Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Who takes precedence?

Some years ago, at a Bar Mitzvah celebration at another synagogue, I was surprised and dismayed to see that not even the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy was given an aliyah (the honor of being called up to read from the Torah scroll). Granted that the family of the Bar Mitzvah boy (or, in non-Orthodox synagogues, the Bat Mitzvah girl) often tends to take most of the aliyot, which is not necessarily appropriate either. But I don’t think I’d ever witnessed a Bar Mitzvah celebration at which the boy’s own father didn’t get an aliyah. (This assumes, of course, that the child’s father is Jewish.) When I asked a member of the congregation why this had happened, she replied that there had been so many men observing a yahrzeit--it's customary to give an aliyah to a person observing a yahrzeit--that they’d run out of aliyot. (I should mention that the synagogue was Conservative and that it’s not necessarily customary in Conservation synagogues to break up the k’riyat haTorah/Torah reading into shorter sections to allow for extra aliyot, which are permissible on a Sabbath morning.)

Frankly, this answer got me quite upset. My reaction at the time was to wonder whether we Jews had become no better that the pyramid-building, death-obsessed Egyptian pagans from whom we’ll celebrated our long-ago liberation in about two weeks. Does the Jewish religion prioritize the dead over the living, that a yahrzeit, which takes place every year, should take precedence over a once-in-a-lifetime simchah?

Full disclosure: Fortunately, both of my parents are still alive (though, considering the dubious state of their health, I don’t know how long that will be the case). I may very well feel differently when I’m one of the people observing a yahrzeit.

Again, I would appreciate your comments, and extend a particular invitation to members of the G-d Squad (rabbis, rabbinical students, cantors and cantorial students) and/or to those who have lost a loved one and observe a yahrzeit.


Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

my answer is that it's not about the dead, it's about the living — the people observing the yawrtzait. and you don't hurt mourners.

Thu Apr 10, 12:03:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

But it's okay to hurt the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy, who's waited 13 years to see his son be called to the Torah for the first time (and, in some cases, has prepped the kid himself), and can't even get an aliyah when it's his own kid who's leining (chanting the reading from the Torah scroll)?

Maybe I don't get it because I'm lucky enough not to have lost a parent, thus far. Or maybe it's because the Bar Mitzvah celebration has become such a big deal since World War II. (I remember a former chazzan of mine, alav ha-shalom/rest in peace, saying that he was told just a week before that he'd be chanting the haftarah the following Shabbat in honor of becoming a Bar Mitzvah, and that all they had by way of celebration was a "l'chaim" [a shot of liquor] after the service.) But, in all seriousness, I always thought a simchah took precedence, except for a person awaiting the burial of an immediate family member, sitting shiva, or in the first year of mourning.

Thu Apr 10, 12:27:00 AM 2008  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

there are ppl. who pay membership dues an entire year so they can get their aliyah and say kaddish during the week of yahrzeit.
in halakhic literature, yahrzeit takes precedence over nearly everything.

it's still strange that the boy's father didn't get an aliyah, but if someone had to be dropped, he's the likeliest candidate.
also - was there an abundance of kohanim, by any chance? that can throw everything off.

Thu Apr 10, 03:14:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"in halakhic literature, yahrzeit takes precedence over nearly everything." For real? I didn't know that. So the Bar Mitzvah boy's father is really the likeliest candidate for dropping? To me, that still seems weird and not quite right. Sigh.

Wouldn't extra Cohanim get acharon/hosafa aliyot (extra aliyot made by dividing the reading into smaller segments)?

Thu Apr 10, 07:52:00 AM 2008  
Blogger elf's DH said...

As you put in comment#2 above, the "bar mitzvah" as a major social phenomenon is relatively new, whereas the halachic literature for yahrtzeit is well-developed. So, it's no surprise that the halachic literature would give precedence to the yahrtzeit.

It sounds like you're writing this post based entirely on observation. I think it makes a huge difference as to whether the bar mitzvah boy's father thought it was problematic. If so, they should have simply added additional aliyot, which solves the problem even if there were too many kohanim/leviyim. If not, the whole question is moot.

Thu Apr 10, 12:29:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

ELF's DH, you're probably right about a yahrzeit having more halachic clout than a Bar Mitzvah celebration because it's an older practice.

I was not a Bar Mitzvah guest, but just happened to be at that synagugue that Shabbat, so I don't know how the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy felt about not having an aliyah. I guess I "projected"--if it had been me, I would have been quite upset. As you may have gathered :), I don't take kindly to being excluded.

Thu Apr 10, 01:57:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all anyone knows, the father may have been relieved. My grandfather (z"l) barely knew how to say hamotzi (long story re: bizarre s'fardi "don't learn Hebrew" thing w/his own father believing he was sent to save the Jewish people). I'm sure he politely declined every aliyah offered him, over the years (at his daughters' chossons aufrufs, for example). That may have been the case with this father (otherwise why not just make an extra aliyah for him).

Fri Apr 11, 04:11:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

s(b.), I never thought of that, but that's a distinct possibility. Knowing that one is likely to mess up the brachot/blessings at his own kids's simchah/happy occasion might very well make a parent hesitate to take any honor requiring him/her to say something in Hebrew.

Sat Apr 12, 10:18:00 PM 2008  

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