that made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people, the flock of His pasture.” We do what HE says, end of discussion.

    So when the world sees people like Matthew – who know this, who live this, and who then reject this – they may still see “a Jew” but no longer see G-d – and that is the ONLY point and purpose of being Jewish.

    Shalom Rav

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