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Old 03-30-2006, 03:26 PM   #1
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Hasidic Jew Is A Reggae And Rap Star

I saw him on tv and had no idea who he was. Very interesting


AFP

Matthew Miller cuts a striking figure on stage with his black hat and beard. The fervent Hasidic Jew better known as Matisyahu is also an unlikely rising star of reggae and rap.

The 26-year-old has reconciled strict religious demands with a staccato chant pop style that has taken his latest album "Youth" straight into the Billboard charts at number four with 120,000 copies sold in one week.

With the help of internet chat rooms, in a few months Matisyahu has gone from local shows to headlining national events. He will be one of the top names at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in August.

But no shows on a Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, and no fraternising with female fans. "There's always one drunk girl who runs up to give me a hug. I have to pull away," he said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

His rap is hardcore but puts across a positive message:

"Strip away the layers and reveal your soul,

Give yourself up and then you become whole".

Matisyahu has already gone through the rebellious phase of his life.

Born in to a non-religious Jewish family, he spent much of his younger years living in the New York suburb of White Plains. He went to a Hebrew school twice a week as a child but says he was often threatened with expulsion for disrupting classes.

It was as a 16-year-old on a camping trip to Colorado that he discovered religion. From there he went on a trip to Israel that he says "stirred" his Jewish identity.

After that trip, the youth dropped out of his home school and was sent to a wilderness school in Oregon, where he ended up studying reggae and hip-hop music and began performing under the name MC Truth.

He returned to New York in 2000 to study, started regularly attending a synagogue and met a rabbi who convinced him to become a Lubavitch Hasadic Jew.

MC Truth, who once sceptical of authority, became "Matisyahu", the Hebrew version of Matthew.

Matisyahu's entourage say his music combines the sounds of late reggae legend Bob Marley and Shlomo Carlebach, a rabbi who became one of Israel's best known singers of the 20th century.

Bill Werde, a senior editor at Billboard magazine, explained Matisyahu's appeal.

"There's a lot of interest in reggae and in general Jamaican music in the US right now, if you look at the success of other artists like Sean Paul or Wyclef Jean," Werde told AFP.

"His music is good, his songs are good. He has sort of a positive uplifting message and I think that's really reasonating with people right now."

Matisyahu has definitely arrived. He told Rolling Stone he had been invited by Madonna, a recent convert to the mystic Jewish faith of Kabbalah, for the Passover festival.

"I don't know if I can go. I'll have to check it out with, like, multiple people, to make sure it's kosher," the rapper said on the Jimmy Kimmel television show which helped launch his career.

The rabbis generally approve of his music, he added, because they back anything to "help people to connect to their godliness".

Time will tell if Matisyahu becomes a longstanding pop sensation.

But Werde said that while the rapper has a Jewish "base" he was now "a mainstream pop success story".

"Because of Matisyahu's appearance, he was able to create a critical amount of buzz. If he didn't have the music to back it up, he would not sustain his rise. And the fact of the matter is these are great songs, and it's a message that people are clearly responding to."
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Old 03-30-2006, 04:20 PM   #2
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I heard one of his tunes, and it's really pretty good.
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:13 PM   #3
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His views on women are a little questionable, but he is talented.
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Old 03-30-2006, 06:26 PM   #4
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He has been discussed in HERE in Bang and Clatter as well as previous to that thread. He has had quite a bit of publicity - featured on MTV quite a bit.
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Old 03-30-2006, 06:28 PM   #5
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I'd like to hear some of his music.
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Old 03-30-2006, 06:35 PM   #6
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I've heard some of his music and honestly it is not bad. My son who is 20 really digs this artist. Check him out. I agree he is very different, but he does have some good messages. I don't care for rap music, but this guy's talented and tolerable. Refreshing too.
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Old 03-30-2006, 07:35 PM   #7
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I've heard quite a bit. He's talented but it's just not my thing as his music combines two genres that don't have a lot of appeal to me. However, I like that he's out that; I like the idea of him and what he does.
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Old 03-30-2006, 07:55 PM   #8
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Matisyahu is amazing! He's the most talented guy to come along in a long time.(not just because he's a hasidic jew )
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Old 03-30-2006, 08:08 PM   #9
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I've been getting into his music for awhile now...I remember the first time seeing him thinking it was a gimmick, then realizing he was the real deal. I enjoy his music, I just prefer stuff I can sing along to
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Old 03-30-2006, 08:18 PM   #10
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Passover with Madonna

As the story MrsS posted references, Matisyahu is what we call a ba'al teshuvah--a "born-again" hailing from a culturally WASPish secular background--and personally I can't help finding all the shtehl-nostalgia shtick involved in his stage persona a bit comical in light of that. Definitely a talented musician, though.

Slate music critic Jody Rosen had some interesting things to say recently about the sociocultural aspects of Matisyahu's act:
Quote:
The truth is, Matisyahu isn't really a novelty—his is the oldest act in the show-business book. Minstrelsy dates back to the very beginnings of American popular music, and Jews have been particularly zealous and successful practitioners of the art. From Irving Berlin's blackface ragtime numbers to jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who passed as black, to Bob Dylan, who channeled the cadences of black bluesmen, to the Beastie Boys, successive generations of Jewish musicians have used the blackface mask to negotiate Jewish identity and have made some great art in the process...[Matsayihu's act is] an ingenious variation on the archetypal Jewish blackface routine, immortalized in The Jazz Singer (1927), when the immigrant striver Jolson put on blackface to cast off his Jewish patrimony and become American. In 2006, Matisyahu wears Old World "Jewface," and in so doing, becomes "black."
..............................
And there are more layers to Matisyahu's act. Musically speaking, Jewish reggae is not such a far-fetched idea; as many critics have pointed out, the plaintive minor-key melodies for which Jewish liturgical music (and Hasidic folksongs) are renowned are also staples of reggae. What's more, Matisyahu's appropriation of Jamaican music is really no more brazen than Rastafarians' appropriation of Jewish religious tropes. If a Caribbean islander can plunder Jewish scripture and call himself a lost tribesman of Israel, why can't a Jew sing a song to a one-drop beat in a phony patois? Lubavitcher Hasidim even have their very own Hallie Selassie-like demigod, the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who many Lubavitchers regard as Moshiach himself.
..............................
[Matisyahu's] emphasis on self-actualization and uplift, combined with his ceaseless diatribes about the moral impurity of secular life, is reminiscent of nothing so much as Christian rock. It's a reminder that Orthodox Jewish fundamentalists share a lot with their Christian counterparts, including political priorities—and that there's no one quite so beloved of the "Left Behind" crowd these days as Orthodox Jews, whose in-gathering in Israel is essential stage setting for the coming of the Rapture. (At which point, presumably, Jews will be cast into the hellfire.) As if to make explicit the burgeoning alliance, Matisyahu recently recorded "Roots in Stereo," a duet with evangelical rap-rockers P.O.D. It's a cruddy piece of music and, as politics, it can't be good for the Jews.
Quote:
Originally posted by zoney!
He has been discussed in HERE in Bang and Clatter
I'm tempted to move this into B&C for just that reason, however since I don't have mod status there I wouldn't be able to merge the two threads, and I don't really want to create extra work for the B&C mods. But yes, ideally, threads about musicians, actors, movies etc. in FYM should be reserved for discussing their social/cultural/political aspects, not their artistic merits.

It's no biggie though.
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Old 03-30-2006, 08:48 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by joyfulgirl
However, I like that he's out that;
I meant out there

Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
late music critic Jody Rosen had some interesting things to say recently about the sociocultural aspects of Matisyahu's act:

[Matisyahu's] emphasis on self-actualization and uplift, combined with his ceaseless diatribes about the moral impurity of secular life, is reminiscent of nothing so much as Christian rock.
Interesting article. A friend and I had also made the Christian rock analogy and I think it's one reason why I'm a bit put off by him. Still, as I said, it's cool that he's out there and that he has an audience for his message.
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Old 03-30-2006, 10:40 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland

I'm tempted to move this into B&C for just that reason, however since I don't have mod status there I wouldn't be able to merge the two threads, and I don't really want to create extra work for the B&C mods. But yes, ideally, threads about musicians, actors, movies etc. in FYM should be reserved for discussing their social/cultural/political aspects, not their artistic merits.

It's no biggie though.
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Old 03-31-2006, 08:36 AM   #13
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I posted it here because I was interested in the juxtaposition of the religious aspects of Hasidic Judaism with someone having a career like that in music. I have never heard of a Hasidic Jew being in any kind of mainstream music, I would think that would be frowned upon so to speak. Also I am interested in Hasidic Judaism in general, if anyone knows about it I'd love to hear about it I would assume his attitudes about women are reflective of Hasidic Judaism's beliefs, if anyone knows about that as well.
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Old 03-31-2006, 11:55 AM   #14
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This'll teach you better than to ask me broad questions about Judaism.

I'm not quite sure what to say regarding the comments about Matisyahu's views on women, as I'm unclear on what's specifically being referred to there. So far as I know, there's nothing conventionally misogynistic about his lyrics, videos, stage shtick, etc. Perhaps the reference is to his widely-reported refusal to stage dive into mixed-sex audiences, or to shake the hands of female fans. This is indeed typical of ultra-Orthodox Jews like the Hasidim, though the absolutely-no-physical-contact-between-the-sexes rule *usually* applies only to unmarried folks (like Matisyahu). I'll spare you a boring recap of the relevant Talmudic passages, but suffice to say the essential purpose of this is to facilitate modesty, not because women are seen as dirty or polluting or whatever. For similar reasons, *most* Orthodox synagogues have separate men's and women's sections with a partition between the two. A more problematic tradition, however, is one that forbids women specifically from singing or dancing before a mixed-sex audience, on the grounds that men (but not women, apparently--something I firmly disagree with) might *gasp* be momentarily distracted from higher purposes by the sight of an attractive opposite-sex specimen. And for that reason, we are unlikely to see a rabinically-approved female Matisyahu anytime soon.

As far as Hasidim in mainstream music being frowned upon, well yes that is probably generally true, however once you know that Matisyahu belongs to the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim, it all makes a bit more sense. See below...

:sliding into hardcore lecture mode now:

The Hasidim (Hebrew for, roughly, "saintly ones") trace their origins to the early-18th-century Polish mystic Israel ben Eliezer, aka the Ba'al Shem Tov ("Master of the Holy Name")--or Besht, to his followers. At a time when mainstream Orthodoxy tended to glorify rabbis who demonstrated legal sophistry and an encyclopedic knowledge of Talmud above all else, the Besht took pride in being a humble laborer and simple teacher who emphasized developing a deeply personal relationship to God and one's fellow man, rather than pious adherence to every last letter of the law. He advocated a relaxed attitude towards observance of prayer times, fasting, and the appreciation of wordly pleasures, fearing that such ascetic tendencies would render worship melancholy and devoid of the spirit of joy necessary for it to bear fruit. Then as now, Hasidic services were renowned for the extravagant physicality of their worshippers, with joyous dancing and shouting (as opposed to the more restrained swaying and murmuring of mainstream Orthodox) much in evidence.

While the Besht himself cannot really be credited with this, another distinguishing feature of the Hasidim is the reverence and adulation accorded their tzaddikim or rabbis. Of the Besht's successor, Dov Baer, one follower said, "I didn't go to him to learn Torah, but to see him unbuckle his shoes"--an exaggeration, obviously, but a pointed one. Again uniquely, the tzaddikate is an inherited position within Hasidism; while tzaddiks do study for semikha (rabbinic ordination) like other rabbis, ultimately they "earn" their positions through membership in family "dynasties" stretching back many generations.

Now, the Lubavitchers--Matisyahu's sect--are the most prominent Hasidim in the US today. They trace their origins back to late 18th century Russia, and while their last "dynastic" rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (served 1950-1994; see slate reference above) died childless--meaning no more tzaddiks--they have nonethless continued on. Schneerson was a vigorous reformer, and a "revivalist" of sorts; he developed for his followers a mission of "proselytizing" to nonobservant Jews, and fostering a renewed commitment to observant Jewish life in other ways. The signature feature--or at least the most notorious one--of this project is the "Mitzvah Mobile" vans (no, I'm not kidding) that cruise Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and elsewhere, buttonholing nonobservant-looking Jewish men in the streets and inviting them into the van to don tefillin (that's those leather straps containing Torah passages we wear when we pray) and to recite prayers with them. They're also the folks behind those "Jewish women/girls remember to light Sabbath candles..." blurbs you may have noticed on the bottom front page of every Friday's New York Times. Under Schneerson's guidance, they also developed the very familiar (to Jews) network of "Chabad Houses," which fund and offer everything from mikveh (ritual baths) for poor Jewish communities to drug-rehabilitation programs.

The Hasidim in general are also known for some other beliefs rather unique within Judaism, such as reincarnation (though not all of them believe in this) and a strong faith in the eventual coming of the Messiah (theoretically a staple Jewish belief, but historically one which most Jews have regarded with skeptical shrugs). And as the slate article mentions, many Lubavitchers came to regard Schneerson himself as the Messiah, which led to a crisis of sorts when he died (with many ultimately coming to the rationalization that he will--someday--return).

For these and various other reasons, many non-Hasidic American Jews--particularly among the Orthodox--regard the Hasidim as being more than a bit "out there." These tensions peaked in the late 1980s, when many American Hasidim outraged other American Jews by vigorously lobbying for Israel's now-infamous "Who is a Jew?" law.

Ironically, although they started out as seemingly hippie-ish revolutionaries, the Hasidim today have become virtually synonymous with exactly what they once opposed: an old-guard-conservative, Talmud-obsessed reactionary stance (at least in the minds of most other American Jews). To a point, the Lubavitchers are seen as an exception to this...but only to a point. A bit, perhaps, like the way the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas--a bona fide rebel in his day, a man who had to get his doctorate under armed guard because so many fellow Catholics despised his "heresy" in fusing Christian doctrine with "pagan" Aristotelian thought--have now become similarly synonymous with rigid adherence to tradition and an aversion to reform.

Aaaand...for a far more enjoyable window into Hasidic life, history and relationships with other Jews than what I've just provided, I highly recommed Chaim Potok's classic novel The Chosen and its sequel, The Promise.
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Old 03-31-2006, 12:42 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland

Perhaps the reference is to his widely-reported refusal to stage dive into mixed-sex audiences, or to shake the hands of female fans. This is indeed typical of ultra-Orthodox Jews like the Hasidim, though the absolutely-no-physical-contact-between-the-sexes rule *usually* applies only to unmarried folks (like Matisyahu). I'll spare you a boring recap of the relevant Talmudic passages, but suffice to say the essential purpose of this is to facilitate modesty, not because women are seen as dirty or polluting or whatever.
I think it's also important to note that it works both ways (and correct me if I'm wrong because I'm not Jewish but this is my understanding)...it's not just that Hasidic men don't shake hands with women, but Hasidic women don't shake hands with men either.

Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
The Hasidim in general are also known for some other beliefs rather unique within Judaism, such as reincarnation (though not all of them believe in this)
Wow, now that's revelation. I had no idea.

Thanks, yolland.
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