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A Bar and Bat Mitzvah Alternative
By Cantor Ronald Broden

Although the ritual of Bar Mitzvah dates back almost two thousand years and has been a staple in our tradition ever since, the Reform Movement in its early years abandoned it.   Along with many of the ritual laws and minhagim (customs), the Reform Movement felt that Bar Mitzvah was no longer a pertinent ritual.  A boy, only 13 years in age, no longer had the adult status in society that he once had.  Reform introduced the ceremony of confirmation whereby a group of young men and women would become confirmed together around the age of 16 following years of education.  However, the power of tradition eventually prevailed.  Reform brought back Bar Mitzvah and, even Bat Mitzvah.   

Today, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony, followed by its festivity, is central to synagogue life.  Many families affiliate with a synagogue in order to ensure their child become Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  The requirements are stringent.  In most, a synagogue requires the child to enroll in religious school beginning in 3rd grade (some allow 4th grade as a starting point).  Children must be consistent in their attendance, grades and must attend Shabbat services regularly. 

Today, especially with the increase in interfaith marriages, the choice to send a child to a religious school, whether it is Jewish or Catholic or other, is not an easy one to make. Parents often choose not to send their children to any yet to maintain the religious traditions associated with the holidays at home.  Just as one born of a Jewish mother is no less Jewish if he never had a bris, a Jew becomes Bar Mitzvah according to Jewish law, simply by reaching the ‘age of majority’.  No other conditions apply. 

There are other options for these unaffiliated families who wish to celebrate their child’s becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  A Bar/Bat does not have to take place in a synagogue which may surprise many.  It can take place anywhere that there is a minyan (10 Jewish adults) present for public prayer and public reading of the Torah.  A synagogue is holy only as a place of worship, but not intrinsically so. 

I serve a congregation which is looking for a new home and is, therefore, worshipping in a public school auditorium.  While not, perhaps, the most awe-inspiring of venues, what it lacks for in aesthetics is made up for in spirit.   Families with children are welcome to join this congregation and to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah there regardless of when they join, without any stipulations.  This is an option for the unaffiliated Jewish family seeking to participate in this wonderful lifecycle ceremony too. 

Cantor Ronald Broden serves Congregation Shaarei Shalom in Riverdale, NY and resides in Westchester County.  For more information about his services, visit

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