Aha Moment: Matisyahu

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In the mid-2000s, Matisyahu perfected a chart-topping blend of reggae and Hasidic Judaism. It was a counterintuitive combination, but one that worked — reggae often draws on Old Testament mythology about the exodus and the promised land, even if its American fans are usually pretty secular. Matisyahu’s shows were packed with young Orthodox men as well as dreadlocked hippies.

Matisyahu, formerly Matthew Miller, explains how he discovered the power of reggae as a high school dropout living in a park in Burlington, Vermont, and hearing a man singing “Rastaman Chant,” a traditional song made famous by Bob Marley.

In more recent years, Matisyahu’s path took another turn: he shaved off his beard in 2011, and has said in interviews that he no longer labels himself Orthodox, although he continues to identify as Jewish. In a track from his forthcoming album, Akeda, due out in June, he raps, “Got it on the inside, I don’t need to wear it out / Can’t say I’m not religious, I just let go of the doubt.”

(Originally aired: Saturday, May 21, 2005)


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Music Playlist

  1. Jerusalem

    Artist: Matisyahu
    Album: Youth
    Label: Epic
  2. Watch The Walls Melt Down

    Artist: Matisyahu
    Album: Akeda
    Label: ELM CITY (ECI)