Too shy for a batmitzvah, coping with Uni & coming out as gay: this week’s Ask the Rabbi
• Too shy for a Batmitzvah
My daughter is extremely shy. How necessary is it for her to have a batmitzvah? She’d prefer to avoid all the attention.
I highlighted in a recent column that bar and batmitzvahs take place organically, without the strict need of a ceremony. Of course, the practice of having a public service is long established – but it can be adapted to spare embarrassment, particularly with a batmitzvah, where the ceremony format is flexible. The main emphasis should always be on ensuring the process is as spiritually meaningful and enjoyable as it can possibly be.
• The fish and dairy debate
Out of curiosity, is it technically permitted for Jewish people to consume fish with cheese or any other form of dairy product?
It is certainly OK for Ashkenazi Jews, as there is no restriction on this combination. Mixing meat and fish in the same dish, however, is not allowed according to the Talmud – not strictly for kashrut reasons, but because it was deemed to be injurious to health. Sephardi Jews, based on the ruling of the author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Caro, do not consume milk and fish together but the two may still be eaten one after the other (as is the case with meat and fish above).
• Not the place to show off
I have noticed many people dress up to the nines for shul and the whole thing turns into a fashion parade. I thought synagogue was about being more modest and humble before God. Am I being a fuddy-duddy?
You have a point. On the one hand, we are meant to honour shul [on Shabbat and Chagim] by dressing nicely – but we really should not go overboard in a place which is dedicated primarily to prayer, learning, spiritual connection and a meaningful sense of community. Therefore, while one should certainly dress in appropriate clothing out of respect, one should not see it as an opportunity to make a fashion statement!
• Coping with university life
I go to university next month and, of course, want to make as many friends as possible. Student life involves parties, clubbing and drinking alcohol – not a culture I have grown up with or been used to! I don’t want to miss out but am worried if I don’t immerse myself into these situations I’ll be left out. Is it time for me to get out my comfort zone? On the other hand, I think I’ll find it problematic if university life crosses boundaries with the Jewish upbringing I’ve had at home.
I suspect many people feel enormous social pressure to conform at university. From a Jewish perspective, it must be possible to find a good-quality cohort and enjoy a positive social scene without needing to buy into the full-on ‘student lifestyle’ thing.
Most of the excesses of university life are completely extraneous to any real academic or even social success and achievement. Some of the norms will therefore be very much at odds with Jewish values – and indeed your upbringing.
You will feel infinitely better doing what is right for you and will surely attract like-minded friends. Good luck!
• Dilemma over my gay friend
My male friend, who is not Jewish, told me he’s started dating a boy and has not told anyone else. He is very afraid to tell others. As his friend I want to be able to give him advice and support. I know homosexuality is forbidden under Jewish law, so am conflicted over how to advise. On one hand, I want to make my friend feel confident in himself; however, I also know if it was me who had to tell my parents I was homosexual, I’d definitely be apprehensive. I do not want to go against what I have always been taught. What should I do?
You raise a valid dilemma. On the one hand, as you say, Judaism is very much against encouraging homosexuality – while on the other it is right to be a sincere and supportive friend. In this instance, I would suggest it is not a good idea to wade straight into this particular moral minefield as it will leave you internally conflicted. It must be perfectly possible to be a good friend while not focusing or giving specific commiseration and guidance on this issue. Your moral clarity will surely make you feel better and your friend will likely respect you for that.