Better than a list of thank yous.

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I saw this Bar Mitzvah speech video a few weeks ago.

It’s one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a while:


Posted on June 25, 2008

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13 thoughts on “Better than a list of thank yous.

  1. charnitzky

    As a B’nai Mitzvah tutor and student of the rite of passage, I don’t understand why anyone would consider this profound. I agree that the young man has raised a number of good and interesting questions. However, it is clear that no one has helped him think through these questions in a meaningful way.
    1) yes, Tzav is difficult–but it is important to say what was difficult to understand, not simply drop the subject
    2) he makes no distinction between Jewish ritual adulthood and being an adult. Someone should have clarified this for him–and the congregation!
    3) 13 is a good age to be an agnostic–but again, this young man was not guided particularly effectively in how others have understood his questions regarding G-d, the historicity of Torah, and how we moderns can interpret both.
    4) 2 1/2 minutes is simply not long enough to explore any topic. Had he spoken for 15 minutes, he could have explained the subject in greater depth–and in order to do that, he would have had to have thought through all the issues more carefully.

    Bottom line–we (or at least his synagogue) teach far too little to our students and expect them to interpret far too little. This young man was clearly capable–we adults let him down.

  2. Meredith Kesner Lewis Post author

    As a fellow b’nai mitzvah tutor, I agree that this student, like many others, are being let down by their synagogues and teachers, who don’t expose them to a broader variety of interpretations.

    That being said, many d’vrei torah are simply a list of thank yous, a copy of a speech for another child who previously had that parsha (often given to the student by the tutor), or even worse, written by the tutor or the parents.

    At least this child struggled with his thoughts on becoming a bar mitzvah, and spoke, what I believe, was honestly.

    That in itself demonstrates being on the road to becoming a responsible Jewish adult.

  3. David79

    Meredith, after initially being annoyed that my question thread about how many Jews don’t believe in the existence of God was cut off, I watched the Bar Mitzvah video and thought, Now there’s an answer for you! Last week I read of a religious survey that came out in June in which it is stated that 6 of 10 American Jews either disbelieve in or struggle with the idea of God. If that’s true then what that young man said seems profound to me. Perhaps he wasn’t covering all the academic or intrepretive bases, but I think that was intentional; he knew what he was up to. And after the death of George Carlin it’s good to see a kid having some thoughtful and spirited fun with words and meaning.

  4. Ezekah

    Your thread wasn’t cut off, we just didn’t understand your question.

    G-d would rather we follow His laws than state a belief. Both Abraham and Moses struggled with G-d. So we are in good company.

  5. David79

    Thanks Ezekah for getting through to me. I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being understood, but I get it now. That was an interesting “religious” experience. So then the boy does the Bar Mitzvah, commits himself to following God’s laws despite his uncertainty about God’s existence. And the important thing is the commitment to the law, not his belief or disbelief?

  6. The Doctor

    This is something that christians have a hard time with. Christianity is a faith, and is defined by a core belief in the divine nature of Jaysus as savioir. Judaism is a very different concept. It is a covenantal community, a group of people tied together not by a common belief per se, but by an agreement to follow certain rules. Note that at the circumcision ceremony, the conversion, and [for those who choose to do this] the brit bat for baby girls the point is not baptism into the faith, but acceptance into the covenant. The covenant is an agreement to behave in a certain fashion.

    For years I’ve seen christians have difficulty with this. Because they come from a perspective of a definition by faith, it’s hard to grasp a different paradigm and there’s a tendency to look at Judaism through christian filters. It’s not a religion in the sense that christianity is, and can’t be understood in those terms.

  7. David79

    Are you guys saying that Jews, by and large, have never heard or considered the question, Does God exist?
    I get the paradigm difference, but it seems to me that this question has been common currency for a long long time. The young man in the video asks that question in the middle of his Bar Mitzvah; the question cannot be that unusual among Jews.
    No one seemed to misunderstand the question when Israel asked it, why is it so hard to understand when I ask?

  8. The Doctor

    No one is saying that Jews have never considered the question of whether god exists. What everyone has been saying is that it is not the key question that it is for christians.

    You cannot be a christian without believing in god and the divine nature of jaysus.

    You can be a Jew without believing in god.

    And if you do believe in the divine nature of jaysus, you’re not a Jew anymore, you’re a christian. Period.

  9. David79

    Doc, I never said anything about Jesus or jaysus. I wasn’t asking what makes someone a Jew or a Christian or even what are the key questions. I get the difference, or at least some of them. I certainly no longer claim to be a Christian, but neither do I claim to be a Jew. I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that your last sentence was taking a shot at me. If I’m wrong then I apologize in advance for saying, Check your own filters, I’m not your white board.

  10. Ezekah

    [The Doctor]And if you do believe in the divine nature of jaysus, you’re not a Jew anymore, you’re a christian. Period.

    Not true Doc. Since Judaism is defined by your birth, a different belief doesn’t affect it. A person that worships idols is an apostate Jew.

  11. Bluma1

    I believe that if you are born into a jewish household you are a jew for life…….but, after your journey and much study and reading the old testament and the new testament you also agree that Jesus was sent by God ……your beliefs founded on study does not change what happened at birth…….Shalom….Peace….Amen

  12. The Doctor

    Originally Posted by The Doctor
    And if you do believe in the divine nature of jaysus, you’re not a Jew anymore, you’re a christian. Period.

    Not true Doc. Since Judaism is defined by your birth, a different belief doesn’t affect it. A person that worships idols is an apostate Jew.

    I understand the legal definition. However, on a practical basis, we need to make a distinction between those born Jewish and those born Jewish who have embraced another religion. I have had contact with too many synagogues who had people demand membership, voting privileges, and leadership opportunities based on being born of Jewish parents but who embrace “messianic judaism.” We may, in this day and age, need to change the definition of “who’s Jewish” to include a stipulation that they are not practicing another religion. It’s not overly paranoid to envision Jewish institutions being taken over by missionaries from the Jews for Jesus or messianic groups; I know that our synagogue bylaws only say “Jewish by the definitions used by the Conservative Movement” and we have had great difficulties keeping messianics from being involved in leading services or taking leadership positions including determining synagogue practices, not to mention using their position as “someone acknowledged as jewish by Temple XYZ” in their missionary literature.

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