The Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, Judaism’s rite of passage, could be delayed until after the traditional age of 13 in an attempt to keep Jews active in the religion later in life.
That’s the most startling suggestion by Jewish leaders who are hoping to delay the Bar Mitzvah in order to halt the departure of young Jews from the religion, according to an article in The New York Times today. “Everything is on the table: how or whether to teach Hebrew, whether to delay the ceremony until children are older, and even whether to require children to read from the Torah,” The Times explain.
The problem, as synagogue leaders see it, is that families view the Bar Mitzvah as a graduation from Judaism rather than an induction into the religion. “The drop-out phenomenon after Bar/Bat Mitzvah is dramatic,” American Jewish history professor Jack Wertheimer explained in a study of Hebrew School enrollment. “More than one-third of students drop out after grade 7,” generally the grade when students turn 13.
So how can Jewish leaders keep those Bar Mitzvah-ed students and their families from leaving right after their Bar Mitzvahs? Well, just delay the Bar Mitzvahs until later, some suggest.
But David Wolpe, the influential rabbi of the Los Angeles synagogue Temple Sinai and frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, doesn’t have high hopes for the proposal.
“I don’t think that just extending the age and urging people to have their Bar Mitzvah at 15 instead of 13 is the solution,” Wolpe said in an interview with The Atlantic Wire. He added that his fellow leaders at Temple Sinai hadn’t seriously considered delaying as a real option.
“I think that creative and interesting thinking about Jewish life is mandatory, so I welcome the fact that such suggestions are being made,” Wolpe added. “I’m just skeptical that this one will work the way its advocates think it will.”
Delaying the Bar Mitzvah would put it closer to other culture’s coming-of-age ceremonies: the Latin American Quinceañera at 15, the American Sweet 16 party, and the mid-teen Christian confirmation. But changing the Bar Mitzvah age would rid the world of those indelibly awkward photos of 13 year-olds still stuck to Jewish grandparents’ fridges. And who would want those removed?