My Lubavitch bat mitzvah

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I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is the Creator and Guide of all the created beings, and that He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.

I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is the only one to whom it is proper to pray, and that it is inappropriate to pray to anyone else.

I believe with complete faith that the whole Torah which we now possess was given to Moses, our teacher, peace unto him.

I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, knows all the deeds and thoughts of human beings, as it is said, “It is He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who perceives all their actions.” (Psalms 33:15).

I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, rewards those who observe His commandments, and punishes those who transgress His commandments.

I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach, and although he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait every day for him to come.

I believe with complete faith that there will be resurrection of the dead at the time when it will be the will of the Creator, blessed be His name and exalted be His remembrance forever and ever.

If you’re enjoying these, you can read the rest of Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith here:  Be warned though that you’ve already read the juiciest ones, if you ask me.

Some have trouble comprehending that any Jews in this day and age hold fundamentalist religious beliefs. Swimming in a liberal bubble, they are convinced that modern Jews who talk like they believe in creationism, reward and punishment, or the messiah must have reinterpreted understandings of these concepts. There’s no way, they argue, that Jews of the twenty-first century believe literally that an omnipotent personal god controls the world or that humans did not write the torah – some may embrace a new-agey version of reincarnation, but none are truly waiting for an end of days when the dead will be nonfiguratively resurrected. Right?

I was a really earnest kid. I came of age in a religious community that espoused these beliefs, and I thought they meant them literally. When I read the principles of faith before the congregation at the Lubavitch shul my family attended, I wasn’t reinterpreting.

I didn’t get that memo. I was twelve.

Because I celebrated my bat mitzvah at a Chabad shul, where a girl can’t read Torah, I didn’t leyn. Instead, I made a speech.  And then I recited the poetic version of Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith (the best hits of which are quoted above), in Hebrew and in English, to lots of reasonable people: my best friend’s secular Jewish parents, Unitarian family friends, liberal-minded congregants from the unaffiliated-Reform chavurah my family attended for years. I can only imagine how they all received the professions of faith I shared.

I don’t remember objecting at the time, even though I’m not sure that these particular faith principles spoke to me even then. My mom tells me that I didn’t want to read them and that she said something on my behalf.  But I still read them. If my mom had it to do over, I think she’d push harder.

My husband now jokes that Maimonides made me an atheist. I always say that it was sociology and anthropology course reading that made me an atheist. (If you want your kid to remain orthodox, certainly do not allow them to attend secular college!  And if you have a daughter, think twice about giving her a Lubavitch bat mitzvah.)

Either way, the faith-focused Christian culture of Maimonides’ time may explain his promotion of fundamentalist beliefs. Chabad culture is very Christian as well, with its failed messiah shtick. As the joke goes, “What’s the closest religion to Christianity? Lubavitch.” My husband was once handed a little card with a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on it in a New York City subway station. He didn’t know what to do with it. Then he ran into a table full of Jesus images and figurines (the definition of idolatry?!), and it felt just right to him to leave it there. ahahahaha.

I see Judaism as a cultural adopter rather than a source of supernaturalism, a sponge that soaks up the culture around it but at its best encourages us to let supernaturalism go and seek to connect with what truly is, as best as we can discern it. True-to-itself Judaism doesn’t waste time making claims about the afterlife or dreaming up magical powers.

And when Jews go Christian, i.e. supernaturalist, the best response is for Jews to go naturalist.
Naturalist is the real Jewish. Naturalist is the most Jewish. Nothing’s more Jewish than atheism.


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2 Replies to “My Lubavitch bat mitzvah”

  1. Mary Mogan-Vallon

    I have family and friends I love who hold fundamentalist beliefs, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I am a rationalist who accepts the efforts of science to explain the physical world. I also fear the religious zeal that gives rise to bigotry and know that most fundamentalists are NOT zealots. Where does that leave me? I believe with complete faith that I have a moral obligation to promote pluralism and understanding when and where ever I can.

    1. Ari Appel

      Mary, it leaves you in the uniquely postmodern place of knowing with a complete faith what YOU believe but not assuming that what’s right for you is right for others 🙂


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