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I am amazed how people can take a meaningful religious coming-of-age ceremony and turn into a jaw-dropping social circus event devoid of any significance. Yes, that’s what people are doing with this new trend in “bark mitzvahs.” Yes, I know your eyebrows are furrowed. It’s not a typo. It’s spelled correctly.

There is even a Facebook page for it. Thankfully, only 8 people have clicked “like.” The information on this page is derived from a Wikipedia article which means that more than a handful of secular Jewish people have taken religion and sullied it with their dirty paws.

On further research, I found that eHow have outdone themselves in their article entitled, “How To Give a Dog a Bark Mitzvah.” I like how eHow, the website that provides numbered instructions on most everything, goes one step further – you don’t even have to be Jewish! How inclusive of them.

You don’t have to be of the Jewish religion to throw a bark mitzvah — you can be any religion — or no religion at all. A tradition that dates back to sometime in the new millennium — bark mitzvahs are a way to signify our spiritual connection to our canine companions — or simply show some love and appreciation for all the years of unconditional love they have given us.

My question is if doesn’t even have to do with the Jewish religion, then why the eponym?

Pet groomer, Lee Day boasts of having performed bark mitzvahs for notables like Joan Rivers as early as 1972. In her interview with the New York Times, entitled, “Where Your Pet Can Be Groomed or Become a Bride,” she cheerily provides the details of the tawdry affair.

Q. What’s a bark mitzvah?

A. A bark mitzvah’s just a fun day, a party for your pet. And it’s to bring you and your pet love, to give your pet attention, for it to be king or queen for the day. And to have all your friends and your animal friends gathered together and to give you a joyous party.

Q. Do you have to be Jewish?

A. Well . . . I do baptisms, too, christenings and all that. I do anything that you would do for a party. Did you know that St. Francis of Assisi used to sing to his animals? I just found that out.

Q. What do you provide for the bark mitzvah?

A. Everything. Yarmulke, tallis, scroll, cake, party favors, gifts. The owners buy gifts. And the owners will buy hors d’oeuvres or whatever.

Seriously? Yarmulke (skull cap) and tallis (prayer shawl) on a dog? I know many people consider their dogs family members. About 15 out of 100 people give their dog a birthday cake, but isn’t this going a bit too far?

Rabbis like Charles A. Kroloff and those of the Jewish faith have spoken out against the practice of bark mitzvahs.
A Rabbi’s View Of a ‘Bark Mitzvah’

Published: January 19, 1997

To the Editor:

I was surprised that The Times would publish an article about a woman who arranges parties known as ”bark mitzvahs” (On the Map, Jan. 5). She indicates that she provides everything, including a tallis, or prayer shawl, which I assume is draped over the dog.

This is nothing less than a desecration of a cherished Jewish tradition and degrades some of the central principles of Jewish life. I urge readers to reject such practices.

I enjoy a good time as much as the next person. But not at the expense of religious traditions that need strengthening, not desecrating.

Temple Emanu-El, Westfield

But people continue this practice. Mark Nadler and his dog, Boom were featured in The New York Times.

The proud father, wearing a dog-patterned tie, was Mark Nadler, 43, a New York cabaret singer. He had sent out invitations to dozens of friends “to share a special day in our lives when my dog, Admiral Rufus K. Boom, will celebrate his bark mitzvah in the tradition of our ancestors.”
Mr. Nadler, who had his bar mitzvah years ago, said he was not unfamiliar with entertaining at bar mitzvahs at “high holy places like the Hard Rock Cafe.” They sometimes seemed to be expensive productions that helped parents raise their social radar rather than sacred coming-of-age ceremonies for 13-year-olds. So Mr. Nadler thought he would give a bar mitzvah for his wheaten terrier and watch the eyebrows rise.

This reminds me of the women who wear pregnant nun costumes on Halloween:
It’s inappropriate and disrespectful.

Shari Cohen and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin saw the increasingly popularity of this new trend and decided to make some cash by writing Alfie’s Bark Mitzvah book.

The Amazon.com description of this book reads:

Brimming with unconditional love, devotion, and a never-ending desire to help others, Alfie is the epitome of all dogs and is a great role model for kids. It seems he s been that way since he was a pup. But today, Alfie is passing from puppyhood to adulthood and, in honor of this most important occasion, Alfie gets to celebrate his Bark Mitzvah with all of his family and friends. Alfie s Bark Mitzvah is beautifully illustrated by Nadia Komorova and, as a bonus, includes a CD of children s songs created especially for the book by the internationally acclaimed Cantor Marcelo Gindlin.

I love an adventure story where animals are protagonists – Call of the Wild by Jack London and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. But most people (I hope) understand the difference between fiction and real life.

I don’t think Cass Sunstein would qualify.

Cass Sunstein, the current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. In the book, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, which he co-edited with his then-girlfriend, then Martha Nussbaum, they argue:

[A]nimals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law … Any animals that are entitled to bring suit would be represented by (human) counsel, who would owe guardian like obligations and make decisions, subject to those obligations, on their clients’ behalf. Bark Mitzvahs would be included as a right without a doubt.

Peter Singer, Princeton professor of bioethics and author of the book, Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement might agree. The first chapter is called, “Why Animals Are Equal… or why the ethical principle on which human equality rests requires us to extend equal consideration to animals too.” Can you hear Thomas Jefferson stirring in his grave? Remember Singer?

He was the one who wrote an epic opinion piece on “Why We Must Ration Healthcare” in The New York Times. He is a fervent animal rights advocate, but takes a cold hard calculated stance on when human life should end. In the chapter entitled, Taking Life: Humans, in Practical Ethics, 2nd edition, Cambridge, 1993, he writes:

If a human being is not capable of understanding the choice between life and death, euthanasia would be neither voluntary nor involuntary, but non-voluntary. Those unable to give con- sent would include incurably ill or severely disabled infants, and people who through accident, illness, or old age have permanently lost the capacity to understand the issue involved, with- out having previously requested or rejected euthanasia in these circumstances.

When the life of an infant will be so miserable as not to be worth living, from the internal perspective of the being who will lead that life, both the ‘prior existence’ and the ‘total’ version of utilitarianism entail that, if there are no ‘extrinsic’ reasons for keeping the infant alive – like the feelings of the parents – it is better that the child should be helped to die without further suffering.

Disabled infants and the elderly would not fare well in Peter Singer’s world, but more rights for animals. I doubt our Founding Fathers would consider this progress.