Jewish Reggae Singer Matisyahu Shaves His Beard
"No more Chassidic reggae superstar."
That was the blunt announcement posted on a blog late Tuesday by world-renowned Jewish vocalist Matisyahu. The statement was backed up by a stark, eerily-lit photo posted on Twitter of a plainly non-religious, beardless guy wearing a white, river-style polo shirt with a Marine-style haircut, holding a cell phone pointed at his face.
"At the break of day I look for you at sunrise When the tide comes in I lose my disguise," was the tweet posted under the photo.
"Sorry, folks, all you get is me... no alias," the singer wrote on his blog, leading some readers to wonder -- from the scores of comments left within the first 12 hours -- whether his entire black-and-white suit-and-hat appearance of commitment to Torah had been just that: an appearance for marketing's sake.
"When I started becoming religious 10 years ago, it was a very natural and organic process... My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality -- not through books but through real life," he continued.
But at some point, clearly, the Torah learning that imbues the lives of most observant men throughout their lives must have stopped for Matisyahu. Or perhaps the learning that was going on went in the wrong direction.
"I felt that in order to become a good person, I needed rules -- lots of them -- or else I would somehow fall apart," he wrote. [Now] "I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission."
The post ends with a plug for his next musical "rebirth" and strives to reassure fans about his "naked face," telling them "don't worry...you haven't seen the last of my facial hair."
The singer first erupted on the worldwide music scene as a novel, Chabad-Lubavitch anomaly, a Chassidic reggae singer, one of the few white guys to really "get it" and keep it kosher.
But in the past several years, rabbis became increasingly concerned and began to ban his music within Chassidic communities as he began to step out of the fold more and more, taking on musical partnerships with other vocalists who had little to do with the values he supposedly was promoting from the stage.
Eventually, he left the Chabad Chassidic sect and appeared to be entering the world of the Breslov Chassidim but this, too, proved only to be a temporary stop on the way out of the hareidi-religious Jewish world.
It is not clear whether shaving his beard has meant the singer has also jettisoned his observance of other Torah commandments as well.
Those who commented on his blog by Thursday morning were clearly trying to put the brakes on that possibility, and to remind the young singer that people are judged "by the deeds we have done, the words we have said and the lives we have changed," as one person wrote.
Others were far more blunt: "Confused," wrote someone from London. "So ur not frum now? Or not chassidic? (sic) Or just had a shave?"