The Shave Heard ‘Round the World

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This morning, Matisyahu shaved his beard.

Matisyahu, the self-proclaimed chasidic reggae pop-star, has always identified as an orthodox, chasidic Jew since his rise to stardom almost a decade ago. His signature look was that of a chasidic man. He had an untrimmed beard, long side locks and wore the chasidic garb. All of this while singing songs that made it on the pop charts.

Matisyahu explained his sudden departure from religiously inspired hirsute facial hair maintenance:

No more Chassidic reggae superstar.

Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality–not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity…to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules–lots of them–or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.

Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry…you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair. – Matisyahu

Many people interpreted this as a departure from orthodox Judaism. They felt that this meant that Matisyahu was reverting to his pre-orthodox Jewish lifestyle and would no longer identify as an orthodox Jew. Heeb Magazine made this point in the most cynical way possible.

After an Internet firestorm, Matisyahu clarified his newfound religious freedom with a more careful statement:

For all of those who are being awesome, you are awesome. For all those who are confused: today I went to the Mikva and Shul just like yesterday.

So, it seems that all the bellyaching and nervous twitching over losing the one and only orthodox Jewish pop star and the first since my friend Evan from Evan and Jaron paved the way for Matisyahu, was premature and overly judgmental.

This leads me to two less than obvious thoughts. (I’ll save the obvious thoughts for the obvobloggers. You know who you are.)

First, Matisyahu must think that non-chasidic orthodox Judaism (NCOJ) has less rules than chasidic orthodox Judaism (COJ). This is not necessarily the truth. What is true is that COJ has more rules about appearance and external practices than NCOJ. Further, NCOJ is adopting more and more of the COJ appearances and rules on appearance.

By and large, I think this is a fair distinction. COJ glamorizes a certain mode of dress and appearance as holy. NCOJ also glamorizes a certain mode of dress and appearance as holy but it is less distinctive and less sharply enforced. So I hope Matisyahu is not too disappointed with NCOJ when it comes to appearances. That is, unless he will be self-identifying as Modern Orthodox or a Yekke. Those two groups are the least concerned with external appearances within the orthodox Jewish spectrum.

Second, the beard. To some, especially those in the COJ community, the beard is holy. It has religious significance. It is not to be touched by human hand, scissor, shaver, razor or garden shears. This idea is based on mystical teachings and kabbalah. This religiously inspired love for man-hair contributed to the shocking, but brief image of a religiously shattered Matisyahu. One blogger announced that he was “off the derech” because he had shaved.

When Matisyahu announced he had shaved, I was actually proud of him. To me, it meant that he was thinking critically about his Judaism and felt a beard was not necessary or integral to his love and service of God. I agree.

Beards in orthodox Judaism are a funny thing. They mean a lot to some people. But really they mean nothing at all. A beard does not make someone holy. A holy person does not need a beard to be complete. Let’s not forget that a beard is simply just that, a beard. The Torah prohibits destroying one’s facial hair. This law is similar to the law prohibiting cutting one’s self or getting a tattoo. Using a scissor or similar mechanism to trim or shave one’s beard is not a violation of law or the spirit of the law.

The emphasis placed on things of lesser importance is common in all forms of orthodox Judaism. It can be a harmful force if it causes us to lose sight of what truly is important. If Matisyahu can show non-Jews that being an orthodox Jew is a beautiful life let us hope he can also show orthodox Jews that even a beardless man can live a beautiful life as well.

Links: Matisyahu’s Blog, Heeb

  • This is the best article I’ve read about Matisyahu today.  Thank you.  

    • Thank you. I appreciate it.

  • “Beards in orthodox Judaism are a funny thing. They mean a lot to some people. But really they mean nothing
    at all…”

    Incorrect. Please read the following links:

    http://classic.frumteens.com//topic.php?topic_id=386&forum_id=33&topic_title=payos+and+beards&forum_title=halachah+vs.+hashkafa&M=0&S=1

    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=49046&st=&pgnum=19

    http://www.koshershaver.info/

  • Excellent post! Most people appear to be condemning Matisyahu and you have provided a much needed, balanced message.

  • Anonymous

    I agree.

    But someone needs to tell him that MO (or even RWMO or Yekke, etc) don’t go to the mikvah everyday! 🙂

    • Perhaps. But no one will kick him out of those groups for going… 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Who knows? Intolerance seems to be in vogue all over OJ 🙁

  • Rabbi Fink,

    I beg to differ with you. You write, ”
    Using a scissor or similar mechanism to trim or shave one’s beard is not a violation of law or the spirit of the law. ” The famous Sefer, Hadras Panim Zakan CLEARLY states that shaving the beard is assur al pi Torah. The Tzemach Tzedek paskins the same as do many Chassidic Rebbes. YOU may not hold this way, and that is between you and your Creator, but to claim a victory for NCOJ in the name of Matisyahu is arrogant and that’s how your statement comes off. ”
    When Matisyahu announced he had shaved, I was actually proud of him. To me, it meant that he was thinking critically about his Judaism and felt a beard was not necessary or integral to his love and service of God. I agree.”
    As an Observant Jewish actor I am not proud, in fact, I have suffered a setback. I struggle EVERYDAY with non-Jews and Jews not understanding the need for me to maintain my beard, not to mention fighting the industry standard of using Chasidic Jewish Background actors on Fridays and Saturdays and getting Kosher food on set. It’s a full time job explaining these facts to Casting and to Production associates. It became a bit easier once when Madonna announced she had “converted” and wouldn’t perform on Friday nights anymore and again when Matisyahu became famous. When non-Jews, and non observant Jews, heard this it gave my requests more credence and made my life a bit easier – for a moment. Madonna’s Judaism wasn’t real and, I fear, neither is Matisyahu’s. I may be wrong, I certainly HOPE I am wrong, but for the moment he has lost his integrity in the eyes of those who benefited by his outward display of his observance. 

    You write, “If Matisyahu can show non-Jews that being an orthodox Jew is a beautiful life let us hope he can also so orthodox Jews that even a beardless man can life a beautiful life as well.”  Let’s hope you are right. As moderator for the “Shomer Shabbos Actors of America” group on Facebook I am often asked why casting calls for Jews are always for Hasidic Jews with beards? The explaination is VERY simple – on screen, big or small, the director has about 3 seconds to establish his background shot. A clean shaven, modern orthodox Jewish man with a cute knitted Kippah on his head, perhaps with slightly longer hair, just doesn’t make the same instant impression that a Chosid with a long black coat, a beaver hat and a full beard does. It’s just that simple. This is what Matisyahu’s beard and outward appearance did for us as Jewish Artists, and Jews in general.

    I’ve had many non-Jews, especially blacks, come up to me and ask if I knew Matis, and I’ve been told how proud I should be that “one of my own” has made such a positive impression on their community.

    In the end, Matisyahu’s observance is, as it is with everyone, between him and his Creator. No matter what he decides, I wish him the best and I hope this setback to the rest of us will be overcome with ease.

    • Fouad Melamed

      so halacha follows the hassidic rebbe’s you quote? find the door to that box you are living in, and just peak out, atleast

    • makeforyourself makeforyoursel

      Thekingofbroadway

       

      “I am not proud”

       

      So you are only upset by how this affects you and your career and not that he
      is committing a biblical transgression!! Just come out. And say you are upset a
      transgression you feel all Jews who shave (me and Rabbi Fink) are violating and
      any opinion that holds otherwise is wrong as you put it. 

       

      Are you not the least bit upset  that Matisyau  has joined those who feel
      shaving with an electric shaver is 100% permitted and is not assur?

      • You have missed the whole point of what I said.
        Point 1: Shaving is NOT Halachically permitted. Some Rabbonim have given Heterim to shave in line with Jewish Law. 
        Point 2: Beards are not exclusively Chassidic, Chabad or anything other than Torah law.
        Point 3: Not upset for myself, but for all Frum performers.
        I am not upset that Matis has joined or left anything. It’s his life. I am disturbed by the impact that a Public figure has. Have you not read all the anti-semetic posts about this on secular blogs, starting with ABC, Huffington, and many many others?
        Stop hating.

        • makeforyourself makeforyoursel

          re “I am disturbed by the impact that a Public figure has”
          I have that concern about you, The Kind of Broadway spews misinformation about shaving and Jewish law.
          I think a better role model is a man (beard or no beard) davens, goes to work, comes home to his wife and kids and does it again the next day.
          Follow that advice and it wont matter what others do. Just be good yourself

          • Kind? Is that an attempt at an insult or just a show of your ignorance?
            I do not ‘spew’ misinformation, I quote Halachic authorities, which, I see, you don’t hold by. How sad again. I am the father of wonderful children, many of which have their own children, and hopefully a great role model (if I do say so myself) to them and to the hundreds of people I have taught and mentored, and continue to do so.
            So, I beg of you, do not be concerned for me, I am just fine. I don’t hate, I am disappointed as I see this a the continuation of a downfall – but I do hope I am wrong about that.

    • Your complaints are misguided. Matisyahu is still an orthodox Jew and he will still be a good representative for you and your industry.

      You are confusing beards for observance. This is a mistake.

      • I hope he is still Orthodox. It would seem from his posts that he is in a tailspin. As for my confusing beards for observance, it’s sad that you feel that way and that’s your ONLY response to my post above. What kind of ‘Rabbi’ knocks other Jews practices? Where is YOUR heter for shaving? Perhaps you asked YOUR Rav?

    • Anonymous

      Rav Moshe Feinstien would not give a Haskamah to that sefer as he said it was “sheker aleph through tuf.”

      • But Rav Moshe HAD a beard and did NOT give blanket heterim to shave.

        • Anonymous

          Rav Moshe Feinstien would not give a Haskamah to that sefer as he said it was “sheker aleph through tuf.”

          He absolutely did give “a blanket heter to shave.”. The sulchan uruch says explicitly “scissors that cut like a razor are permitted.” (Misparaim kain toar) I don’t understand your response.
          He had a beard, he was also short, he was born in Europe, wouldn’t say hey gavna instead of bameh madlikin (becuase violated a decree of chazal), wore blue shirts on occasion, only ate yoshun in yeshiva, didn’t use a timer for anything other than lights, had a TV,  and  would only allow his children to drink cholov stam.  (and many other non-relevant things.)

          Eastern European Rav’s have beards- but buchrim were COMPELLED to shave. Forget about a heter. They weren’t permitted to have a beard.

          If having a beard fills some need of yours great- but don’t pretend it is any kind of obligation.

          He called the book sheker. He didn’t say it wasn’t his cup of tea.

        • The Gemara in Makkos permits “shaving” with a non-razor. I’m not sure why you think one needs a “heter”.

          • Anonymous

            And Nazir

        • Anonymous

          In what way am I misrepresenting Him?

      • Arthur Heber

        Here is a link to “that sefer” in which Rav Moshe writes a haskomeh which you claim he  didn’t write and supposedly said it’s “sheker aleph through tuf”.It’s right at the begining so  you wont find it neccesary  to read this entire book that’s filled with “sheker”
        http://israel613.com/books/BEA… 

  • I left this comment somewhere else: 

    Formerly secular people who find religion or join an orthodox sect often have the need to make themselves appear or behave in a way that is classic or basic the the group they are joining. An orthodox from birth person doesn’t feel he needs a beard to feel apart of the Orthodox community since he was educated in its system, feels comfortable around other orthodox people, and through osmosis shares in the communal memory and politics of the sect.
    A newly religious person has none of this, and he needs some way to feel like he’s changed, that he’s left his secular life and joined a religious group. So he grows a beard, and puts on a hat, and even if he doesn’t know much about the sects laws and can’t converse well in its own lingo, he still looks the part, so that makes him feel good. Its an emotional crutch.What Matisyahu is saying here is that he has gotten past needing the appearance crutch to feel like he’s a member of the religious community. “Trusting my goodness and my divine mission,” means he’s now comfortable within the community and can base his religious feelings on being religious instead of its unnecessary externals.

  • Arthur Heber

    Thec Chazon Ish who was definitely not Chassidish and is recognized by most as being the godol hador and godol haposkim of recent times was definitely against thec shaving of beards for halachic reasons.
    Rabbi Moshe Sternbruch, the author of Moadim and Zemanim wrote a letter to Rabbi Moshe Wiener, stating what he heard from his teacher about the Chazon Ish, Rabbi Yehoshu Karlitz, a major halachic decisor of the non Chasidic community.  His teacher told him that when a Jew with a shaven  beard would come to see him, The Chazon Ish almost regurgitated!2.       Rabbi Dov Yaffa, in his book Pe’er Hador, says that the Chazon Ish was very upset about the fact that Yeshiva students had justified the shaving of their beards. In fact, Rabbi Yaffa writes, “the Chazon Ish said that wearing a beard isn’t a Chasidic custom, rather it is a paramount principle of Torah. A Chasidic custom is required of Chasidim only, but growing a beard is universal, because it is an ‘ikar’, a fundamental aspect of Torah”.

  • “Garden shears” – nice…

    • 🙂 Thanks.

    • NO PERSONAL ATTACKS. THANK YOU.

      • what? what personal attacks? I just thought that was a funny image, though i was thinking more along the lines o hedge clippers…

        • Wasn’t to you. No clue why this ended up here. Sorry.

  • Ashira L.C. Ward

    Eek. As an Orthodox Jew I highly disagree with your points. Love Matisyahu but shaving the beard was to make a statement. While he is completely free to do as he wishes, and practice at a level where he is comfortable, being chassidic doesn’t make you a higher or lower observing Jew- it’s what you believe.

  • Arthur Heber

    “When Matisyahu announced he had shaved, I was actually proud of him. To me,  it meant that he was thinking critically about his Judaism and felt a beard was not necessary or integral to his love and service of God. I agree.”You argue that some poskim disagree with  those that  say it is a halachic imperative to refrain from shaving.I can see  that as a valid reason for shaving if one never had a beard to begin with.On the other hand to say that “I was actually proud of him” is a over the top, to say the least.For one who kept a halachik ruling  subscribed to by most gedolai haposkim and then negate it because it ” meant that he was thinking critically about his Judaism and felt a beard was not necessary or integral to his love and service of God.” is a slippery slope that can be used and has been used as an excuse by many,such as the Reform and Conservative movements for negating the need to adhere to halacha. 

    • …and it would seem some MO seem to be going down that slope as well. When Rabbonim give a heter for someone or something it is JUST THAT – a heter for SOMEONE or SOMETHING. Not blanket permission for everyone everywhere. For example, those who CHOOSE to rely on some heter not to use Cholov Yisroel exclusively. Many (if not all) have never asked a Rav if this heter applies to THEM.

      • You really are not familiar with the way halacha works. You really are not familiar with the difference between custom and law. You really are not familiar with the nuances of Torah observances. It is hard to have a conversation with you about this.

        • Since all you can do is make fun of me, yeah, that makes it hard to have a conversation. You call yourself a Rabbi? So teach, don’t hate.
          And… for the record…I am way more familiar with Halacha and Minhag than you my friend. 
          Nuances and leniencies seem to be YOUR area of expertise. What’s next for you?

          • Ellie nothing you have said makes sense. I read all of it. You speak talking points you been fed by the haredi world. Why don’t you debate the points r. Fink has shown you.

  • Anonymous

    The author of this article seems to have intolerance for people with beards and not only that his opinion disagrees with religious sources. “Beards in orthodox Judaism are a funny thing. They mean a lot to some
    people. But really they mean nothing at all. A beard does not make
    someone holy. A holy person does not need a beard to be complete. Let’s
    not forget that a beard is simply just that, a beard.” It’s just your opinion and opinions are a dime a dozen. Let people be who they want to be. If they want to have a beard let them. If they don’t have to have a beard that’s fine too. But don’t come up with your own conclusion that beards mean nothing when Torah sources say otherwise. 

  • Anonymous

    When someone with no facial hair decides to grow a beard are you also proud of him for being a critical thinker or does it only go one way?

  • Thanks for reminding me – I forgot to shave this morning   :o)

    Holy hair, people – he is a musician, not a rabbi.

    • Arthur Heber

      Reminds me of my “sinful” youth when I taught in a Conservative Hebrew school and was often told by parents “My grandfather was a rabbi.He had a beard and kept the Sabbath”.They could not conceive that a person other then a rabbi adhered to halacha.

  • Bottom line is that his music talks more about getting closer to G-D than most of the music sold in “Jewish” Book stores.  Being beardless is not a sin. Talking badly about others is a sin.  Koshereyes.com

    • Will it continue to talk about that Robert? I fear it will change… Pressure from the Music Machine? GAGA was a great artist BEFORE they made her over into what she is which is ALL Glitz.

  • Yeedle N.

    He only grew his sidelocks after leaving Chabad for Karlin. And guys, get over it. Shaving is muttar al pi halacha, if you ever opened a Shulchan Aruch. Except if you have an agenda. Which Elli King of Broadway definitely has. I’m guessing he’s Chabad. Right Elli?

    • I’ve got no agenda. Really. I was replying to the ‘holy’ Rabbi who dis’d people who have beards and tried to justify it by saying it’s not Halacha and just a facade. If YOUR Rav gives you a heter to shave, then Kol HaKavod to you. Otherwise, show me where it’s a BLANKET heter NOT to have a beard? Check out what I said above.

      • Oh, and for publicizing my twitter feed to the world to get people to tweet garbage to me? So far only ONE of your loyal followers has done so.
        Low blow, “Rabbi”. You are reprehensible. I am ashamed for your congregants to have such a leader.

        • I apologize. I did not know it was a secret.

          • Trying to embarrass me in Public on my twitter feed? Reposting what I respond? 

            Eliyahu Fink
            (Eli) @efink retweeted
            to 1,284 followers:

             

            tkob Elli TheKingOfB’way

            @efink
            Ok, you’ve pushed me over the edge. you are officially an ass. Shame on you
            Eli, you are a disgrace to your kehilla @makeforyourself

            Dec 14, 8:26 PM via HootSuite

            Making fun of it? All because you want to be as lenient as possible? Why did you become a rabbi?  

            I will certainly make sure EVERYONE I know sees this.I am a public figure, you can’t embarrass me with my own words, I weigh them carefully before I post them, You, on the other hand, seem to have no control over what you write.

            Again, I am sorry for those who you influence. They deserve better. Please continue
            to have this discussion, but without me. It’s obvious that you are part of those who called themselves Misnagdim, so any discussion with you will take on that angle and will never be a true shaklah v’tarya. Which is a shame, I was looking forward to an intelligent conversation here on this board and I got attacked by a child.
            Much hatzlacha in your future attempts at learning Ahavas Yisroel.
            Moshiach Now!
            (Which I am SURE will provide MUCH discussion and will ruffle your feathers even more)

            Love,
            Elli- tbob

            • YOU wrote that. Not me. YOU are the one calling me names.

          • Still. You tried to humiliate me in public and you haven’t even attempted to apologize for that.

            • You tweeted those nasty words. Not me. If you are going to bully people, it’s not going to be a secret.
              If you didn’t mean to say what you said, you can apologize. I will retweet your apology.

          • Me? I should apologize to YOU for trying to shame me in public and tweeting MY info to 1,284 followers? Yeah, right. That will happen when you actually GET smicha.

          • PLEASE, continue writing about me because this is my last post here.
            It’s Yud Tes Kislev, the Rosh HaShannah of Chassidus, and I really shouldn’t be here. This makes me very sad, watching you implode. Gut Yom Tov and as I said before, have a great life. Learn Ahavas Yisroel, and please don’t be afraid to be the one to apologize, even if YOU don’t feel you are wrong, just for Sholom. (It’s what we teach our children – you may have missed that, “rabbi”.)

        • Arthur Heber

          Don’t get your gander up about Rabbi Fink.He is a frequent poster on the  DovBear bog which aint exactly a site known for it’s love of halachic Judaisim even though he ,DB, claims he is MO.Rabbi Fink has expressed his dislike for Chabad on numerous occasions so what he writes here does not surprise me.

          • This has nothing to do with Chabad. Why are you making it about Chabad?

  • Arthur Heber

    Rabbi Fink,You expressed yourself somewhat antagonistically towards 
    Elli Thekingofbroadway who obviously is a Chabadnic.I get the sense that your antagonism towards him is a result of his”crime” of being a Lubavitcher. Therefore my comment about your negative attitude relative to Chabad which is oh so obvious from various comments of yours on DovBear
       

  • Here’s an interview with Matisyahu regarding the shave:

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/2011/dec/14/matisyahus-miracle/

  • Arthur Heber

    You call that an approbation?”It’s like – I know the author, he’s a good guy, I hope his books are successful. Hardly a ringing endorsement.”
    You’e right but by the same token it’s not saying that it’s “sheker vechozov mealef ad tuf”

  • Srock

    You’re right its not about the beard, but there is a lot more here than meets the eye. In case you missed his tweet about his favorite masseuse in NYC who also writes sex tips in penthouse magazine.(google matisyahu Dr. Dot and check out the pic).  Its not that frum people dont do avairos it’s just that usually we are embarrassed . But im sure the touring and hedonistic lifestyle practiced by most musicians was hard to constantly turn down. He is trying to break away as is evident from his more recent concerts where is visibly high and curses on stage.  My guess is that his wife gave him an ultimatum and he chose music. So I think before you start placing your stamp of approval on his actions you might want to think about his poor wife and kids who for some reason moved to LA even though he records in Brooklyn and she is part of the crown heights community. It’s obvious she is dead embarrassed of him and needs to shelter their kids. I hope im way off on this but if you ever saw his wife she does not look like she is married to a pot smoking masseuse client.  

  • I Tick

    Doesn’t the Gemara say that if beards made men holy, the billy goat would be counted holy with them?

  • Anonymous

    There is a connection between shaving and tattoos, at least based on their placement in Vayikra.  So why is the d’orita prohibition on shaving not implicated by using an electric instrument (only a traditional blade), but  the same leniency does not apply to the (generally) d’rabanan ban on tattoos? Do broader socie
    tal and cultural conventions play a role in the disparity?

    • Good question. I think the key is that the interpretations are found in the words. The only thing that is prohibited by the Torah is a blade against the face. That is what the words say.

  • asher770

    “When Matisyahu announced he had shaved, I was actually proud of him. To me, it meant that he was thinking critically about his Judaism and felt a beard was not necessary or integral to his love and service of God. I agree.”

    So Finky it’s now two years later and we all know what’s happened to Matisyahu. Are you still actually proud of him?