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Famed Hasidic reggae star sheds the Hasid part?
December 13th, 2011
05:45 PM ET

Famed Hasidic reggae star sheds the Hasid part?

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Think Matisyahu, and there’s an image: A man in a long beard, sidelocks and a skullcap – an obviously and deeply religious man who became a music sensation, blending reggae and hip hop with the most traditional of Jewish themes.

But hear that record scratching to a stop?

The man behind the music issued a big statement Tuesday, when he blasted over Twitter the image of who he is now, thanks to a razor.

He explained on his website:

This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter.

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

Now, a beard does not make a man Jewish. There are plenty of even Orthodox Jews who don't have beards.

But in Hasidism, a movement that is certainly Orthodox but was deemed revolutionary when it started in the 18th century, Hasidic men are usually identifiable by black hats, black coats and, yes, long beards and sidelocks - à la Matisyahu before his sudden makeover. That look is a deferential nod to Leviticus 19:27 in the Hebrew Bible, which Hasids believe bans the removal of facial hair by stating "Thou shalt not mar the corner of thy beard."

Matisyahu's shaving and statement set his fans aflutter.

Some didn’t hide their bewilderment.

“As a huge fan of your music and your personal voyage, I’m pretty confused right now,” wrote its AllGood. “So are you denouncing your Faith?” asked ConfusedFan. “Gonna go ahead and drop the question bomb, ‘So are you still Jewish?’ BOOM,” added Max.

Others expressed fear and regret.

“Very scary. … I wonder why and what happens with his family? His kids?” said SKramer. “It is disappointing that even Matisyahu (who makes millions looking like a real Jew) couldn’t avoid stumbling—away from Torah. The influences of our greek/roman/christian society proves to be too much for most American Jews. And this, just before Chanukah …” wrote Yefuneh. Added momBH about his shaved beard: “Why would you want to take it away? You have a beautiful son - what do you want to raise him with the hot hollywood parties or real spirituality.”

But plenty of fans offered support and thanked him for all that he’s done and all they expect him to still do.

“matis, you are an amazing artist, no matter what form (or lack of) your hair takes - you are LOVED!” said jeannie. “I don’t believe we will be judged by the hair on our face, but rather by the deeds we have done, the words we have said, and the lives we have changed. I am excited to see what you will bring us in the new year!” wrote Aedile. And added Ash, “Good for you. True spirituality comes from within.”

It wasn't just on his official website that fans weighed in; they came out in droves on his Facebook page as well.

And amid all the buzz, including those who vowed to boycott future concerts or said with his shaving they'd lost their Jewish inspiration, Matisyahu offered a line of comfort later in the day.

On his Facebook wall he wrote, "For all of those who are being awesome, you are awesome. For all those who are confused: today I went to the Mikva [Jewish ritual bath] and Shul [synagogue] just like yesterday."

So what do you make of this Matisyahu change?

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Judaism • Music

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. JP

    He finally grew up and stopped believing in fairy tales.

    December 15, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  2. Jimmy

    Just to clarify: He did not use a razor. Religious Jews only use shavers. Speaking of which......since I've never used a razor, is it a) easier? b) faster? c) closer? than an electric shaver? Thanks!

    December 15, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  3. Alexandru

    Shalom,

    I think he is true to himself. He sings about positive things. Why so much negative opinions against him?
    Let the man be; he clearly says that he is religious. He in his own way wants to give to the world something beautiful.
    Of course some from the Hasidic community do not see this with good eyes... but everything we do are but stages on our spiritual maturity as a human being. I think he feels to connect with all people regardless of origin and religion melting the good things of Torah teachings with the world's realities.

    May Hashem bless him with the best.

    Respectfully,

    December 15, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  4. zoundsman

    He's in the arts, he's an artist, the only way to go- keep exploring, engage in self-discovery, do what you want to do.
    Good for him. Though an alternative would be to have dreadlocks in his own Hasidic style (would be interesting).

    December 15, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  5. aaron

    this is THE most worthless article of all time.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  6. penny

    I sense mental instability; I am having a Brittney flashback. Somebody get the Haldol!

    December 15, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  7. Denise

    Here's what I think. He still has the same warm, kind eyes and the same voice. His hair makes no difference, he's a very good man, and extremely talented. Some people can be so judgemental.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  8. ZERGSC2

    so one dude shaved and we got people talking about every religion comparing dude its all a fairy tale if you think you are ment to live by some sorta book your out of your bloody mind end of story buddy.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  9. Peter

    This guy is great! His music is awesome... I've never heard of him until this story... I just went to youtube and listened to his music. Looking forward to hearing some of his new work.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  10. atranotronificaldor

    rap is such crap

    all about beating women and treatnig them like crap

    rap isnt even real music anyway so how can anyone listen to it

    its all a bunch of jungle beats

    bunch of no talent criminals

    December 15, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Winston5

      u d0rk.

      December 15, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Goodvibes.

      Before you send out hate-mail regarding a musical styling that you don't appreciate, do your homework. Matisyahu's music is first and foremost, about none of the things you have mentioned. Rather, he dreams of a day when the world is full of love and peace and less people like you spilling bad vibes into scenarios where they don't belong. His music contains elements of hip hop and he raps a bit but we're also dealing with reggae and rock influences. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about when you enter a forum regarding Matisyahu and blast rap as a genre. generalizing is for idiots, and posting irrelevant comments with a negative message is for the ignorant and weak. Do your research and understand the topic at hand before speaking out of ignorance.

      As for Matisyahu's decision to continue his spriritual journey and abandon some of the ritualistic qualities. I can't argue with that. The whole point of the outwardly expressive facial hair is so that people know a hasidic jew when they see one. But, people know Matisyahu, therefore the religious aspect is unnecessary because his spiritual journey is laid out clearly in his life and music.

      December 15, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  11. Pllllbbbbttt.....

    Who would really care? You want the orthodox shtick, go see your rabbi. Oy vey!

    December 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  12. Reality

    And the music continues to play on:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, popes, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  13. RichieRich

    Does his beard sing? Who cares?

    December 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  14. betterthanyou

    have we gotten comments from all four of his fans?

    December 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  15. impeesa

    I think his facial hair is none of our business

    December 14, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  16. tony lee

    hey CNN its call a YAMAKA not a skull cap you a$$ hole

    December 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • dave R

      Typical CNN racist story.......

      December 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • jjwalkerisdynomite

      "hey CNN its call a YAMAKA not a skull cap you a$$ hole"

      As long as it helps prevents STD's and pregnancy call it what you want.

      December 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Chaim Moshe

      Yarmulke, actually, or Kippah. But skull cap really isn't that bad. It's nice of you to care though – even thirty years ago we'd probably have a lot worse written here.

      I've always liked his music, and I think it's great that someone could record music that represents my Reform Jewish tradition well. Orthodox Jews (and perhaps some Conservative Jews) will probably consider this an affront to their faith tradition, but this isn't a big deal for many Jews in the US and Israel.

      December 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  17. Honorable President, Get a Life Club

    All religions have rules–often senseless–for their own....And your salvation often depends on these things.

    Don't drink, don't smoke, burn other religions' books (Evangelical Christian); Do not use any technology developed after, oh, I don't know, let's say 1842 (Amish); Make sure you have a bad haircut and a hat that provides no shade to the eyes, and won't stay on your head without hairpins (Hassidic Jew...).

    I can't imagine God cares about your haircut, what brand of cigars you smoke, how modest your clothing is, or whether you drive a buggy or a car.

    It is really basic, simple, and full of common sense...

    "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?" (in Micah somewhere, I think...)

    December 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • md2205

      Yes, G-d does care about everything we do and wants us to choose good and live that way. However, it is not possible for humans to determine what is good, because they rationalize everything they do, and decide what is good based mostly on their own pleasure and convenience. G-d gave us all the laws we need to choose what is good according to His standard, for which He made the world. What is good is what He says is good, and what He says is good is what will keep the world He created running in the best possible way for all of us. He gave all the people in the world Seven Laws (of Noah) and they are: Believe in One G-d, do not blaspheme Him, do not murder, do not steal (and kidnap), do not do adultery (and other such activities outside of marriage), do not eat the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty) and to set up effective courts of justice. There are many details of all these laws and much more involved in them than just the previous sentence states. For those who wish a closer connection with G-d, there are 613 commandments that involve all aspects of life. Everything that G-d states for us to do is because it impacts in some way on the basic "love thy fellow as thyself" kind of laws which are always stated as important to the exclusion of everything else. Take keeping kosher, for instance. Jews do not eat milk and meat together. What is so important about that that G-d had to come up with it? But it is so important that it is a basic tenet that entire governments rise and fall on. It is cruel to cook the baby cow in the milk that his mother would have fed him with. That milk was meant to keep him alive. Now it is cruelly and cynically being used to cook him. Doing this is being cruel to a kind creature. Jews separate the milk from the meat to show that they will not be cruel to the kind. Governments must learn that if it is kind to the cruel people, it is being cruel to the kind people. Being lenient with cruel offenders means that the offender will be able to do his cruel acts again to the innocent, as we all unfortunately know and suffer from. It is important to learn the philosophy behind the commandments G-d gave so that they will not be denigrated but will be followed and understood. If you think about the seven above laws I just wrote about, you will realize that if everyone would do them, the world would be a much better, kinder place to live in. And that is why G-d created the world: for us to live according to His laws so that we will create a world in which He will want to live. We can bring Him back to our world by doing these laws.

      December 15, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  18. rito

    I think this is all a big advert/promo for hipstamatic—and maybe a new batman movie. Dude has Joker lips.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  19. PurdueAustin

    Matisyahu rules!

    December 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  20. JohnnyInSNJ

    Look at me, I shaved and took a shower. .

    December 14, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.