Sunday, November 04, 2007


...goes out to Meryl Yourish, who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah yesterday.

Bat Mitzvah - a term that describes a girl who has reached the age of religious majority - is a relatively recent innovation in Jewish culture, having its origins in the nineteenth century C.E. By comparison, Bar Mitzvah, the corresponding male equivalent, dates back at least to the Middle Ages. The terms are commonly used today to refer to the occasion of a boy or girl becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, an occasion that is marked with certain ritual observances and subsequently celebrated in various degrees.

Bar Mitzvah is celebrated at thirteen years; Bat Mitzvah as early as twelve - the age of physical puberty. For some reason known only to the Rabbinic Sages, the age at which a flood of hormones begins coursing through a child’s veins, causing monstrous physical alterations (including a cracking voice among the boys) and violent mood swings - why, that’s the age at which a child is now deemed responsible enough to observe all of the nominal 613 Torah commandments. Suuuuure.

The simplest observance consists of the young man (or woman) being called to the Torah in order to recite the appropriate blessings during the morning or Shabbat afternoon service. But, as with everything in life, nothing stays simple very long. In many cases, the young person will actually read the Torah portion - usually the final reading of the day, the Maftir, if on Shabbat - and will then read the haftarah, a selection from the Hebrew Bible that complements the day’s Torah reading. In some congregations, even that’s not enough: the child will also lead portions of - or all of - the service.

Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations can range from a simple table with wine and cake after the service to elaborate affairs that would make a wedding blush. It’s not unknown for people (those with more money than sense) to spend amounts well into six figures to throw a huge party. It’s a combination of conspicuous consumption, keeping up with the Joneses Rosenbergs, child-spoilage, and overweening self-indulgence. Fortunately, most people find a reasonable middle ground. They’ll sponsor the Oneg Shabbat (the luncheon after services), then throw a nice party that evening with music and maybe even a seated dinner. It’s a great time to get the family together.

And then you have the phenomenon of the Adult Bat Mitzvah.

Because the Bat Mitzvah (as opposed to the Bar Mitzvah) is of more recent coin, many women in our generation did not celebrate the occasion as twelve- or thirteen-year-olds. Oftentimes, such women “...[choose] to celebrate the ceremony even though they [are] much older, as a way of formalizing and celebrating their place in the adult Jewish community.” (Wikipedia). And that brings us to Meryl, who yesterday celebrated her Adult Bat Mitzvah.

Quite some time ago, Meryl decided that she wanted a Bat Mitzvah. In her case, it’s most appropriate. She’s a committed Jew, one who teaches Hebrew school, helping to ensure that Jewish knowledge and values are transmitted unto the next generation. And in her writings, she is a passionate defender of Israel, the unique Jewish state, a state that has been surrounded by hostility and opprobrium - virtually all of it completely unjustified - since before its inception.

And so it was that she selected 22 Cheshvan 5768 (November 3, 2007) - the closest date to her birthday on the Hebrew calendar - to be the date of her Bat Mitzvah. This year, it’s the week we read about the death of our matriarch Sarah, Abraham’s purchase of her gravesite from the local Hittites for 400 pieces of silver, and Abraham’s subsequent remarriage and death. It’s a meat-and-potatoes topic for Meryl, who is constantly debunking Arab attempts to rewrite Middle Eastern history and create a fictional world in which Jews have no historical presence in Israel...a fake history that is directly contradicted by the written record. The corresponding haftarah portion is from I Kings, and it describes the power struggle that shaped itself in King David’s old age, a struggle that later resulted in Solomon’s accession to the throne after David’s death.

It’s a long haftarah. Thirty-one verses, all of which are chanted according to a prescribed melody.

And Meryl started studying it three weeks ago, cramming a task that - for first-timers, anyway - usually takes months into a mere twenty-one days.

I had the Unique Privilege of being Meryl’s primary tutor. She had asked for help on her site; I (and several others) responded. But we worked well together, and so I became her primary resource. Mainly because I could put up with her Extreme Crankiness. I do so love crankiness in a woman. It made our twice-a-day phone sessions extra-special.

I had originally wanted to be present at Meryl’s Big Occasion, but as things worked out, I had too many irons in the fire here. Nevertheless, in my own way, I was the annoying little voice inside her head, screaming, “No, dammit! Mahpach is three notes the same, then one note down! Mahpach pashtah, munakh katon, merchah tip’khah, munckh etnakhtah!

Probably a good thing I wasn’t there. She might have gouged my eyes out…or fetched me a sharp frask im pisk.

I know she did just fine. We are all our own worst critics, and Meryl is no exception. She did a gargantuan amount of work in just three weeks, and I’m proud of her. And, as she said yesterday evening while giving me the Quick Recap, we’ve gone from being blog-buddies to friends.

Go visit and give her some Mazal Tov Love.

No comments: