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Private, Quiet Bar Mitzvah

Rabbi Rafi RankDear CyberRav,

I have noticed ads for rabbis who are willing to tutor children privately and then hold a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service in your home or a hotel of your choosing.  This sounds like an intriguing alternative to the typical Bar Mitzvah.  After all, if I invite my family to a small gathering as opposed to bringing them together with people at synagogue that they don’t know, wouldn’t the ceremony be more intimate?


Dear Intrigued,

The approach may be more intimate, but it is a sham. If there is going to be a future for the Jewish people, then we have to socialize our children into Jewish peoplehood. The implications of private lessons which culminate in a private party are that Judaism-as many people erroneously think-is a private affair. It is not. It is about being with a people, connecting to a land, namely Israel, and fulfilling God's sacred will.

There was a time when people would never have thought of religion as a private enterprise. But with the birth of modern society, where church and state are separated, it was natural for one to become very public while the other slipped into the private domain. On the one hand, this was good because none of us want government officials to legislate religious traditions. On the other hand, a private religion loses all of its power to impact on society. The challenge remains, particularly for a tradition as community oriented as Judaism, to create another kind of public which is influential and compelling. Many religious values lie at the very heart of decent, civilized behavior. It is the community that imparts those values to its member families.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah training belong in a classroom with other Jewish children, not in a living room with the grand piano. Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies belong in a synagogue with other Jews, not in a hotel next to the pool and Jacuzzi (and I like Jacuzzis). And remember, when it comes to the Jewish people, there are no strangers-we are all family, for we are all the children of Abraham and Sarah, and, of course, of God.

Rabbi Rafi Rank


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