I’m, for a lack of any other term, visibly Jewish. I hate it when people say that someone looks the part of the religion, culture, race, etc. It means that they are so conditioned that they are prone to believe the most stereotypical notions of a said group. Yes, I wear a big-ass kippah and I do wear the Tzizit (or the Tallit Kattan) underneath my shirt. However, most people ask me if I’m orthodox, and that annoys me to no end. Why do I need to be put into a category to make you feel better? I just say that I’m a practicing Jew who follows the faith, but I’m far more into the spiritual aspect. This spiritual aspect is a kin to clinging to that unknown force that lifts your body in a way that is hard to explain with human language. I follow my ways while reading the many great texts and great rabbis, from all the denominations. I don’t hate on any one faction because G-d didn’t create the universe for us to air our dirty laundry.
I say this with conviction because I’m what American Jews would call a “Ba’al Tshuva.” This translates into a master of the answer or a person who has gone path onto the path, or derech in Hebrew. I admire the Israeli term because there they say that you returned to the answer or in Hebrew “Chozer B’Tshuva.” When I went to a specific Yeshiva for this, Aish Ha’Torah, in the Old City in Jerusalem, I met many men who were lost in many ways. I myself was somewhat lost, but being older I knew what I wanted to get out of the great institution. What aggravated me the most was seeing young, bright, and energetic men brainwashed with both the good and the bad parts of becoming an Aish Orthodox Jew. You gain the ideals of reaching the highest levels of spirituality and great depth in learning the texts, especially the al amazing Talmud. Their organization was, and remains, completely on the path of kiruv or bringing wayward Jews back into the fold. But, you also become a hard core right wing conservative with all the fixings to match. I heard many homophobic slurs, hatred in general for liberalism (forgetting the many Jews who championed these ideals in the past), insanely archaic and bizarre ideas of gender roles, and I even heard the N-word a few times by the older generation. This is NOT a blanket condemnation of Aish or any other Ba’al Tshuva Yeshiva. What I want to share is my experience and how I identify as a spiritual Jew in my way. This now lead me to a very talented Jewish singer who has probably dealt with the same clash of worlds.
In 2011 Matityahu, the famous Reggae singer and Chabad linked singer cut his beard and payot. He is also a Baal Tshuva, but he delved into the magical world of Lubavicher Chabad. Chabad has its own history, which I wont write on today, bringing many wayward Jews all across the world back into a merriment of Jewish traditions and celebration. One of the funniest things to me is that Chabad centers on college campuses across the US draw more people than any other organization. Amazingly they connect Jews who aren’t observant, making them more enthused about Judaism and Israel. They do this through programs and Shabbat services and dinners, where the liquor flows very freely.
Back to Matityahu. Truthfully I was never a big fan, but I was always a supporter of his music and his ways. Having a cousin on the roster of JDub records (GO listen to the Sway Machinery NOW) I fully support Jewish artists performing their own interpretations of their beliefs. I don’t know the reason, nor how he feels about his Judaism and his spirituality. However, I know how he feels straddling both worlds and loving, but also being very cautious, when engaging Jewish congregations, especially Orthodox. To them I could be their poster boy the way I look and daven, as well as my commitment to my Daf Yomi schedule. However, I meditate and enjoy beautiful music that is both religious but very secular. I also love a non-Jewish woman, which is a big NO NO in those circles. Still, as Matityahu bemused in a Tablet magazine interview recently. There are times where religion and spirituality don not mix. Yeshiva is great for creating structure and giving a lost soul some good soul food. But beware because the further you fall down the rabbit hole the harder it will be to dig yourself out. Mad respect to Matityahu and keep being you man.
Here is a link to the wonderful article by David Meir Grossman:
And, a Channukah song for the Holy Day, Enjoy: