Friday, June 16, 2006

Lavish Bar Mitzvahs

As strong as I feel about not making wedding Takanos, so too am I against making Takanos against lavish Bar or Bat Mitzvah parties. But it is only the Takana I am against. I agree in principle that lavish parties for 12 and 13 year olds are wrong. Not because I want to deny the wealthy from enjoying their money. Far from it. But because of the values such parties reflect. There is a difference between weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

Wedding are a time for “pulling out al the stops”. They are a celebration between two families and their friends. It is the joining in holy matrimony two chidren beginning a new life togther. It literally celebrates the beginning of an entirely new world, a pre-curser for fulfilling the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu and being Boneh a Bayis Neman B’Yisroel. And considering the rampant rate of divorce even in our own community, the young couple deserves to have as much encouragement as the can get. The importance of Simchas hasan V’Kallah can not be understated. It is a huge Mitzvah. “Keitzad M’Raglin Lifnei HaKalla” the Gemarah asks. But it does not ask “Keitzad M’Raglin Lifnei HaBar Mitzvah Bachur”.

Now, a Bar Mitzvah Bachur who celebrates his entry into the world of mandatory Mitzvah observance and the father who makes the Bracha “Baruch ShePatrani” is worthy of some celebration. But this 13 year old (and 12 year old in the case of a girl) has in no way earned a lavish party. It is in fact a big joke.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs do not warrant huge catered affairs. The right approach is the tradition handed down by our parents and grandparents:

The Bar Mitzvah Bachur received an Aliyah on Shabbos in Shul and perhaps Maftir. Sometimes he did Kriyas HaTorah, if he really expressed a desire to do it. Then there was a nice Kiddush (some shnapps, herring and Kichel)in Shul after Davening... and that was it.

Bat Mitvzah girls had absolutely nothing marking the day, certainly not in public. It was treated as just another day… perhaps because of "Kavodah Bas Melech P'nimah" and “Tzne Halaches”.

I recall Rabbi Chaim P. Sheinberg stating (in answer to a question in a public appearance in Chicago a few years ago) that it is Assur to make Bat Mitzvahs for girls and that the only thing acceptable was a little party in class for her classmates if she so desired. He felt Bat Mitzvah parties for girls imitated Conservative and Reform modalities.

I do understand that conditions are a bit different today. We have more discretionary income and we tend to celebrate lifecycle events more frequently. But that does not mean we have to go overboard and make a $50,000 (or more) birthday party for a twelve year old girl or 13 year old boy. Although there are legitimate exceptions the standard should be nothing greater than a large sit down Cholent Kiddush after Davening. I can even understand a Shabbos lunch in the Shul’s dining hall for the extended family and the closest of friends as long as the entire family of each is invited… especially when out of town friends and family come in for the Simcha. Anything beyond that is wasteful and gives lie to the often real intention of the host parents: They just want to make a big party and this is a convenient excuse to do it. Often it is just a way of telling the world "Look... I've made it!" or "Look how successful I am!" It is a kind of "showing off" that goes against spirit of Tzneh Haleches and against the grain of the pleasant ways and peaceful paths of the Torah.

Amongst peer groups of similar incomes it becomes a contest of who can throw a bigger or better party. The boy or girl becomes a prop... an excuse for the party, although there is a lot of denial about it. This of course breeds all the "wannabes" who do not have the means for such parties yet go to all lengths to show off that they TOO have "money". Some “beg, borrow and steal” just so they too can make “a statement”. I know of one such individual, thought to be a Gvir in the community, who made a huge party and then never paid any of his bills... claiming he had no money!

Es Chatoei Ani Mazkir HaYom. I, too, had a relatively large BM party for my son back in 1983. It wasn’t a $50,000 affair but it was way too big. It was a catered affair for about 200 people with a six piece band... a Melave Malka. But it was too big. I fell victim to the very thing I now protest... the keeping up with the Cohens. I now have the benefit of time and therefore a bit more wisdom one gains over it. Had I to do it over again I would have a big Cholent Kiddush on Shabbos in
Shul and that’s it.