Formerly Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu participated in a candid interview with CNN, discussing his departure from observant Jewish life and his connection to his religion.
Just following the release of his album “Spark Seeker”, and a year after he shaved off his beard and publicized it in a controversial Twitter post, Matisyahu said that even though he no longer lives according to Torah laws, he is still as Jewish as ever.
“Judaism is just such a huge part of who I am. I don’t think I could separate that at this point,” Matisyahu told CNN. “I spent 10 years sort of really immersed heavily in the practice and in the study of Judaism. ..it’s still such a part of me that it’s inescapable.”
Regarding his departure from Chassidism which began with his abandonment of the Chabad movement, Matisyahu said “I started out in the Chabad movement, and I started pretty closed up, with the idea of there being that “this is it.” I bought into that fully. I really explored in depth the Chabad ideology. Then I started to open up. … I started to explore other types of Hasidism. … Eventually I began to regain trust into my own intuition and my own sense of right and wrong. I began to realize that there were a lot of things within that lifestyle that were actually holding me back…. and keeping me from tasting a certain freedom of expression.”
When pressed, he said that he ultimately walked away from Orthodox Judaism because “When I’m talking about all the heaviness, I’m really talking about the rules. So at a certain point … I basically said, “I don’t need to do all these things. It’s my life, I can choose how I want to worship God, what words I want to say. I can say less words.” And once I let go of that, just sort of like a freedom that opened up that I began to taste, this freedom in my life that I had been missing.”
Matisyhau said that the professional implications of shaving his beard – a decision he came to over the course of years – did not concern him, as he believed in the power of his music, and said he did not believe he had garnered fans because of the beard. He did, however, say the beard helped “put me on the map and get me attention”.
Matisyahu said he tells his three children that “nobody knows the way” when it comes to religion, and that while teachers and others may represent Judaism as encompassing Torah laws, “you have to decide in your life what’s real for you”. While he infuses their lives with elements of Judaism which are “enriching and meaningful”, he does not remind the children to do things like wear a kippah or say blessings on food.