Am I a Bad Jew?

Am I a Bad Jew?

© David Burton 2022


     I am now midway through my eighth decade of life - a life of being an American-born Jew. I am primarily accepted as a member of the Jewish religion because I was born to a Jewish mother. In the Jewish religion, one automatically becomes a Jew if one’s mother was Jewish. My father was also Jewish, but that is of secondary importance. As a Jew, I follow certain rules and regulations that have become the guiding tenets of my religion.

     I grew up in an orthodox Jewish household, but one that was not devoutly religious. My grandparents, on the other hand were all orthodox and religious. Both grandfathers attended synagogue services on every Shabbat (Saturday) and every Jewish holiday. My father was what might be called a 3-day-a-year Jew, attending synagogue services only on the 3 most sacred Jewish days of the year - on the two days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the day of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement). When I was growing up, my father never attended Shabbat services because he had to work every Saturday. Similarly for Friday Night "Welcoming the Sabbath" - he worked till 9:00 pm on Fridays.

     Between the ages of seven and thirteen, I attended a Hebrew School 5 days a week (Sunday through Thursday for an hour or more each day). The Hebrew school in my case was what was call a “Cheder” which means “room” in Hebrew or Yiddish. It was the front room of a private house that was converted into a classroom with about 10 desks/seats. The Cheder was run by a religiously observant and knowledgeable woman. My class consisted of some four or five other Jewish boys my age with similar religious inclinations, i.e., none. We all went to Hebrew School simply because our parents forced us to go. Our Hebrew School training gave us the basics of a Jewish education: the ability to read, write and speak elementary Hebrew; a simple knowledge of the Jewish holidays; the reading of the Torah (5 books of Moses) and portions of the other original books of the Hebrew scriptures; a simplified history of Judaism.

     At age thirteen, I had my bar mitzvah, i.e., I was confirmed as an adult male Jew who could thereafter be counted in a minyan of 10 Jews – at that time and place, 10 male Jews - necessary to conduct a full religious s ervice.

     The word minyan is the Hebrew word that describes the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations. The word itself comes from the Hebrew root maneh meaning to count or to number.
     In Judaism, one can always say one’s prayers by oneself, at any time or place, but praying with others brings a sense of connection and closeness, and can strengthen the collective to focus on their prayers more deeply. By requiring a minyan for many fundamental rituals, Judaism encourages communal cohesion.
     Typically, a quorum of ten adult Jews is needed in Jewish communal prayer for certain prayers. For example, the Kaddish, which is said by mourners for 11 months after the death of a parent, requires a minyan in order to be recited.
     Only adult Jews can be counted in a minyan — meaning Jews who have reached the age of majority (13 for boys, 12 or 13 for girls). Having had a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is not required, though being old enough to have had one is.
     There are a few explanations derived from the Torah that may account for why the number ten was specifically chosen. The first is from the story of Noah, where there were eight people (Noah, his three sons, and wives) plus the presence of God and that was not enough to save the world from destruction, whereas ten might have.
     Similarly, in the story of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, because Abraham couldn’t even find ten righteous people, God destroyed the cities.
     Later when the Jews were dwelling in the desert after the exodus from Egypt, ten men were sent to scope out the land of Israel, and came back with a negative report.
     A minyan is made of ten adult Jews, originally only males (over the age of 13). In Orthodox synagogues, this continues to be the standard. In today’s more progressive Jewish communities, adult women and men are both counted in the quorum.
     In 2020, with the rise of COVID-19 and lockdown orders, gatherings were deemed unsafe. Immediately, Jewish communities began to consider whether a virtual minyan, convened over Zoom or some other video conference program, would constitute a proper halakhic minyan. Some rabbis ruled that virtual minyans were permissible in this case, because of sources that alluded to the fact that the men only needed to see each other, rather than physically be in the space together. Others ruled that if there were ten men physically “in one place” then others could join virtually and fulfill their obligation with the men who were present.
     COVID-19 posed a threat to peoples’ lives, and the Jewish principle that nearly all Jewish law can and should be overridden for the sake of saving lives was an important principle in arriving at this conclusion. [1]

     In the Temple which I normally attend, both men and women over the age of 13 are counted in the minyan. Also, if only 9 adult Jews are present, the ark is opened and we count a Torah scroll as one of the 10 adult Jews required for a minyan. This is not a universal practice in Judaism, particularly not among the more Orthodox. Does this practice make me a bad Jew?

     Observant Jews do not eat dairy and meat foods at the same meal. This is the result of an interpretation of the phrase Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk “which occurs 3 times in the Bible (Ex. 23:19, Ex. 34:26, and Deut. 14:21). It has traditionally been interpreted to mean ‘don’t eat meat and dairy together in the same meal.’ However, this interpretation doesn’t seem to fit with the story we’re told about Abraham meeting with the three angels in Genesis 18. Abraham fed them meat and milk together in the same meal and they ate it. If it was wrong of them to eat it or if God was against eating meat and dairy together in the same meal, why would the angels do it?” (Ref. 2)

     It can be readily implied that it is especially cruel and insensitive to cook a baby goat in the same milk that came from its own mother. It is cruel and insensitive to the baby and the mother alike. It is safe to conclude that this phrase probably means something along the lines of “don’t be cruel” or “don’t be mean and insensitive” and it may seem clear that this phrase really has nothing to do with food itself – it does seem to have everything to do with humanity and compassion. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that there is anything wrong with eating meat and dairy together in the same meal. If it were wrong, the angels would never have eaten the meal prepared for them by Abraham. [2]

     The prohibition on eating dairy and meat foods at the same time was arrived at by Judaism’s early rabbis following the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and this conclusion (not a part of the laws contained in the 5 books of Moses - the Torah) has formed a basic tenet of Jewish dietary laws ever since. The household in which I grew up observed this dietary law – but not necessarily in the strictest sense. I therefore grew accustomed to generally not combining milk and meat in my meals. But, as I grew older, I looked at the prohibition and concluded that there was no basic biblical prohibition against combining the two. What there was, was a prohibition against being cruel and insensitive, and I have continued throughout by life to avoid boiling kids in their mothers’ milk. What has followed me throughout my adult life is that remnant of my childhood where milk and meat just didn’t go together. And even now, in the 8th decade of my life, I just don’t feel comfortable drinking milk and eating meat together – a matter of habit and upbringing, more than religious observance. But I don’t go to the extremes of the totally observant in this regard. I might have an ice cream for desert right after eating a steak dinner. Does this make me a bad Jew?

     Observant Jews are obligated to pray three times a day – morning afternoon and evening. Since some prayers require a minyan, this praying is normally performed at a synagogue or temple where the required 10 Jews are gathered. But these prayers can be recited wherever circumstances dictate. They are often said in the house of a mourner and I have observed a Jew praying by himself nearing sunset in a corner of Regan National Airport that serves Washington D.C.

     Jewish morning prayers are normally said sometime after sunrise. Afternoon prayers are said between noon and sunset, while evening prayers are recited between sunset and midnight. For convenience, afternoon and evening prayers are usually said one right after another with a very short interval – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes - between them. Thus, observant Jews pray twice a day, every day – morning (once) and afternoon/evening (twice).

     Immediately following my bar mitzvah, I went to Sabbath services two or three times where my father’s father attended services and then I stopped. I had early on decided that I was not cut out to be an observant Jew. Needless to say, I also didn’t bother going to a synagogue twice a day during the rest of the week. And I normally didn’t deign to show up at a synagogue for the lesser Jewish holidays throughout the year. Did this make me a bad Jew?

     All this changed when my father passed away. He died suddenly of a heart attack when I was a junior in college. Upon his death, I tried to attend synagogue services every day - morning, afternoon and evening - for the eleven months following his death so that I could recite the mourner’s prayer – Kaddish – in his memory. Although I could not do this every single day, I did so most days. Over this eleven-month span of time, I began to become more fully acquainted with the prayers, procedures and traditions of my religion. After the eleven months of mourning were over, I still often attended daily services, and also many Shabbat and holiday services. Mostly, I did this as my contribution to making a minyan so mourners could say Kaddish

     Some decades later, when my mother passed away, the process was repeated. After that, I became acclimated to attending synagogue services on a more or less regular basis, even leading the services when called upon. As the older generation of synagogue Jews shrank, I found myself being looked upon as a synagogue elder or a “Gabbai” by default.

     Gabbai (pl. gabbaim) is an Aramaic word that means tax collector, but today a gabbai is someone who assists with the reading of the Torah. Typically, when the Torah is taken out to be read, one person reads the Torah, and that person is surrounded on either side with two gabbaim who ensure that the Torah is being read and treated respectfully and accurately. One of the gabbaim also assigns aliyot (plural of aliyah, the term given to being called up to the Torah) to the members of the congregation, and calls up the people who are being honored with aliyot.
     In many communities the gabbai is charged with making sure that all synagogue services run smoothly, a logistical job that can be a lot of work. In other communities, the gabbai collects money for the synagogue. It is considered an honor and a great responsibility to be the gabbai, or one of the gabbaim, in any community. [3]

     Observant Jews do not use electricity on Saturdays – my family did and I do. Many Jews were/are more observant of halacha (Jewish law) than my family and I. Growing up, my father and I would always ride to the synagogue on the Jewish High Holidays. Later in my more religious phase of life, I would walk to the synagogue on the High Holidays as long as I was able.
     The “right” or “wrong” way to be Jewish has long been a narrative controlled by those in power. Those in power have historically been the cisgendered men who interpreted law and defined what was normal and spiritually appropriate. The ultra-Orthodox – Chasidim - segment of Judaism is still totally male dominated and women are second class citizens. However, today the ultra-Orthodox are vastly outnumbered in the Jewish religion and a good many secular, reformed, conservative and modern-Orthodox Jews have little to no respect for the rigid ultra-Orthodox. These ultra-Orthodox extremists are viewed as relics of a sixteenth century Eastern European Judaism that was forced upon the Jews of that era by the many oppressor regimes that controlled and persecuted them.
     I have allowed myself to accept that there are many valid Jewish backgrounds and lifestyles. This has permitted me to slowly overcome my sense of sometimes feeling that I was not “Jewish enough.” These days, I attend Shabbat (Saturday) morning services regularly. On Sundays I also normally attend morning services. Also, for many years now, I prepare breakfast at my synagogue or Temple on Sunday mornings. I started doing this, when weekday synagogue attendance (this includes Sundays) dropped below the 10 needed for a minyan, as more and more elderly observant Jews died. The breakfasts were – and still are – intended to be a reward for coming to the services and helping to make a minyan. In a similar vein, I have had to assume the duties of a gabbai as those truly qualified to have such a title have disappeared.
     Tradition is an essential part of Judaism. A connection to our ancestors keeps Judaism relevant in the face of modernization and growing secularization. By grappling with the conflict between the values that tradition gives us, and the parts of tradition that do not resonate with us, however, it is possible to celebrate the diversity of our people and to allow each person to find a version of their Judaism that feels spiritually significant.
     When I let go of the self-conscious idea of being a “good” or “bad” Jew and accepted myself for who I am, I began to feel that I was better able to connect with my faith. This has allowed me to welcome all kinds of Jews and to remove the artificial boundaries that Jewish history had created.[4]

     “Hillel said that all of Torah is about caring for the other guy, and the rest is all commentary. On the other hand, traditional Judaism says that we must follow all of the commandments to be on G-d’s good side. I light Shabbat candles when I can, and go to synagogue on . . . Saturday when I can.” (Ref. 5)

     So, Is that enough? Does that make me a good Jew? Or, if I don’t do all the other things commanded in the torah or ordered by the rabbis, Does that make me a bad Jew? Maybe the real answer is that I am neither a good nor a bad Jew – I am simply a Jew! Maybe that should be enough.

     In today’s society, it is perceived that there are two types of Jews – a "good Jew" and a "bad Jew". The "good Jew" is usually not particularly religious, has a keen sense of what is right and wrong and has a suspicion that Israel is nothing to do with him/her. The "good Jew" believes that he/she just needs to be understood, to explain how he/she poses no threat to the non-Jewish community and that all he/she needs to do is to nicely tell the Israelis that they are being paranoid about the continuous calls by their neighbors for the Jews to be murdered or driven into the sea. The "good Jew" knows, according to the anti-Zionist narrative that all he/she needs to do is apologize for being Jewish and - above all - apologize for every act of the Jewish state, Israel.
     The more the "good Jew" joins in with criticizing Israel the better they become. Even better if their parents were religious and kept kosher since then the "good Jew" can claim to have eschewed such outdated practices and thereby increase their standing with the “not anti-Semites”. When the “not anti-Semites” claim not be anti-Semitic it is the "good Jew" they are thinking about, it is the "good Jew" they don’t hate.
     The bad Jew is of course the opposite of all this. The bad Jew is just being awkward when he claims that hating the idea of Jewish self-determination – Zionism – is anti-Semitic.
     The "bad Jew" is being racist when he suggests that sending rockets into civilian populations in Israel is somehow bad. When he calls the Israel and Zionist haters to task for ignoring honor killings, women being unable to even drive in Saudi Arabia, the persecution of homosexuals all over the Middle East or the excesses of the religious police in Iran, the "bad Jew" is attacked for ignoring the “truth” that nothing at all on this planet is worse than Israel.
     I guess this makes me a "bad Jew"! The unfortunate truth is that the "bad Jews" are right. They have learned the lessons of history and know, that when the chips are down and the Jews – good and bad – are under threat, the “not anti-Semites” will wring their hands, declare how terrible it is and, how once the Jews are dead, they will bring the murderers to justice.[6]

     I am a "bad Jew" because I believe that those who claim to be "not anti-Semites" are, in reality, referring only to the "good Jews". They are, in fact, discriminating against me, the "bad Jew". I believe that they are anti-Semitic in the true sense of the term. It is time we stopped pretending



  1. Minyan: The Congregational Quorum, Rabbi Abraham Millgram, My Jewish Learning,
    Accessed 22 February 2022.
  2. Boiling a Kid in it’s Mother’s Milk, Rivka, Biblical Lies, 10 December 2017.
  3. What Is A Gabbai?, My Jewish Learning, Accessed 26 February 2022.
  4. Are you a Good Jew or a Bad Jew?, Rakhel Silverman, Jewish Women’s Archive, 21 August 21 2018.
  5. What Makes a Good Jew?, Moshe Goldman,, Accessed 28 March 2022.
  6. Good Jew Bad Jew, Robert Festenstein, The Times of Israel, 7 September 2015.

  21 July 2022 {ARTICLE 537; ISRAEL_68}    
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