Stealing things from Judaism is not exactly a new thing in history. The Chrisians stole our Bible, the Muslims the pork thing and where do you think the Scots got haggis from?
Unfortunately outright theft no longer seems to be in vogue. Nowadays, instead of stealing ideas and setting up a new religion or identity, groups interested in bits and pieces of Judaism but not enthralled with the idea of accepting the entire package grab those bits and pieces but refuse to change the label.
Let us be clear: while lacking a formally recognized patent, Judaism has been defined for over three millenia by certain ideas - God as Creator of the Universe and Giver of the Torah, Torah MiSinai, the indivisibility and authority of the Written and Oral Laws. Rejecting any of these and a dozen other fundemental principles is a person's choice but can no longer be called Judaism.
Yet secular Jewish groups don't seem to get this. They want the label "Jew" all right, but without the responsibilities that go with it.
Hence the absurdity of the concept of a secular bar mitzvah. What is a bar mitzvah? Why, an acknowledgement that the boy in question has come of legal age in terms of responsibility to perform mitzvos and act as an adult Jew. Yes, in North America most people really do think its the Jewish boy's equivalent of a sweet sixteen but it isn't. Since the bar mitzvah therefore deals with a boy's acceptance of the historical religious principles of Judaism, why would a secular Jew who rejects those principles want one? The kishke at the reception?
When Mark Neuman celebrated his bar mitzvah seven years ago at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver, B.C., he didn’t read from Torah, wear a yarmulke or pronounce Hebrew blessings. He gave a talk on the psychology of Jewish humor.
His brother Ben’s bar mitzvah “portion” was a report on their grandfather’s escape from Nazi-occupied Poland.
That’s typical in the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, a loose-knit group of some two dozen North American communities that emphasize Jewish history and culture while eschewing Jewish ritual, faith and anything that smacks of a deity. In contrast to the better known Society for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963 by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Secular Jewish communities are lay led and emphasize Yiddish rather than Hebrew. But the philosophy and beliefs of both groups are quite similar.
“I feel Jewish,” says Mark, now 20 and a teacher at the Peretz school. “To me that means upholding the culture. It’s about the history, the Holocaust, the holidays, the language -- all these are very important to me. But I don’t believe in the religious aspects.”
Over a thousand years ago a large group of Jews felt they no longer wanted to observe the Oral Law, they took themselves formally out of our People, called themselves Karaites and promptly faded into the selvages of history. Samaritans claim parts of the Torah for themselves but they don't call themselves Jews, at least they didn't try to until Israel offered welfare benefits to them if they did. But secular Jews don't seem to want to make that honest break.
Look at what the interviewee said was important to him and see the disconnect. The history: of three thousand years of religious identity. The language: of the Bible. The holidays: which all commemorate religious occasions. All those are important to him, but only in a neutered, self-centred meaningless way.
If these folks want to do bits of Judaism without God, that is certainly their right. Could you all just pick a different name for yourselves?