"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


The Four Questions: Matisyahu

Last week, Matisyahu tweeted that he had gone vegan. I'd heard rumors that he was vegetarian, but once and for all, I needed to get to the bottom of the story. I am very pleased to post an interview with the one and only Matisyahu so that he can explain things for himself.

I've been following Matisyahu since the Shake Off the Dust ... Arise days, when I saw him sing and beatbox at a Chabad house's Shabbat dinner. Matisyahu has since gone on to mega-stardom, including having his song "One Day" be an anthem for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I think the novelty of seeing a Hassidic reggae singer is gone for a lot of people because so much time has passed since the live version of "King Without a Crown" was a radio hit. Matisyahu is still out there making heartfelt music and inspiring Jewish kids (and plenty of other people) to rock out.

Here he is in his own words.

1. I was excited to read your tweet that you've gone vegan. What led you to go vegan?
I'm not exactly vegan, not religously like keeping kosher at least. I stopped eating chicken and red meat 'cause I just figured it would be more healthy. I figured it would be more ideal to stay away from eating animals, from having meat sitting and digesting in my gut, like if I ate more plants and greens, intuitively, that seems more holy and more natural. I started thinking back on kapparos, which is the closest I ever came to an actual chicken, and how the Israeli kids were kicking around the cages and [the] noises the chickens were making before being slaughtered, and bringing my kids there to take part in the ritual, the blood, the dirty chicken feet, the sh*t everywhere. Something always kind of freaked me out about it. Then I started to really let myself think about what I am eating, i.e., that's it's actually these animals. I felt so far removed from the animals that I am actually ingesting, it just doesn't seem to me like the way it is supposed to be. I tried that for about a month and felt more conscious and clean. I noticed I was eating a lot of dairy and fish. I figured that dairy is pretty fattening, and fish these days has a lot of mercury. Also, there is a concept in chassidut of not over-indulging and keeping your desires in check, so I figured it wouldn't be so bad all around if I could eventually cut that stuff out as well. I read a couple of pamphlets on the mistreatment of milking cows, getting eggs from chickens, etc., and that pretty much sealed the deal. I haven't had any dairy in a couple months, I have eggs if they're cage-free and a couple bites of of wild salmon here and there. That's pretty much the story.

2. To what extent does Judaism inform your decision to be vegan?
I feel that while it is relatively normal to follow the ins and outs of Judaism with all its rules and regulations, especially when it comes to food, we often miss the big picture. The main idea is to be conscious of what we put in our bodies, to be healthy, to not partake in the karma of mistreating or disrespecting anything that is a part of this world, especially living creatures, etc. While I felt this way for some time, it was only recently that I was able to get past my own habits and such and to make a move, to do something, which as far as I understand, [in] Judaism is what it's all about. Action.

3. As a touring musician, do you find that it's easier to be a kashrut-observant meat-eater or vegan on the road?
Both are not simple but actually quite easy and simple when it comes down to it. It just takes preparation and not being overly attached to food. Sometimes you might have to have a protien bar and an apple for 6 hours on a plane ride instead of abusing yourself with the food everyone else is eating. It's really not the end of the world. Almost all vegan food is kosher, so it is pretty doable.

4. Several years ago, Heeb Magazine (which heebnvegan is not affiliated with) noted that Burger King tried to recruit you for an ad and have you say something along the lines of "I can't eat this, but you should" while holding a cheeseburger. Is this true, and what was your reasoning in saying no?
I believe it is sort of true, although I don't remember the exact details. The reason for saying no is pretty obvious on many levels, but mainly, cheeseburgers? Come on.


  • At 4/09/2010 12:59 AM, Anonymous IsraeliMom said…

    Very nice! I actually hadn't heard about him before - he's not very well known among Israeli chilonim. Seems like a great guy and it's great that he went vegan too.

  • At 11/09/2010 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was excited by the news too. I wrote a blog entry last night on the subject entitled "Matisyahu, Vegetarianism & Me"


  • At 12/01/2010 11:05 PM, Anonymous Yeshaya said…

    Related to Matisyahu's statement that we should not harm any living creatures, and that this is an important aspect of Judaism, this is my favorite quote by the Ramak, R' Moshe Cordovero, in Tomer Devorah:

    "[One] should constantly pray for mercy and blessing for the world just as the Supernal Father has mercy on all His creatures. And he should
    constantly pray for the alleviation of suffering as if those who suffer were
    actually his children and as if he had created them.

    Furthermore, [one's] mercy should extend to all creatures, neither destroying nor despising any of them. For the Supernal Wisdom is extended to all created things- minerals, plants, animals and humans. This is the reason why we were warned against despising food. In this way man's pity should be
    extended to all the works of the Blessed One just as the Supernal Wisdom
    despises no created thing for they are all created from that source, as it is
    written (Tehillim 104: 24): 'In wisdom You have made them all.'

    In this way [one] should despise no created thing, for they all were created in Wisdom. He should not
    uproot anything which grows, unless it is necessary, nor kill any living thing
    unless it is necessary."


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