Friday, June 22, 2012

David Arquette's Bar Mitzvah Controversy

AS I BLOGGED ABOUT last week, Actor David Arquette was in Israel earlier this month filming a travel show and decided to have a bar mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel (Western Wall).

I thought all was well and good with the David Arquette bar mitzvah story until I read Jewish celeb gossip columnist Nate Bloom's take on the joyous event:

I feel like a party pooper, but I only can “give one mazel tov out of a possible four mazel tovs” to the bar mitzvah of actor David Arquette, 40. Earlier this month, Arquette was in Israel to film a travel show when he visited the Western Wall. A rabbi suggested he be bar mitzvah on the spot and the actor agreed. Not more than a year ago, I heard Arquette proclaim his personal belief in Jesus on a talk show. 

I doubt the rabbi asked Arquette about his theological beliefs. He probably just asked Arquette if he was Jewish and when Arquette replied that his late mother was Jewish—the rabbi suggested a bar mitzvah. I don’t doubt that Arquette was sincere in having the ceremony. But he is by his own admission a guy troubled with emotional and substance abuse problems. In other words, don’t view this bar mitzvah, now, as some long-lasting commitment to mainstream Judaism. Time will tell if it means much in that respect.

Whether David Arquette's intentions were correct or not, I want to respond to Nate. 

1) Technically speaking Arqeutte became a bar mitzvah when he turned 13. Since his mother was Jewish, he was Jewish and whether you like it or not a Jewish boy becomes a bar mitzvah at 13. Whether you like it or not. Whether you actually do anything or not. You're a bar mitzvah. There's no requirement to have an aliyah (honor) to the Torah or read the Haftorah or even give a speech. 

2) If David Arquette expressed his personal belief in Jesus, the rabbi in Jerusalem could have considered him a meshumad (an apostate) and refused to grant him an aliyah. However, in this case the rabbi probably didn't know about Arquette's supposed belief in Jesus and therefore invited him to have the ceremony.

3) In terms of Arquette's substance abuse problems and emotional instability, I don't think anyone was considering the bar mitzvah ceremony to be a sign of his turning over a new leaf. His actual aliyah only lasted a couple minutes. No one but David Arquette can know whether he was sincere or not, but at 40-years-old it's possible that putting on a tallit and wrapping tefillin could have a spiritual effect on him.

Nate Bloom's cynicism aside, I don't think David Arquette did this as a publicity stunt. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he'll make the decision to clean up his life going forward.

Rabbi Jason Miller is a blogger and social media expert. He blogs at and is on Twitter @rabbijason.