There’s nothing quite like Louisiana Jews. Actually, there’s nothing quite like Louisiana – with its odd mix of cultures, races, and old-world mysticism. If you want to play with avodah zara, take a tour of the French Quarter and the surrounding areas. It’s one of the few places where you can find Jews on the “West Bank” and no one gets all political about it.
During a recent business trip there, I visited a distant relative who told me their daughter is going to turn 12 soon. I congratulated them on this important event – and they told me that it’s really no big deal. It’s just an over-glorified birthday. In fact they did not plan on doing anything more than “Fixin to have a regular party for her.”
You might think this couple was not very connected to Judaism. After all, a callous approach to religious events is something you would expect from someone strongly-secular. In this case however, the couple is frum – and not the BT type either. It made me think why would frum people discount the importance of their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah? It occurs to me that misguided Frumkiet is to blame. Let me explain:
Birthdays are pagan events. They celebrate the astrological forces that were in power on the day of your birth. The central celebration of the birthday is when the child blows out candles of many colors. The candle blowing dates back to a ritual performed in honor of Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Moon. The colors on the candles each have significance in pagan ritual. But for some reason, frum people seem to be OK with birthday parties and candled cakes – in Louisiana and all over the country. Hey, it’s pretty mainstream.
But now let’s look at the Bat Mitzvah. The gemara (Kiddushin lamed aleph amud aleph) relates a story about how Rabbi Yosef wanted to establish a celebration in honor of his finding out that he would be obligated in Mitzvot. (He was blind; the discussion was whether blind people have the same obligations as sighted people). This story teaches us that when you gain responsibilities – you should celebrate. Ironically this goes diametrically against everything in American culture, where we celebrate getting more rights (like the right to drink, drive, and vote). This gemara is often quoted as the source for the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration. Sure the actual Bat Mitzvah party craze is hardly a frummie thing – but the mitzvah part should be.
Here’s where it get’s misguided. Because of the fear that someone might think that this frum family has any modicum of respect for females, or values anything modern, it seems important for them to totally discount the opportunity to place any religious significance to the acceptance of mitzvot by their 12 year-old girl. But they have no problem with just making a (pagan) birthday celebration. To them, this seemed more frum. Does this make sense?
I didn’t go to the birthday party – it was only for women. So I’m guessing there were no throws — after all there’s not much to see at that age. But for all I know they did have maskers and some glatt kosher Boeuf Gras.