The subject of Bar Mitzvahs has been in my mind lately.
You see — I’m a bar mitzvah tutor for my synagogue. This means that I work with specific 12 year-old kids who are preparing for their own special days. I work with them one-on-one learning the specific tunes for chanting certain parts of the religious service — as well as coaching them on the many lines of Hebrew they have to practice over and over and over again. I meet with them one hour a week, and the true payoff is seeing how much they’ve accomplished over the months when I attend a student’s bar mitzvah.
But it also means I’m usually invited to the party as well — which is pretty cool, too.
And the topic was raised by Rachel of I See What You Meme when she posted a link to a segment of American Public Media’s Marketplace which discussed the trend of “adult bar mitzvah parties.” This is a different phenomenon than adults who have decided, later on in life, to engage in the bar mitzvah ceremony at the synagogue. Nope. This is more of a theme party for adults who want to relive the bar mitzvah party experience. Marketplace cited a Boston Globe cover story from last week about this entitled Let’s Do The Time Warp Again.
The author takes a look at a bunch of hip, trendy, Jewish 26 year-olds who have decided to be nostalgic and host their own theme events where they decide to party like it’s 1998. That was their original bar mitzvah year (when they hit age 13), and this being their thirteenth anniversary of that year, they felt it would be a hoot to relive the bar mitzvah party experience (calling it a Double Bar Mitzvah). Only this time they had more creative control instead of their parents (as they were the ones footing the bill). There would be sign-in boards for guests to sign. Jewish circle hora dancing intertwined with Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5. And the inevitable candle-lighting ceremony where they would thank Great Uncle Lester and Great Aunt Mimi who couldn’t be there in person but are there in spirit nonetheless.
This got me thinking on quite a few different levels: I’m not 26 anymore. And I’m far from hip and trendy. However, I just celebrated by 39th birthday a week ago. That means that I’m celebrating the thirteenth anniversary of the thirteenth anniversary of my bar mitzvah — an even which took place on April 20, 1985! I could, theoretically, throw a triple bar mitzvah!
But wait — is this something I really want to do? What does a bar mitzvah entail anyway? I think the definition has really become unfocused due to the pressure of throwing a great party. So before we go any further, I present a helpful guide for those of you who may be unfamiliar with this coming-of-age ritual.
The “Hey! That’s My Hummus!” Bar Mitzvah FAQ
Q: What does the term bar mitzvah mean, anyway?
A: “Bar” is Aramaic for “son.” “Mitzvah” is Hebrew (and Aramaic) for “commandments.” The bar mitzvah is a coming of age ritual where a Jewish boy comes of age to be bound by the Jewish commandments. Simple as that. The counterpart for Jewish girls is a Batmitzvah, where “bat” is Hebrew for “daughter.” Same general idea.
Q: What’s included in the ritual? How does a Jewish boy become a bar mitzvah?
A: He must adhere to the following steps:
He becomes 13 years old.
Q: You’re kidding me. There must be more to it than that. Doesn’t he have to give a speech? Read from the torah? Sing stuff in Hebrew? Wear one of those prayer shawls? Dance with his grandmother at a party?
A: Nope. He just has to turn 13. Once that happens? He’s bound by the Jewish commandments as an adult. None of the other stuff is necessary for the transformation — but it usually takes place because he can finally take on the obligation of reading from the Torah. Or leading services. Or taking on a more adult role in one of many ways.
Q: What about girls? Do they also just have to turn 13? I heard somewhere that the age for them is 12?
A: The tradition of the bar/bat mitzvah is a relatively recent one (hundreds of years, not thousands of years), and the ages of 13 for boys and 12 for girls was chosen because girls would physically and psychologically mature earlier than boys. In the twentieth century with a more egalitarian acceptance in popular streams of Judaism the age just became 13 for both boys and girls in many communities. You will still find many communities, however, where girls will become bat mitzvah at age 12.
Q: So — what’s the deal with the tradition of the lavish bar mitzvah party?
A: Look — not all of them are like this. It’s a milestone with a celebration. For some families, it’s an all out celebration where the parents want to make sure that it’s the event of the season with a special appearance by 50 Cent. For others? It’s a buffet luncheon at the synagogue with plenty of sponge cake to go around. There’s no specific way one is mandated to celebrate the bar mitzvah. I’ve seen a lot of variations — DJs. Live bands. Klezmer Bands. Free t-shirts for the kids. In 1983 I went to one where the family rented out a Winnebago filled with arcade games. Nowadays one of the perks appears to be paid dancers who accompany the DJs and get the kids up dancing. There could be karaoke. Or a caricature artist. It’s a party — but with a whole bunch of family and friends who usually don’t come together in the same circles. Which makes displays like these all the more fun:
Come to think of it — If I had this going for me at my original bar mitzvah? I’d certainly do it again 13 years later…
As you’ve probably already determined by now, we did not release a new episode of Hey! That’s My Hummus! this week.
“Why?” you may be asking. “Have the two of you resolved your differences amicably and behind the scenes?”
“Have you run out of things to talk about?”
“Have you actually realized that this is neither of your respective hummuses, but rather the hummus belonging to a Mr. Geoff Patrickson of East Slinger, Wisconsin?”
Fortunately, the answer is “no” to each of the above questions. We (Faiqa and Shiny) are still enthusiastic about our enthusiastic discussions. We’ve just been incredibly busy due to some wonderful happenings in our respective schedules. With the recent Mom 2.0 Summit and the Jewish holiday of Passover, our schedules have truly been booked up.
However — we’ll be back next Friday with a brand new episode of Hey! That’s My Hummus! We’ll even use some of the ideas you’ve suggested right here, on our Facebook Page and our Twitter account (@ThatsMyHummus).
In the meantime, however, we encourage you to use this time to catch up on some of our past shows! You can find all of them at our iTunes page. Or you can find each of our episodes through our blog posts on this very site.
I hope everyone has had a wonderful week. Hope you’ve had / are having a wonderful holiday if you happen to have one occurring. We’ll see you in a few days.
Things have been a bit crazy on this side of the aisle of Hey! That’s My Hummus! And the craziness has been completely hummus-free.
That’s because the observance of Passover — a holiday which continues for seven or eight days (depending on your custom and location) — began on Monday evening. And there are some restrictions on what one can eat. The main rule has to do with the prohibition on eating bread due to the time restrictions the Israelites had when they were escaping from slavery in Egypt. No time for the dough to rise = no bread = matzah.
<sarcasm> Yum. </sarcasm>
But it goes further from there. It also means that one can’t eat food which has yeast in it. Or anything which rises. And that spirals out to certain types of grains. And for Jews originating from Eastern Europe? The traditions also exclude one from eating corn, rice and legumes. Since hummus is made from chickpeas, which are legumes — no hummus for many of us on Passover.
But what exactly is Passover all about? There are so many ways to tell the story. That is, in fact, the purpose of the Passover seder.
There have been many misconceptions about the true story of Passover; people often get confused about what actually is in the story and what isn’t. For that reason, I present you with this song which gives you the short version of this and every other Jewish holiday — They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.
With the Jewish holiday of Passover just around the corner, I’m reminded that Judaism is the “Weird Al” Yankovic of world religions. Check YouTube and Facebook and you’ll find an overabundance of parody songs relating to every Jewish holiday and every Jewish custom. There are at least three parodies of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” which mention the word “Kosher.” I chose this one by a capella group Six13 called “Kosher Plate” because it’s the best of the bunch. Also? Shortest. It makes the joke and then moves on to other Jewish topics.
We spent a sizable portion of this past week’s show talking about kosher ritual slaughter — which has its parallels to the Muslim counterpart called halal. Interestingly enough, the words kosher and halal mean just about the same thing: fit for use. Permissible. And they don’t necessarily just pertain to what food is okay to eat; other aspects of ritual life can be stamped with approval by each of these words.
The laws pertaining to kosher food are quite complex. First of all, one needs to determine if the type of animal is permissible for consumption. If it’s a mammal, the rule is that it needs to chew its cud and have split hooves. Fish must have fins and scales. Birds must not be predatory. And all insects are out of the question. Except for certain types of locusts, but that’s pretty implausible because — ew! A whole bunch of these rules can be found in Leviticus 11 as well as many of the commentaries which follow it.
But wait — there’s more! When we’re talking about mammals and fowl, each must be trapped and slaughtered in a specific way — where the jugular, carotid and esophagus are slashed in one motion. After that, a careful inspection must take place to ensure that there were no imperfections in the animal which would have potentially allowed it to die in a year’s time. As much blood as possible must be removed. There are certain parts which one can and can’t eat. (There are no specific rules regarding the killing of fish and locusts, although I would assume it’s not too easy to kill a locust humanely.)
And with that? There are also separations between eating dairy products and meat products — which means that although one could have a completely kosher hamburger, you can’t add cheese to it. The separation extends even further to having separate dishes and utensils for meat products and dairy products. It’s also tradition for many to wait a period of time after eating meat before s/he partakes of dairy. There are volumes of these rules which ask what would appear to most to be anal-retentive questions. (“What ratio of accidental meat could fall into a vat of dairy without deeming the dairy to be unkosher?” “1:60”)
Because there are so many laws and statutes to think of, it’s a whole lot easier to let someone do the checking for you. That’s why you’ll see those kosher symbols on packages of food certifying that everything is kosher according to a specific authority. A “U” with a circle around it is, to many, the gold standard: it signifies that a representative of the Orthodox Union has supervised the food throughout the entire manufacturing process and has deemed it kosher. It does not, as many mistakenly believe, mean that a rabbi has blessed the food. Nor is it a symbol of a sort of “kosher tax” levied on food items to increase prices. (The cost of kosher supervision on, say, a package of Oreos would only come to a fraction of a cent per unit.)
There are different symbols you might see — as the Orthodox Union does not have a monopoly on everything. Certain varieties of Tostitos corn chips have a K with a triangle around it. It’s still just as kosher to the overwhelming majority of people who care; there are a select few who might stand by one authority and not another for whatever reason.
There’s a new kosher symbol which is beginning to emerge which has taken a new direction. Entitled Magen Tzedek, it certifies not a specific level of observance and a watchful eye over the ingredients and preparation of the food to consider it kosher, but instead focuses on the ethical issues which have recently gained attention where it comes to food preparation. To quote the website, the Magen Tzedek seal of approval “will help assure consumers that kosher food products were produced in keeping with the highest possible Jewish ethical values and ideals for social justice in the area of labor concerns, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer issues and corporate integrity.” It’s an additional symbol which may advise that those preparing the food are being treated fairly.
Rabbi Morris Allen, an architect of Magen Tzedek, mentions this as part of his mission. As quoted in a New York Times article: “As concerned as we are about how an animal gets killed, we need to be equally concerned about how a worker lives . . . We need to be certain that the food we are obligated to eat is produced in a way that demonstrates concern with those who produce it.”
I suppose that intersects well with a common tenet of many religions — ensuring that one treats his/her fellow human beings with respect. It should be interesting to see if this takes off. It will be nice to see if those who have traditionally kept kosher embrace the values of treating one’s fellow man as well as the animal who would become part of their next meal.
If anything, I hope they get treated at least as well as the locusts.
** Have you listened to Episode 4: Conflicted, Slaughtering and Prince William’s Wedding, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
Grounded and crushed to a fine powder and then mixed with water, Mendhi, or henna, is an elaborate part of an Indian or Pakistani wedding. The bride’s henna is often a focal point in a marriage. There are various interpretations as to why henna is used in a wedding: luck, beauty, or good wishes.
Most of all, I think it’s just that it looks pretty.
One of the interesting assumptions on the part of a resource we mentioned in our last episode was that Mendhi is an “Islamic ritual.” Not true. Mendhi, or henna as it’s called in English and Arabic, is used throughout the world by various people as a form of decorative body art. In fact, some resources suggest that its use was first documented back in the Bronze Age. A famous henna ritual, for example, takes place among Yemenite Jews, in which the application of henna to a bride’s body takes several days.
It’s important, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, to remember that Islam, as it stands alone, is a spiritual way and a philosophy based upon strict monotheism, social justice and submission to the will of God. Its prolific dispersion throughout the various parts of world, however, creates situations where indigenous cultures have stamped their unique marks upon the practice of the faith itself.
This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, but a testament to the simplicity of the faith. It furthermore creates an opportunity for all Muslims to experience the richness of the global experience as they build communities in places such as the United States. By virtue of being Muslim, I have been able to attend weddings of the Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Moroccan, Albanian and Bangladeshi variety to name a few. Each of these weddings had a distinctiveness as well as basic similarities.
To further elaborate, I once read that Bosnian Muslims only get married on Saturdays. Does that mean that being married on a Saturday is Islamic practice? Not at all. And, of course, a traditional Pakistani Muslim wedding occurs over the course of four to five days (at least), but that doesn’t mean a Muslim wedding is five days long.
These examples simply illustrate that there are all kinds of different ways that Muslims get married as well as live and even practice their religion. At the heart of our marriage is the Nikah, or contract, most of the other practice is cultural and traditional choice.
Muslim, as I have said many times, is not a nationality or even a culture… it is a religion. And, like all religions, Islam has proven malleable and it possesses the wonderful ability to be inserted into existing traditions and practices. Finally, I suspect that the inability to make this distinction lies at the heart of most Islamaphobic rhetoric, therefore it’s pretty critical to make this leap in understanding.
I’m curious, how much of your wedding was religious and how much of it was cultural? Does your faith have the same dynamic as mine or is every practice grounded in revelation?
** Have you listened to Episode 3, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
I mentioned some troubling things about Jewish law in our last episode. We were talking about the Muslim legal concept of Diyyat (monetary remuneration for killing someone), and I expressed some information about Jewish law that doesn’t usually get included in one’s typical Hebrew school classroom when growing up. It has to do with the laws of Sotah, which literally means “the wife whom you expect of committing adultery.” (I suppose this type of conversation could possibly make Hebrew School that much more interesting, right?)
The rules concerning the Sotah are spelled out in the Torah, the earliest portion of Hebrew Scripture. The Torah (or “Five Books of Moses”) appear in both the Hebrew Bible (called the TaNaCH for reasons I won’t get into here) as well as the Christian one. The verses pertaining to Sotah can be found in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 5, verses 11-31. You can read one translation here if you’d like.
Let me give you a bit of a rundown, section by section:
Verses 11-14:Heard it from a friend who / heard it from a friend who / heard it from a friend you’ve been messin’ around…
Verses 15-16: If a man suspects his [pregnant?] wife of cheating on him, he brings her to the priest and makes a sacrifice-offering towards God.
Verses 17-18: The priest mixes together a concoction of special water and dust in an earthenware vessel. The water gets really nasty. And, apparently cursed.
Verses 19-22: The priest tells the woman: “I want you to swear that you’ve remained faithful to your husband and are not looking for heightened drama on Maury Povich’s talk show. After that, you’ll drink this nasty concoction. If you’re telling the truth, no problem — everything will be fine. But if you’re not? Your pregnancy will end in a most horrible way.”
Verses 23-31: Pretty much a repetition of exactly what the priest explained would happen. If she was unfaithful? Nastiness. Swelling in the belly. Miscarriage. Part of her thigh falls away. (Ew.) If she’s been faithful? No harm at all. But here’s the clincher: this is all to placate the jealous husband! So he’ll know. And he’ll feel better knowing the truth. The end.
How can anyone follow a religion in 2011 which encompasses savage rules like this in its Holy Scripture?
It’s a valid question. One which I’ve wrestled with myself. And one that has made people of all religions challenge themselves to the belief systems of today as they intersect with traditions of the past. It brings up even more questions: As a Jew, does this mean I need to believe in these outrageous rules? Do I need to follow all of them to the letter of the law? Can I simply ignore them as part of an antiquated system that no longer applies?
I can’t speak for members of other religions. I can’t even speak for all Jews. I can only speak for myself — and the way I understand the rules and customs of my tradition — which allow me to intersect my so-called modern life with the traditions as outlined in the Torah. Here’s how I do so:
I believe that Traditional Judaism as we know it today does not adhere to the Torah in a vacuum. Whether one is of the belief that the Torah was handed to Moses atop Mount Sinai a la The Ten Commandments or whether it was a divinely inspired collaboration stitched together of different manuscripts centuries later, it’s still an important source. But the conversations about the Torah are just as crucial.
Which is why you’ll find that traditional Jewish law holds the many discussions, arguments and debates about the words of the Torah in high regard. We’re talking about arguments between scholars who are interpreting the messages of God. These are not prophets; these are people. Humans. And what they have to add to the conversation becomes part of the tradition — and has its own sense of holiness.
Which is precisely why I’m proud of the scholars generations ago taking a look at this outrageous and barbaric set of laws concerning Sotah and trying to figure out why something so awful would appear in the Torah in the first place. What was the message? When was it really supposed to be used? What is the symbolism of the sacrifice offered by the jealous husband? Was there really a special potion used? Or was this, in fact, a simple scare tactic used to get adulterous women to confess?
It’s nice to see that our generation isn’t the first to wrestle with these issues. And that, generations ago, people were thinking about the consequences. Which is why the practice of Sotah was abolished about 2000 years ago. Yes — even though it’s mentioned right there in the Torah. Our tradition allows people to be a part of the law process.
And frankly? That’s kind of neat. Because it allows for us to connect not with a static set of rules, but a dynamic set of traditions. It allows us to ask questions about how we can discuss modern day issues within the framework of the Torah and its commentaries. It makes my Judaism more of a living, breathing animal rather than something old and non-evolving.
Sotah has evolved out of practice. But we’ve learned from it — even if it has simply been replaced by a cheesy REO Speedwagon lyric.
** Have you listened to Episode 3, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
In our last episode “Ignorant Americans, Blood Money and Grossed Out By Glee?”, we touched on the topic of negotiating our respective faiths in the context of modernity. When I was listening to the episode this morning, I realized that Mike had asked me to cite specific examples of how I address my faith within the context of modernity. I also realized that I didn’t answer the question. Good thing we have a blog.
I don’t think that Islam, or for that matter most religions, are in opposition with modernity. In fact, there are loads of academic and emotional arguments (that I won’t make here for the sake of brevity) that Islam, among others, is malleable and adjustable to modernity. The very fact they endure is perhaps proof of that.
I also will not discuss the hijab (head covering of women) here in order to make a point about Islam and modernity, because my feelings on the subject are far too complicated to expound upon in this blog post, and, frankly, I don’t feel like being that trite right now.
I think the simplest example of how American Muslims balance faith and modernity is prayer.
Muslims have to pray five times a day. Have to. As in basic obligation.
While a Muslim can pray any time and anywhere they like as outlined in Islam (except in a cemetery or a bathroom), there are five times when we must pray: dawn (Fajr), midmorning (Zuhr), afternoon (Asr), evening (Maghrib) and night (Ishaa). The way that an average Muslim, in say, Pakistan would know that it’s time to pray is the Adhaan, or call to prayer.
Five times a day in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other “Muslim” country, an imam who may have once climbed a minaret, now sings into an amplifier of some sort (hello, modernity!) and calls to Muslims in Arabic:
God is Greater
I bear witness that there is no god but the One God
I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger
Come to prayer
Come to success
Prayer is better than sleep (only said in the dawn prayer)
There is no God except the One God
Suffice to say, here in central Florida, the calls from the masjid over ten miles away do not reach my house. So, how do I know when it’s time to pray?
A smartphone app.
I downloaded Yusuf Islam singing the Adhaan because, frankly, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens may very well soften the potential panic attack that someone who has been watching way too much CNN may have as a result of hearing “Allahu Akbar” coming from a brown woman’s purse in the middle of the mall.
While it may seem like the concept of modernity plays into my choice to use a smartphone app, that’s not really where I was going with that.
Modernity and my faith are being negotiated in this instance in a far more granular way.
My app has a setting that allows the prayer notification to be set to a “beep.” Specifically, three beeps.
I have conscientiously chosen to disable the beeps at the prayer times that I am most likely to skip. For me, that’s Zuhr and Asr, the ones that come right in the middle of the day. That’s when I get busy, go grocery shopping or to the park, get tired, or am just not feeling up to all that bowing and kneeling.
That’s when I need to hear someone remind me that it’s time to step away from life and remember God the most.
Every day somewhere around 1:30 and 5:00, I need to hear someone sing to me that God is greater than whatever it is I’m doing right then, so that I am moved to remember him in the way in which I was commanded. I believe that the command to call people to pray in this manner has spiritual power, and so I avail myself of the technology available to me and I make it happen.
There are all kinds of ways that I have allowed and conscientiously accepted the conditions of modernity or being modern. I know that my religion predates many of the daily situations I take for granted. Still, I don’t view trying to fit Islam and the modern world together as a struggle, but more of trying to make the pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle fit together neatly. Some people enjoy putting puzzles together, others get frustrated with them.
I obviously fit into the former category of individuals.
If you’re curious as to what the Adhaan sounds like on my smartphone, here you go:
We love hummus, but we don't always talk hummus. If a Jew and a Muslim walked into a podcast you get, well... this podcast. This site is a community forum for our podcast which you can listen to here or download on iTunes. If you have interesting stuff to contribute, please let us know via the contact form on our About page.
This is a great spot to put a small blurb with some information on what your blog is all about. Use a "Text" widget in your "Mid Footbar" sibebar options in Wordpress. Whatever you put in the title will show about and whatever you put as text (or html) will show right here! Or you can put a menu, a calendar, or any list of links you like. The footer is your oyster.