Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 15, 2005

NOT What a Bar Mitzvah is Supposed to be About

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:42 pm

I just want everyone out there to know, whether you are Jewish or not, that this is not what a bar mitzvah is supposed to be about. (Summary of the the linked story: Some rich guy hired the group “Destiny’s Child” to perform at his son’s bar mitzvah party. He also chartered a plane to fly 200 guests (from Britain? to the French Riviera for the bash.) (Hat tip: Matt Drudge.)

I really mean no disrespect to this fellow, or the business acumen that enabled him to go from high-school-dropout to billionaire-three-times-over, but a bar mitzvah is supposed to be a celebration of the fact that the boy, having attained the age of 13 years (or girl, 12 years, bat mitzvah), is now obligated to keep the commandments of the Torah. (“Bar” means “son of,” “Bat” means “daughter of” and “mitzvah” means “commandment” or “good deed” depending on context. Here it means “commandment” in the sense of “obligation.”) It is not supposed to be about having the biggest birthday party you can throw — but it has become that, in many cases for people who have no real intention of keeping the commandments anyway. The most obvious manifestation of this is the “bar (or bat) mitzvah” party where the food is not kosher. The boy or girl is now — from a Jewish standpoint — legally responsible for eating only kosher food, but in their ignorance or apathy, they throw a party with non-kosher food. (Keep in mind, I have no idea if this particular item applies to the “Destiny’s Child” bar mitzvah — maybe it’ll be totally kosher; I don’t know. Aside from the entertainment, which I know some people would regard as non-kosher.)

This has come to a height in the trend, in certain upper-class circles, for non-Jewish children to have a big party modelled on these (inappropriate) bar and bat mitzvah parties. It’s being called a “faux mitzvah” — and it’s basically the big extravagant party without the religious component. (The cantor who tutored me for my bar mitzvah called these parties “too much bar and not enough mitzvah.”)

Which, sadly, is what a lot of bar/bat mitzvahs for Jewish kids have become in effect, even if they do still have some sort of religious ceremony before the party. The “faux mitzvah” is really an indictment not of the non-Jews who imitate the Jewish parties, but of the Jews who have bar/bat mitzvah parties in which the “mitzvah” or religious component is so hidden that non-Jews see no contradiction between their own religions and imitating this “Jewish custom.” Non-Jews are not obligated to keep Jewish commandments upon attaining the age of 12 or 13 (nor any other time), so there’s no basis to have this sort of celebration. But the Jews who are celebrating are often completely ignorant of that obligation, but they celebrate it anyway, and nobody knows what they are celebrating, so how is this really different from, say, a Baptist having a bar mitzvah? It isn’t — and that’s a real problem.

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