Saturday, March 27, 2010

Religious Crisis

Being Jewish, a religious crisis could easily be tanks and loss of lives in the East Bank, or Gaza, strained international relations, and global tag with armed support. Thankfully, this particular crisis is NOT about loss of life, though it might be loss of income. Not ours, the Synagogues. I'm not sure that this is about the Synagogue we belong to at all, but I am having a serious crisis of faith in why I persist in being a Jew, practicing Judiasm, wanting Jewery. I think, on my most visceral level, that I like the depth of belonging to something old. No one knows when whomever in my family did first commit to a single, omnipotent God, did that. Turn of the 1st Century? Turn of the 10th Century? 1840? There is no record, written or otherwise. Perhaps someday I will write about that.
Second, I like that there is this tribe of people out there that I can relate to on a level in addition to: sports, politics, weather patterns, entertainment. Jews are just about everywhere, and in general do a good job taking care of each other, especially in times of need. Being part of this little club means, well, I'm part of the club! Being Bat Mitzvah and a member is ... what? What does one 'gain' from going through the process?

I am having this crisis, I think, because Rebecca is in Religious school in order to become Bat Mitzvah. She can't, however, become Bat Mitzvah when she 'should', because there is a rule in this Synagogue (which I doubt is very unique) that each child must go through 4 years of religious education before they are eligible for Bar or Bat Mitzvah. So I am thinking through why we want to do this, more and more, as she is increasingly coming under scrutiny to participate at a specific (minimal) level, OR ELSE! (says the rabbi)

On some level there is Jewish education, in addition to education. For her Bat Mitzvah, like I did, she will lead the congregation in the Friday night and Saturday morning services (though not a Rabbi, so not technically in charge), and she offers her words in the sermon. She's done presentations, she gets exposed to that in both school and scouts (she's already presented to both adults and kids, and will continue to do so in both groups). Coming 'of age' means becoming indebted to Judiasm, to the Jewish community. The child is now able to do as much in the Jewish world as an adult - get married, participate in a minyan, say the Kaddish. However, according to Jewish law, she can do these without Bat Mitzvah. In fact there is no law anywhere in the torah about the ceremony we now call Bar or Bat Mitzvah; it's a convention. So this is me, buying into the social convention of Bat Mitzvah I have a good reason? Do I need a good reason? Does it give my child a goal, a specifically Jewish goal, after which ... what? She is required by no law to participate in Jewery, believe in Judiasm, or do anything Jewish if she doesn't want to. If she wants this, the education and the party surrounding her coming of age, I can support it. If she doesn't, I refuse to buy into the litany of ridiculous rules, mostly random, that guide the education of a Jewish child into their bar or bat mitzvah. It sure seems to be that doing the ceremony by itself, without the education and understanding, is useless to both the child and the community. But doing the education, and letting the ceremony go? That feels right. It feels less like a fake Christmas (or Halloween in February), than wanting to know more and understand her own history. She can decide for herself, even as a child, whether this is something that she WANTS to do, as I can find no earthly reason to do it (other than the gifts).

It isn't that I don't want to pay, or that she shouldn't feel supported to go through this process. I'm simply not convinced that, being a non-believer, it is not entirely hypocritical for me to pursue this line of faith, with or without Rebecca. She will, someday, regret having had to go through it - or having not gone through it - either way. So I will leave the door open for now, understanding that there are 3 weekends we will lose her to overnight camp, many Sundays that she will be cooped up and under-appreciated, and her understanding of the history and culture of the Jews will expand - for better and for neutral.


vivian said...

I was given a choice and chose to not Bat Mitzvah, my only regret was not getting the gifts. I don't believe my feelings toward my religion have in any way been shaped as an adult by not going through with it. I love that you are giving her the choice.

Karen said...

Religion is full of hypocracy. I know that a large part of me feels hypocritical about my kids going thru such a religious ritual, when we are so far from that. However.... I do consider myself a cultural jew and look upon the Bar/Bat Mitzvah as part of that culture. I also value it as a coming of age ritual-- something I believe is severely lacking in out culture.
I feel like when we do Jewish things, I am rewriting things in my head because I believe so little of it.
It's hard. No easy answers