Don’t Lower the Bar for The Bar Mitzvah

From Section:
Formal Education
May. 12, 2015
May 12, 2015

Source: Times of Israel 


There has been a lot of discussion recently in the rabbinic community about bar/bat mitzvah preparation. Some are claiming that bar/bat mitzvah preparation needs to be changed from emphasizing the mastery of the Haftorah (a section from the Prophets) to simply being able to lead some prayers. It is being claimed that these new curricula, although less rigorous and less authentic to the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, will enable students to put to practice that which they may use on a weekly basis rather than that which occurs once each year, when their particular Haftorah is scheduled to be chanted in the synagogue.

I could not disagree more. In reality, this is none other than giving in to the trend of Jewish assimilation sweeping across the country and diluting Jewish education. Rabbis who keep lowering the academic levels at their respective religious schools are not innovative thinkers. They are failing to live up to their responsibilities to conserve, preserve, and protect our sacred heritage.

At my synagogue, Congregation Or Atid, in Richnond, Virginia, we place an emphasis on education with a dedication to educating life-long Jewish learners. Indeed, through its dynamic program and curriculum it has been designated as a Framework for Excellence School, the highest status granted a religious school by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

When children arrive at the age of eleven, they enroll in my Bnai Mitzvah Class, which meets for one day a week in addition to our regular two day a week religious school. There, they learn trope (Jewish musical notes), speech making, and the meaning behind the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. They master their Torah portions and Haftorahs and the blessings that are recited before and after these readings. We study together as a class as well as in pairs (chevruta). We also study each student’s Torah portion and Haftorah portion and discuss possible topics for divrei Torah (sermons).

The end goal is that our kids should be able to be “rabbi for the day”. In other words, they lead all of the services on both Friday night and Saturday morning from beginning to end, read Torah, read Haftorah, and give divrei Torah (sermons). Some even call out the page numbers. I just sit back and enjoy the nachat (pride). As a result, our young adults return to services often after their bar/bat mitzvah, craving the opportunity to once again be in the spotlight and lead the congregation.

Our bar remains high and everyone does their best to reach it. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. Don’t bring the bar down. Rather, bring our students up.

Read the entire post on The Times of Israel.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Bar Mitzvah | Bat Mitzvah | Congregational schools | Curriculum