I was more than a little surprised to read in Gary Rosenblatt’s column Rabbi Joy Levitt’s belief that teaching our kids to chant haftorah “is wasted training,” contributing to the sabotage of their Jewish life (“Changing Up The Bar And Bat Mitzvah Experience,” April 20).
These are strong sentiments with which I completely disagree. Having watched thousands of b’nei mitzvah learn Hebrew, chant both Torah and haftorah and lead liturgy, I believe that Jewish literacy, including synagogue skills, is vital to cohering our children to Jewish life and ethical living. Only the haftorah keeps the prophets’ strong call for righteous living, even when others sin, alive for Jews all over the world each week. If our students don’t understand the impact of what they are chanting, let’s not blame the haftorah. That is why my shul has a strong family program to enhance the b’nei mitzvah experience and to reinforce the importance of these sacred texts.
In my experience, when our students feel confident in their Jewish skills, they will feel more attached to the Jewish community and its purposes. Rabbi Levitt is correct that tzedakah work must also focus on the Jewish world, but I fear that minimizing their competence in the traditions our community will surely continue with or without them will make them feel inadequate and increase their alienation from that very community.
The column asks, have you chanted any haftorah since your bar or bat mitzvah? Why not? Every bit of Torah and haftorah chanting done during the High Holidays at my congregation, for example, is done by learned members of our community. Some of them are 13 years old.
Senior Rabbi, Congregation Rodeph Sholom Manhattan