A Jewish father, whose wife is Christian, has two sons for whom he would like to arrange Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. On alternate weeks the children receive one hour of Jewish education in an informal setting. Throughout the year they attend synagogue services with their father at regular intervals, and on Sundays go with their mother to church school and services. The parents say that they want the children to learn about both traditions, with the intent of permitting them to choose their affiliation when they grow up.
Inasmuch as the children have not made a commitment to be Jewish, nor have the parents made a commitment to raise them as Jews, should the children participate in Jewish life cycle events such as Bar Mitzvah?
In a similar vein, if the parents claim that they are raising their children to be "both Jewish and Christian" (i.e., if there are simultaneous Jewish and Christian commitments)), are such children entitled to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah? (Rabbi Amy R. Scheinerman, Baltimore, MD)
Since the children have a Jewish father and a Christian mother they are considered Gentile in the traditional Halachah, while the 1983 resolution of the CCAR would consider them to be potential Jews. We acknowledge their Jewish status if and when a public affirmation of their identity has been made through a formal act.1
A Bar Mitzvah celebration is precisely this: an affirmation of identity, when a boy becomes subject to the mitzvot and assumes the obligations of Jewish life. If he has not as yet resolved the question of his identity, such a celebration would suffer from an inherent contradiction, and to carry it out nonetheless would be a sham, pretending to something the celebrant and his parents do not want it to be.
Rabbi Walter Jacob issued a teshuvah on this very question. It deals with a child who was born of a Jewish mother and, although baptized as an infant, was halachically considered still to be a Jew. Even so, Rabbi Jacob would not admit him to the Bar Mitzvah course and emphasized that parents and child must reach a decision on the boy's Jewish identity before he could contemplate a Bar Mitzvah.
This ruling applies, al achat kama vekhama, to the instant case. The rabbi should counsel the parents about the possibility of a delayed or even adult Bar Mitzvah; but at this time, when the boys' religious future is still undecided, a Bar Mitzvah is out of the question. The celebration is a confirmatory act, not a trial run. It may please parents and grandparents, but its observance under present circumstances would be a denial of its essence.
CCAR, Ma'agelei Rabbi's Manual, (1988) pp. 225-227. Contemporary American Reform Responsa, 1987, #61, pp. 98-99.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.