The High Cost of Religion

By Marty, Martin E. | The Christian Century, April 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

The High Cost of Religion


Marty, Martin E., The Christian Century


Inflation is not the worry it was 20 years ago, but afflicts some parts of the market. Not exempt from inflationary trends are some of our most sacred rites. We all know, for example, how costly weddings can be. Today I have bar mitzvahs (or bat mitzvahs) in mind. This rite recognizes a 13-year-old's initiation into the adult Jewish community. The ancients left no record of such an event, just as early Christianity did not prescribe tribal rites for its adolescent. The Talmud alludes to something like this moment of passage but is unclear about details.

Today elaborate ceremonies have developed. The boy is trained to read a scripture and offer a learned discourse. At some point in history, the rabbis interpreted Genesis 21:8 as suggesting that a banquet should follow. And follow it does!

Inflation has hit these parties hard. Deanna Kizis reports in"With God and a Good Caterer: Thou Shalt Throw a Fabulous Bar Mitzvah Party with a Minimum Budget of $50,000" (Buzz, March) on the lavish and competitive "bar mitzvah circuit" in California. With grandchildren of bat mitzvah age--or in my case, confirmation age--I began to get grandparental trembles over the possible devastation of the family estate if such an ethos were to spread eastward and into Christian circles.

Kizis tells of an event for 13-year-old Daniel Sands and his 112 young guests. The scene: Atom Smashers, a warehouse in Marina del Rey that moonlights as a party venue. Latinas are rolling cigars for the papas and mamas. Caterers resembling Secret Service agents whisper their way around the guests, who are downing ancient Hebrew foods such as sushi and sun-dried tomato pizza. "This is so fabulous," says a guest, "and I haven't even seen what they've done inside for dinner!"

"Few celebrations are at the temple anymore, both because it's not fashionable and because temples tend to be too small. …

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