Friday, September 08, 2006
Will the Real Bat Mitzvah Please Stand Up?
I have two trivia questions for the table.
When does a girl have her bat mitzvah?
It's actually a trick question. Asking when a girl or boy has a bat or bar mitzvah is like asking when does a girl or boy have an adult. You don't have a bar/bat mitzvah, you become bar/bat mitzvah.
OK, so let's rephrase the question:
When does a girl become bat mitzvah?
The answer, like most things Jewish, depends on whom you ask.
In the olden days, and in traditional communities today, it was and is understood that girls mature faster than boys, so they reach the age of responsibility at 12, while boys get there at 13.
Then, in the modern world when some groups of Jews wanted to equalize everyone, they decided that girls should wait until they become 13 to celebrate, just like boys. I still haven't figured out why they chose to make girls like boys rather than vice-versa. Maybe they felt that modern girls aren't ready for the responsibilities of mitzvahs as early as they used to be. But if that's the case, perhaps boys should wait until they're 14...?
What is the appropriate way to celebrate a girl's becoming bat mitzvah?
Here is a newspaper story about one interpretation of this rite of passage. I daresay that most of my readers would shudder at this one.
In contrast to that story, my niece Kate is celebrating her bat mitzvah this weekend in real style. In lieu of gifts, she has asked her family and friends to make a donation to a local charity that cares for hungry people.
(I have to admit that we cheated. In addition to our charitable donation, we sent her a gift (I hope she's not reading this). We sent her a book set that I would recommend to anyone who wants to taste the monthly ebb and flow of the Jewish annual cycle. It's called Book of our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov. It's written for adults, but I think that a bright 12- (or 13) year-old girl would be ready to sink her teeth into it.)
For the rest of us, even those who don't know Kate, her becoming bat mitzvah is a big deal. Because now - or ever since her 12th birthday - her mitzvahs count. Until children reach bar/bat mitzvah, they are "in training". As soon as they hit that magic birthday, their spiritual actions - such as lighting Shabbat candles, giving tzeddakah, making a bracha, loving their neighbor, honoring their parents - have spiritual or karmic consequences. This is serious stuff for those who believe in this stuff. A bat mitzvah - that is, any woman who is 12 years or older - can create spiritual tikkunim or reparations with her mitzvahs that a younger girl cannot.
So Kate's and her family's mazal tov is everyone's mazal tov...The world needs all the mitzvahs we can get. Mazal tov Kate!