minutia press.
Bar Mitzvah

This log has languished due to my trip to Dallas to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my nephew Bryan. Because some of you out there may not be familiar with the notion of Bar Mitzvah, I thought I'd use this occasion to comment on this rite of passage.

Most people who attend a Bar Mitzvah believe the word is the name of a good caterer, but that's not the case. Literally, Bar Mitzvah means "son of Mitzvah" and Mitzvah is something I will explain shortly. This celebration takes place near a child's 13th birthday. In days of yore, only boys were afforded the rite of Bar Mitzvah, but the custom has been extended to girls through the grammatically correct Bat Mitzvah -- "daughter of Mitzvah". In both cases, food is served.

In days of yore, only first names were given and the last name was "Ben ". So my Hebrew name is Rachmiel (more on that some day) Ben Ephraim. In a way, becoming Bar Mitzvah extends one's name from the family to the community at large. And there, large quantities of food are served.

The concept of Mitzvah is difficult and tangled, as it involves both imperatives given in the Bible as well as application through action. It thus combines both theory and practice. Sages have been searching for a Mitzvah concerning the types and quantities of food that must be served, but so far have come up empty. Nonetheless, food is served.

For example, one Mitzvah is

Do not place a stumbling block before the blind

But this can be taken metaphorically to include the installation of ramps for wheelchairs, Braille notation in elevators and other public places, and large-print versions of printed material.

So the idea is to take one of the 613 Mitzvot that are in the 5 books of Moses, and apply it literally or metaphorically to connect actions with the teachings. It is impossible for any individual to do all 613, because some are for women, some for men, some involve animal sacrifice, etc. As far as I know, there is no scoreboard, but if the Mitzvot are good things, then it seems reasonable to look for opportunities to do them.

A Bar Mitzvah celebration has become a rite of passage, as a child enters puberty and turns into an adult. Relatives come from all over the place, there is lots of food, and everybody (except maybe the Bar Mitzvah kid who might be kind of nervious about all this attention) has a great time.

While the Bar Mitzvah can be somewhat unnervingfor the child at-hand, it's probably a lot more comfortable than his previous Jewish ceremonial experience of Bris or ritual circumcision (I'll post about that if here is sufficient interest--even that ritual is incomplete without food).

The ceremony of Bar Mitzvah calls for the child to read from the Torah (Bible), and the child will usually conduct portions of the Shabbat (Sabbath) service. And of course, food is served.

My nephew did a great job, we were all proud, and we were well fed. If the Jewish people are "the people of the book" it may be in dispute whether the book was written by Moses or Betty Crocker.


So, was there any food at the Bar Mitzvah?

Posted by: david at September 2, 2002 7:14 PM

More food than you could shake a lulav at.

Posted by: Ron at September 2, 2002 9:40 PM