Israel Forever

For the week ending 20 March 2004 / 27 Adar I 5764

What is a Bar Mitzvah?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

What is a "bar mitzvah"?

The answer you will get to this question will vary according to which youngster you ask.

The child from an observant family will proudly tell you that a "bar mitzvah" is a boy who reaches the age of thirteen and assumes the full responsibility of an adult in fulfilling the mitzvot commanded by G-d (bar = son, mitzvah = commandment). For him the celebration surrounding this event is an expression of the joy he and his family feel in having such a privilege.

The youngster growing up in a secular home will respond that this is an occasion for ending his hated after-school Hebrew lessons and bar mitzvah preparations which deserves a big party (that often has much more "bar" than "mitzvah" to it).

It is the lavish nature of many of these bar mitzvah bashes, some of them catered affairs including DJs and dancers, which has inspired the envy of the non-Jewish classmates of the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah celebrants. A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal on January 14th reported that these upscale gentile youngsters are pestering their parents to throw similar parties for them. Some Jews, notes the Journal, are concerned that these faux bar mitzvah celebrations featuring candle-lighting ceremonies for relatives are a mockery of Judaism.

This week, a special reading of Parshat Hachodesh is added to the regular portion. It deals with what may be viewed as the "bar mitzvah" of the Jewish People because it reports the first mitzvah given to them, the maintenance of the Jewish lunar calendar. This should serve as a reminder to the party-throwers that it is they who are guilty of making a mockery of Judaism by making the bar mitzvah of their sons the end of learning about Judaism rather than the beginning of responsibility.

Rather than throw parties that invite the envy of their gentile neighbors, these Jews should follow the example of those who have chosen the alternative of celebrating the bar mitzvah with a family trip to Israel and the Western Wall or making a donation to charity. Such bar mitzvah celebrations will mean so much more for Jewry and for Israel forever.

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