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I am a Yid. I like to rock. Veitur!

- [ Tuesday, June 21, 2005 ] -
 
Treyfe? Or Just a Little Phishy?
Photo by Jeff Kravitz, stolen from the Bonnaroo website

I love Matisyahu. His music is great and well produced. He works hard. He's a humble guy. He lives Torah and spreads Torah. He inspires people. His popularity grows by leaps and bounds. And that's only my opinion as a fan.

As a musician, I'm very appreciative. His popularity only increases the possible market for my music. As he does better, I do better. He's not the first, nor the best (he's definitely better than I), but he's the most marketable and the most popular. The untapped market of Jewish rock is blowing wide open, with Matisyahu on the cutting edge. He's opening the market to far more people than anyone before him.

He hasn't made it to Chicago once. I saw him perform in Milwaukee, and I would love to hear him again, especially in a closer and better-sounding venue. I'm bothered by something. He will be playing a show in Chicago this summer that I can't see because of religious reasons.

Matisyahu is scheduled to tour with Trey Anastasio, opening for the Midwest dates, including Chicago. In case you're unfamiliar, Trey was the lead singer of Phish (a hugely popular band with a massive following) and a huge inspiration and part of Matisyahu's spiritual life. Personally, I'm a big fan of Phish, and to a slightly lesser extent, Trey's post-Phish solo work. I've heard good things about the last time Trey played here, and with Matis as an opener, that show is going to be freakin' sweet. (Enjoy the bootleg of Matisyahu playing few songs with Trey at Bonnaroo!)

Unfortunately, the tour with Trey occurs during the Three Weeks, and more specifically, the Midwest shows are scheduled for the Nine Days.

During this Jewish mourning period, there are restrictions on many musical activities. The scheduling of these shows is problematic, not only because of his own religious circumstances, but also because his audience is primarily Jewish. True, most of this audience will be there for Trey. But these concerts are heavily advertised, and have the potential to attract many Jews who don't know better and even many that do. This temptation might even be greater given the current absence of a single "kosher" Chicago show.

Initially, it felt to me like someone who normally sells kosher food, now sells traife. But the feeling goes even a little deeper. Why shouldn't I be able to go to hear Jewish music, G-d's words and divrei Torah, being performed in the Nine days, when less observant and knowledgeable people will get to have this unique religious experience? It just seems so wrong, and I couldn't figure it out.

I posted this observation, and my questions on the JDub message boards. There has been some response, all of it supportive on this especially difficult topic. Some comments sound harsher than others, but in the end, we all love Matis and want him to do the right thing. More than that, we all want to judge him favorably and believe he is doing the right thing, and that everything is kosher.

One of the responding posts came from management, saying Matis got an authoritative rabbinical ruling that the activity in question is permitted. This response post was brief, vague and sounded like a brush-off. Totally unconvincing. I still felt that this was more of a public affront to his religious beliefs that are inseperable from his image, and thus deserving of a more public and thorough explanation.

Later, in a different thread, guest poster, Umass rabbi, posted the following clarification:
Hey friends,
I just spoke to a friend of the family and got the information on Matis playing during the nine days. It seems that there is a halachic difference between the nine days (i.e. rosh chodesh av until tisha b'av) and the actual week where tisha b'av occurs (i.e. post shabbos until tisha b'av). There is a lienency during the first set of days to play for various different reasons. Additionally the fact that the crowd is not entirely Jewish, (i.e. this is not a Mordechai ben David concert) plays a factor in the heter. FYI before Matisyahu agreed to play with Trey on these dates he and his wife both spoke to a reputable Beis Din about the situation. Sorry if this is a little halachic and dry but I wanted to clearly spell out what was shakin' and clear the air. Have a good one.

-Simcha
This sounds a little better, and more believable. From this point on, I'm assuming Matisyahu has a solid heter to play these shows. But I still feel bitter and whiny...

Stepping back from the situation, I see the schmucks who hassled Matis for his style of music when he played for a yeshivish audience at the HASC show (Goyish music will lead us away from Yiddishkeit!). I also think of the people who don't like that he plays in bars (Goyish venues will lead us away from Yiddishkeit!). And now here I am, upset that he's leading Jews awy from Yiddishkeit while playing during the Nine Days.

Narishkeit, I say! I'm done being bitter on this one. To simplify, I was experiencing a common feeling. Anyone not on my level of observance is clearly misguided. Those with stricter observance are ultra-religious nuts, and those who are more lax in observance are heathens.

I won't go to the show. I imagine that most Jews who are going to the show, would be seeing Trey anyway. Provided we don't have the arrival of Moshiach before then, I encourage Jews who love Matisyahu to avoid these shows to spare his soul from the strain. With G-d's help, there will be many, many more shows like this, or better, in the future. Please support Matisyahu by buying his CDs, attending his other shows, and spreading the word.

Matisyahu, mazal tov on this fortuitous gig. Kick some ass and show the crowd what you're about. Keep spreading the good vibes. Stay Holy. And please...

play (a kosher show) in Chicago already!


Comments:
i am having a similar dilemma to you about this situation. however it is from a different perspective. i am a non-orthodox jew, raised secular but became increasingly religious in college and then was frum for two years while married. i have strayed since then and am now non-observant again. i am a phishhead. i love matisyahu's message and find his music has done more than anything else has in the past few years to pique my interest in observance once again. this show is a dream show for me. it is the combining of my own two worlds -- my secular phishy life and my desire to become more religious and go all the way. but for matis to decide to play music on these days... this throws it all into disarray. he is a fellow jew. i cannot expect him to uphold every law that i dont. but he does "wear the uniform" as someone said and when i dont keep, it is my priovate business (to an extent). when he doesnt keep, especially in such a public way, that affects many, many people - from people like me who everyday face decisions of whether to eat that food from the goyisha deli to driving to a nearby conservative shul on shabbos. the excuse that matis should play because it is more important to reach lost jews than to follow the law could be used by me to drive to shul. anyway, the "if he can break, so can i" frame of mind is not helping me grow in observance. as far as the shows, i am not near any of those during the 9 days so its not an issue as to whether i will go, but i will be in boston and i have no idea what kind of head i will be in towards matis and his handling of this and towards trey, who has greatly disappointed me with his choices in the past year as well. why oh why cant the dead be on tour this summer??? trey, matis, maybe the lesson for me is not to count on either of you for spiritual serenity. hmmm.
 

I'm all for judging favorably, so here are all the Snifim Leheter (reasons to allow it, that, when added up, actually may allow it for him to perform - not for others to attend):

1) It's not Shevu'a Shehal Bo Tish'a Be'av - the week that Tish'a Be'av falls out (as you mentioned)
2) It's his Parnassa - livelihood
3) The majority of the audience is non-Jewish (as you mentioned)
4) You can't understand the words of the songs anyways so you can't get Simcha from it

OK, #4 was a joke. Sorry. But the others may be valid enough, and I'm sure that's what his rabbi said.
 

In the early 80's in Crown heights when the Lag B'omer parades were huge events, they had loads of musical things going on. One of the things they had was Eli Lispkier who ran a children's choir in Crown Heights, (plus he is also a well known (in CH) Musical guy.)

When you would walk past his house during sefirah you would always hear music mainly the piano, and pre-recorded music for practicing with the kids... I always wondered how he could listen to music. The answer I got was, when it comes to parnasah you are always allowed in almost every case to perform on Sefirah or the 3 weeks.

Just look at Avraham Fried. He is still in his year of availus for his father and he has done more concerts this year then he has done in years.
 

I initially found it difficult, but I trust Matis and I trust his Rav, and I don't believe he's breaking or bending any laws. We may have a lot of questions, but we don't know all the details. This heter is for Matis play, and I trust that everything is kosher for him.

GW,
I enjoy Trey's music and philosophy on music, but maybe he's not your best place to look for spiritual guidance. Also, I doubt this is the last opportunity you will have to see Trey and Matis. There will always be better shows.

Yaak,
#3 - My difficulty is that most of the audience isn't Jewish, but how many, out of the tens of thousands, of the people there ARE Jewish?

LOR,
Eli Lipskier - Practice in one's house is different than performing. So is listening to practice tapes.

Avraham Fried - Performing during a personal mourning period is different than a public mourning period. In a public mourning period, the audience doesn't have a parnasa heter.
 

let me clarify: trey's MUSIC is spiritual for me, not his lyrics. i'm talking stuff like the slow guitar buildup in "slave to the traffic light." that stuff will make you weep. alas, it is spiritual in a different way than shlomo singing about our persecuted ancestors. but trey's music and the music alone has provided me with spiritual clarity while driving 95 mph down the palisades parkway
 

I can't argue with that.
 

Velvel, If your talking about the audience than yes, I agree, if you hold from not going to concerts or such during these public mourning times, than ya, they shouldn't be there. But Matis can't be held responsible for that anymore, than if someone listens to Jewish music on shabbos. The listener has to take some personal responsibility.

As far as Matisyahu performing, I think the Fried analogy is good, because the laws of Availus are much more strict and defined than the 3 weeks, so if Fried can perform for parnassah during availus, then certainly matis can on the 3 weeks (again with his rav's permission, not saying people can just make their own halachic conclusions)
 

velvel

why can't you just conclude that matisyahu is an am ha'aretz (ignoramus) who likes to play music and is willing to go to great lengths to do so and is being influenced by out-of-control chabad 'rabbis' who are themselves amei ha'aretz. I doubt that there is any legitimate Rav who would be willing to give him a heter during the nine days, especially if the audience was even partially Jewish.

azriel
 

LOR,
We are arguing issues that have already been settled by Matis and his rav.

Your Jewish-music-on-Shabbos analogy is no good. No one can control when a Jew will listen to his CD. But everyone has the option to listen to the CD at any other time. There is no specific draw to listen on Shabbos.

Every Jew is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but in the same respect, we need to be careful of the temptations we put in front of other Jews. Playing music in mourning might be okay for parnasa, but playing for Jews in public mourning requires a different heter. Unfortunately, there will be many Jews in the audience. Many of them will have shown up with the intention of seeing Matisyahu perform.

The Fried analogy to show that you can perform in aveilut is unnecessary. We both agree that you can find a heter to play music for parnasa during any time of mourning. A professional Jewish musician isn't expected to give up his livelihood for a year when he's in aveilut. It's more than just Avraham Fried.
 

Azriel,
"legitimate Rav?" You don't know Matisyahu, or his rabbis or who he seeks advice and guidance from, or even the details of the heter. You are referring to someone who has perceived halachic opinions more lenient than yours as an ignoramus. One could say the same about you.

I can't "conclude" that anyone is an ignoramus until I know all the details. And so what if he's an ignoramus?
 

Matis performing during the "three weeks" is really no different than punk-rock band Antiflag signing a record-deal with RCA... the artist in question ropes in listeners with their given "call to arms" (religion, anti-corporate, world peace, etc.), only to turn their back in the end on what it was they initally trumpeted, almost always in hopes of grasping a larger wad of cash. In the case of Antiflag, we have a band that spent years drilling completely anti-corporate ideals into the heads of their fanbase, only to inexplicably hand their souls over to the devil himself... from the press-release announcing the new RCA/Antiflag union; "It’s past time to pick a side and take a stand! Years ago we chose the side of equality and justice and with this we re-affirm that choice. There are bigger battles to be fought than what text is on the back cover of an album." So what exactly are they saying here? To my ears, the message is the same as is being presented by Matis... fight the battle, rally around the cause, come together in our love for God, but only for as long as this is independently profitable, after which time morals can be screwed in exchange for a bigger paycheck (with or without "rabbinical approval...")
 

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 

i think all this settles is that matis really does want to tease antelope
 

velvel

I responded to your email. I may not know his rav but I know the kind. The heter is ridiculous.
 

So what you're saying is that this could possibility affect his participation in the next HASC concert?
 

"Hey, Matis... I want you to open up these shows I'm playing later this summer..."

"Aw, man, Trey... those shows are pretty much an impossibility for me to play, they fall during a time of traditional mourning for my people..."

"Listen, kike... you're gonna be happy, you're gonna play these shows, and you're gonna make like nothing's wrong... or else I see to it that the words "jam" and "band" are never again associated with your whole little song-and-dance thing here, and the next best support-offer that you'll get will be playing the hallway before a Shlock Rock concert..."
 

I've come across similar issues with my own band--not necessarily performing, but rehearsing before big summer gigs. My guitarist would initially refuse to practice at all during the 3 weeks. I got him to ask his rebbe who told him it's ok to practice (for money definitely, and probably even for craft sake) during the 3 weeks, but NOT during the 9 days. YMMV depending on your Rav, but I have yet to see a chassidishe Rabbi approve a concert performance of Jewish Music during the 9 days. And is he playing on Tisha Beav as well?

He may be dancing a little too close to the fire here. He needs to decide what he really wants to be.
 

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