Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bar Mitzvah at Temple Micah

About a week ago, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of one of my colleagues. Here are some images and (language-related) reflections! [Click any image to enlarge.]

Above: scriptural texts, commentaries, and prayerbooks on the shelves in the sanctuary of Temple Micah. The wood panels on the walls are inscribed with sayings from the Tanakh.

Here, excerpts from this day's designated portion of the Torah. The boy (man) of honor read aloud some lovely passages from Leviticus 14 concerning leprosy and bodily fluids. Note the direction of reading in the Hebrew text goes from left to right (see the page numbers at the bottom).

The layout of text in the scriptural commentary books is more complex that just two columns of text (see above). The Hebrew reads right to left, and English left to right, and in the notes you sometimes have to switch directions mid-sentence.

Some of us in attendance were mildly horrified by the glosses on the left hand page of the reading from the Haftarah.

The actual service was quite lengthy - and I have to say I never quite "caught on" trying to follow along in the prayer book. Temple Micah uses the Reform Siddur, and as you can see in the above each page includes the Hebrew text (#2), a phonetic transliteration in Roman letters (#6), an English translation (#7), and accompanying prayers (items on left-hand page). Looking at all theses glosses, finding aids, and text moving in different directions made me feel like I was navigating a complex website! For an informative blog posting on this prayerbook's layout, see this online user's guide (the image above comes from that website).

This was a fantastic experience, and I'm glad I was able to take part in the day's celebrations.

P.S. I was very intrigued by the way the Divine Name appears in the prayerbook. Apparently there are many different practices here, but I noticed that during the services everyone was pronouncing the abbreviated name (written יי ) as "Adonai" (= Lord). For more on the pronunciation and writing of the Divine Name, see this entry in this online Jewish Encyclopedia.

P.P.S. For more on the Divine Name in Hebrew, you might also consult this detailed explanation (strangely enough, from a website for Christians).


  1. Another layer of complication: Alex chanted his portion from the Torah scroll, lacking any helpful textual notes, transliterations, trope marks, vowels... AND he had to spend many months thinking about why the Israelites at this time were so (1) sexist (2) ablist and (3) fascinated by a conceptualization of bodiliness that it was impossible for him to share.

  2. Thanks for these additional comments, Jeffrey - I can only imagine how much more difficult it is to read from Torah scroll without the vowel markings! I must say I was very impressed with Alex; in addition to the reading itself, his comments about the passages were so thoughtfully prepared.