Matisyahu, Say It Ain’t So

Note by the Pop Chassid:  This is a guest blog by my wife, Rivka Nehorai.  It is about a recent Chanukah video by Matisyahu.

Matisyahu-

Say it ain’t so.

Tell the farm boy in Montana, the Christian youth in Texas, tell all those people who have never met a Jew before, every Jew who has never met a Chassidic Jew before, that we are a religion, a people, that believe in dignity and refinement. We are a serious people, a beautiful people, a deep people.

Matisyahu, do you realize how much power you have?

You, with your face and your beard and your name plastered across billboards and radios in America. You are our posterchild.

We, the Jews, are not an inane, hedonistic culture, we protest. We are not a corrupt, Westernized society obsessed with sarcastic Seinfeldian escapes and flashy bar mitzvahs. We have depth, we insist. We have millenia of conversations recorded of Jewish sages formulating the most comprehensive moral code in the history of the world.

We insist this, as our posterchild dances around in the background in a Santa suit. As he mouths words to a pop beat, lying on a bed with hands between legs, swaying arrogantly. As he lies next to a man being fed grapes by a scantily clad woman. The man invites Matisyahu to a party being held at his house, promising “babes”, pointing to the woman posed invitingly next to him.

Is this what it means to live like a Jew?

It was not our bodies the Greeks desired. They wanted our souls. That wanted us to admit that nothing existed apart from the observable, physical world. That spirituality, holiness, Gd, the divinity of the Torah, was a myth to be stamped out of human consciousness. The night before a Jewish woman’s wedding, a Greek general would forcibly sleep with her. Jewish woman began shaving their heads in hopes of deterring the generals. What was the Greek mission? Defilement. The proposition that nothing is sacred, inherently holy. Nothing is beyond this world, nothing can exist that one’s intellect can not understand. The physical world as the ultimate and the only.

But a Jew wants to change things, challenge things. He cannot take life at face value. He cannot accept the status quo. Within him, he is driven by an intensity to, in his own way, tikkun olam the world. To bring heaven down to earth.

This was what Matisyahu- the original, Jewish warrior- was fighting for. For true freedom. For the freedom to not be self-concerned, self conscious, self- obsessed with satisfying one’s physical and emotional desires. For the freedom to fight for something outside of himself. To live for a Higher Power. For the freedom to believe that there are things that are sacred in this world. That a Jewish woman is a holy object that should not be touched.

When the Jews recovered their Temple after it was defiled by the Greeks, they found many jars of impure oil that would have been sufficient for lighting the menorah for eight days. But the Jews were not satisfied with any oil. They wanted the sanctity, the purity, of pure oil. And that one jar of pure oil , which according to the physical laws of nature should have lasted them only one day, lasted for eight. That was the miracle. That sanctity prevailed.

So say it ain’t so, Matis. Tell the farm boy in Montana, the Christian youth in Texas. The Muslim teenager nestled in downtown Detroit. Tell Ahmadinejad while you’re at it. That we are a deep people. A spiritual people. That we believe in something beyond ourselves.

You are our posterchild. You have the power to alter the world’s perception of a Jew in an instant.

Keep on doing your music, Matis. Just keep it sacred. Keep it pure. Take off that Santa suit, add more content to your music videos, delete any unnecessary sexuality, sit up straight, and show the world what it means to live like a Jew.

And this time around, tell it like it is.

  • jesse

    Marcy,

    I couldnt have said it better myself. (it probably would have been worse). The song overall was good. But I agree with you about the video, probably could have been done in better taste.

  • Bentzy

    Great post. It almost feels like his video is a reflection of the quality of his music. The style of his early albums were defined by their genuine sound, not selling out to a pop culture that demands that a song be one that you can shake your ass to. Since signing that big contract with Sony, his music has progressively trended towards a sound that can be blasted at a nightclub. He seems to have forgotten what it is that made him so popular, namely that soulful genuine sound of his early works. As trite as it may sound, Matisyahu has sold out.

    Say it ain’t so.

  • Meir Dovid Goldstein

    THIS VIDEO NEEDS TO BE TAKEN DOWN, MATIS LISTEN TO YOUR LYRICS FROM “Shake of the Dust… Arise” MY BROTHER DON’T LET THE YETZER HARA GET YOU, BRO IT GOT YOU AND IT GOT YOU GOOD, A LONG TIME AGO, GO BACK TO TANYA, PICK OUT SOME LYRICS, BE A SHLIACH OF HASHEM, GIVE SOME SCHUS TO THE ALTER REBBE, NU :-/ YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO, I DONT NEED OT TELL YOU THIS… SEFER SHEL BENONI, AIM TO BE A BENONI

  • I think you hit the nail on the head Bentzy. But I don’t think “selling out” is the right term for anyone. When you hit the jackpot, your priorities change, if just temporarily. We are seeing the metamorphosis of Matisyahu as an individual; he just happens to be in full view of everyone. Yes, it might cheapen Judaism when he picks it up and then shucks it (even a little), but that’s why Jews don’t believe in idols, and especially American Idols. There is a truth underneath, and Matisyahu is driving to find it. Maybe he’ll get waylayed by the glitter (and wouldn’t we all, if given the chance), but he’ll come around. Perhaps not to Judaism. But it’s his journey, and he can only express what he’s experiencing at the moment. There’s no doubt that Matisyahu isn’t feeling his old fire anymore. He tried to drive on the fumes in “Youth”, and it showed. Now other people are writing his stuff and he’s living the high life. Azoi geit dus. One thing is for certain though: Faking it for public consumption doesn’t lead to anything good, (just ask Britney that).

  • David Shaffer

    If you view it as a contemporary commentary on how Judaism – as in the time of Matisyahu of Modin – is threatened by the predominant culture, it’s really a superb video.

  • Erica

    I see where Rivka is coming from. I am also not so ecstatic about the “scantily clad” women or the way he’s lying on the bed. However, I think she missed the point. First of all, the lyrics are incredibly deep. Secondly, the video is a satire. It’s a commentary on how Jews have forgotten who they are and have bought into a cheap, empty culture- the same society that has oppressed them for so many thousands of years.

    Matis isn’t stupid. The whole thing is metaphorical… santa knocking the nice jew to the ground (the nations knocking down the Jews), then matis with his “I like chocolate stuff” (buying into secular culture) – then he’s dressed as santa in jail (Jews trying to be someone they’re not, meanwhile oblivious to the fact that they’re really imprisoned by secular society), knocking down the nutcracker, tree is bulldozed (rejection of christmas), etc etc.

    That being said, he def needs to take his hands out of his crotch.

  • Gila

    erica pulled the words right outta my head. word. i can’t believe that this needs to be spelled out, that this went over the heads of really intelligent people…

    one other comment, to all the people crying “sell out.” it’s so easy for people to toss those words around, especially if they have no clue what it entails being signed to a major label. walk a day in his shoes, and let’s see if you’re so quick to assassinate his character.

  • Devorah

    What happened to the Matis that first went on the Steve Harvey show?

  • What happened to the Mattis that first aired on the Steve Harvey Show?????

  • Matt

    You got it right Erica!

    Breaking out of the Xmas cage, this video is a big slap in the face of all the non-jews out there!

    I wonder how many non-jews have heard it, watched it and didn’t get the message from it?

    most of them I guess? (and some jews too)

  • Ashira Yael

    I saw a minute of this video and with ever 5 seconds my mouth dropped lower and lower. Really not great i must admit… :\

  • Bentzy

    @ Gila, I am not sure if you saw in what context I labeled Matisyahu a sell out. I am no expert in Reggae, but for someone that calls himself a reggae singer and pretty much created his fan base through his soulful, true sound while eschewing that fake pop/shake your ass sound that is something of a disease in our culture today, this song from a pure musical perspective is a sell out. Ask Metallica fans what they think about the Black Album. Of course, I cant judge him for I don’t have the faintest idea of what it means to be famous. But this is what separates the greats and the “have been’s” of music lore, this is the test that creates legends.

  • Gila

    Bentzy – first off: sorry that this is so long!

    signing to a major label essentially puts the artist in a straightjacket. how many potentially great albums were shelved indefinitely not for lack of artistic merit but for lack of commercial viability *in the label’s opinion* – example: see fiona apple,among many many other examples.

    when you’re signed to a label, they pay for you to make the record and they dictate what ends up getting made (afterall, they’re fronting the money cuz they want it back with a fat profit). and if you want to stick to your guns and make what you love, there are many consequences (legal, financial etc). they don’t care about what makes sense – they want to know that their investment in you is profitable – aka, do what works to sell, and usually, that’s following trends. and it’s not that easy to flip the bird to the man and say “i’m an artist first.”

    matisyahu could put out “shake off the dust” because he wasn’t answering to anybody. the rules of the game change though when you’re playing with the big boys. and many artists go down the crapper when they succumb to those pressures. metallica and the black album is a great example.

    so matisyahu is on this teeny tiny tightrope of trying to take advantage of the power and perks of the label (money, audience, connections etc) to spread Torah, so he’s careful not to burn the bridges as long as he can still accomplish his goals.

    btw, changing genre has nothing to do with selling out. while i gagged when i first heard the song (disco? wth? disco?!) i didn’t immediately think “sell out.” by that logic, bob dylan “sold out” when he went electric and guess what, that’s not true. it ticked off folks from his generation, but ultimately his art withstood the test of time as great art.

    matisyahu is a tightrope walker and juggler at the same time and people who are not familar with the industry have no idea how many factors he’s dealing with, yet are quick to spew “sell out.” that was my point.

    • Joe

      Gila, what you are saying might be reasonable, if it was indeed the case that Matisyahu released “Miracle” under any major label. As far as I can tell, it was a private release and he was under no obligations from any major record label for the song. Look at the end of the music video, it lists a bunch of people in the credits, but there is no mention of Sony BMG or Epic.

      Just sayin’….

  • Bentzy

    @ Gila.

    As i mentioned before, I have no idea what it is like to be famous/signed to a multi-million deal/religious, artist. However at the end of the day Matisyahu must remember that he vaulted to stardom through fans like you and me who were attracted to his genuine musical style. I believe that as an artist you have to sing music that is true to who you are as an artist and not what the music execs make you play. I personally could care less for reggae and consider myself a cross-genre music fan, but its fairly apparent to many that “Miracle” and much of the “light” album lack that authentic sound that differentiated his music with most of the hacks that get their songs played on “Hit stations” regularly.

    “I think the vast majority of people that respect what I do are willing to move with me. I think it’s not so much about genres or styles of music as it is about expressing the emotion or the idea. … Whatever allows you to do that, whatever style, as long as it’s authentic.” – Matisyahu

    I and many others feel as though his music has lost his authenticity both in style and content.

    Of course the Sony execs could care less for authenticity, and are all about the bottom line, but as I said before that is what differentiates real artists and those that sell their “soul” for some more money and fame. Are you going to create music that will make you money and give you hits, or will you say true to the music that gave you that deal, and more importantly is real.

  • Alan W

    Just to make one correction the girl in the video is dressed in accordance with halacha while the lighting makes it hard to tell she is wearing a white shell under the dress this can be seen at 44-49 seconds in and again at 1:13 you can she her sleeves reach her rists, let’s please try and be dan lekaf zechus

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  • A few words on the intention of the Matisyahu blog-

    The intent of the blog was to encourage Jewish Musicians, artists, creators, to continue upholding a high standard in their work. The intent was NOT, Gd forbid, for this to be a public bashing of Matisyahu.But it was for a purpose- a call to action. A call for the Jewish community to speak up, speak to him, and demand the quality that we deserve.

    A Jewish artistmust know the power of their projections of the Jewish image. Most of the world meets and gets their knowledge of Jews and Judaism through the media. And in case you haven’t been tapped into world opinion, not every country/ person is impressed by the refinement of the Jewish people. Whatever Matisyahu says/does impacts the Jewish image around the world. And this is a very serious responsibility. Therefore, everything must be carefully measured.

    We cannot afford for the world to get confused by a music video. We cannot afford not to speak up.

    All of Israel is responsible for one another. Make the message clear to everyone, not just those who are familiar with the Hanukkah story . As Matt asked above, how many people really “got it”?

    Do it for us I say. Do it out of respect for us. The whole world is watching.

    That’s all I’m saying. All I’m saying is that if anyone can do it, a Jew can do it. I’m not putting this out there so we can call him a sell out ( I must personally admit that I DO like his new song and I do enjoy his use of different genres and encourage him to continue spreading light in whichever rhythm he finds compelling and powerful). I am putting this out there so we can stand behind him, but not stand behind him b/c we have compassion that “oh it’s so hard to be a rockstar…” but real compassion in which we see the strength within him to rise up. Seriously, if he’s lasted this long, he’s got it in him.

    No matter how hard he is trying, we still have the right to ask him to try harder. To believe in him, that he can stand up to the pressure. That he can hold his own. If we don’t believe he can do it, how can he believe in himself? If we don’t ask him to take his hand out of his crotch, who will?!

    All of Israel is responsible for one another. So Matis, just say it ain’t so. Make your music videos radiate Jewish holiness. We’ve got your back.

  • Hypofx

    Music is not like halacha, but still think for a chassidic jew this attitude is more like goyish, So for me Avraham Fried Mordechai Ben David are much much better not only becasue the music but for a representative person who stands out front of lot of peolpe….to symbolize a religious jew these people better.
    But like i sad music is not halacha, you can pick your favourite,