Life Cycle 4 – B’nai Mitzvah

Question:  A boy is born on Shabbat.  Will his bar-mitzva portion be the portion that was read on that day or the next week’s?  Example:  he is born on Shabbat Bereshit — will his bar-mitzvah be Bereshit or Noah?

Answer: The calculation of a Bar Mitzvah parasha is a bit more complicated than your question assumes.  A boy becomes Bar Mitzvah on the day after his 13th birthday, according to the Hebrew calender.  This does not necessarily fall on the same Parasha as his birthday.  Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar-solar calendar adjusted by leap months approximately every three years, some years there are only 50 weeks, while other years there may be 55 weeks.  Some years, certain smaller Parashot are read together, other years they are read separately.  Sometimes, therefore, a given parasha fall as four weeks earlier or later than on a previous year.  If you would like to give me the child’s birthday and year, I can look up the date and closest Parasha of his Bar Mitzvah.

Question:  Thank you very much for the information.

I actually have two dates in question.  My son Avi was born on April 5, 1994 (24 Nissan 5754).  I thought his portion would be Shemini–is this so?  My cousin’s son was born on November 28, 1987 (7 Kislev 5748).  I thought his portion would be Vayishlah–is this so?  Thank you for any and all information you could give me about this matter.  If you could suggest any books that I may read on the subject, I would appreciate this.

Answer: Avi would become Bar Mitzvah on 25 Nisan, 5767, Friday April 13, 2007, and the Parasha on the following Shabbat is, indeed, Shemini.

Your cousin’s son would become Bar Mitzvah on 8 Kislev 5761, Tuesday, December 5, 2000, and the Parasha on the following Shabbat is Vayetze (the following week is Vayishlach).

My information comes from The Comprehensive Jewish Calendar, by Arthur Spier.  It contains calendars from 1900-2100.  While the introduction gives the mathematical rules for the calculation of the calendar, most of the book is not fascinating reading – just pages and pages of calendars!

For other reading about the calendar, look at the article in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and there is also a fascinating book called, The Seven Day Cycle, by Zerubavel.  It is actually about the development of the seven day week, but has a great deal of calendrical information as well.

For reading about B’nai Mitzvah, I always suggest, Putting God on the Guest List, by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin.

Question:  My daughter is 11 and I have already set the date for her Bat Mitzvah.  Her birthday is 11 March.  We are Masorti (conservative) and she will have it when she is 13.  The shul just gave us a date, 16 March, 2002.  Her hebrew birthday will be 6 Adar Sheni, which will be 18 Feb., 2002.  the portion she will read will be Va Yikra.  There is still time to change the date if I want.  The question is this :

I would like her to read from a portion which can be meaningful to her.  She is bright, creative and very musical.  She loves animals, running and hiking.  She’s very independent.  Hopefully she’s inherited her mother’s feminist spirit!

Can anyone suggest a better portion then Vayikra for her?  Her Hebrew is pretty good, and she may well leyn the whole portion.  I don’t know yet.  She will probably also give a d’var torah about her portion. If the mother of this girl wants to choose a different parasha, she should look through the humash at the available parashot that have not yet been distributed, and maybe she’ll find something that strikes her fancy.

Answer: I do not encourage choosing a B’nai Mitzvah date by the content of the Parasha.  Traditionally, a boy become Bar Mitzvah on the day following his 13th birthday, and a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah on the day following her 12th birthday.  The synagogue ceremony is just a celebration of an event which has already happened.  Therefore, I prefer to celebrate B’nai Mitzvah on the Shabbat immediately following the child’s 13th Hebrew birthday (or the closest possible Shabbat).  There are parashot that are more relevant, and there are parashot that are more obscure.  But I have yet to teach a Bar/Bat Mitzvah student who couldn’t find something interesting and relevant to speak about in his/her d’var Torah.

Question:   I am an 11 year old (almost 12) conservative Jew. I am planning to have my Bat-mitzvah when I am 13 instead of the recommended age of 12. I was wondering if it was wrong to have when I was 13 and decide to have it when I’m 12 instead. Because some people are telling me that it is wrong to have it when I’m 13. And I’m just wondering if its wrong to have it when I’m 13 and also what age do you recommend and why?

Answer: A girl becomes Bat Mitzvah when she reaches the age of 12 plus one day according to her birthday on the Hebrew calendar.  No synagogue celebration is required.  The age of Bat Mitzvah means that you are obligated to do all of the commandments.  Again, this happens automatically when you reach the age of Bat Mitzvah.

Whether a girl can celebrate Bat Mitzvah at the age of 12 is a policy decision of a synagogue.  To me, it makes sense for girls and boys both to wait until they are 13 for the synagogue celebration, because our educational system is geared towards preparing for the celebration at 13 year of age, not 12 year of age.

I am also in favor of an egalitarian approach, of treating boys and girls equally.  Since boys cannot celebrate until age 13, we should treat girls the same.

Question:  May we have our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah on a Sunday?  I recall going to one (in an Orthodox Shul) and it was lovely.  It was short, only invited guests were present, and seemed to revolve only around the Bat Mitzvah girl.  What a fabulous occasion it was for her and for the guests as well!

Answer: A Bat Mitzvah may be celebrated on a Sunday.  However, Bat (or Bar) Mitzvah is normally celebrated on a Torah reading day, so the young woman (or man) can be called up for an aliyah.  Therefore, you would have to find a Sunday that coincides with Rosh Hodesh (a new month) or another occasion on which Torah is read.  In the case of the Orthodox shul in which women do not lead public communal prayer, whether or not the Torah was read that day was likely irrelevant.

Although you didn’t ask my opinion on the subject of a “private” service, I feel compelled to throw in my 2 cents.  Feel free to ignore the following.

Bat Mitzvah happens automatically at age 12 years plus one day by the Hebrew birthday, whether or not the occasion is marked in the synagogue.  The synagogue celebration is a public statement by the girl that she has accepted the responsibility of becoming Bat Mitzvah.  The beauty of Bat (or Bar) Mitzvah is in its public nature.  The young woman (or man) stands up in their community, and by leading services, publicly proclaims her/his willingness to take part in Jewish communal life.  In my opinion, a ceremony which excludes the congregation and focuses only on the young woman herself is missing an important piece of what Bat Mitzvah is all about.

Question:  I am making my daughter a bat mitzvah on a rosh hodesh.  She is very bright and i want to  have  a meaningful and interesting service where she will be able to utilize  the 7 years of hebrew day school. Her Torah portion is small and she will not have a Haftarah. Can you offer some innovative ideas?

Answer: Individual synagogues have different policies about what B’nai Mitzvah may do during a service, whether it is on a Shabbat or Rosh Chodesh.  Personally, I strongly encourage all children to celebrate Bar or Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.  It doesn’t matter whether they are “strong” or “weak” students – I feel strongly that Shabbat morning is the most appropriate time to celebrate B’nai Mitzvah, because it provides the widest possibilities for participation in the service.

A weekday (Sunday included) service often has very narrow time constraints.  Therefore, there may not be an opportunity to deliver a d’var Torah, for example.  But it is possible that your daughter could lead most of the service and even Hallel – after seven years of day school morning minyan, I would imagine that she is familiar with the appropriate weekday melodies.  In fact, you may be able to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah at the day school minyan – after all, that is the group with which your daughter has dovened for seven years!

If you plan to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah in your synagogue rather than in the day school, the answer to your question depends on your synagogue’s policies – I would encourage you to ask your own rabbi.

Question:  My daughter is a student at the hebrew day school.  I would like to do a havdalah service for her bat-mitzvah, but our temple doesn’t do  them.  I was thinking of asking her torah teacher to perform the bat-mitzvah.  Are there any rules on this?  Is this unheard of?  I also wanted her to do it 3 months prior to her 13th birthday since I heard girls can be bat-mitzvahed at 12.  Am I correct?

Answer: There are good reasons why your synagogue does not do a “Havdalah Bat Mitzvah.”  If you have not already done so, I urge you to speak with your own rabbi about it.

Basically, a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah the day after her 12th birthday.  No ceremony or celebration is necessary, and no one “performs” a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  The purpose for the celebration is to allow her to demonstrate to the community that she is a Jewish adult by taking part in the service in a way that should could not have done before she was Bat Mitzvah.  There is nothing in the Havadalah ceremony that requires being Bat Mitzvah — therefore, it is not a particularly good time to celebrate Bat Mitzvah.

Different synagogues have different rules regarding the scheduling of a Bat Mitzvah before the 13th birthday.  Again, you will need to consult your own rabbi.

I urge you to reconsider.  You daughter, as a student at a day school, is certainly more than capable of leading part of a regular service.  Please don’t deny her this honor and privilege.

Question:  My son is going to become a Bar Mitzvah on Sept. 18, 1999.  This is the day before Yom Kippur.  I recall when my parents were looking for a wedding date for my now-husband and I, there were certain times of the year on the Jewish calendar that were excluded.  I thought that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were one of those periods.  Can you tell me please before I go any further with planning, is a Bar Mitzvah during that time allowed?

Answer: The difference between a wedding and a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is that the B. Mitzvah needs no service or ceremony or celebration to make it happen.  B. Mitzvah happens automatically when the boy or girl reaches the age of 13 (or 12) plus one day, according to their Hebrew birthday.  The wedding ceremony, on the other hand, actually effectuates the marriage, so thus it is a much more important ceremony.

The synagogue celebration of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah can occur on any day, theoretically even Yom Kippur itself!  There is also no halakhic problem with having a party connected with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, either in the synagogue on the same day, or a more elaborate party after Shabbat.

By the way, I know of no prohibition against performing wedding ceremonies between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In any case, you should ask this question of your own synagogue.  It is possible that their policy may differ.

Question:  If a child (The father is Jewish, the mother not and will not allow conversion – they are divorced) has been studying in Religious school for 6 years and is approaching 7th Grade and this child because she is not Jewish cannot have a Bat Mitzvah – Is there anything that can be done for the child?

Answer: The child is not Jewish, and thus may not celebrate Bat Mitzvah.  Nothing can be done about this unless there is some way she can be converted.

There was a court case some years ago in Massachusetts in which a divorced parent successfully sued the other parent to prevent the child from being taken to church.  The decision was based on the fact that when they married, they agreed to raise the children exclusively in the Jewish religion.

Perhaps the father in your case can take the mother to court to force her to allow the conversion.

Question: My ex-husband was a Jew by choice.  During the brief course of our marriage we had two sons who were appropriately circumcised and named in memory of  several deceased Jewish family members from my family.  After our divorce (he did grant me a get) he renounced his Judaism and is a non-practicing agnostic and is married to a fairly anti-semitic woman who is Catholic and unfairly treats our sons as Jews “but not around me.” (She has a very cold heart)

Both sons have received a good Hebrew education at a very traditional Temple.  I have given them the tools for a Jewish life.  Here is the problem.

Younger son, Rob (almost ten) suffers from an aggression disorder and has lived exclusively with my ex and his wife for 1 year. This was very necessary and has helped all of us achieve a more spiritual and harmonious home (and has allowed my ex and his wife to see what parenting more than just once a week is like, but I digress)

They will not allow him to attend Hebrew School.  The fact that he has been asked to leave two different hebrew schools, also doesn’t help. Ben has for years disliked Judaism and dismisses it as a gastronomic and gimme  time. Through his work with his fifth therapist, he did admit to me recently that he missed apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, but then went on to remind me that his birthday falls (as almost always) during Chanukah.  Again I digress.

I have been happily remarried for nine years and my husband, a born Jew and I have a 6 year old daughter. She and my oldest Joseph (11) are not like this. They love being Jewish.  I am very proud of them.  My mom life is very balanced now.  I see my other son rarely, but I do know that perhaps someday he may become a ba’al teshuva. Right now he is getting the medical help he needs.

Okay, enough of my diatribe. Here is the real question. A year from March, we will celebrate Joshua’s bar mitzvah. First of all, can he take a new Hebrew name? My father (who was very close to him) died last year.  It was Josh’s idea to take his Poppy’s name. Also can he take my husband’s and my hebrew name for son of since my ex is no longer a practicing Jew? Or should he only appear as my son? Also is it appropriate to offer  an honor to my ex-husband? Should my ex-husband an Ben not be a part of this day? His wife not only is not invited but refers to a Bar Mitzvah as a Jew money party.  Also can an honor be given to my father’s best friend who is a Jew by choice but has  never been circumcised? Also can an honor be given to any non-Jew (I’m thinking of english honors).  Also when can I give my son my father’s tefillin?

If we can change his name, should it be publicly shared?

I can feel the tzores already. My mom dislikes my brother’s new wife and still can’t get over losing my dad.   Help me out please.

Answer: Are you currently a member of a synagogue with a Rabbi?  If so, I want to suggest that you address these questions to your own rabbi.  The story you have given me is not entirely clear, nor are the questions completely clear.  There is a lot of information that seems extraneous, but the fact that you have included it gives me a clear hint that you need some serious help sorting through issues relating to your divorce, and this needs to be done in person, rather than via email.

If you are not currently a member of a synagogue, I’d like to try to help you find one.  In the meantime, I can try to give some partial answers to your questions.

Yes, a person may change his own name.  The name of his father, however, is generally not changed unless he has been adopted.  Your son’s father may be a non-practicing Jew, but he is a Jew nonetheless.  As long as he still considers himself Josh’s father, I think you ought to respect that.  It is also appropriate that Josh’s father be a part of the Bar Mitzvah celebration.  Finally, you can give your son tefillin at any time.  He should learn to put them on and begin wearing them when he becomes Bar Mitzvah, after his 13th Hebrew birthday.