The Blessing of the Parents

I attended an informative and provocative session at Limmud Philly. This conference is held in several major cities and is a usually a day or weekend of Jewish learning. The learning includes philosophy, prayer, entertainment and socializing. It is quite an event for those that like to think Jewish!

I attended a session entitled “We Totally Accept You (Almost): Ritual and Leadership Roles in Synagogues.” The participants learned about the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist perspectives regarding synagogue membership and prayers. Our presenter was InterfaithFamily’s own Benjamin Maron. Benjamin did a great deal of research regarding different synagogues and their policies regarding interfaith involvement.

I was fascinated by the discussion of prayers and who is allowed to say what from the bimah. Frequently synagogues limit the participation of the parent who is not Jewish. We discussed that the reason that some synagogues don’t want the partner who is not Jewish to participate in the prayers at a Bar and Bat Mitzvah is that the translation of the prayers are things like: “Who has sanctified us through the mitzvot” and “Who has chosen us.” The word “us” refers to the Jewish people, therefore, someone who isn’t Jewish isn’t allowed to participate.

I understand the principle of this – Jews have been through a lot. Our ancestors have been persecuted in our efforts to practice our religion and we have worked hard to educate ourselves. Those that have had a bar or bat mitzvah know that there is a lot of work and education going into this process. We feel the need to hold fast to our religion. Will someone who isn’t practicing Judaism threaten my Judaism by saying a prayer?

The children of many of my friends are becoming bar and bat mitzvah. I am familiar with the frequent scene of the parents and grandparents surrounding their young teenager, beaming with pride. I was thinking about this further. I know many families where the spouse does not practice Judaism but has agreed to raise the kids in Judaism. How do they feel during the blessings? Do they feel included, awkward, proud? Maybe a mixture of feelings and emotions? If there were a blessing from the parent who wasn’t Jewish, what would that look like? Would it be sacrilege to bless your child in their arrival in their Jewish adulthood?

As a Jew, I want anyone standing on the bimah during a simcha to feel joy! I don’t want anyone to feel excluded or simply tolerated. I want them to feel WELCOME! So now, I look at this from another perspective: the parent who is not Jewish, standing in front of the Jewish community, blessing this event is equivalent to saying, “I was not raised Jewish, but I am proud, thrilled, and elated that my child is entering into Jewish adulthood. I fully support this choice and my child.” To me, this has great meaning and this concept strengthens the joy of the day. Here is this parent supporting their child’s Jewish journey – how great is that!?

Do I feel threatened that someone who isn’t practicing Judaism is saying a prayer and including themselves in the Jewish community? Not at all. In fact, I am elated that this parent is allowing and encouraging their child to be Jewish! While I know some of the movements are having trouble “moving” forward toward adapting to interfaith issues within our American society, it is critical that they work to keep those that want to be Jewish.

I will be attending two bar/bat mitzvahs this weekend, and I know that I will be thrilled to witness each child stepping into the role of being a Jewish adult. I love Judaism and am delighted to see someone make the choice to practice Judaism. I think that their parents should be allowed to bless their child’s arrival into Jewish adulthood. And with that I say, Amen, L’chaim and WELCOME!

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2 thoughts on “The Blessing of the Parents

  1. This is such an interesting topic – thank you for posting. I think it is important to be welcoming of the non-jewish parent and thank them for making the decision to raise their kids jewishly – this is such a sacrifice on their part, and it should in no way be minimized.

    At the same time, I’d like to take issue with the language of “threats” and whether or not non-jews saying prayers at the bima normally reserved for jews appear threatening to the community. I would argue that it’s not so much a threat as a marker of difference: non-jews are non-jews, after all. If non-jews are allowed all the same rights/privileges of jews in terms of ritual participation, then there would be no point in conversion – and could, in fact, serve to diminish the importance of the sacrifice that these people are actually making. Rather than allowing these folks to do exactly the same things as jews, we should be pointing out their special role in the community. Perhaps the blessings can be modified, or otherwise made to accomodate their special role in the jewish community and in their family. I think there’s a middle ground to be had here.

    I’d also like to point out that not all non-jews in this position would want to be treated as complete equals, ritually speaking, to jews. I know my husband wouldn’t, in the same way that I would feel completely uncomfortable participating in Catholic rituals or pronouncing Catholic blessings. I’m happy to watch and learn as an outsider, but I’m not Catholic, and therefore those blessings simply don’t belong to me. To be honest, I don’t think I completely understand the mindset of those non-jews who want full ritual rights in a synagogue, but want them without conversion.

    • I have no issues with a non-Jew reciting “us” in blessings, if that is their choice; that is still a long way from “full ritual rights, such as tallit, tefillin, aliyot or acting as the shaliach tzibor, etc.

      Furthermore,a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the last place we should be pointing out the differences in the families; this is not an interfaith wedding ceremony. How about taking into consideration the feelings of the celebrant?

      Either we are welcoming, encouraging, family oriented and inclusive or we are not. There is a distinction between non-Jews and Jews, but for those families making thr effort and comprimises to blend, the separation does not need to be as obvious as the Great Wall of China.

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