Adopted by the Board of Trustees
The sacred celebration of Bar/Bat Mitzvah has inherent value for the religious and emotional development of our children. At the very stage of life, in personality and character development, that a person is beginning the search for unique identity, Judaism has the genius to distinguish that person by name and link Jewish identity with individual identity and also, with a sense of wider community and purpose beyond the individual self. We provide a challenge, and, at the same time, help the child to achieve it, thus adding self-confidence as an asset for life. And we link this sacred Jewish observance with family, with love and congratulations for the young person providing a sense of self-worth.
But, however inherently beautiful in structure and significance each of our religious events may be, it is how we celebrate them that expresses for good or for ill the spiritual condition of our Jewish community. Especially because Bar/Bat Mitzvah has become so prominent a celebration in personal lives of American Jews, it should be the occasion when we motivate our children to seek in their lives values higher and better, more fulfilling and humanely responsible than the materialistic idolatries of our society.
The happy celebration of a sacred event is a mitzvah in Judaism. (Deut. 12.7; 14.26), an affirmation of life; and so is considered by long-standing practice of the Jewish people. But due to excessive and inappropriate celebration, Bar/Bat Mitzvah has become an occasion for idolatry and the relentless commercial colonization of our sacred events: Social pressures, excesses of wasteful consumption, expression of wealth and status, "glitzy" theme events (devised for greater expenditure), "sophisticated" entertainment, elaborate floral arrangements, and expensive party favors. The message is just the opposite of what we should convey. Many such celebrations have exploded into excess beyond the scope of elaborate weddings, with an ambiance of hot-house sophistication to which are children are subjected, obviously intended rather as parties to satisfy the social obligations and business/professional needs of the parents rather than as events appropriate to young people. Those who really cannot afford this, nonetheless feel compelled to follow suit, creating strains at what should be a time of joy.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah "circuit" is noted as a problem by professional educators as the Bar Mitzvah party has become a source of both perplexity and even mockery in the non-Jewish community.
The moral dilemma for Jewish integrity is magnified by the fact that many join congregations just to get their children "Bar-Mitzvahed" and many children, just at the age of "assuming the Mitzvah" the very meaning of the event, end their Jewish studies, a central mitzvah of Jewish observance.
The best of our people are already deeply concerned about these developments and in many places are looking for guidelines toward improvement of the situation.
THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Actively initiate, through its regions and congregations, programs of consciousness raising, and task forces on this issue toward the elaboration of patterns of observance and models of celebration along the lines of gatherings remembered for family cohesion, authentic friendship, acts of Tzedakah, and parties suitable for children.
- Publish a GUIDE TO BAR/BAT MITZVAH CELEBRATION which will give the history of the occasion, the values inherent in the event and models of appropriate celebration.
- Call on our congregations to consider the setting of appropriate guidelines.