Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Matisyahu To Join Maccabeats, Enroll At YU

While Jewlicious was the first to break the exciting news, Shades of Grey is proud to present an exclusive interview with the Jewish musical performer formerly known as Matisyahu, Mathew Miller, that tells the whole story behind his recent public transformation.

After the shocking revelation of the Twitter pics and accompanying note that brought the frum (religious Orthodox) world to its collective knees, many Jewish fans of Matisyahu can breath a sigh of relief.
Before: Matisyahu. After: Mathew Miller.
Image Source: AV Club.

No, Matisyahu, now Mathew Miller once again, has not gone "off the derech" (or OTD for short).

Nor did he, as Vos Iz Neias? incorrectly reported, use a razor blade to shave his beard - the usage of a straight razor for shaving is forbidden by Jewish law.

"I went out and bought a suitable electric shaver, just like every other observant Jewish man who shaves. I figured it was time for a change. It's clear to me now that my time in the spotlight as a Chassidic reggae/rapper is long past."

Miller attributes partial inspiration to the release of the Maccabeats' latest video, a cover of his marginally popular song/video from last year, "Miracle."

"The response they've generated vastly exceeds everything I had hoped for in my own version of 'Miracle,' especially with the charitable cause they are promoting. Some might want to say it's the unfortunate coincidence that I made the video at the same time 'Candlelight' dropped, but after some healthy self-introspection, I was able to step back and realize that everything is from the yad HaShem (hand of G-d)."

"It's clear as daylight that this has all been hashgacha pratis (divine influence) to guide me toward my new path in life."

Miller, who always dreamed of reaching out to disenfranchised and irreligious Jews in the hopes of bringing them closer to their heritage, claims that he has now realized how he can continue that goal, while remaining a public music figure and continuing to inspire the masses.

"You know, I'd just heard so much about the 'big tent' that [Yeshiva University] President Joel always talks about in his speeches. I began to realize that this was something I'd always yearned for, something that was always at the core of my musical message."

While many listeners initially found Miller's Matisyahu persona, complete with full beard, large velvet yarmulka, peyot (sidelocks) and tzitzit (ritual fringes) inspiring, Miller now thinks that some of these aspects have become a hindrance for attracting the attention of those potentially interested in exploring their Judaism.

"Not every Jew had a beard, and certainly not every Jew wears a velvet yarmulka. In some ways, these have become part of a uniform for a subculture within Judaism that I simply don't want to represent anymore. For a while, I was mislead into thinking that there was only 'one right way' to be Jewish. I now know that this is the farthest possible thing from the truth," Miller remarked poignantly as he adjusted the new knit yarmulka on his head.

In an effort to reconnect to the broader world of Torah-observant Judaism, Miller and his family have moved to Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan Neighborhood that houses Yeshiva University's Wilf Campus, where the male student body as well as the Rabbi Isaac Elachanan Theological Seminary is located.

In addition, Miller has enrolled at Yeshiva University's Philip and Sarah Belz School of Music, hoping to broaden his own appreciation and knowledge of the breadth of traditional Jewish music. He intends to split his time between learning in the new Glueck Beit Midrash, attending a variety of classes at the Belz School of Music, and working on what may be the most exciting development since his recent announcement: singing with the Maccabeats.

Miller, wearing his new Maccabeats outfit, sent Shades of Grey this exclusive photo.

"The Maccabeats have been very gracious to me in giving me the chance to become a part of their mission. I strongly believe in their efforts to spread the message of Torah Umadda (Torah and secular wisdom) to the world, engaging in both Torah study as well as the world at large. It's kind of funny that I was never really able to succinctly describe my 'weltanschauung' as the Rav (Soloveitchick) used to say, but since becoming closer to the guys in the group, I think I've found a new home."

The process of joining Yeshiva University's world famous Modern Orthodox A Capella group led Miller to decide to shave his beard and sidelocks.

"I don't want anyone to think that the Maccabeats have some sort of rigid dress code that required me to shave," Miller said. "Well, besides their white shirts and skinny black ties," he chuckled.

"At first, they told me I was fine just the way I was, without needing to alter my physical appearance one bit. It was entirely my decision to shed the outward expression of my former Chassidic persona."

Miller was very impressed with the Maccabeats' version of his own hit song, "One Day," which was their first music video venture back in 2010. With complete humility, Miller willingly agrees that their video for "Miracle" surpasses his original version.

The Maccabeats' take on "Miracle," which Miller says is better than his original.

"I was always a bit worried about how some people might view the scenes portrayed in 'Miracle.' And honestly, I think it turned out a little wacky in the end. The Maccabeats, along with their amazingly talented friend, Uri Westrich, have certainly elevated the stature of the song by pairing it with a video that is both engaging and meaningful, instead of all the strange X-mas imagery my director forced on me."

Having followed their career with great interest since the release of their "One Day," Miller was very moved by their High-Holidays themed "Book of Good Life." He claims that the message presented in the video moved him to perform a serious soul-searching that led him to where he finds himself today.

"I don't want to be remembered as that rabbi-guy brawling with Santa Claus in an ice-skating rink. I would much rather my legacy be more clean-cut, palatable, and appealing for a wider audience. I still have plenty of ideas and musical dreams, and now I will, G-d willing, be able to achieve them in the right environment and with the right musical group."

The original "Miracle" music video, which Miller now partially regrets.

When asked further about his plans at Yeshiva University, Miller is reluctant to plan too far ahead. He is not currently sure which morning shiur (lecture) he will join, but he is looking forward to becoming involved with the student body, including Rabbi Hershel Reichman's monthly Rosh Chodesh (new Jewish month) get-together, participating in the annual Chanukah Chagigah (celebration), and occasionally serving as prayer-leader at the Friday night Carlebach Minyan (prayer group).

"There are so many opportunities for me to positively influence the lives of students who may be struggling with their connection to Judaism as I have been these past few years. I hope to use my talents and music to inspire and increase the level of spirituality on campus."

There is, however, one thing that Miller already has had to contend with, even though he just relocated to Washington Heights a few days ago.

"President Joel won't stop calling, texting, and emailing me. We met before at last year's Chanukah concert, but now that I'm officially part of the YU community, he keeps asking me to include his trademark 'ennoble and enable' catchphrase in one of my forthcoming songs."

"I keep telling him 'one day,' if he's lucky," he concluded with a smile.


  1. Post with the most links. A person's spiritual journey is his own. But it is played up a hundred times more when the whole world is watching. I wish him luck in his journey, hope he finds what he's looking for, and that he has the strength to remain on the right path.

  2. I knew it. The Maccabeats version pushed him over the edge.

    Matt! I loved the Original music video! I would never replace you! Keep the reggae, at least, if not the beard? I really like the reggae!

    I made sure that my nieces and nephews sing your versions, complete with Jamaican accent!

    I was LOYAL! I never went to the Maccabeats, never, ever!

  3. >Miller, wearing his new Maccabeats outfit, sent Shades of Grey this exclusive photo.

    Falsehood and lies! That is a poorly photoshopped version of the photo Matisyahu posted on his twitter account

  4. Jake Richtor - while I do take slight offense at your appraisal of my photoshop skills (it was rushed to completion before someone else on the internet did it) this post is indeed a work of parody.

  5. Yes Shades of Grey (if that is your real name), it's me. I think your photoshop skills are great. And really well written article. Have you considered writing for The Beacon?

  6. Uri - Thanks for reading, sharing, as well as the compliments ;)

    I'm not sure if the Beacon reference is meant to be serious or sarcastic. While I did consider contributing to them back when they had a facsimile of legitimacy, I don't think I'd touch the Beacon with a ten foot pole, proverbial or otherwise, at this point in time.

  7. Shades of Grey,

    Can't go back on what I said about your photoshop skills, at least as far as I've seen them, but your parody writing is very convincing.

    Thanks for the opportunity to laugh at myself.



Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.