Questions, questions, questions

Some of you had great questions based on my initial blog post.

I’ve also got questions!  (More on that below.)

I don’t have answers to everything, but that’s the point of going through this study process — I can find out the answers. Meanwhile, here are some that I can answer, even at this early point in the process:

  • Has the rabbi done something like this before with a 51-year-old woman?  Ewww, you make this sound like an internship at the Clinton White house. Actually, adult Bat Mitzvahs are fairly common in the Reform movement of Judaism. (Of the three main strains within Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, Reform is the most liberal theologically and often politically.) My synagogue does maybe one or two adult Bat Mitzvahs a year. Several years ago there was a wonderful group Bat Mitzvah in which a half dozen women friends who had children in the preschool went through the process together.
  • Did he give you some homework to do between now and the next meeting? Funny you should ask. See below.
  • Can anyone become a Bat Mitzvah? You need to be Jewish. The different movements within Judaism have different requirements — for instance, the Orthodox do not let girls or women read aloud from the Torah so they cannot have a full-fledged Bat Mitzvah, although they have a lesser kind of ceremony for girls.
  • Is a bat mitzvah anything like a “quincenera” here in Romantic Old Mexico? I don’t know. Invite me to quinceanera!
  • Are you going to rent a limo to go your bat mitzvah? Only if it is a Prius.

Actually, it is a sad comment on American Judaism that so many of the supportive, well-meaning responses to my blog included jokes about the parties and gifts that typically accompany teenage Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. In our materialistic culture, the limos, fountain pens, gift cards, and catered ice sculptures often tend to overshadow the meaningful part of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

One wonderful thing about doing this as an adult is that I can focus on the substance of the learning and ceremony and not on a party!

Although Sam is making all sorts of noises about a party.

Hands over ears: Not listening, not listening, not listening…. :-)

Now as to homework: The rabbi told me to make up a list of things I would like to learn over the next year in my study process. Some of it is inherent in the process: I will learn the structure, Hebrew prayers, and translated meaning of a Shabbat service; I will prepare to lead the service; and I will learn to chant that week’s Torah portion in Hebrew and deliver a speech/sermon on the Torah portion.

But here are some other things I’d like to learn:

  • More familiarity with the stories of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Leviticus) — the heart of the Hebrew scriptures
  • Current historical understanding of when, why and by whom the various books of the Hebrew Bible were written — there is a whole tradition of archeological/historical study of this question of authorship
  • The Prophets — a part of the Bible I’ve never really read with any focus
  • What does Judaism say about the concept of God?
  • What does Judaism say about an afterlife?
  • What does Judaism say about evil and suffering?
  • Blessings for everyday life — Judaism has blessings to sanctify routine moments of daily life,  not just the well-known blessings over Shabbat candles or food and wine
  • I’d also like to learn more about the evolution of Jewish thought over the centuries — development of the Talmud, thinkers like Maimonides and Rashi etc.

Not much, eh? We should be done with this in a week or two….

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5 Responses to “Questions, questions, questions”

  1. susan milligan Says:

    I think that for many families it is not much of a religious event but a cultural rite of passage so that the party becomes the major focus. And because it occurs when the parents are in mid-life crisis mode it is an opportunity for them to show the world how well (financially) they have done. Many (maybe most) Reform and Conservative children quit their religious education immediately after Bar/Bat Mitzvah and their families let their synogogue memberships lapse.
    Or am I being too cynical? Or is it just because I live in the greater NYC area?

  2. Melissa Nappan Says:

    I think it’s the same phenomenon that blew Hanukah out of proportion and makes people treat an otherwise fairly insignifcant celebration as some sort of “Jewish Christmas.” A sort of our-holiday-is-as-good-as-yours thing. (Our bat mitzvah is as good as your sweet sixteen, quincenera, etc.)

  3. Judy Pace Says:

    I am already having such a wonderful vicarious experience of your process, Ilana! Can’t wait to hear what you learn about these questions.

  4. Terri Hunter-Davis Says:

    There’s a rough parallel between an adult Bat Mitzvah and adult confirmation in Christian churches (my experience being Lutheran). Not that common, but not unheard of either. Celebrations aside, there’s the whole thing of becoming an “adult” within a faith community, of a turning point toward maturity in faith.

    I must say I’m glad adult confirmands don’t have to learn either Greek or Hebrew!

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