March 2011

Making the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Meaningful

Though the modern ritual of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a relatively recent invention, being more or less codified in the 14th century C.E. and achieving its egalitarian model in the early 20th, its roots are considerably older. The ancient books of Jewish law, such as the Mishnah, identify the age of legal and social responsibility as 13 as far back as 3000 years ago. This is certainly at odds with the laws of most modern societies where the age of majority tends to fall somewhere between 16 and 18 years. Considering the way 21st century cultures are structured, as pertaining to school, property and other legal and social matters, the gravity of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony has been diminished. For several generations now, religious law has not been synonymous with common law for Jews. The lack of responsibility and accountability for individuals of Bar or Bat Mitzvah age that results from this takes much, though not all, of the meaning away from the experience. It is the duty of Jewish parents to lend extra weight to the lives of their children after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah takes place.

The History of Klezmer

Jewish culture has always had strong ties to music. One of the more iconic examples of Jewish music is klezmer, a boisterous style that emerged in Eastern Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries, eventually landing in America where it had a significant impact on 20th century pop music. Like the Jewish people themselves, klezmer is storied and well traveled. It has the cultural markers of many different societies mixed with concepts and sentiments endemic to Judaism.

The Khazar Kingdom

Though much of the widely known history of Jewish culture in the Middle Ages concentrates on the increasing marginalization of Jews in Europe, Africa and the Arab world, there's a curious and vital chapter that takes place in Eurasia between the 6th and 11th centuries C.E. Over a vast area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, then later extending north to modern-day Russia, a multi-ethnic group of people known as the Khazars maintained a fairly stable empire. Between one and two centuries into their rule, the Khazar royalty and nobility famously converted to Judaism and made it their official state religion. This stronghold of Jewish culture helped preserve Judaism in a time when it came very close to being swallowed up by the competing forces of Christianity and Islam.