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New American Reform Responsa


31. Adult Bar/Bar Mitzvah

QUESTION: A woman in her forties has participated in an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. The course has almost been completed with the ceremony rapidly approaching. Unfortunately she has established an adulterous relationship. She will, of course, be encouraged to finish the course. Is it possible to have her participate in the Bat Mitzvah ceremony under these circumstances? (Sidney Silverman, Long Beach CA)

ANSWER: It is good that this woman has taken this course of study and hopefully it will bring her closer to Judaism not only in the formal ritual sense, but to a deeper understanding of the commandments. The ceremony itself bespeaks a willingness on the part of children to accept and live by the commandments of Judaism. This, rather than the brief haftorah portion and the family festivities are the primary aim of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It is to be taken very seriously.

For an adult that acceptance has occurred long ago and an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah marks a completion of a course of study and a rededication to the mitzvot rather than a change in the pattern of life. This woman can hardly rededicate herself to mitzvot and also commit adultery. She should not participate in this ceremony.

We must also ask whether we should give an aliyah to a known public adulterer. There are some who would argue that being called to the Torah is a mitzvah, not an honor, and as a mitzvah one can not withhold it from anyone. Solomon B. Freehof has demonstrated that the tradition disagreed on this issue with some authorities arguing in each direction. He felt that we should not deprive an individual of the mitzvah of reading from the Torah unless the person was “notoriously evil” or the honor of the congregation was at stake (S. B. Freehof Current Reform Responsa #16). He made this decision as he considered this act as a mitzvah. In our modern congregations, especially the larger ones, the aliyah is an honor as it is impossible to involve the entire congregation in the Torah service even over a period of several years. Individuals are honored for communal leadership, or family and life cycle events through an aliyah. This honor should be restricted to those individuals who exemplify Jewish ideals and Jewish morality or at the minimum do not publicly reject a major commandment. I am sure that the woman in question will understand such a decision and finish the course in the spirit which led her to she enroll in it. At some later time when the pattern of her life has changed, she should be called to the Torah. This will recognize her study and also her efforts to resolve her marital problems.

February 1989


If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.