10 January 2006

Matisyahu and X-tian/Jewish Relations

I was scanning the nominees for the JIB Awards at JPost.com when I came upon this post at Life of Rubin. Apparently, Hasidic Reggae musician Matisyahu did a track or two with a Christian band called P.O.D. (Payable On Death) for the band's new album "Testify."

Controversy is breaking out among Matisyahu's Jewish audience (of which the majority, I would assume, are Orthodox) because of the band's Christian beliefs and the fact that the cover of the album has a cross on it. According to the official JDub Records boards, Matisyahu was in favor of the collaboration, and he and the fellows in P.O.D. got along quite well in-studio. The Christian artistry on the cover of the album can be explained thus:

But i can also tell you that label politics did come into play after the recording was finished, and we (JDub, Matis, SONY) had zero input on much after the songs were recorded. we had no idea what the cover would look like, and honestly, its the most religious (christian) cover i think they've ever had.

This is a common business practice. I doubt the boys in P.O.D. willfully intended to offend Matisyahu or his listeners. It's their album, so why shouldn't they be able to put what they want on the cover? If the situation was reversed, would P.O.D. fans be complaining that a Star of David was on the cover of a Matisyahu album that featured guest vocals by P.O.D.?

Which leads me to the larger issue in question: Is the image of the cross itself so offensive, or is it the message behind the cross that bothers the Jewish audience? I'm talking from a Jewish perspective here. Is the cross offensive to the Jewish audience because it symbolizes a religion that has spent so much time telling the world to believe in a Jewish Messiah while doing all that it can to separate itself from its Jewish roots?

If anything, the nascent reconnection between Christians and the Jewish people will eventually force both camps to confront these questions of symbolism and compromise, something I've commented on twice before. Eventually, the Christian community is going to have to come to terms with the fact that while they practice like pagans, their founders practiced as Jews. This isn't going to be easy for the Jewish community to digest, though. While I can see it increasing Christian love for Israel and all things Jewish, it also paves the way for an avenue of jealousy in the Jewish world. I think this is why so many religious Jews who claim a love for Christians feel safer around Catholics and even Evangelicals who hold on to established church practices instead of the more radical sects of Christianity that study the Jewish roots of their faith. Those pagan-turned-Christian practices (like the worship of Saints, graven images, Easter eggs, Christmas trees) help draw a heavy line in the sand between Christians who feel the need to tell the world about their Messiah, and Jewish people who want to be loved but left alone.

I wonder, if the wall of Christian Church tradition fell down, and more believers in Messiah began practicing as Jews, what would happen to Jewish-Christian relations? What would life be like if a Star of David was mounted on the wall instead of a Constantinian cross?

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