If a Jew has not been circumcised, can he have a Barmitzvah?…ask the rabbi

June 13, 2017 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers questions on The Lord’s Prayer, an Uncircumcised Barmitzvah, The Talmud…

Rabbi Raymond Apple

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Q. I was at a non-denominational service at which the Lord’s Prayer was recited. I was not certain what to do. Would it have been an issue had I joined in?

A. As many scholars have pointed out, the prayer derives from Jewish sources, especially the Kaddish and the Amidah.

It does not take deep knowledge to recognise the origin of phrases like “Our Father in heaven”, “hallowed be Your name”, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” and so on to the final phrase, “Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory” – a quotation from I Chronicles 29:11.

In instructing his disciples to say this prayer in private and in the vernacular, Jesus may have been stressing inward piety in contrast to statutory public worship.

But though he used phraseology based on Jewish sources, he exercised considerable skill, as Joseph Klausner pointed out, in condensing and weaving together his material.

Nonetheless, it is not appropriate for Jews to join in the recital of the prayer, not because of any objection to the language but because of its Christian associations.

AN UNCIRCUMCISED BAR-MITZVAH

Q. If a Jew has not been circumcised, can he have a Bar-Mitzvah?

A. Circumcision of a male baby is a mark of Jewish identity (Gen. 17).

It indicates that not only the soul but the body too is part of our religion. Why this particular part of the body symbolises dedicating sexual desire to the right purposes.

If a boy has not been circumcised he should have the operation when he becomes an adult. However, even without a circumcision he is still a Jew and can have a Bar-Mitzvah.

Actually it isn’t a ceremony that makes him a Bar-Mitzvah, which is a legal term which applies when one becomes 13 even without a ceremony.

Sometimes the doctors oppose circumcision because of its alleged hygienic defects, though milah is a simple, safe operation that causes very little pain or ill-effects and prevents penile cancer.

WHAT IS THE TALMUD?

The Talmud itself asks a famous question, “What is Chanukah?”

It is meant as a serious question, and the answer must be more than to retort, “Every Jew knows what Chanukah is!” The question is really this: “What, essentially, is Chanukah? How do you sum up its inner essence?”

The same type of question could be asked about the Talmud itself. “What is the Talmud?” people ask, and what they mean is, “What is the nature, the secret of the Talmud?”

It is not necessary to offer a historical or literary analysis. That is easily available in the reference books. Clearly, the Talmud is a great document, spread over enough books to form a library.

It derives from the early centuries of the common era, and those whose teachings it records are called generically “the rabbis”, the learned men deriving from the tradition of Moses (women scholars are not absent but on the whole the Talmudic sages were men).

Some might call the Talmud a legal document, but it is far more: it is a philosophical work.

This does not mean either that it has no preconceptions, nor that it is a credal work in which the preconceptions are beyond questioning and debate. It believes everything in Judaism and life must be understood as far as one’s capacity goes, and everything can be debated. It probes, it analyses, it illustrates. It goes off on tangents. It brings in an immense range of incidental information.

Some things remain open-ended with the word “teyku”, read as the abbreviation for the Aramaic words for “Leave it to Elijah to solve!” But the conclusions it comes to, not stated in so many words but implicit on every page, are basic conclusions about Judaism.

They include these. There is a God, who is concerned with the whole of His world, not just heaven and not just earth. All can be sanctified, people, places, things, attitudes, time. The glory of human beings is their minds; God does not give the capacity to reason and then forbid its use, even to doubt. Everything in life is part of a pattern; reality makes sense.

Yet Judaism does not take the easy path and offer lists of dogmas on a plate; what it believes in you find from seeing how the Jewish mindset responded to the experience of life. And you arrive at a passion for truth, justice, peace, goodness; a commitment to morality, education, community, messianism.

Study of Talmud is an absorbing exercise. You do not “read” but “learn” it (in fact with a sort of singing rhythm). You do not judge the Talmud but let it speak to you. In the process you get inside the heads of the wise, and you not only learn who they were but who you are yourself.

You come away as an optimist, knowing the future of the world depends not on might, nor on power, but on ideas and the spirit of God.

That’s the Talmud.

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