Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 27, 2012

Jews Less Jewy, Christians Less Christlike, CNN Less “Filling”

Matisyahu- the man, the myth, the wanna-be legend

As a post-punk prophet, I have an occasional hankering to put my finger on the pulse of the world, to see what people are saying about themselves and each other. It’s important to get out of one’s shell and participate in a worldwide community of people, to see what people believe or do, and why… even if you disagree with them. I usually agree or disagree privately, but occasionally publicly with a comment on someone’s blog, or –like today– at one of my more common destinations, the CNN Belief Blog.

To me, the CNN Belief Blog, and CNN in general, is a good way of sampling what the current (or at least North American)  “mainstream” is all about. The articles, columns, and interviews might be seen as bland, or mildly interesting, or mildly offensive, but not usually extremist. Not so for the comments, though. The combination of both the “news” at the “center” (i.e. content of an article), and of several extremes in the comments, plus much in between, is why I find myself going back.

The item that caught my eye today was a Q&A with Hasidic Jew and reggae music artist Matisyahu. Except now he’s not identifying as Hasidic. Still a Jew, still might have an orientation toward G-d in some ethical or mystical way, just not down with the whole Hasidic, fairly orthodox and codified way of life anymore, what with all of it’s minute “rules”. So this interview opens the floodgates for Jews of various stripes, and Christians of various stripes, and atheists, and reggae fans, and haters of all stripes, all exercising their “right” to weigh in on what’s actually going on in this musician’s life, and why it matters or doesn’t matter.

Oh, my people, why are you so stiff-necked? (As for who are my people? …you know who you are.)

I’ll say this: I like Matisyahu, and his music. I have for several years. But I can’t claim to know him, nor do I claim to have much insight into rightness or wrongness regarding Hasidic practice and belief.

I barely can claim good practice in my OWN religious faith (broadly but indefinably Christian)… that’s why I choose to call it practice. I’m bound to be imperfect, but the struggle to know better or be better is worthwhile in itself.  As is the struggle to stay OPEN, to not assume I have all the answers, or attach myself to one program that claims to be all-inclusive. It’s a calling… for me at least, and to abandon it would be disloyal to the Supreme Whoever who put out the call– and also potentially harmful to my spirit or True Self, which thrives on sticking to the Plan, vague though it is at times.  ‘Nuff said.

So, my two comments at CNN Belief blog are reposted below for curiosity’s sake, as are a semi-random sampling of other comments, to give you the flavor of the strange conversation that Matisyahu generated this week. Note also the high likelihood that posters of comments use pseudonyms, for the safe anonymity, so they can say what they want and not be held accountable for it. Oh well… This, too, is the American Dream….

May they shed some light for you, or lighten your burden with a chuckle, or light a fire under yo’ ass…

— — —

Mark Nielsen:

His honesty and simplicity about this –about “holidays” as a marketing/entertainment phenomenon starting in the early 20th century– is fine and refreshing. But that’s not to say he isn’t using stereotyping a bit too, just out of laziness. Yes, some Jews have written holiday or Christmas songs (e.g. Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas, as well as God Bless America, btw), but not the majority of Christmas songs. Including [Matis’ bad example] Jingle Bells, written by a Christian minister from Boston in the 1850s (see here: Same goes for movie industry and tv… Jews are all over that industry from a money/power perspective, and as a Christian I don’t mind, I don’t ascribe it to anything Jewish or negative, and smart business practice need not have any religious overlay to it. But the lines get blurry pretty quick, especially with Christians giving in to the temptation that equates Christmas with consumerism, or love with how much money one spends on Junior’s Xbox360 habit. -signed, The Once and Future Mall Santa Claus (who we’ve forgotten was originally…um… a charitable saint and a bishop, and Turkish!… catch more Christmas critique like this at

  • Brian

This is nothing new. If you listen to the lyrics of Reggae music it’s straight out of Exodus and Genesis. In some ways Jamaica is a Jewish country. When Spain expelled the Sephardic Jews a lot of them ended up in Jamaica where they founded the newspapers, banks and industry of Jamaica.
December 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply

  • ◦ Mark Nielsen

◦ Finally, someone brings the similar mysticism of reggae & Judaism back into the picture, plus some useful historical analysis, including the sad irony of hate coming from within various corrupted religious traditions. (i.e. expulsion of Jews by Spaniards… where the Inquisition was strongest and most sinful… makes me a bit ashamed as a Christian) Thanks! It is possible to both think rationally and to hold beliefs that transcend known science, that recognize Spirit or Essence or G-d as mystery. Where Matis is at on this is a puzzle to me (“free” or just lazy & modern in his practice), but I too have been cautiously optimistic about what he represents and found his lyrics genuinely prayerful and powerful. Whether his new stuff is or will be so, I’d say the jury is out. Change is inevitable, but that doesnt mean it’s automatically growth. I cant say Kanye has “grown” since “Jesus Walks”, but I hold out hope that a Bigger Plan is operating for Matis, Kanye, and for all of us.

December 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  • sean burns

Anyone who spends any time reading the old testament will recognize it for what it is- the myths of a primitive people justifying their killing and taking of the land of the native resident tribes they encounter because god told them he was giving them that land. Hateful, misogynistic, xenophobic, sadistic “beliefs” codified in the ridiculous rules and practices laid down in the book of Leviticus and others. Matisyahu is making a step in the right direction to throw off the stultifying, extreme yoke of orthodoxy. If he keeps thinking and exploring, he may one day rid himself of the entire burden of religion.
December 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply

  • ◦ Laerrus

◦ Don’t kid yourself, he’s still a Jew.
December 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |

  • ◦ Apple Bush

◦ Sean, you are so wise, how did you solve all of lifes riddles in just a few sentences?
December 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |

  • ◦ Apple Bush

◦ Fake AB, what is your question? why are you afraid

  • Angel Moronic

Entertainment is more entertaining than religion, eh ???
December 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply

  •  christian —   reggae super star???please keep your mouth shot….
December 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse | Repl
  •  Pravda

But I still can’t understand why CNN posted this, it is not their usual article. It doesn’t support gay rights, slam Christianity or have anything to do with banning guns… So weird…

December 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm

— — —

  1. BIg Man
    And and suppose jews wrote Oh Christmas Tree and Silent Night. What an idiot. Jingle Bells was composed by james Pierpont – he ain’t jewish. Christmas songs speak of universality, goodwill towards others, beauty of nature – that’s why their are plenty. Also, the reason why there is a (real) dearth of jewish holiday songs.

    December 27, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dida3468
      So he made a mistake but that being said, Irving Berlin IS jewish and DID write White Christmas…..

      December 27, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean
      Christmas Waltz, Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland, Santa Baby, Sleigh Ride, I’ll be home for Christmas, White Christmas are all examples of Christmas songs written by Jews. He was not implying there were nto great songs written by Christians, but that a lot of Jews tended to write Chistmas songs vs Jewish Chanuka songs as they sold more. I

      December 27, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • BIg Man
      Right Sean – focus on large, lucrative market and profiting off the feelings of a nation during WWII(for many of songs). What else is new.

      December 27, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sarah
    I love the way he talks as if he’s the first guy to discover that following rules is hard and doing whatever you feel like is liberating. What a genius!


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