Bar Mitz­vah: A Guide to Spir­i­tu­al Growth

Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Fran­coise-Anne Menager
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
This philo­soph­i­cal explo­ration of the bar mitz­vah is writ­ten at a lev­el high­er than most 13-year-olds are used to read­ing. Even those who could under­stand every nuance and abstrac­tion may not have the patience for a mys­ti­cal expla­na­tion of, say, tefill­in. Young­sters will, how­ev­er, be drawn in by the book’s illus­trat­ed, user-friend­ly for­mat, which employs gen­er­ous splash­es of red ink. With the help of their par­ents, kids can find plen­ty to chew on.

For adults espe­cial­ly, this book serves as a thought-pro­vok­ing guide to the heart and foun­da­tions of Judaism. It is com­posed of short bursts of nar­ra­tive bro­ken up by beau­ti­ful poet­ry and quotes from great thinkers from through­out the ages. There are numer­ous black-and-white pho­tographs of Jew­ish sym­bols, archi­tec­ture, arti­facts, and movie scenes. There are Jew­ish jokes, instruc­tion­al illus­tra­tions, and whim­si­cal flour­ish­es at chap­ter breaks. All this makes the vol­ume wor­thy of cof­fee tables. If only the cov­er were more interesting.

Bar mitz­vah (and bat mitz­vah) as a rite of pas­sage is mere­ly a start­ing point for the authors. A rab­bi-philoso­pher, author Marc- Alain Ouaknin explores such top­ics as Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, the syn­a­gogue, prayer, as well as the bar mitz­vah speech and par­ty, and bar mitz­vahs around the world. 

Ouaknin is the direc­tor of the ALEPH Cen­ter for Jew­ish Stud­ies in Paris and an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bar- Ilan (Israel), where he teach­es phi­los­o­phy and com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture. His co-author is a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture and his­to­ry in Mantes-la-Ville, France.
Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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