I was in the gym, on the exercise bicycle, reading Rolling Stone, when I laughed so hard I nearly fell off my bike. The article was about Matisyahu-the reggae, pop, hip-hop, beatboxing orthodox Jewish fellow who's currently blowing up the circuit. The article, like everything else written about Matisyahu, explored the lingering question that follows him everywhere he goes. That question is this: How does an orthodox Jew front a reggae, hip-hop, pop band without contradicting his orthodoxy?
Anyone who knows anything about Hasidism knows they've got a lot of rules. It's a religion chock full of rules, really, many of which would make being in a hip-hop, pop, reggae outfit highly complicated. For instance, according to Hasidic law, Matisyahu (born Mathew Miller) must not have contact with women to whom he is not related. Which means he can't even shake their hands when they want his autograph.
"It's hard to [say no] to every other person who comes up to you," he complained in the RS interview. "It can come off as disrespectful."
When I read that quote, I laughed so hard my left foot actually careened off the pedal and my body sharply tilted leftward as I thought to myself, Did he really say that? "Come off as"? It can come off as disrespectful? As if it's not actually disrespectful, it just sorta appears that way. Well, I have news for you, Matis: When you refuse to shake someone's hand simply because she's a woman-that's what disrespectful is, you twit. That is the essence of disrespectful. It is the poster-encounter for disrespectful. Next to "disrespectful" in the dictionary there's a picture of a Hasidic Jew lurching back in horror at a woman's outstretched hand.
Come off as?
Picture the scene: It was a great show. You rocked the house. And you just finished shaking the hands of 35 filthy rasta-dudes, half of whom don't wash their hands when they use the toilet, and then this adoring post-pubescent female approaches you-telling you how much she loves you, how your music changed her, and how, maybe, it even saved her life. Then she extends her hand to you for some gorgeous human-to-human contact and you actually, unbelievably, somehow have the brick-like balls to tell her no.
Come off as, my ass.
At best, Hasidic Jews treat women like they are second-class citizens, at worse like diseased whorehouse gerbils that were once stowed in certain customers' assholes. Can you imagine what that must do to the collective psyche of Jewish women? That and all these other execrable tenets-like how females must sit in the back seat of the car when other males are present, or how they're generally not allowed to speak unless spoken to, and how they must cut their hair when they marry so as not to risk attracting other men. It's a fucking institution of disrespect, man, and so far from come off as that I almost laughed myself right off an exercise bike. Do you know how hard it is to fall off a stationary bike?
I know what you're thinking, Matis. You're thinking it's not your fault. You're thinking that these are the rules of your religion, and you must obey them. But you weren't born into Hasidism. You adopted it when you were 20 years old. I would understand better if you were born into it, brainwashed at birth to believe that all this misogynistic rooster-shit you abide by somehow brings you closer to Hashem. But you weren't born into it. You chose Hasidism. You observed it. You researched it. You saw how they treated women and still said, "Yup, this is the religion for me." You even read the Talmud, with its embarrassingly vulgar regard for women: Such as Shabbat 33b, which states women are "light minded"; or Swidler 3, which claims, "A woman is a pitcher of filth with its mouth full of blood"; or Kiddushin 49b, which says, "Ten measures of speech descended to the world; women took nine," which means, in lay terms, They talk too goddamn much. All this left you with little doubt that this was a culture that does not respect women, meaning your disrespect for them is not incidental. So, please, please, please, Matisyahu, would you stick your come off as right up the place where the gefilte fish don't swim?
There is a line in the RS story that I found telling: "In accordance with Jewish law, [Matisyahu] has had to stop stage-diving at shows so as to avoid the risk of contact with women he is not related to."
The part of that sentence that interests me is "has had to stop." Because it means that, at least for a while, he had been stage diving. So why, all of a sudden, did this become an issue? My guess is somewhere along the road he received a phone call from one of the elders telling him to stop.
Imagine, if you would, that phone call...
"Hello, Mathew, it is I, the Grand Exalted Imperial Highness of Hasid. Do you have a minute?"
"Of course, your greatness."
"This thing you do, where you leap into the crowd and then body surf across it. You must stop immediately."
"But why, your imperialness?"
"Because there are women out there who are not related to you, you schmendrick! Some of them are menstruating, fer crissake!""Yeech!"
"That's right "Yeech.' Oh, and also, Mathew?"
"Do you do that "roof is on fire' bit?"
"Yes, your eminence."
"What, are you on the crack?! You can't say that. You must fetch pail and help extinguish the fire. Thou shalt never let thy neighbor's roof burn freely. Nor shall we compare roofs to incestuous fornicators. What were you thinking? I'm just so disappointed in you, Mathew. Reggae? Really!? Why couldn't you play the klezmer music like a nice Jewish boy? Klezmer is a great music, Mathew. I never tire of "Hava Nagila.' Why won't you play "Hava Nagila?!'"