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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

  1. Many bar/bat mitzvah celebrations include the lighting of thirteen candles. Sometimes it is on a cake; sometimes just a candle setup. It has usually been a time when the young person invites up family and friends to light each candle, recognizing the contribution they have made to his/her life.

    I have had a few people ask me the "traditional Jewish" significance of this ritual. To the best of my knowledge it has no specific Jewish connection; rather it seems to be a melding of marking a birthday with recognizing those who are important in life (not a bad thing at all). But, I thought I would ask the collective wisdom if this list if I am wrong and there is a specific Jewish ritual original to this.

    680 member units

  2. I know of no religious significance to [the candle lighting ritual]. I suspect it developed originally in the Reform movement as a way of honoring special people because we had no tradition of aliyot. Now that most congregations do, perhaps we can gently nudge our families into this "more Jewish" way of honoring special relatives and friends, especially since the birthday link is rather weak--for some these dates are as much as six months apart!

  3. ...Although many (if not all) of us use electricity or drive cars on the Sabbath, to publicly and ritually light candles before sundown on the Sabbath, especially after becoming a "child of the commandments" is astonishingly oblivious and disrespectful. It seems that this custom was culled from wedding celebrations. There is no Jewish significance and, in my opinion, should be ended (except at celebrations that occur on Saturday nights, after Sabbath has ended).

  4. Are we talking about lighting thirteen birthday candles on the bimah in the sanctuary, or at the reception following the service?

    If the former, I agree [that it?s] inappropriate. If the latter, especially if off-site and/or after Havdalah, why not? We did this at my bar mitzvah some 49 years ago.


  5. ...all [your] replies...confirmed my initial understanding that this custom has no Jewish significance.

    I will only add in the spirit of sharing ideas, that with my own children we used the thirteen candles idea to recognize and thank people, but we did it with thirteen Havdalah candles at the end of a late afternoon reception. Once all were called up and candles lit, we passed out besamin through the guests and made Havdalah together to end a glorious day.

    680 member units

  6. I've seen a ceremony like this once, and I think your analysis is probably correct. The symbolism is derived from birthday cakes and the intent is to eliminate the endless string of thank yous--often perfunctory--from the d'var Torah. The one I saw occurred during the reception, which seemed a perfect place to recognize and introduce friends and family.

  7. I have sat through and participated in endless variants of this experience since the bar/bat mitzvahs of my own nephews and niece in the 80's. That was the first time I witnessed this "ceremony" which to the best of my knowledge had no existence in Jewish ritual before that time.

    Done with style and speed it can be very touching and delightful, done with a heavy hand and no thought about the "audience" it becomes a maudlin exercise that leaves many looking for something to do until it is over and the socializing, dancing and mingling can continue.


  8. What happened to the Reform concept of choosing what practice is meaningful? The lighting of candles is certainly an accepted practice in Judaism. What keeps happening to Reform Judaism is that our practices are returning to the conformity of Orthodoxy.

    Our return to Orthodox practices and the Orthodox observance of Shabbat insist on rules and regulations that are not necessarily acceptable to those of us who come from Classical Reform Congregations.

    100 Households

  9. I think some practices belong at the core of Judaism (the Sh?ma, Shabbat, Torah, Ten Commandments, etc) so that I don't necessarily agree we can pick whatever practices we choose to follow, although Reform Judaism does offer more choices. A congregation that chooses more Conservative or Orthodox values/practices has exercised the same "choice" that [Edmond] implies they are denying you. Personally, respecting and returning to some of the rituals and observances which you call conformity helps me with the separation of the mundane and the religious, putting me in a better mind set for sincere prayer. Also, with the variety of choice you imply, I'm not sure how to label a congregation a "Classical Reform Congregation."
    350 families

  10. I have heard, on pretty good authority, I think, that this "Candle lighting Ceremony" originated with a Long island caterer. (I don't know if the caterer was Jewish.)

  11. I have been given to understand that this [candle lighting ceremony] developed on Long Island, an invention of caterers to give something to do in between courses. (Of course, that might be an "apocryphal" tale.) It has no religious significance whatsoever!

  12. With my own five children's bar/bat mitzvah parties, I never had a candle lighting ceremony. Personal choice. If my children had requested it, I would have done it, but they never did. Although I have observed some interesting ones and even been involved in some occasionally, I find them all tedious to sit thru as a guest. Although for the bar/bat mitzvah family, it has meaning.
    Approx 85 families

  13. Perhaps lighting thirteen candles on the bimah will one day have "passed the test of time."

  14. I don?t think that anyone has suggested that this "ceremony" takes place on the bimah. It is typically done at the party.

  15. Is there any religious significance to breaking a glass or the bride walking around the groom under the chuppah (in a temple or catering hall)? We do it because of custom, I believe. Every custom started at some point in time and space.
    175 units (more or less)

  16. One thing I've never seen at a non-Orthodox bar/bas mitzvah is the chanting of Birkat HaMazon. Why don't more people participate in this communal thanksgiving for the food we eat?

  17. There are multiple explanations that are attributed to the custom of breaking a glass at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony. The oldest dates back to an incident recorded in the Talmud.

    "One of the sages observed that the rabbis present at a wedding were very joyous, seized a costly goblet worth 400 zuzim and broke it before them. This had a sobering effect (Talmud Bavli, Berachot 31a) and the breaking of the glass is similarly intended to temper the joy of the occasion by reminding those present of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the other calamities that have befallen the children of Israel."

    "The custom of circling the groom seven times corresponds to seven verses in the Bible that contain the phrase "and when a man take a wife."

    A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Isaac Klein

    Are these customs "religious"? Clearly they have passed the test of time.

    Cantor Alane S. Katzew
    Director of Music Programming
    Union for Reform Judaism

  18. I came from a Classical Reform Congregation back in my youth. I realized over the years how much I did not know about Judaism and Jewish Customs that I thought I did. The more I learned, the more informed choices I could make, and choices are still there up to the individual, but Reform Judaism as an organized entity is not or should not be, in my opinion, an anything goes denomination; it is based on Jewish history, community, education, on going discussion, minhag of individual synagogues, biblical traditions, involvement and participation of the congregation, orientation of the clergy, etc. Some traditions are important to distinguish us as a part of Judaism, otherwise we would not be Jewish, but something like Unitarian. I don't think Reform Movement is becoming more Othodox; rather it is becoming more in tune with Jewish roots and more adaptive of those roots to the contemporary world.
    approx. 85 families

  19. As with anything Jewish, there are a multitude of explanations!

    The tradition of circling of the bride around the groom has ties to Jeremiah 31:21, where the prophet says that a woman encompasses and protects a man. Some brides will circle three times. This tradition comes from Hosea 2:21-22 where God says to the Jewish people: "I betroth you to myself forever; I betroth you to myself in righteousness and in justice, in love and in mercy; I betroth you to myself in faithfulness..."

    Other brides circle seven times. As Joshua circled the wall of Jericho seven times, and then the walls fell down. So, too, after the bride walks around the groom seven times, the walls between them will fall and their souls will be united.

    Regarding the breaking of the glass, the grooms steps on and breaks a glass. The custom of breaking a glass under the chuppah is derived from the Talmud. It is written that a rabbi broke a vase during a wedding feast in order to warn those present against excessive joy. Some say the tradition is to remind us that even during times of great joy, we should remember the tragic destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Another source suggests it may be to ward off "evil spirits"!


  20. My general impression however from my own observances here is that the large Conservative temple has a large Sat. morning service, maybe 300--400 regulars that come plus the shul has daily minyans. The large Reform service has a maybe 30 to 50 regulars that come. I'm guessing that the overall membership for both is over 1200 families. Is this typical in other places?

    I am not sure myself what the difference is; I'm sure it isn't a black and white situation, except I think it has something to do with expectations of the synagogue and the movement and a more traditional approach to community involvement and a difference in personal commitment. It seemed ingrained in the more traditional shul that a minyan means that there is an obligation for people to come together as a community and a feeling that each person's participation is important. It is a different mindset maybe. Maybe it is a type of social pressure; maybe more organizational discipline, maybe it depends on what part of the country or what city, maybe the needs have changed so much in this country that religion is taking a big backseat to r and r, maybe there is too much dependence on what the temple can do for the congregant instead of what the congregant can to for the temple, maybe we are just to overwhelmed these days to go to shul, maybe it has become boring and people want to be entertained. Who knows? It is not that I think attendance at a shul is the most important part of Judaism, but overall attendance is kind of an indication of priorities. Looking around at today's society and its growing secularism, I have to wonder what is going to keep us together and prosper. The young adult generation seems (and I know I am generalizing) not all that interested in organizational religious involvement. Maybe that will change when they have their own families.


  21. "What happened to the Reform concept of choosing what practice is meaningful? What keeps happening to Reform Judaism is that our practices are returning to the conformity of Orthodoxy."

    These statements are at odds with each other as is the term "Classic Reform" Judaism. Judaism, whether it be of the more traditional variety or the "Reform" variety, has always been a dynamic religion. Being raised in a more traditional environment, I was a bit suspicious of the Reform Movement before I joined [congregation?s name]. After joining [congregation?s name], I spent a great deal of time studying the various platforms from the 1800's onward as well as the various responsa our rabbis have written. As far as I can tell, the Movement has never supported the idea that choosing practices that are meaningful meant taking an anything goes approach. To me this means that any given congregation can determine its own minhag without fearing that some high court is going to excommunicate them. If a congregation wants to observe all of the non-Holy Temple Mitzvoth, that is fine. The other extreme is also allowable. Congregations create their own liturgy and music. Theology is a different issue, but even here our rabbis are free to be creative.

    What we are seeing today is that many of us are looking for practices that are meaningful to us. This being the case, some of these practices seem more "Orthodox" to those among us who are happy with the status quo or those who long for the practices of yesteryear. This is not a movement towards conformity. It is the opposite. It is an attempt to break out of the stagnant mold some of us feel we have been trapped in. In truth, this is exactly what "Classic Reform" did! They tore down the walls of the shetl and Judaism emerged into the world in full view.

    The problem that has occurred in the process is that we have relegated (in some cases) our Judaism to reside only in our synagogues as a faint echo of what it once was. What we want to achieve is to reinvigorate or Judaism into every aspect of our lives. So, we will experiment with some of the old and some of the new and come ten years from now who knows? Will we be more traditional, more liberal, or maybe something else even more wonderful than that will emerge. The key is to keep moving. Keep trying. Keep experimenting. Keep studying. The more you do these things the more you will find the practices you choose to have the meaning you are looking for.



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