Growing up in White Plains, New York, Matthew Paul Miller was raised as a Reconstructionist Jew. Reconstructionist Judaism is an American-based Jewish movement that views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. Miller spent most of his childhood attending Hebrew school at a local synagogue getting to know his religion, however that quickly changed as he became a teenager. His teenage years consisted of rebelling against his upbringing as most adolescents do. However, Miller quickly took the path of drugs and dropped out of high school to follow his favorite band Phish on a national tour ...view middle of the document...
Miller states that “When I came into contact with Rabbi Korn, I felt this strong connection to him”, on everything from having experienced hallucinates to the same type of music interests (Horn, 2008). Fully immersed in Chabad, his family had a difficult time processing his newfound faith and he then decided to move in with Korn. By November 2001, Miller officially became part of the Lubavitcher movement and fully embraced his Hebrew name Matisyahu (Horn,2008). Matisyahu (English equivalent being Matthew) originated from the Biblical Hebrew leader during Maccabee’s revolt. Korn was one of the first people Matisyahu performed for, encouraging him to perform at the Union Square menorah lighting and NYU’s Chabad House. It was then noted that as soon as he moved to Crown Heights he removed himself from what was considered “popular culture” and started to learn Hasidus (the teaching of Hasidim) (Horn, 2008).
Matisyahu signed with JDub Records in 2004 and soon realized he was losing himself in the Chabad way of life. Matisyahu soon felt “incapable of making decisions” and states that “I was borderline completely losing my mind” and it was then that he pulled himself out of Chabad. He began working with the therapist Ephraim Rosenstein who helped him come to the realization that religion can be taken from a personal to an intellectual kind of thing. Today Matisyahu does not identify with any group of Judaism but considers himself an Orthodox Jew (Horn, 2008).
Today Matisyahu states that most of his music reflects a new openness to the external war and each song creates a separate theme. His record “Hi So Lo” reflects the theme of children in a forest. “It’s central to Judaism — the exile, galut, is compared to being lost in darkness, dream, forest, wilderness. There’s a sense that the people are still traveling through that in their own ways, in terms of spirituality,” (Horn, 2008).
Religion is a key aspect in the life of Matisyahu, and more specifically in his music. One does not need to search far to realize this, as the titles of two of his more popular songs are “Jerusalem” and “Happy Hanukkah”. Up until recently, his appearance in public included a long beard and a yarmulke, staples of the culture he embodies. Miller is the first and only Hasidic Jewish reggae/rap artist to emerge on the scene of popular music. Hasidism is a faction of Orthodox Judaism, a religion in which old traditions and culture lead follower’s lives. Needless to say, expressing yourself through reggae or rap is not the norm.
As the musician himself puts it, “The last decade of my life has been immersed in Judaism and Jewish culture and Jewish religion and Jewish spirituality…” (Associated Press, 2012) These strong connections were not apparent in his early life. He was raised Jewish but describes his upbringing as similar to that of any other American kid. This spiritual connection that now drives his career is not to be confused with...