Today on my way to work listening to WGN, the morning show was reading from the New York Post about million dollar bar and bat mitzvah parties.
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs began their out of control spiral in the 1950s when American Jews, during the beginning of national consumerism as we now know it, began celebrating the children’s rite of passage (more boys than girls at the time) with lavish parties to mark not only a Jewish kid’s entry into adulthood, but the fact that Jews finally found a country that, besides a few drinking fountains, park benches, fraternities, sororities and country clubs, let its Jewish community succeed and thrive to be full members of society.
As I listened to the outlandish Bat Mitzvah story, I wondered if there is a defense of this. One of the bat mitzvah parental sponsors said the Bat Mitzvah cost the correct percentage of the family’s income.
Alright, creative answer.
In my attempt to look at the other side, I thought of all the people who are employed because of a lavish Bar or Bat Mitzvah: catering, servers, dancers, choreographers, security, tailors, Jon Bon Jovi (he has a lot of kids!), band members, janitorial staff, florists, dry cleaners, babysitters and plastic surgeons, hair stylists and makeup artists.
After all the Talmud says,
"Give someone a fish and you feed him for a day; Teach someone to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Another reason is that in a religion that marks so many tragedies, Jewish simchas (happy occasions) are notoriously lavish (especially in the Orthodox community) because it’s important to give it your all during the good times. In fact, Jewish people don’t have double weddings, because it’s not right to do a 2 for one party, because you short the community one party.
So then why is the million dollar bat mitzvah so distasteful, more so than a big wedding? And why can’t Rabbis stop one from happening?
The second question is easier than the first. It’s hard not to stop your congregant from throwing a big party when 1. It’s a free country 2. It’s not prohibited by Jewish law 3. The new wing is named after the bat mitzvah girl’s great grandparents, may they rest in peace. The greater good of the new classrooms to teach Jewish values outweighs the problematic pageantry.
One argument is that a big party takes away from the point: a bar or bat mitzvah is a time to enter the covenant as an adult. The celebration detracts from the ritual.
This is true, but it needs to be tweaked.
The ritual is not necessarily so important or meaningful. Ask any kid who tries to draw meaning from a Torah portion about leprosy or archaic sacrifices. Ask the kid whose voice is changing and has to sing in front of 300 people. LOVE THAT KID.
What is important is that the child becomes a full-fledged member of the community and is the best way to teach a kid to enter a communal setting, and Judaism is supposed to be about the community and less about the individual, through extravagance when there are people who have nothing to feed their children or the ability to pay for basic necessities?
It’s just not. I’m sure the same people who spend a million dollar on a bat mitzvah, donate that much or more to charities. And that’s wonderful. But your 13 year old needs to understand, and you have the obligation to ”teach them diligently,” that happiness does not emerge from grossly lavish celebrations, but from the open arms of a community that (should) welcomes you because of who you are, the values you commit to and not the number of ice cream flavors you have on the sundae bar.
The New York Post article