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Matisyahu: Rabbi or Rebel?
By Levi Brackman
Matisyahu is now an international phenomenon; he is a reggae singer with a difference. Instead of dreadlocks he sports a trilby. His beard is predicated on the Kabbalists' theosophy instead of Rastafarian tradition and his clothing places him in an Ultra Orthodox Jewish enclave rather than a black ghetto. This week he released his latest CD entitled YOUTH and it seems that Matisyahu's tremendous success so far is about to reach unprecedented heights. Predictably, this man's singing antics are deeply controversial.
Many have asked the following questions. Is it correct for a Chassidic Jew to be singing in clubs and bars? Is Matisyahu using his talent to bring Godliness to the profoundly unGodly and thus sanctifying God's name or is he achieving the opposite?
Whereas this article is not meant to give a definitive answer to these questions it does, however, endeavor to explain what motivates a Chassidic Jew like Matisyahu to perform in a bar and club.
There is a fundamental difference between the Kabbalistic and the non-Kabbalistic views of Judaism. Up until the French Revolution in 1789, society was divided into three groups: the church, the aristocracy and the peasants. In the terminology of the post-modern French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the landowners and the church were the centre and the peasants were the periphery. The two did not mix. Education, money and power were restricted to the elite; the peasants enjoyed no such privileges. After the French Revolution, the periphery was also given some of the privileges that were previously the exclusive right of the centre. With this came the emancipation of the Jews. Although the landowners and the educated were still regarded as the centre, the difference now was that peasants had the possibility of entering this exclusive domain.
The post-modern era, according to Derrida, was a time of "deconstruction." All things were seen in pairs, one superior to the other: rich and poor, educated and ignorant, powerful and powerless, etc. The deconstructivist view is that rich is not necessarily superior to poor, in fact, being poor can be more advantageous. Seen from this perspective, poor is the new centre and rich is the periphery. Derrida goes one step further and says that hierarchy should not exist at all; rather, all boundaries between centre and periphery should be deconstructed.
Western society is a deconstructed civilization in many ways. Whereas in the past women were seen as inferior, today they are often regarded as superior to men. Similarly, modern human rights laws have ensured that the views of vulnerable minorities are respected and listened to.
Non-Kabbalistic Judaism, in general, does not deconstruct boundaries. According to this school of thought, the centre should be distinct from the periphery. Here we have the concept of 'enclave Judaism,' which clearly marks out the boundaries between the holy and the profane. The fact that this type of Judaism disagrees with Matisyahu's style of music and choice of audience is no surprise, for it regards the mixing of the centre with the periphery as an obvious desecration of God's name. [more]
By his own admission, Matisyahu is being guided by the Chabad School of Kabbalistic thought. Thus, as long as he adheres to Jewish law and does not get carried away with stardom and the narcissistic celebrity culture of modern-day America, his music may be considered, in my opinion, a sanctification of God's name.