Trials of a Hasidic Rapper

By Forward Staff

Published March 24, 2006, issue of March 24, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Music fans seem thrilled with Chabad-Lubavitch singing sensation Matisyahu; his new album, “Youth,” debuted at number four on the Billboard 200. Critics, on the other hand, are a tough bunch: Some complain that he’s not black, while others say he has betrayed his Jewish ideals.

On the day after his album’s release, The New York Times ran a withering review covering both the new album and a recent live show. The basic gist: Don’t let the black hat fool you; this guy’s as white as a ghost. “He is… a white reggae singer with an all-white band, playing (on Monday night, anyway) to an almost all-white crowd,” Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh wrote. And not only is the singer a cheap substitute for the real deal, Sanneh wrote, but his music is, too. “Perhaps Matisyahu’s fans aren’t familiar with a little-known group of performers who still make great reggae records: Jamaicans.”

Just a few days later, the rapper became the victim of a critical barrage of a different sort. Taking a page from the classic script of the breakout star, he dropped the producers who’d helped launch his career — JDub Records co-founders Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris — and signed on with Gary Gersh, the manager credited with steering Nirvana to superstardom.

JDub’s Bisman threatened to sue. “We in no way are out to harm Matisyahu,” he told Billboard, “but we can’t just sit and take this. We have a contract and a longstanding relationship.”

But in the eyes of some, Matisyahu’s sins go far beyond mere breach of contract. After reading of the singer’s decision to leave JDub, Daniel Sieradski, editor of the Web log Jewschool.com, called him “a false prophet… who traded in his most devout ‘true believers’ merely to maximize his cash flow potential.”

In the days that followed, Sieradski, who writes under the nom de blog Mobius, expanded his critique to include the singer’s boosters. “What’s interesting to me about most people’s defenses of [Matisyahu’s] actions,” he wrote, “is their blatant hypocrisy, picking and choosing when halakha [rabbinic law] is relevant. If he broke Shabbos and performed on Friday night, everyone would throw a… fit. But when he violates halakha pertaining to business ethics, no one seems to care.”

Not black enough for the music critics, not pious enough for his Jewish critics. Where does that leave the beleaguered rapper? On top of the charts.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.