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Idol Chatter

The Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu is everywhere these days–Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, record store displays, iTunes most-downloaded lists–but the phenomenal, and surprising, success he’s found doesn’t seem to be enough for him. The New York Times reports that, on the eve of the release of his new album, “Youth,” Matisyahu called his longtime managers–and fired them.

Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris, the young men who founded the nonprofit music label JDub, had the foresight and creativity to look at a bearded, black-hatted Hasid and see his star potential. They nurtured Matisyahu’s career and shared the glory of his rise to fame–only to be dumped as his career began to really take off. “He said, ‘I don’t know if you guys are old enough or have enough experience,'” Bisman told the Times regarding Matisyahu’s reasoning.

Being the hip but squeaky-clean Orthodox Jew singing about God, the messiah, and values is a major part of Matisyahu’s appeal. Along with catchy tunes, his personae is his appeal. It’s hard to reconcile the idea that this Hasid would fail to show the basic Jewish value of gratitude by sticking with the managers who were responsible for his success.

Not surprisingly, some of his most strident supporters are shocked at the betrayal. One of the bloggers at jewschool.com describes his own longstanding efforts at pushing Matisyahu’s career forward in every way possible, and then comments on this week’s news:

The last three years for Matisyahu have been nothing less than miraculous. He has gone from playing half-empty nightclubs in New York City to playing for sold-out crowds at Madison Square Garden, and headlining with his own musical heroes like Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Bob Marley’s backup band, The Wailers….

While I marvel at his success, and wish to be proud that I had some part in making it happen, I can only watch in horror and disappointment as he presses a knife firmly into the back of the man squarely responsible for his stardom — the man under whose chuppah I once watched him sing: Aaron Bisman. What should be a time of simcha [happiness] and pure joy is now overcast by the shadow of gut-wrenching heartbreak.

That same blog posting quotes a Rolling Stone profile in which Matisyahu makes his naked ambition clear:

[W]hile the 26-year-old artist is devoutly religious, he is not letting that stand in the way of getting his music heard. “Who doesn’t want success?” he asks. “There’s some artists that say they don’t, and they’re not looking for it, but I’m not one of those artists.”

In the end, I guess it shows that even the most pious among us are suceptible to the seductions of fame and fortune. I am not one of those people who holds someone to a higher moral standard because he wears a yarmulke and only eats kosher food, but putting profit before people and money before ethics is not kosher in anybody’s religion.

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