Seder cartoon by the Forward

I’m not Jewish, but can I still throw a ‘cat mitzvah’ for my pet?

Image by Liana finck

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to bintel@forward.com.


Dear Bintel,

Is it offensive if I throw my 13-year-old cat a “cat mitzvah?” I’m not Jewish, but I grew up in a heavily Jewish area and lots of my friends are Jewish. We went to so many bar and bat mitzvahs in my day. It would be a bit tongue in cheek, but not mocking in any way. Just a cute way to celebrate my beloved cat.

Mrs. Gingersnap Just Wants to Have Fun

Dear Mrs. Gingersnap,

This letter made me laugh out loud. I say throw the party. I don’t really know what that entails, but assuming it’s done with a light touch and in true good fun I don’t see an issue with it.

I’m thinking cute captions on social media about being 13, and maybe your cat in pearls or a bow tie. Or having friends over (however safely that can happen in your part of the world) with toasts about how proud they were to watch her grow up. It can be fun and silly and not disgrace everything sacred about the actual tradition of assuming Jewish adulthood and responsibility.


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I might feel different if you weren’t culturally embedded in the world of American Jewish Bat Mitzvahs. I say this because if your social group wasn’t heavily Jewish, this sort of event could be more mocking than you intend.

That’s because, in that case, you wouldn’t be nostalgically evoking the many events of your youth, but relying on stereotypes about Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs. For your cat. The whole thing would have to be sourced through second hand knowledge or researched. That degree of distance and thus effort either makes the nod feel too serious (earnestly looking for ways to ritually mark your cat’s transition to adulthood seems odd) or confusing, with a dash of ethnic unease: Why is this ritual cute and funny for you? What’s your connection?

But if simcha dancers and themed parties and high-pitched thank yous for family that came “all the way from Florida” to celebrate was a part of your childhood too, then go ahead and make it part of your cat’s life. And PLEASE send pictures!!

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to bintel@forward.com.

I’m not Jewish, but can I throw a ‘cat mitzvah?’

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I’m not Jewish, but can I still throw a ‘cat mitzvah’ for my pet?

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