Ethics

For the week ending 18 June 2005 / 11 Sivan 5765

Going to the Dogs

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: A fellow in my office, who belongs to some temple practicing what they call "Liberal Judaism", recently invited me to attend a "Bark Mitzvah" which he is making for his pet dog at their temple. He promises me that it will be a "truly religious ceremony" as is customary in that community, complete with a tallit and kipah for the dog, a sermon and appropriate gifts. I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous but what is the right thing for me to do in this case?

Answer: With all respect to dogs and other animals, you are faced with a challenge to redeem a fellow Jew from his association with a brand of "modernization" which is letting Judaism "go to the dogs". But because such behavior is, as you put it, "absolutely ridiculous", it provides you with an opportunity to enlighten your inviter as to the folly of his spiritual values and thus open his eyes to true Judaism.

The Midrash teaches us how the Patriarch Avraham used satire to discourage people from idol worship. A customer entered his fathers idol shop one day while he was minding the store and ordered a shiny new model. "How old are you?" asked the young Hebrew iconoclast. When the client responded that he was sixty, Avraham challenged him as to how a man of sixty was prepared to bow down before an idol only a few days old.

Just as that customer walked out of the shop with a humiliating sense of the absurdity of idol worship, perhaps a similar effort on your part in regard to the "Bark Mitzvah" will cause your friend to abandon such a farce and the movement that sanctions it. But perhaps your best approach will be to inform your friend that you cannot attend a ceremony which is an insult to your own idea and ideal of what a Bar Mitzvah means in the life of a Jew. You may also assure him that his pet dog will not be insulted if he cancels the event and walks out with his tail between his legs because that animal has more sense than the humans who wish to honor him by disgracing themselves.

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