Q. I am senior class president at my college. Our annual commencement ball, an extremely formal occasion, will be held in a few weeks, and I have a couple of questions.
What should I do about inebriated guests who lose control? Is there a proper way to ask them to leave without causing an uproar? Is there a way, under the rules of etiquette, that we can keep homosexual couples out? Finally, a question about what I anticipate will be our worst problem. Certain groups of students have taken to strange dances which degenerate into overt love acts -- right out on the dance floor. How can I politely request that such activities not occur at our commencement ball?
A. Welcome to polite society, where the attempt to fit the chaos of human behavior into the patterns of civilization has always been a difficult, but noble cause.
No form of non-violent social life would even have been possible without law enforcement. Traditionally, this task was divided between the generations. The only reason that guests at Victorian tea dances didn't copulate drunkenly on the dance floor with anything that moved was that they were afraid of 1) the dragons disguised as dowagers and 2) the young ladies who pretended to be terminally shocked and the young men who pretended to be mortally insulted.
You must recruit modern versions of these people. A few of the tougher faculty members should be invited, and a dance committee of students should be convened to decide what behavior will be considered unacceptable, with their decisions made known beforehand to other guests.
When unacceptable behavior occurs, as it will, the offenders should be approached by these people of authority, possibly in cross-generational pairs, and escorted off the scene with determination but no fuss except that which the offenders themselves may unwisely make to call attention to their disgrace.
Q. Neither my husband nor I was brought up with much formal religion. We are both Jewish, but my family did not belong to a synagogue, and my husband's family only attended on the High Holy Days. Now that we are expecting a baby, we feel a yearning for tradition in our lives, as well as the general cultural and spiritual identification our families felt.
Can you tell us about the ritual of circumcision if our baby is a boy? When my husband was born, it was just done at the hospital, but we would like some celebration.
Also, what about if it's a girl? We are goining a local synagogiue, but I don't want to start out by asking questions the rabbi would expect us to know, and I also want to know about the rules of etiquette for making this a social occasion, which everyone will enjoy.
A. Well, not everyone. The brith milah, or bris, like all the great ceremonies of life, is designed to be enjoyed by everyone except the guest of honor.
The actual circumcision may, of course, be done at the hospital, but as it must be performed on the eighth day after birth, and as maternity wards no longer encourage lengthy confinements, this is not a down-the-hall convenience. One can return to the hospital and have the reception there, or do both at home.
Miss Manners needn't tell you that this cannot be done for a girl. A daughter is formally named at services the Sabbath after her birth, and you may give her a reception in the temple or at home afterwards.
As the baby will be your first-born, a son may also have a pidyon haben ceremony, in which he is dedicated to the service of God and then redeemed by his parents. This, too, is followed by a reception.
If is customary for all of these receptions to be small. Only close friends and relatives are invited, and usually just wine and cake are served. This is to give your extended circle and the caterer time to prepare for the child's bar or bat mitzvah.