Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Secular Bar Mitzvahs -- on Mondays and Thursdays only

YNet reports that, in Israel,
The 14-member rabbinical council... by a majority vote, has decided they would encourage secular families to celebrate their children's bar-mitzvahs on Monday and Thursday (when the Torah is also read) instead of on Shabbat.
(According to the JPost, it's an outright ban -- hard to believe.) The reason is because of a plethora of rabbis complaining of
"guests arriving in cars, sometimes right up to the entrance of the synagogue, videotaping the bar-mitzvah boy's reading of the Torah, and leaving cell phones on during prayers."
Some points (partially covered in The Jerusalem Post's very sensible response):
First, the 'ruling' shows a certain chauvinism in the Chief Rabbinate -- as if some Jews 'belong' in a synagogue / the Western Wall (also included in this) more than others and as if some groups own them more than others. It's extremely unpleasant to see the secular public being treated disdainfully as the enemy, or an undesirable interloper in the religious sphere.
Second, by turning the secular public away on the one occasion when they actually might experience a Shabbat service, they are missing a vital and unique opportunity to make them feel closer to their heritage, and frankly be mekarev them. It's true that all the habits mentioned by the rabbis are disturbing, disrespectful and annoying. However, a slightly different attitude here -- making an effort to bring these people closer, rather than pushing them away -- would make a world of difference. (I'm thinking, for example, of the way Aish or Lubavitch or most Modern Orthodox rabbis might handle / diffuse such situations, and a completely different scenario comes to mind.)
Third, the rabbis' attitude here is a symptom of a larger problem which is partially the reason the secular public behave this way in shuls in the first place. The religious establishment does not understand the public, does not know how to deal with them, does not sympathise with them or have any patience with them and treats them accordingly. Hence, secular alienation from, and hostility to, religion. If the relationship between the religious establishment and the public was not so fraught to begin with, the secular public might be more familiar with shul etiquette, and more respectful, and the problem would never have arisen.

UPDATE: See My Obiter Dicter on the same subject. (Link via Mentalblog, which I am glad to see is back on track).

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