Judaism Unbound Episode 85: B-Mitzvah Revolutions - Isa Aron


Isa Aron, Professor of Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, joins Dan and Lex to re-think a ritual that has become one of the central moments of the Jewish life cycle -- the B Mitzvah. Aron explores why Bar Mitzvahs (and later, Bat Mitzvahs) became such a core part of the American Jewish experience, and we discuss ways in which we may re-vision them for the future. [1]

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Image Credit: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Image Credit: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

(0:01 - 15:47): To begin the episode, Aron provides a historical overview of the B-Mitzvah. In particular, she emphasizes its evolution from a small occasion marking a particular moment in Jewish law to a life-cycle event at the core of many institutions' models of Jewish education. In this overview, she emphasizes Judaism Unbound's ongoing theme of Folk and Elite Judaism, through the work of Stuart Schoenfeld, [2] who pioneered the application of those ideas to the B-Mitzvah experience in America. She also distinguishes between "elites" as understood in a broader societal context and "elites" within Judaism in particular. [3]

(15:48 - 27:40): Aron deepens the conversation about Folk and Elite Judaism through the example of Kol Nidrei (a prominent prayer that is part of the liturgy for Yom Kippur). [4] She also discusses the ways in which folk rituals in one era can become elite rituals, controlled by Jewish authorities, in another. Moving back to the context of B-Mitzvah, she outlines all of the components that were added to B-Mitzvah in the 20th century, causing the ritual to become overloaded with content.

(27:41 - 43:54): Aron calls on synagogues to think seriously about how to revolutionize their B-Mitzvah rituals, highlighting a few that have already started to do so. [5] She also considers some of the reasons that large-scale shifts to the B-Mitzvah may not immediately gain a large following. To close the episode, Aron and the co-hosts think about other areas of Jewish life beyond B-Mitzvah that would benefit from revolutionary thinking. [6] [7]

Image Credit: The Ultimate Guide to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs -- For the full text of this article, visit bit.ly/2wYpy9N

Image Credit: The Ultimate Guide to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs -- For the full text of this article, visit bit.ly/2wYpy9N

[1] For Isa Aron's bio, click here. For an assortment of Aron's published works available for purchase on Amazon, click here.

[2] Read Aron's review of Schoenfeld's essay (entitled "Folk Judaism, Elite Judaism, and the Role of Bar Mitzvah in the Development of the Synagogue and Jewish School in America"), by clicking here.

[3] Aron references two works that have influenced her work. To purchase them, click the following links: Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life, by Charles Liebman, and The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, by Jenna Weissman Joselit. 

[4] For an in-depth exploration of Kol Nidrei, see "The Curious Case of Kol Nidre," published in 1968 in Commentary Magazine.

[5] Learn more about the B-Mitzvah program offered by B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, which Aron cites, by clicking here.

[6] For more conversation regarding the invention and re-invention of Jewish ritual, listen to Episode 5: Leviticus - Vanessa Ochs.

[7] Aron references Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point towards the episode's conclusion. You can order it on Amazon by clicking here.