Thursday, May 19, 2005

Slate: Bar Mitzvah Madness

Slate on the Bar Mitzvah:
"Until recently, Judaism never treated 13-year-olds as adults. In biblical census counts recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers, the age of majority is 20. The Talmud uses the term 'bar mitzvah' in reference to a blessing a father gives to God when he's released from responsibility for his son's observance of Jewish law. The first description of a 'bar mitzvah feast' comes from a Polish rabbi writing around 1500 about a German custom. The event in its current form -a reading from the Torah in Hebrew, an explication of that reading in the vernacular, a food-and-drink celebration- didn't catch on widely until it reached New York in the late 19th century. There, it became, in the words of one rabbi, 'the greatest of holidays among our Jewish brethren."
A great 'graph, for the history, but I have a quibble with one point: Becoming Bar Mitzvah has nothing to do with becoming an "adult," in the way the word "adult" is understood today. A Bar Mitzvah boy isn't expected to begin reading The New York Times, or to begin making his own way in the world. It means only that the law looks as you as an adult, and the community expects you to begin keeping it. Why 13? Well, when you consider that life expectancy in antiquity was, perhaps, 30, welcoming a boy into the communty at age 13 sounds about right.

Nowadays, however, some KIPPERS (Kids In Parents Pockets Eroding Retirment Savings) stay in the nest until they're past 30, which, I suppose, raises questions about the relevance of a coming of age ceremony at 13, an age that, in 2005, amounts to the begining of adolecense, and not the begining of adulthood.