Matisyahu palling around with Wiz Khalifa

The other day Frum Satire shared some pictures from Matisyahu’s Instagram under the heading “Matisyahu posts pictures of himself without a kippah,” lamenting the potential loss of a famous frum role model. There’s been a fair amount of back-channel chatter about what it might mean for Matisyahu — who’s already had to issue statements about shaving his beard and dropping his customary 17th Century Polish garb back in December — to be “off the derech” (moving away from Orthodox practice). Unfortunately, most of that search for meaning has been focused around “what does it mean for us” — with a bunch of different people putting themselves in that “us” category — and not enough thinking about what it might mean for him.
Many of us (and here, I mean “us” the writers and readers of Jewschool) have struggled with what we want our own Jewish observance to look and feel like, and many of us have had to do that in some kind of public sphere as leaders in our own tiny corners of the Jewish world. We know how much that sucks, and therefore how much more that sucks for Matis. Whatever you think about his music and whether or not his religious presentation helped his career, going through this kind of searching sucks even when you’re not a public figure and therefore all the much more so when you are.
If we really must find a way to make meaning for ourselves out of Matisyahu’s own personal journey, we can affirm what we all know, that Jewish living is, well, a life-long pursuit and not a static destination. And perhaps Matisyahu can be a positive role model in that way. And when he has another single or album to review, we can deal with whether or not his music is any good, regardless of the costume.


  1. And before anyone else calls me on it, I recognize that I am someone who does believe that celebrities have something of an obligation to consider their positions as role models and the potential power that carries. There is a question of how one can openly experiment with personal practice, identity, etc. in the public sphere in a way that gives the public figure the space to do what they need while acknowledging that they are not doing so in a vacuum. I would love to see Matisyahu or others like him speak openly about their own experimentation and growth; I think the public can help set the stage for that kind of a dialogue by being willing partners in a dialogue rather than projecting our own needs onto famous people.

  2. well put! i agree in full. as a woman of faith trying to keep mitzvot in a circle where i am the minority. where most of the people around me don’t have positive attitudes about faith or religion, period. it’s a tough journey i have been on, but I believe it is MY journey. this is part of what Hashem has for me. Matisyahu inspires me for sharing his journey with the world through such beautiful music. i look forward to reading more of your posts!

  3. I think that this just proves that most people cannot handle the limelight and the pressure to be in it. I was hoping that Matisyahu would use his frumness to give him the proper support to be a good role model, but apparently, the temptations were two strong. Temptation here being abstaining from assimilation.

  4. Someone just sent me this: Study: Orthodox community boosts New York City’s Jewish population.
    I found the following striking:
    These two groups [orthodox and haredim] also comprise 40 percent of New York’s total Jewish population, up from 33 percent in 2002, when the last Jewish Community Study of New York was published. But the Orthodox account for 64 percent of Jewish children.
    64%! Wow. I don’t know what the orthodox/chassidic attrition rate is, but 64% of all kids?! We’ve all known this was coming, but this is no longer some far off projection. These kids will be adults in 10-15 years. Perhaps this isn’t being reflected in Jewish communities nationwide, but from purely anecdotal accounts I’m pretty sure Chicago is on a similar trend, if maybe not so far along.
    I’d be interested to know what our “institutional Jews” think about this massive transformation, which is due to hit (or already hitting, if you count kindergartens and day schools) the Jewish community. Is the Federation system prepared? Or, given that most of the orthodox/chassidic movements have their own organizational structures, fundraising arms, etc., will this change have little effect on the Federations as we know them, except to fragment community authority?
    One of the first things that comes to mind is poverty. A Federation system truly resolved to integrate a coming majority of Jewish Americans needs to grapple with and push resources towards addressing the much higher rates of gritty poverty in these communities than what we’re typically used to with glitzy suburbian Jewry. In college, I never understood why my local Federation (Milwaukee) was allocating tens of thousands of dollars on projects completely unrelated to its mission (conservation programs in Africa and the like), while observant Jewish families on the West Side/Sherman Park were really struggling to make ends meet.
    Another issue is education, which obviously ties in with poverty. Many orthodox and chassidic families simply will not send their kids to secular, co-ed institutions of higher learning. I haven’t fully thought this through, but I may not do so either, when I have kids, at least not for undergrad education, and certainly not for middle and high school. Public education is a meat-grinder for the kind of values I think I want to instill in my children.
    Anyway, there are alternatives, like Alverno (a Catholic women’s university in Milwaukee, where some of our local observant girls end up going), and some colleges in Brooklyn, from what I hear, but the Jewish community may need to consider funding programs and institutions (read, vocational schools or even starting up colleges) that cater to this group, whose only other educational alternative is to send kids to yeshivas. Even in an era of internet education, this will be super resource heavy.

  5. I would seem (although I can’t say for sure and I haven’t read it anyway) that the Satmar cult is effecting those “surge” numbers in NY. They number about 130,000 and live in the same areas discussed. They are crazy, anti-Zionist Jews and do not represent Orthodox Judaism as a whole.
    Re Matis, is no one going to talk about the giant elephant in the room? Frum Satire said nothing either. THERE’S A GUY SMOKING A JOINT IN THAT PICTURE. Hello? Why is no one mentioning this? No concern at all? Or I am simply uncool to bring it up? Let’s get real people.
    It’s glaringly obvious that Judaism is holding less and less meaning for Matisyahu. The man is surely free to pursue whatever spiritual path he wants (maybe he’ll turn Buddhist – many Jews do), but he’s bound to take others down with him. For that I feel very sorry. It would seem that fame overtook him.

  6. Madge, how does your conscience permit you to post trash like this? “It would seem…” although you “can’t say for sure” since you didn’t “read it anyway…” Then why write anything at all? What compelled you to take this ugly dump on our minds? Simply to create an opportunity to crassly denigrate and insult hundreds of thousands of Jews? And it’s someone else standing next to a joint you’re worried about? This is not the best you can do. This is not the kind of person you want to be.
    It’s amazing to me, the liberties some people take in openly talking about the spiritual development of another Jew they don’t even know, on the basis of nothing more than innuendo and gossip, and for what? What possible good can come out of this?
    Oh, no, and he’s standing next to a guy holding a blunt! I think Marlon Brando said it best. As we all know, not to sound “uncool” and in an effort to “get real people”, the Temple was destroyed on account of Jews taking photographs next to guys holding joints.
    Madge, there was no elephant in this room. It would seem (although I can’t say for sure, and I haven’t read it anywhere) that you went out, caught one, shot him in the head, mutilated his genitals, fed his entrails to dogs, stuffed him and dragged his stuffed carcass around with you until you found a place to talk about it. But it’s the REST of us who should “get real”?!
    Dlevy, I know this isn’t what you intended with the post, and the issue of open spiritual expression on the part of highly visible Jews, leaders and role models, is a valid one, but using an individual case to open that discussion is wrong. This is not what you intended, but please keep the consequences in mind for the future.
    I really am wondering what some of the professional/institutional Jews here think about the coming transformation of Jewish American demography, and how it will affect our current structures of Jewish community. Because that’s important, while talking about the spiritual development of a Jew we don’t really know and have no positive influence over is not.

  7. The giant elephant in the room is definitely not some harmless herbal pleasures. Here in northern california it’s a daily pleasure for many of the frum community and too often frummies associate marijuana with harmful drugs. Rabbis smoking cigarettes are a far worse thing than a little weed.

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