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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Atheists Allowed at the Altar?

"True-Life Tales" are a weekly feature in the NY Times Magazine, part of the expanded Sunday edition. This week's tale is quite interesting. It discusses a boy whose Bar Mitzvah is "cancelled" by his Rabbi - after the invitations had gone out - apparently because he admitted that, he had "been insisting he's an atheist. He says he doesn't want a bar mitzvah if it means believing in God".

According to the story, the rabbi, who was Reform, would not allow the boy to go ahead with being called to the Torah unless he would agree to say that he believed in God. As I might have predicted, the Orthodox Synagogue they approached did not have any such compunction about allowing the Bar Mitzvah boy his fifteen minutes at the Bima (I had never heard anything about an explicitly stated requirement before an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah of the Bar Mitzvah having to announce one's belief in God), but the family still did not like what the Orthodox Rabbi was offering, ultimately pulling out before the deal was made:
A year passed. Michael's mother began conversations with a local Orthodox rabbi, who had a different approach from the Reform rabbi who had banished Michael. He told her that if her son was Jewish when he turned 13, he automatically became bar-mitzvahed. It didn't matter what he believed at the time — it was like a turkey timer that popped in his soul. The rabbi offered to briefly call Michael to the Torah on any given Tuesday at his synagogue. No one in the family got very excited about that option. A proper bar mitzvah celebration requires dancing in a conga line to the "Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!" song. An Orthodox synagogue on a Tuesday was no place for that.
Ultimately, the family found another synagogue, presumedly not an Orthodox one, to go ahead with the ceremony. All in all, an amusing piece.

My question is, is the standard of "believing in God" really required of Reform adolescents in order for them to be called to the Torah, and then go ahead with their "dancing in a conga line to the "Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!" song."? It would seem an impossibly high standard to expect of mostly secular young not-quite-adults in a world where declarations of atheism and agnosticism probably are all the rage for teenagers. Anyone have a clue?

14 Comments:

Blogger mother in israel said...

Where do they read the Torah on Tuesdays? Inquiring minds want to know.

9:21 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

mother in israel said...

Where do they read the Torah on Tuesdays? Inquiring minds want to know.


Very good point. Either the writer meant monday or thursday, or the Orthodox synagogue she went to was more freewheeling that she implied.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous mycroft said...

Where do they read the Torah on Tuesdays? Inquiring minds want to know


On days that people have bar mitzvah parties Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Chana said...

The writer of the article committed more than one mistake.

"He told her that if her son was Jewish when he turned 13, he automatically became bar-mitzvahed" - a bar mitzvah.

I wonder if they thought they'd have 2 conga lines at the O shul (for boys and girls)?

Why don't they just have the conga line for his HS graduation?

Why would they go to an O shul at all, that just make me scratch my head. I mean, I'm heartened to hear that the Reform rabbi said no, but would a Unitarian church been more up their alley? Right, the kid is the atheist, and the party's for the adults. Silly me.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Chana said...

(makes)

10:54 AM  
Blogger Somewhat Anonymous said...

I'm fairly certain that you can't give an Aliyah to an avowed atheist anyhow, Tuesday or not... (Maybe the rabbi thought it might be good for the kid to have a religious experience on the slim chance it'd affect him later in life?)

Mycroft - having a Bar Mitzvah party is a reason to read from the torah? Or did you mean (as I think you did) that when someone's Bar Mitzvah falls out on Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah on a Tuesday?

Its funny actually, I was able to name my daughter on a Tuesday morning because it was Chanukah.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a reform jew and when it is time for my son's Bar Mitzvah, it is going to be small, and not a wedding. I was brought up to believe, a bar mitzvah has nothing to do with a party where 300 of your closest friends and relatives come and you try to out do them. My son unfortunately will have to suffer.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous UN-ORTHODOX JEW said...

EVERYONE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THE YTT ABUSE SCANDAL THIS WEEK TO COME TO A HEAD - WE HAVE A RECENT VICTIM OF ABUSE WHO HAS AGREED TO COME FORWARD AND MAKE THE CHARGES AGAINST THAT INSTITUTION CRIMINAL. MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT MARGO WILL STEP DOWN AS RY, AND THAT KOLKO IS READY TO PLEAD GUILTY!!!!

THIS IS A GREAT VICTORY FOR KLAL YISRAEL!!!! ITLL ALL BE IN ALL THE MAJOR PRESS THIS WEEK BY WEDNESDAY OR THURSDAY! LOOK FOR IT.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this UOJ post all over the blogworld - is it true? Its on atowncrier and krum and shmarya and dovbear.

2:58 PM  
Blogger StepIma said...

It also seemed to mention that the date of his (cancelled) bar mitzvah came and went while he was still 12... I don't think the most Reform of Reform play that either

Those True-Life Tales are meant to be comedy pieces, though (they're in the "funny pages" - though that's open for discussion)... the whole thing is probably supposed to be taken tongue in cheek

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above post by "un-orthodox jew" is in fact an imposter.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I think there is a misplaced comma in the story!

"He told her that if her son was Jewish when he turned 13, he automatically became bar-mitzvahed"

Should say:

"He told her that if her son was Jewish, when he turned 13 he automatically became bar-mitzvahed"

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many reform rabbis are athiests. So does that mean that one can be a rabbi without being a bar mitzvah?

8:50 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

Many reform rabbis are athiests.

Actually, that's not true. It's one thing that Reform Judaism insists on.

as to the story, if it's true. I sugest that the parents hire a good lawyer and sue the bejesus out of that reform synagogue. (This is based on the assumption that the policy of mandatory theism wasn't presented when the family scheduled the bar mitzva.) The congregation should be liable for the catering fees, the travel costs of family and friends, and some "pain and suffering" punitive costs. I suppose the syanagogue could then deduct these costs from the rabbi's salary as punishment for such a boneheaded move.

Again, if there was a policy on this issue that was explained to the family, then they don't have a case. In whoch case, the fault is strictly on the boy, who needs a suitable punishment for his boneheaded depletion of the family finances.

I do believe that 13 is old enough to start learning the value of pragmatic hypocrisy. What's the big deal, anyway, kid? I alternate between not believing in God, or being very angry at Him, and I show up at shul every Shabbos, and sometimes even give d'rashot.

so my lesson to the young man is be quiet, say "yessir," nod your head in agreement with whatever he says, and then feel free to disregard it if you want to.

11:35 AM  

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