Is a man only worth as much as his beard?

As my friend Esther calls it, what occurred a month ago was the shave heard round the world. Yes, famed former Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu, aka Matthew Miller, did what the general public saw as a drastic act, a visible break from Chasidic Judaism, leaving some to question if Matisyahu was even Jewish anymore.

I saw the photo in the morning via comedian Ari Teman‘s comment on Facebook.  Yes, it was surprising, and it took me a minute to realize what I was looking at, but I don’t think I gave it more than 5 minutes of thought.  So he shaved off his beard.  So what?  Yet mine didn’t seem to be the popular opinion.  Soon posts about Matisyahu’s beard, or lack thereof, were all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Gossip sites and news outlets were reporting on it.  Fans were in a panic, as if Matisyahu’s beard was responsible for his talent.  Religious Jews were scared that he was headed “off the derech (path)”, questioning his observance.  Even my friends were asking if I heard about it and what I thought this meant.  My only concerns were for his three young boys – that they should be able to understand that their dad is the same person even if he looks differently — and his wife – that their marriage should be able to sustain any other changes this external one might bring.

But other than that, I really thought everyone was making a bit too big of a deal.  After all, isn’t Judaism supposed to allow for change?  For growth and evolution, the ability to question, to try out different practices and find what’s right for you?  And shouldn’t this apply to everyone and not exclude “Chassidic reggae superstars” despite that our children look up to them?

A man can do whatever he wants with his facial hair and the rest of his external appearance.  His speech and his actions are what really count.