Miracle – Matisyahu Hanukkah Song Music Video

Here is the new Hanukkah video by Matisyahu posted yesterday. Notice the interplay of Christmas and Hanukkah, first assault, then imprisoned in the culture of Christmas, oppressed by nutcracker, victorious in hockey, then appreciated for his own infinite miraculous light. Finally Greeks, Jews, Hasidim, Christians, Antiochus, and Santa dance together. (Thirty years ago, the organization Gesher was risque by having the lights of Hebrew and Greek letters dance together to show there can be a Greek-Torah synthesis.)

There is a blurring of holiday spirit and commercial making of music, hanukkah festivities and the internet, a mix of particular Jewish pride with universalism, and a very hip holiday spirit. The hanukkah message is the miracle to solve our struggles and falls, to win our fights. Dont miss Matisyahu in Santa Clause costume with tzitzis.The video “Miracle,” was produced by Dr. Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha). This is real entrance into American culture. (And ej – as production and popular music goes this is top of the line. Just compare it the several local frum groups that issued videos yesterday.)

Matisyahu will be playing at YU tonight, Thursday. He will certainly sing this song. Attendees will learn it by heart on their ipod, and probably break out into cheer when he sings it. I have no question that I will be able to go around Teaneck this shabbos and hear people sing this as their hanukkah tune. We have come along way from singing dreidel, dreidel and the debate between modern and non-Zionist Jews about singing MiYemalel Gevurot Yisrael. Any thoughts on the role of popular culture in the community?

I posted the video because it relates to what I am writing/editing today. As stated in my previous post on pop culture, this certainly expands horizons of Jewish music, interfaith relations, role of the Orthodox Jew in America, Christian view of the Jews, and meaning of the holiday. So, how will all those young Centrists process the relationship of Thursday nights performance and the shiur given in the morning? Which will stick in their mind this week? During the course of their lives at points of “struggle and fall” will they turn to the message of shiur or to that of the Thursday night performance? Are their lives, as actually lived, very much different than than the video? Back to Certeau, how does a video like this allow them to accept the hierarchy, power structure, and vision of Centrism and then subvert it?

As a side point, Matisyahu as an ex-lubavitcher, ex-chasid- observant but non-denominational and individualistic in practice is not that far from Rabbi Ethan Tucker, who was banned by YU. But notice, that Matisyahu is an OK influence. His religious views and cultural synthesis can serve as a mirror to people and a guide for navigating personal decisions. Notice how popular culture can work in ways not allowed to high culture.

Jonathan Sarna speculated about his future potential:

The comparisons to the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach were almost automatic, wrote Jacob Berkman in 2005 in the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It was Carlebach who started playing in Greenwich Village coffee houses in the 1950s. His audiences were typically disconnected young Jews. This movement took off for Carlebach during the Peace Movement of the 1960s and ’70s. “Matisyahu is really how Carlebach was in the ’50s,” said Dr. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University in the Jewish Standard piece. “Carlebach only really began building on his followers and creating communities in the ’60s, by which time he had already established his musical reputation. But looking at the trajectory of Carlebach, one could see in Matisyahu somebody who, if nothing else, could have a similar kind of trajectory. For those of us interested in the constant renewal in Jewish life, here is a figure who we may look back upon and say, ‘Yes, he helped renew American Jewish life.’ from here

From an interview in a Christian magazine:

(W)ithin evangelical Christianity there’s a big lack of appreciation for the Jewishness of Jesus as a rabbi, as a prophet and so on and so forth.

But one thing that i€™s known is that He could see that there was corruption and He got turned off by it, which is understandable. And then He kind of started a new wave of Judaism, but it didn’t work, which is kind of a danger, I guess, with anyone that starts a movement, you know, a breakaway kind of thing.

Interesting to see Matisyahu refer to Christianity as “a new wave of Judaism,” as if it were the Reform movement. – from here.

11 responses to “Miracle – Matisyahu Hanukkah Song Music Video

  1. this is only half tongue -in-cheek:
    if i counted right there are exactly two women in this video, both of whom are (scantilly clad and) essentially props. marginalization of women as something upon which orthodoxy and hip-pop can agree?
    (this is connected to your ethan tucker parallel, too.)

  2. So let’s bring in some other videos for the discussion.

    Here’s the Maccabeats, the YU a capella group, which was forwarded by an Orthodox relative:

    Note that it is a parody of this summer’s popular song. Note also that the religious content is not much higher than “I had a little dreidel.” (Exploring the Maccabeats on iTune, I discover that their first album includes a pop song and a Disney song with no modifications to the lyrics, as well as Shabbos songs and a classic Israeli pop song from the 70s.

    I find more spirituality in two songs from artists who are part of the non-Orthodox world, playing gigs at Schechter day schools and Limmud.

    Here’s a new video from MyJewishLearning.com for a Bible Raps song:

    Not a video, but a new song by Naomi Less and friends:
    http://www.myjewishlearning.com/elcms/jewniverse/new-light-mp3.shtml

  3. I’ve seen the Matisyahu video on my Facebook feed mostly being shared by adults, up to and beyond middle-age. My suspicion is that if someone had passed them a video of my 4 year old daughter reciting the blessings on the menorah they would all be sharing that as well. It’s also worth analyzing how different age groups relate to all this.

    In terms of Howard Jacobson’s op-ed yesterday, will the kitsch and self parody of the Maccabeats eventually be the equivalent of the family pretending to be excitedly engaged by the annual game of dreidel?

    Forget Matisyahu v. Shiur. The real conflict will be between Matisyahu and those two cartoon bears that will be the conveyors of all significant discourse for the next month or so.

  4. Pingback: The Hidden Holiday « …VaAni B'Sof HaMizrach

  5. In watching these new Chanukah videos, including this piece de resistance, the hokey and offensive Matisyahu rap, I began to reminisce of my own youth and the differences with today. I was surrounded by, knew, really fantastic people, my age and older. I could not believe the amount of Torah and “other stuff “, (math., physics, culture) people knew. My idealization of others was endless, and an enormous motivation to study. It wasn’t so much the teachers, though they were frequently very good, but the high brow intellectual quality of my peers and chabura.
    Though Agudah was major, there was also Mizrachi, who were not michutz lamachane. Until today I can’t understand why MO centrists are not more firmly tied to RZ and their culture. They are the center and the future, and we are the provincials. The vulnerability to schlock culture would then be diluted.
    I grew up like this… my mother took me to the library as soon as I could read, and then my parents left me alone. No one told me what to read. And I read as I please, until today. I really can’t understand the agmas nefesh so many people have in forcing everything to integrate and be on one page. This integration of Torah and science, and Torah culture and secular culture, is like mourning the death of a loved one. It happens by itself, time and the unconscious relieve the despair, with each person healing in a somewhat different way. Today everyone is a theologian, and everyone knows there is a best way, which just happens to be their way. This need for there to be one page, which is both Jewish and contemporary is one major cause for this lack of bildung, i.e. the education and refinement of aesthetic sensibilities and judgments. It’s difficult to parody Mahler’s 9th symphony, but quite easy to take a Beach Boys tune and add a few “Hashems’ to the lyrics. Because so many of these Orthodox derivative retreads have a 1950’s wholesome quality, a guy like Matisyahu who is far from the reggae and rapper life ideals can seem like something hip and edgy.
    Kolel people used to say ”In America, the country is so rich and there are so many opportunities, you can live off the crumbs left on the table.” I took this maxim to heart. Today the world is so much more difficult, and one has to know so much more just to get along. There might indeed be a connection as AS suggested, between the changes in the economic structures and this compulsion to see oneself mirrored in the popular culture. Worth exploring.

  6. Is there any sense that we are attaching too much importance to some mediocre videos which will be forgotten before our culture blinks an eye? What were the long term impacts of “Lazy Sunday” or “I’m on a Boat?”

    Subtract production values and humor and you have the impact of our Hannukah videos.

    • Mass media reflects, and influences powerfully, the way people think and behave. If mainstream reggae fans think of Matisyahu as just another performer, that’s a step towards non-Jews ability to speak with Jewish-looking people like they speak with anyone else.

      I hope next to see a turban-wearing Sikh on “Yo! MTV Raps.”

  7. I hear it’s pretty hard to get booked on Yo! MTV Raps ever since it was canceled over ten years ago.

    Also, Matisyahu does not have much currency among mainstream reggae fans any more than the wave of ska inflected white bands of the late 90s.

  8. How is he similar at all to Ethan Tucker? Does he do egal Davening? I’ve seen his wife and she wears a shaitel which I have never seen in the hadar crowd.

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