Wednesday, October 10, 2007

rabbi as toastmaster

My wife and I have been to some celebrations recently where the Rabbi was called on to say a few words. After hearing the same meaningless message a few times it dawned on me that some people use the Rabbi as toastmaster – called on to give an invocation, the goal is to stand up before an audience and look Rabbinic (beard and wearing a hat is always good), say nothing particularly meaningful, compliment the host, and sit down before anyone gets too bored or the festivities are disrupted. A sample speech goes something like this:

I would like to wish Mazel Tov to Mr. and Mrs.________ on the occasion of their child’s bris/wedding/bar mitzvah/bas mitzvah (choose one). We are all sure their son/daughter (choose one) will grow to be a fine ben/bas (choose one) Torah and follow in the footsteps of the parents and Bubby________/Zeidy_________/other significant relative (choose one), bringing much nachas to them and our community. Our congregation is proud of the wonderful chessed Mr. and Mrs._________ perform, their fine middos and character, and know they have been and will continue to be fine role models.
Insert one:
May they raise this child l’torah, chuppah, u’ma’asim tovim
May the couple be zocheh to build a bayis ne’eman
May the bar/bas mitzvah continue in the ways of Torah for years to come
Mazel Tov!

UGGGGHH! I can’t stand speeches like this. I hate it even more when a little ditty of a vort is thrown in just to add some flavor of Torah to it. Yet, it seems to make people happy. They expect the Rabbi to do this, and it makes them feel good and more “Jewish” by calling on him to do so. If I was a professional Rabbi in many of these congregations I would probably just write out the above on an index card and carry it with me as an all occasion speech. Why do more when no one really expects it or cares?

I know many Rabbis do try hard to impart some real wisdom and thought, but when I hear stuff like this I am reminded that for many people Judaism is a completely banal religion filled with empty platitudes and fluff designed to provide comfort for pain and make people feel more“Jewish” at “lifecycle events” that carry some traditional significance. Nothing of real intellectual significance or even deep emotional feeling. Are Rabbis doing people a service by offering them at least something of Torah flavor? I guess so. But at the same time I am bothered by flavor without substance.


  1. ever read this?

  2. Bob Miller12:03 PM

    Clearly, the rabbi ought to describe each of the child's major and minor personality traits and to advise the child's parents and their guests in detail as to how to make the best of them.

    But say the rabbi can't know these things! Exactly, so his comments have to be way more general. OK, maybe not banal, but general for sure.

  3. Bob Miller12:07 PM

    (the above was mainly about remarks at a bris, but would apply to many a bar and bat mitzvah, too)

  4. >>>you say the rabbi can't know these things!

    Where did I say that?

  5. Bob Miller12:54 PM

    That was rhetorical; I know you didn't say that.

    The point was that the rabbi rarely has such a close relationship with the people in question as to let him really zero in on the interesting specifics.