(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’ll never forget turning on my computer yesterday. I’ll never forget looking at
the screen and the multiple Facebook messages asking if I’d seen “the picture.”
I had no idea what they were talking about.
When I finally had a look, I
had trouble understanding it. What was the big deal? Some flat-looking dude with
another one of those “mirror” pictures. Okay. Big deal.
Then I looked at
the comments, and they were all talking about Matisyahu. About shaving. About
the beard. About the peyot (sidelocks).
And I realized the man staring at
me with the sad, calm eyes was the very same man they were speaking about:
Matisyahu. And my heart sank.
All this happened in the space of a minute.
The pain in my heart is still there, but not for the same reason.
first began my journey connecting to Orthodoxy, people like Matisyahu inspired
me. His story of combining the modern world with his devotion to Hashem (God)
helped me realize it was possible to keep my feet in this world while keeping my
head in the spiritual realm.
I still believe that. But it has become
clear through moments like this that this job is harder than ever. Connecting to
God while going out into the modern world is a difficult, painstaking and
grueling journey. No one better exemplifies this than Matisyahu.
pain comes, however, when a baal teshuva (“master of repentance” or repentant
Jew) who has spent his entire religious life being told that he can change the
world, that he is a representative of his people, that he has a special power to
turn the modern world into a holy place, finds out that some of the people he
thought believed in him weren’t really for him. They were for
They were for their own agenda.
For their own
The pain I feel, and so many others feel now, isn’t from
Matisyahu’s trim. It is from the reaction to it.
The shock of that has
worn off and Matisyahu has since assured us that he is simply still on his
journey, looking for the genuine Jew within. We still love him for
But others don’t. They don’t care about Matisyahu and it’s clear
they never did. They have spent their lives profiting from people like
Matisyahu, but the moment he really needed their support, they have spurned him.
One needs only to look at the article and comments on websites such as COLLive
and others to realize that while there are some people who truly care about
Matisyahu as a soul, as a breathing Jewish heart, others have brazenly decided
to spit in his face. They have taken advantage of his difficulties to push their
And then there are articles like the one that appeared in the
antireligious HEEB magazine. They have used Matisyahu’s journey to push their
own anti-religious agenda and tried to turn him into a poster boy for going “off
the derech [way]” before they’ve even heard more than a tweet from
There is a common demonimator between both groups: Both have used
Matisyahu. Today, both are trying to sell his soul like a piece of meat. Is it
any wonder he shaved his beard? I became religious because I saw how my campus
Chabad rabbi truly loved every Jew he came in contact with. How, even when a
person slandered him, his faith or Chabad, he only responded with love and
This is the main reason almost everyone that has become a religious
Jew has gone down this path. People don’t become observant because of logical
arguments or halachic debates. They become interested in religious Judaism
because someone treated them like a soul that is inextricably bound with
Now, the main reason people like Matisyahu are leaving the faith is
for the opposite reason. They realize how many people along the way have treated
them like a number.
They watch videos with dancing Jews, thinking
Orthodox Judaism is hip and cool, only to find out that the dancers were just
hired minstrels, non-religious Jews who happened to be able to
There is some good that has resulted from Matisyahu’s trim. It has
forced us to talk. It has opened the doors to true dialogue. For the first time
since his controversial Miracle video, there is real discussion going on in the
religious, baal teshuva community.
All Jews, religious or not, should
take advantage of this moment.
They should seize it and understand that
this is a defining moment in our modern history. We can either use it to bicker,
accuse and get angry with each other, or we can use it to discuss issues that
have been swept under the table for too long. The Matisyahu issues can serve as
a catalyst for asking whether we, as a community, abandon our baalei teshuva
after they have become religious.
Are the methods we use to attract
people to Orthodoxy genuine, or are they shallow marketing gimmicks that will
come back to bite us later? Are we more interested in the people we are dealing
with or in our own agendas?
It is not until we answer these important questions
that we will be able to answer the real issues that “the picture” has presented
us with. It is not until we examine ourselves deeply as a people that anything
truly will be resolved for us as a movement. And it is not until we admit that
we are partly at fault that people like Matisyahu will feel safe enough to truly
develop as Jews and as people in a genuine way. Full beards or no beards.