They Mitzvah – Sex & the City’s Reboot
In the final episodes of “And Just Like That” on HBO Max, Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) helped her nonbinary child, Rock, prepare for their traditional Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. Typically (traditionally?), bar and bat mitzvahs, in which 13-year-old boys and 12-year-old (often, also 13-year-old) girls are welcomed into adulthood and called up to the Torah for the first time, are divided by gender.
Esther D. Kustanowitz and Erin Ben-Moche have a podcast called “The Bagel Report.” It’s a pop-culture entertainment podcast featuring culture and entertainment. In a recent episode they talked about the “They Mitzvah” on Sex & the City’s reboot, “And Just Like That.” I recently blogged here at The Mitzvah Rabbi about the relatively new concept of a “Kabbalat Mitzvah” — a gender-neutral coming-of-age mitzvah ceremony. I hadn’t yet heard of the gender-fluid “They Mitzvah,” but you can listen to Esther and Erin’s coverage of it on their podcast (link below).
They write, “The Oscar nominations are here, Charlotte York Goldenblatt’s child became a Jewish adult (or did they?), and there’s a whole lot that’s Newy & Jewy (bam copyright). And Erin and Esther have feelings about all of it, (over)analyzing ‘And Just Like That’s Jewish coming-of-age ritual and sharing their bat mitzvah experiences, thinking about how to anchor this moment in a child’s life in meaning and identity beyond the binary/traditional. And, pop culture moments that are good, bad and meh for the Jews.”
The NY Post also covered the “They Mitzvah” in a recent article in which they asked rabbis what they thought of this concept. Here’s what they had to say:
“I don’t want a bat mitzvah,” Rock tells their mom.
Charlotte, ever the cheerleader, reassures her child: “That’s why you’re having a ‘they mitzvah’!”
Such celebrations aren’t limited to fictional portrayals.
“It’s not uncommon,” Rabbi Mike Moskowitz told The Post of gender-nonconforming mitzvahs for Jewish tweens.
As the scholar-in-residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), a progressive congregation in Midtown, Moskowitz said that increasingly, kids are chafing at the gendered nature of this religious rite of passage.
“It’s abrasive for them, it rubs them the wrong way,” the rabbi said.
But the show’s signature joke-y style belies one reality — “they” mitzvah, as a term, isn’t really a thing. Rather, families are going with the gender-neutral b’nai mitzvah (plural for bar or bat mitzvah) or “b-mitvah.”
“There’s no industry standard,” said Moskowitz, who studied in an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. “But the term is less significant than what it actually represents. And what it represents is reaching the age of consent, the age of being responsible for one’s actions or inactions, in a way that reflects one’s gender identity.”
Keshet, an organization that supports equality for all Jews, has a guide for the “gender neutral b-mitzvah” that’s “part of a Jewish tradition that is continuously evolving.”
But others in the Jewish community said they liked the “Sex and the City” sanctioned term. “[‘They mitzvah’] is clever,” said Rabbi Tamara R. Cohen, VP, Chief of Program Strategy for Moving Traditions, a Jewish organization that emphasizes inclusiveness for young people. “I think it really does validate the experience of young people today. The truth is, people are experimenting with different names. We call it a b-mitzvah right now … It’s a way of using a non-gendered term.”
Cohen, who told The Post that she grew up with a conservative Jewish upbringing, struggled with reconciling her homosexuality and religion in her own community coming out as a lesbian. “I felt like I did have to choose between my sexuality and being accepted in the Jewish community. It was extremely painful,” she said, noting that it was a time when gays couldn’t be role models or rabbis, which has since changed. Shows like this help alter perceptions, she said, even if there’s a fine line between making a joke, and making a point.
In the final episode, Charlotte scrambles to find a rabbi to preside over the “they mitzvah” after another clergy member backs out, citing Rock’s unpreparedness. (Ultimately, Rock decided not to go through with it, and Charlotte decided to undergo the rite of passage.)
Experts say such a reaction from a rabbi isn’t realistic. “Gender identity aside, no self-respecting member of the clergy would be so judgmental towards a child’s lack of preparation. The goal is to make the experience welcoming and meaningful,” said Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.
Photo Credit: Craig BlankenhornTags: B Mitzvah, Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Charlotte York, Entertainment, Erin Ben-Moche, Esther Kustanowitz, Gender Binary, Gender Fluid, GLBT, Jewish, LGBT, Mitzvahs, Non-Binary Bar Mitzvah, Non-Binary Bat Mitzvah, Podcast, Pop Culture, Rabbi, Sex and the City, They Mitzvah