Sunday, November 19, 2006

Opening the Inbox: A Fly-fishing Bar Mitzvah?

This week I received a fantastic and entertaining e-mail about "A Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah.” I love getting e-mail, so please write me by clicking on the “Contact Me” link to your right.

Dear Rabbi-

I belong to a reform synagogue in Michigan and my son's bar mitzvah is coming up in March. As you know, often times the "party" to celebrate the bar mitzvah has a theme. Soccer, hockey, tennis, all very easy themes for boys and very common. But in our case, my son's passion is fly fishing.

This tradition runs long in our family - my husband's father was a fly fisherman and my husband grew up fishing from the age of 6. My soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy heard fish stories in utero; he was practically born with a rod in his hand.... So of course it is natural for me to think of a fly fishing theme for his bar mitzvah party. We'll be having the reception at the synagogue. On my side of the family, conservative Jews, fishing is unheard of. My brother tells me "Jews don't fish". Is there some little passage in the bible that tells us that Jews don't fish? My son also catches and releases and tries to be as respectful of the fish as he can. I googled "bar mitzvah theme fishing" and came up with a big zero.

So now I am starting to wonder if there is some unkosher aspect of fishing and being Jewish - since no one seems to have this fly fishing theme bar mitzvah. Will I be making a big faux paux at the synagogue by having a fly fishing themed bar mitzvah? Also, would it be inappropriate to somehow represent Sam's passion for rivers and fishing on the invitation? Or should I keep the bar mitzvah invitation theme neutral and just stick with a symbol of the Torah or a star of David?

Thanks for your input.

-Mother of the fly fishing bar mitzvah boy

P.S. As a footnote, for the table decorations, I'm making a faux fishing rod out of 1/4" PVC pipe, spray painted black, the reel will be made out of used wire spools, spray painted silver, a fishing net made out of flexible foam pipe-cover and netting, and in the middle will be a wicker basket in the shape of a boat, inside which will contain cans of tuna fish, sardines, salmon. I'm making the centerpieces myself to keep the cost down, so that I can fill those baskets with lots of fish and then donate those to our local food shelter.

Dear Mother of the fly fishing bar mitzvah boy,

Thank you for your wonderful e-mail! Let me now offer a few thoughts.

It is true that there seems to be some kind of prejudice against fishing in Judaism. Or as your brother so aptly put it: "Jews don't fish." I'm not sure exactly where this bias came from, but I suspect it has to do with assimilation and separation in America.

When our grandparents or great-grandparents came to this country, they wanted to keep their Jewish identity. Often they lived in their own Jewish neighborhoods. And there was anti-Semitism so that Jews were excluded from country clubs, and even universities. Perhaps some Jews in that generation felt that it was better to be Jewish and separate than to blend in with American culture. They saw some aspects of America as nareshkeit, nonsense. And fishing was included as a silly activity that non-Jews did.

As a fourth generation American Jew who grew up in St. Louis, I feel comfortable being both Jewish and American. And I have no problem going to services at Temple on Friday night and spending a Sunday morning fishing on the river. Just as it is possible to be Jewish and American, I believe one can be a Fly Fishing Jew.

There is nothing in the Torah or the Talmud against fishing as far as I am aware. God created fish on the 5th day and God blesses them by saying: "Be fertile and increase, fill the waters of the seas." One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the book of Jonah, where the prophet is swallowed by a whale and lives in its belly for three days. A careful reading of the Hebrew reveals that the word for "whale" is dag, which means fish. So Jonah actually encountered a giant fish! And finally, the Torah tells us that as humans we are allowed to eat fish. In the book of Leviticus, it says that Jews can consume fish that have scales but should stay away from shellfish. And of course, the fish will not magically appear on our plates. We must fish for them.

And now to your questions. I certainly have no problem with a fly-fishing Bar Mitzvah theme. Perhaps it could include an option to donate to a stream conservation organization like Trout Unlimited or the Nature Conservancy. A part of being a good fisherman is caring for the streams. And personally, I think it might be cute to put a graphic of a fly fisherman and a Jewish star together. Why not?

However, there is a concept in Judaism called "shalom bayit," peace in the house, which may apply here. If including too much fishing in the bar mitzvah is offensive to members of your family, I might suggest keeping it a bit more low key. The significance of this day for your son is not about a big party or fly fishing. It is being able to read from the Torah and become a Jewish adult in the the presence of you, your family and your friends.

Mazal Tov on your happy occasion,

The Fly Fishing Rabbi

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As for fly fishing, trout and Jewish ritual... I clearly remember Rosh Ha shana and tashlich on the Farmington River in Conn with the trout rising to the bread crumbs