Contemporary American Reform Responsa

159. Bar Mitzvah During the Mourning Period

QUESTION: A young man's mother has died and has been buried three weeks prior to the scheduled Bar Mitzvah. May the Bar Mitzvah be held, or should it be postponed? (Rabbi F. Pomerantz, Closter, NJ)

ANSWER: The traditional literature says virtually nothing about the ceremony of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. When signs of puberty are observed in a young male, he is considered to be an adult, and his father may recite the blessing which frees him of responsibility for his son (Genesis Rabbah 63.10). Eventually the age of thirteen became fixed as the age of adult religious responsibility (M. Pirqei Avot 5.25), although this was sometimes debated (Luria, Yam Shel Shelomoh to B. K. 7.37). When a young man has reached the proper age, he is permitted to put on tefilin and has the right to be called to the Torah (Meg. 23a; Or Zarua 2.20 #43; Tur Orah Hayim 37, etc.). The discussions of these matters say nothing about a special ceremony or festivals. The ceremony of Bar Mitzvah seems to have its origin in the Middle Ages and probably did not become wide-spread until the fourteenth century (L. Löw, Die Lebensalter in der jüdischen Literatur, pp. 210 ff). For this reason, there is nothing in the traditional literature which deals directly with the question which you have asked.

We must, therefore, turn to analogies in the law regarding marriage and the mourning period. It is a general rule that marriages should not take place during the period of sheloshim, i.e., the first thirty days of mourning (M. K. 23a) unless everything has already been prepared for the marriage. Then it may take place with subdued festivities. After thirty days, the marriage may take place with the usual festivities (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 392.1). In each of these cases, we are dealing with a marriage and a family in which a father or mother has died. The Talmud also discusses the example of a death which occurred just prior to a marriage. In that instance, as everything is ready, the marriage takes place and is followed by the funeral. Seven days of subdued marriage festivities are held and are followed by seven days of mourning (Ket. 3b, 4a). If, however, the burial has taken place prior to the marriage, then the wedding would be celebrated and be followed by the seven days of mourning and then the seven days of wedding festivities. I should add that these procedures are followed only if it is impossible to postpone the wedding. If it can be postponed, then it should be held after the shiva has ended (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 342). All of these decisions are based on the fact that the commandment, "Be fruitful and multiply" (peruh urvuh), is of primary importance and takes precedence.

In the case of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, there is no conflict of commandments. Therefore, there would no reason to postpone the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as it simply consists of the act of being called to the Torah. There should, of course, be no Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the period between death and the funeral. This is the period of aninut when one does not attend the synagogue nor recite shema or the tefilah (M. K. 23b; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 341). In the next period, however, one may leave home to worship at the synagogue. Therefore, it would be appropriate to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah during the shiva (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 393.2).

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah held under these circumstances should be accompanied by subdued festivities. The religious ceremony itself may be conducted as planned.

March 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.