A new video is causing a sensation in the Jewish community. Rather than send out a traditional save-the-date card for his Bar Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony), 12-year-old Daniel Blumen decided to create a rap video.
Weaving in various celebrities and political officials, the video highlights the meaning of his ceremony and his hometown of Atlanta. After a website wrote a story about the video, it went viral, receiving (as of this writing) 318,000 views.
Why the Fuss?
Reactions to the video have ranged from horror to shock to mild bemusement. The overwhelming attitude has been one of frustration.
Many have expressed concern about the focus on entertainment rather than spirituality. Is it appropriate for a religious ceremony to become fodder for a celebrity-laden rap video?
Rather than feel frustration, I watched the video with delight. It is cute, funny, and creative, and it is clear that Daniel is taking his religious studies seriously.
In this case, the medium is not the message. Rather, the message–the importance of his Jewish faith and studies–is enhanced by the medium.
Is There Too Much “Bar” and Not Enough “Mitzvah”?
The broader issue here is the relationship between religion and popular culture. Does engaging with pop culture somehow diminish the meaning of a spiritual message? Does religion’s association with pop stars somehow convey an endorsement of their values?
No and no. Faith does not need to be counter-cultural in order to exert a positive influence. It can use the tools of the larger culture to provide a meaningful critique and perspective on it.
Another broader issue is the meaning and purpose of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Some see it as an unfortunate focus of contemporary Jewish life.
One of my rabbinic precessors forbid Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the synagogue because he said they involved “too much bar (drinking alcohol)” and “not enough mitzvah (doing good deeds).”
Living Our Faith
While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, the vast majority of families find Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies to be among the most moving experiences of their lives.
I’ve seen parents break down in tears as they bless their children; grandparents beam with joy as their grandchildren stand before the congregation; children gain self-esteen and confidence as they read from the Bible with poise and insight.
One of Daniel’s teachers put it best when he said, “The world changes. We’re trying to get kids to take leadership positions and create a new world and not be stuck in the past. We encourage critical thinking and creativity..and a kid who’s put himself out there regarding his faith, good for him.”
To that all we can say is, “Amen.”
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