Op-Ed: An Open Letter to Matisyahu

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matisyahuDear Matisyahu,

The reports, have been a bit devastating. First came the beard. Now, it seems, your appearances are sans Yarmulkah.

What happened?

We were, for a while, so proud of you. Here was a powerful entertainer, filled with talent, and unabashed in his Judaism. Unabashed, as well, in his Hasidic deportment. And filled with a spiritual energy of which the secular world took note.

The beard. The peyos and black Yarmulkah. The tzitzis out and flying as you danced to the tunes that underscored Jewish spirituality.

True, reggae music is not to everyone’s tastes, but the gentile world was now exposed to a thinking – a philosophy not heard from before. You had exposed a small, yet discernible, ray of the light of Chassidus to a different world. True, it was a world that had gone mad, but nonetheless, the notion of spreading Hasidic light was, in a sense, coming alive in you.

Your religious fans loved you. Those with a similar physical appearance to you, finally, had recognition. No longer did they receive bizarre looks in the street from those never exposed to such dress. They had a Matisyahu out there. Ambassador to the world.

But then, something happened. Something may have changed within you. You went native.

At first your religious fans were in denial. It was just the beard. But now the Yarmulkah too has gone.

Perhaps it can be said that you are emblematic of the Jewish nation. Once, so lofty and spiritually mighty – and now, perhaps a temporary fall.
We search for clues in your words. Hoping. Praying. Don’t turn your back and what you have done. We hope that, like the moon, with which the nation of Israel is compared to, you will perhaps rise to your spiritual glory, again.

You mentioned once that we have not seen the last of your facial hair. Yes, you may argue that these are symbols.

But symbols do matter. And Yarmulkas too – do matter.

They indicate that no matter how successful we may have become, there is still a King above us that controls it all. They indicate that we are genuinely proud of who we are and our role here in this world.

Matisyahu. Matisyahu. Your Rabbinic advisors were perhaps imbued with a prescient knowledge. They told you to keep the name Matisyahu, even though the name given at your bris was Feivish Hershel. Matisyahu the father of the Maccabees led the cry of “Mi Lashem Ailai – whomsoever is for Hashem, the G-d of Israel, come to me..” Perhaps, they felt, the name would help you meet the challenges of stardom.

Matisyahu. Come back. Plain and simple. We need you. Every Jew is likened to a limb, or an organ, on the body of collective Israel. What would life be like without an arm, an ear, or a leg?

What would the world be like without that orthodox Chasidic entertainer who once took the world by a storm?

It is time, once again to hear your sweet voice packaged again in the uniform of all that we hold dear. The Yarmulkah, the beard, the payos and the Tzitzis a’flyin.

There is a famous Rabbinic authority that seemed to have dissented from the traditional view regarding King David. The Talmud tells us that anyone who claims that David sinned is only from those who make an error.

Writes the Rabbinic commentator, “And I am from those who make an error. Why? Because if those that will fall in the future do not know that one can still pick themselves up and author a work like the Book of Psalms we are lost.”

Matisyahu, the future path lies before you. Come back to your roots. Your birthright. And write the songs that make the world whole. Bring back the Yarmulkah. The payos. The beard and those wonderful reminders of the 613 commandments – the Tzitiz a flyin’.

May Hashem help you make the right decision.

Rabbi Yair Hoffman


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  1. A touching letter that we hope will hit home.. I feel badly for his wife and children. Maybe they’ll show it to him and help bring him back.

  2. Chassidus teaches that removing even one small iota of avodah from one’s life or lifestyle is fraught with great danger, and can unknowingly become the small stone that starts an avalanche. Or in today’s parlance — a slippery slope.

  3. Torah reveals itself and Matisyahu is not a brick in the soul of the jewish nation that the men and women had wished upon that star he would become.

  4. I think this writer is making a mistake.

    I do not think this “singer” was ever frum. He spent his time in places no frum person should ever walk into. He threw himself into the crowds. He was a terrible role model for our children, and brought down the level of “Jewish” music in irreparable way.

    He was a reggae singer wearing a costume. It was probably an attention-getting tactic. It worked. He get our attention. He sang by Hasc, and his style music, unfortunately, became accepted as Jewish.

    I also hope he comes back. I wish every Yid would be shomer Torah U’mitzvos. But now I told my children “I told you so! I told you that this style is not Jewish. I yold you it is not good for your Neshama. Never be fooled by a beard. If it doesn’t sound Jewish, it probably is not!”

    We all have a lesson to learn here…

  5. Rabbi Hoffman, I am not sure which planet you are living on, but from day one I knew he was fake and no representation of Orthodox jewry whatsoever. The same way the Neturei Karta prance around in Chassidic Garb and claim to represent Orthodox Jewry yet we know that to be far from the truth, Mattisyahu may have been dressed as a Orthodox Jew but his appearances in treif venues sealed the deal for me

  6. For those of us who never got caught up with the exciting, yet worthless talents of this singer, his “fall” is of no consequence. Ignore him, you should never have paid any attention to him.

  7. we will preach to the boys “we know you want to change, so you do all these external things, like payot and the like, but this is what will happen if you don’t fix the inside first”

  8. Nice try! When asked, what is the reason I love Hashem, my response was, I do not have a reason, because if I did, if that reason of Ahava is no longer there, I will loose that Ahava. Matisyahu, unfortunately had a reason to bring him to where he was. Which was obviously flawed. He must have lost that reason & reverted back to what he was. May Hashem Help Matisyahu, to love without a reason, which will then bring back forever. Rabbi Hoffman, there are a lot of people out there wearing Tzitis, Pay’os & Beards, which without TRUE Ahavas Hashem, it is only a costume.

  9. We’ve assimilated. This article is “living proof” of it. Reggae isn’t even “Jewish” music – and yet we are happy and proud that someone with a beard and yarmulkeh succeeds at it? Becomes a celebrity?

    Oh, it’s only the young people? I have nothing against him as a person, but what he symbolizes is terrifying.

    What are we doing wrong? How can we change before we become empty symbols of a ruchnius that has gone?

  10. I could see this coming. The moment he went away from his home label, he turned. Too much secular influence, too much of a good thing.

    I have his first two CD’s, can’t bear to listen to them right now though.

    Please come back.

  11. You complain to Matis like he is your son. You say that you once had hope because someone from your community is a star. Rise up and be that star yourself… You don’t need a famous person to make you feel good about who you are, just learn to appreciate yourself.

    Once you find God, you will no longer stress about a man shaving his beard and taking off his yarmulke.

  12. Sorry Rabbi Hoffman, if he keeps up his lifestyle as a performer, I prefer he goes (stays) fraay. There was nothing remotely jewish about his performances, he was not a kiddush h-shem. Frankly I believe he is a lost soul seeking spirituality and he fell into the wrong crowd and was misguided by the people who encouraged him to continue his music career rather than encouraging him to learn & strengthen his yiddishkeit. There is no way any frum yid can perform before the crowds he performed before and remain properly frum especially someone so weak in his commitment & knowledge of basic yiddishkeit. Also like so many others he was taught chasidus rather than basic yiddishkeit “ain am ho’oretz chosid”

  13. First of all, we don’t know where exactly Mattisyahu is holding. We aren’t in his head.

    Second, I don’t think Mattisyahu was faking his teshuvah. That’s not a fair accusation, #8 & #9. However, lots of frum musicians firmly ensconced in frum environments have been somewhat influenced by the non-Jewish musicians from whom they borrow — kal v’chomer if one is immersed in a non-Jewish musical environment as Mattisyahu has been. It’s a big challenge. No one can keep the initial flame of teshuvah in such an environment.

    Thirdly, most people experience different phases in their frumkeit. We concentrate on different mitzvos at different times. Sometimes we’re on fire, sometimes we’re numb, and sometimes we’re in between. People move from LA to Lakewood in a zeal of super-kollel life, or vice versa for some breathing space. BTs have more freedom to make changes to suit their family’s needs because they don’t have a community or extended family pressuring them (their extended family already thinks they’re crazy).

    Mattisyahu is very public, so his phases are very public. The letter is very sincere & heartfelt. It probably should have been sent privately rather than posted publicly.

    Finally, I question the importance of his alleged impact. Was anyone influenced to become frum as a result of Mattisyahu’s example? I haven’t heard any such story. Did anyone start keeping Shabbos as a result of Joe Lieberman? Has anyone come to Neve or Ohr Sameach or even bentsch-lichted with more kavanah after watching the Maccabeats Chanukah video? Frum celebrities get a lot of hype and fawning, but their impact on others’ actual mitzvah observance is generally minimal. A good morah, rebbi, or Shabbos host & hostess are tons more effective.

    The initial reaction to the existence of a Chassidic reggae star was overhyped and the current reaction to his actions are also overhyped.

  14. We are never in a place to judge a fellow Jew. Ever. Ever. Please refrain from posting negative comments or questioning anyone’s previous commitments. Becoming shomer shabbos is never easy for anyone.

    That said, we can be concerned and we can daven. We can try to support and inspire. This isn’t cause for yelling or accusing, it’s a time to wonder why we couldn’t keep this bright light lit. What did we as a community do that we could improve, to make it easier for BTs to integrate to be accepted and to stay?

  15. Personally, I rather this than singing like a goy with a beard and payos.

    I resent some of the other raPpers who try their best to be goyish but wouldn’t touch their beard and payos – what’s the point? why do you ensist on confusing our kids????

  16. The reality is he was being used – yes, USED – from the get-go. It wasn’t primarily about what was good for him as a person, an individual, as a Jew. It was about “spreading the word” through him. It was about feeling “good” between the gentiles through him (“look, we’re good at your cultural stuff”).

    therefore, his garb wasn’t “real”. It wasn’t who was culturaly. His friends, crowds and role-models, at all levels, were reggae singers and their crowds.

    So, he was too big a fish to pass on. And now he fell. Oh had people only truly cared about and what’s best for his Neshamah, what could have been?!

    now hea fallen from a higher place. But it’s not a Chillul Hashem. It ends the it!!

    May Hashem have mercy on all His children.

  17. If you really have come to know the music of Matisyahu, then you also have come to love the man.

    Beautiful letter Rabbi Hoffman!

  18. i hope he makes the right decison:) yasher koach to the one who wrote this letter. it’s unbelievable to see how much you care for every jewish neshama!

  19. The issue whether his music is “kosher” or not should be put aside for the moment.
    Rather we should focus (and this is what i think R’ Hoffman is trying to do) on trying to return a jewish neshama to its original and proper roots.
    But, R’ Hoffman, why is matisyahu only deserving of such a letter ? What about all the other jews, young and old, modern, litvish, and chasidish who have gone astray ? Aren’t they deserving such a letter as well ? A letter full of warmth and longing for the return of a jewish neshama ?
    I hope to see such an “Open Letter” for those people as well in the near future, and to see moshiach in the even nearer future.

  20. everybody stop judging the man, he’s struggled with his religious beliefs for many years, clearly he still is struggling, so judging isnt gonna do anything. Unless any of you know him personally, mind your own business, he’s under the radar as it is.

  21. No one, even a performer, has to “live up” to the stupid, immature ideals that Rabbi Hoffman wrote. Nowhere did Hoffman display in any way concern for Matisyahu, the person. He kept ranting about what Matisyahu is to him, to others etc. That’s their fault, not Matisyahu’s. He’s a person going through a very difficult time. Show compassion and concern for him; don’t use him for your own purposes.
    Hoffman’s missive certainly would not have influenced me to stay frum or to even want to experience such a phoney lifestyle. Hoffman blew it!

  22. His music did have a connection with the frei Jews. My cousins who are not frum loved his music and would listen and sing his songs all day.My cousins would sing ‘let my prayers rise up” isntead of the regular trash they use to listen to.In a way my cousin saw that to you can be frum and cool.Now I hope my cousin dosen’t see religous Judisam as something that a person can’t really keep. My cousin had the inklings of being very intrested in Yiddishkiet.For frum people maybe matisyahu didn’t make an impact on your life, but for my frei cousins it did!

  23. to #34
    My point is not to talk about the standard of Matisyahu’s music-i am not here to encourge or discourge anyone from listening to non jewish music.Trust me Matisyahu’s music is harmless compared to the non- jewish music trash out there .The non jewish music is full of nivul peh and znus( besides the kol isah factor) and immoral and violent messages.
    Nor was my point to make my non frum cousin feel good.
    Matisyahu’s music inspired my cousin with ideas of yiddishkiet
    My point is that his music was a great kiruv tool a lot of non frum people could relate to matisyahu and the idea of being frum wasn’t such a foreign concept.His music may not have been a typical frum person’s style of music- however his first few albums had Jewish themes and messages- emunah, longing for moshiach,ect.

    The fact that that Rabbi Hoffman had to write a letter based on what transpired is very sad- the whole Matisyahu situation is!

  24. To #37. #36 is correct. And I’d like to add that jewish themes don’t either make the music jewish.
    No need to compare his music to non-jewish music (who’s is better or worse). If it’s not good then we must condemn it period.
    As far as most of us are concerned his (STYLE) music is trash and of no good for good jewish people.

  25. Are you serious? That was honestly the craziest letter I ever heard. I agree with number 5, who said to leave the guy alone.

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