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August 29, 2015 | 14th Elul 5775
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B'nei Mitzvah Ceremony: Scheduling System


  1. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                We have a small multigenerational congregation. We have Shabbat services Friday nights three times a month for the most part and do not have our own rabbi. My question is: With a b’nei mitzvah on Sat. morning, is it required to have a Friday night service the prior? We have some members wanting a bar mitzvah date where we do not offer a Friday night. Some of our committee feels it is necessary and some say no. Yet no one can come up with a reason except that they must pay for the oneg the Friday night before.

  2. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                Most of the activities surrounding the b’nei mitzvah event is minhag and not chiseled in stone. Nevertheless, why not hold an Erev Shabbat service? Since you already have services three times a month, it seems like it should be easy enough to add one more, at least on the occasion of the mitzvah. It gives the b’nei mitzvah an opportunity to show his or her mastery of the liturgy. It gives the family the opportunity to share their nachos with more people, as well. Mind you, I am not a proponent of ostentatious ceremonies and services. In fact, when I became bar mitzvah (oh so many years ago), the entire ceremony was conducted in an Orthodox shul, with just barely a minyan. I chanted the haftarah and b’rachot and afterwards my father and mother provided some wine and cake for a Kiddush. It was by today's standards a microscopic affair--yet, it was extraordinarily meaningful for me. Many of today’s affairs, particularly the black tie receptions are so flamboyant as to totally obscure the reason for the celebration in the first place. Although local customs dictate local requirements I think that having the b’nei mitzvah participate in the Maariv on Shabbat is a good idea. The cost of the Oneg should be a secondary and minor concern. It may be quite modest (perhaps it should be) and should not be a burden to anyone, particularly the family of the b’nei mitzvah.

  3. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                Clearly when to hold Shabbat services is at the option of the congregation. In an ideal world, they would be every Friday evening and every Saturday morning; but not all congregations can even aspire to the ideal.

    The situation presented sheds a new light on the issue discussed previously of the privatization of the bar/bat mitzvah. It appears that you only hold Shabbat AM services when there is a bar mitzvah, so the "congregation" on that occasion will largely be those coming for the simchah--and, since this is a rabbi-less congregation, those who officiate. The question then becomes, shall the officiant(s), presumably volunteers, be expected to do double duty on bar mitzvah weekends--or are they off the hook for Friday night if they are "performing" on Saturday morning. And my response to that is that you can't demand anything of volunteers--you can only be grateful and appreciative for whatever they are willing to do. I see that as more the issue than the cost of an additional Oneg Shabbat.

    There is of course one more option--to hold the bar mitzvah ceremony on Friday night. For whatever it may be worth, as the bat mitzvah began creeping its way into the Conservative Movement--which was essentially the first step towards equalitarianism, preceding counting women towards the minyan and allowing them on the bimah (both of which preceded ordaining them)--it was typically on Friday night (when typically Torah is not read in Conservative congregations). So there is a kind of precedent--which may or may not be acceptable to families who are still tied into the "this is what grandpa would expect" Saturday AM mode.
    1200 member units
  4. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                I have never heard of, or read about, a halachic need for a Friday night service because of a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony the following morning. Of course, there is the halachic rule to pray morning, noon and night, and Friday night is a night. I don't even think there's a halachic need for a bar or bat mitzvah to do a Torah reading on Saturday. Monday or Thursday (right?) would work just as fine--or am I wrong? If I'm wrong, someone set me straight!

    But Shabbat, being the kick-butt holiday of every week, is certainly a better time for rejoicing!


    600+ families
  5. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                Many congregations, because of their size or other considerations, do not offer services at all the times when it is traditional to pray. Because bar/bat mitzvah (I hate using the plural to try to be gender sensitive) is and should be a public affirmation of acceptance of the rights and responsibilities of our faith, it should be held at a regularly scheduled, congregational service. I would hope that, especially in the smaller congregations, an effort is made to make sure that the whole congregation is invited to the service and the Oneg or Kiddush that follows.


    400+ member units
  6. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                Since a bar mitzvah conventionally signifies the first time someone is called to read from the Torah, it can presumably take place any time Torah is read--which traditionally is Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, and Saturday afternoon at Minchah. (My friend Rabbi Don Rossoff used to teach, and probably still does, that you become bar mitzvah by reaching the age when you are subject to the commandments, whether or not you observe the event by being called to the Torah.)

    I agree with the prior post that deplored the privatization of the bar mitzvah--which is what you get in a congregation that doesn't hold Shabbat morning services except when there is a bar mitzvah, or that allows Shabbat Minchah ceremonies, even though they otherwise do not hold Shabbat Minchah services. Unfortunately, we live in a consumer society, and congregations have become the merchants of the programs that consumers want to buy. This is also known as allowing the inmates to run the asylum. Particularly in a city like Chicago, with probably 100 congregations among the denominations, the consumer will always find someone to sell him the kind of service s/he wants--which encourages the desire to conciliate. (If you're the only game in town, you can theoretically stick more to your guns--but how many do?)

    The issue is explored for us in Pirkei Avoth--im eyn kemach, eyn Torah. If you don't have the dough, you can't run the show.
    1200 units
  7. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-18

                This looks to me like an opportunity to create your congregation's tradition. A few possibilities: Maybe the most recent bar/bat mitzvah could conduct the Friday evening service, as a part of his/her adult position in the congregation. If you have more than one bar/bat mitzvah celebration per year, the parents whose child is not becoming bar/bat mitzvah on Shabbat morning could conduct Friday night services. Friday night services can be pretty short and simple, and personally I'm always in favor of holding services if possible.

    In any case, this is something I'd want to put to a vote, at least within the committee and all the parents who are scheduling for the next two years or so. I'd want the committee to approve a list of choices, and then let the congregation or the parents vote.

    One of the special small-congregation challenges is that each individual is so important, and it's impossible to find a solution that every person loves.

    Sometimes the best you can do is make sure that everyone has the opportunity to make a suggestion and know their opinion has been heard.


    38 families
  8. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-20

    1. Someone mentioned bar mitzvah on Thursday. Since that's a Torah-reading day in the tradition, it makes perfect sense. They take place at the Wall in Jerusalem every week.  No problem.
    2. At my place, there have been b’nei mitzvah almost every week for several years, and the expectation has been that it will continue, though the 5th grade classes are a bit smaller now. Yes, it has become a semi-private event here as in many other places, because the family and friends (and the young people's friends "push out" many congregants. We have struggled with this in many Ritual Committee meetings, and have tried unsuccessfully to come to some agreement.
    3. A member of our board congratulates the children and presents their certificates. As I do it, I inform the congregation that this is "not just about the party", but that it demonstrates their willingness to take on the responsibilities of adult participation in the congregation. I also indicate to the audience (many of whom are not Jewish) that this is a real achievement, not taken lightly by our kids. I think it has worked in a few cases.


    920 units
  9. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-20

                First of all…thank all of you for your wonderful input. It has been so helpful. Secondly, I guess that I was not clear enough. Our situation is that we do not have full time contracted clergy, and our congregation has chosen not to have Friday Night Shabbat Services every Friday. At present, we have it three times a month for the most part and not on American holidays, i.e. Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend, Presidents’ Day, New Year’s Eve, etc. Living in Arizona where most of the community is made up of transients either from the Mid-West or the East Coast, we have members who have requested three-day holiday weekends for their Simcha so their out-of-state families can celebrate and participate with them. Some of our board wants it to be a requirement to have a Friday Night Service preceding the Sat. bar/bat mitzvah and for it to be paid for at the expense of the family since it is not a calendared Shabbas. I don’t know if there is a reason for this added expense to be pushed on our members. I do know that in the perfect world to have a complete Shabbas experience would be the ultimate, but I wanted to know your opinions on this subject matter. Is a Friday Night Service necessary, and is there a reason?  I suppose if I could come up with a reasonable explanation that would help.


    75 families
  10. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-20

                May I respectfully add that Friday night is not just any night; it is Erev Shabbat, the beginning of Shabbat, which we welcome at sundown. It is my own feeling that a family celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah on Saturday, should begin what will hopefully be a spiritual Shabbat, with Friday night services--having their child participate in some small way at that service as well. Our congregation gives the parents the honor of lighting the candles and being on the bimah for the Kiddush as well.

    If we are teaching the child and preparing for bar or bat mitzvah, we should include in that teaching the whole "geshtalt": That Shabbat, which begins on Friday night, is what we Jews observe [and t]hat sharing your "coming of age" with the entire community, on Friday, is part of the picture.

    I understand that this may be difficult, considering that you don't have a rabbi or cantor to lead, but I am certain, from personal experience that many congregants are equally capable to lead us in prayer.

    Oh yes, Monday and Thursday are certainly acceptable for a bar/bat mitzvah Torah reading. Of course, then, there is no haftarah reading.

    The major requirement for a bar or bat mitzvah, is to be called up for an aliyah and recite the Torah blessings. Another requirement would be the study of the parashah (portion) and giving a d'var Torah (words of Torah or speech), teaching the congregation what he or she has learned from the Torah. The leading of part of the service (while not required) shows that a child has learned something, and is now able to lead others in prayer.

  11. Jan 2005 Digest 2005-20

                Several options come to mind. One is to decide that services serve the “congregation,” and bar mitzvahs are available (only) on weeks when the congregation celebrates Shabbat together. Another is to decide that certain services serve the “family” and not the community, and let the family have them whenever they can be staffed without imposing additional burdens. Your board seems to be trying to split the difference, but perhaps not in a way that best serves your congregation's needs.

    Since you have an established custom of Friday services (not on every week), and (if I understand correctly) not on Saturdays, you could really go either way here. You could add a Saturday service to some weeks, or you could deliberately schedule bar mitzvahs on weeks when you don't have a Friday service to spread out Shabbat offerings more. I would only recommend the latter if the bar-mitzvah service is truly open to the community, however.

    But I would not try to force a family to support a Friday service on a week that wasn't otherwise going to have one. You had good reasons for not having a service that night, so your regular congregants probably won't come, so whom does it serve? On the other hand, I very much like the suggestion (I forget whose it was) that you start having recent b'nei mitzvah--and older lay members too--conduct some of your Friday services, building up a corps of people who can help make services happen every week. Then, in time, you could offer Shabbat services every week without adding to the cost of rabbinic support.

    As an aside, I don't understand the travel problem. We are a large congregation and, of necessity, have a bar or bat mitzvah almost every week. The student participates Friday night and Saturday morning. Those families do not seem to have difficulty getting here. Most federal holidays are on Mondays anyway, which does not help with arrival before Shabbat.


    ~860 households

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