Friday, September 07, 2007

"A good name is better than riches." --Proverbs

I adore Matisyahu. He's a Jewish performer whose music I love. I read his entry on Wikipedia and was surprised by the note at the end.

His secular name is Matthew, but his parents couldn't remember his Hebrew name. The assumption was that his Hebrew name was Matisyahu (the Hebrew version). Years later, it was discovered that the actual name given to him at his bris was Feivish Hershel. Rabbis advised him to continue using Matisyahu.

This just astounds me. How do you forget your child's Hebrew name? In Judaism, names are hugely important. Depending on where your family is from, there are traditions regarding specific things that you either do or refuse to do. Traditional Jews do not share the child's name before the child is born. We took such care in naming our children--both their secular names and their Hebrew names. So the idea that someone can forget a child's Hebrew name astounds me.

My husband did not know his Hebrew name for years. I believe he was called to the bimah for his Bar Mitzvah using his secular name (which is NOT done in traditional synagogues, but he was raised the most reform of the Reform.). I don't believe he was ever called up to the bimah other than that day (until our children were born). He was in his late 20s when I found the certificate from his bris which listed his Hebrew name. When I asked his mother what the significance was, she explained, "I don't know. I didn't name him. The mohel picked his name." My mouth hit the floor. How the hell do you let someone else pick your child's name? This is what they will be known by in Israel. This is the name that is used for the marriage contract and being called to the bimah. This is hugely important.

The big kids go back to Sunday school this week. One thing the program requested is that the child be familiar with their Hebrew name. We're involved with both the Reform and Conservative synagogues in the area. The notice from the Reform shul included a note stating that if you can't remember your child's Hebrew name, contact the office. WHAT? How do your kids not know their names? How do the parents not know?

I don't think this is really about levels of observation. Granted, if you're more observant, you'll use the Hebrew name more often (those who don't consider themselves traditional might not be in many situations where they need to use their name--they might not be called to the bimah, they might not have a ketubah, etc), but still, it's your child's name. It seems to me it's something you would remember.

I'm just floored that it seems like such an epidemic.


Krissy said...

Even my non-observant BIL can remember who his saint is and I don't think that's nearly as important as your child's NAME. Sheesh, that's just shocking!! (Although, the fact your MIL was so detached isn't entirely shocking, to be completely honest)

Katie said...

You mean to tell me your MIL doesn't remember anything about her own child? Wow this "shocks" me.

oops did I say that out loud!!!!

Shoot I can remember your Hebrew name and the saint names of my youth at the last church.