Has Matisyahu left Judaism?

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(RNS) Matisyahu, the improbable but undeniable reggae star, announced on Twitter on Tuesday (Dec. 13) that he is shaving the beard that has long marked him as a Hasidic Jew.

Fans are confused.

Is he giving up the Orthodox brand of Judaism he adopted 10 years ago, and the ultra-religious persona that helped launch him to reggae stardom? Or is he still a very observant Jew — just sans beard?

Asked one fan on his website, which includes a picture of the newly shorn musician: “Are you denouncing your Faith?”

Here’s what Matisyahu, Billboard magazine’s reggae artist of the year in 2006, tweeted:

“No more Chassidic reggae superstar … At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity … to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth.”

Now, Matisyahu continued, still rather cryptically: “I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.”

Matisyahu, 32, who grew up Matthew Paul Miller in a Jewish family but not an Orthodox one, has created a certain cognitive dissonance for Jews, said Mark Kligman, a professor of Jewish music at Hebrew Union College in New York.

“It’s the paradox of an outwardly Orthodox Jew singing in a tradition that has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism,” Kligman said. He speculated that Matisyahu felt some of that dissonance himself.

“It could be that this is his own processing of that experience,” said Kligman, who added that it doesn’t appear that the singer is shedding his religion.

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