Advice From YidParenting
By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Q: My son just turned 12, and he does not want to lein his bar mitzvah parashah since it’s too long—and my husband insists that he must lein the entire thing. He also wants him to make a siyum. I feel like my husband is losing his mind, and I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. As we read your articles every week, we decided to ask your opinion.
A: Thank you for your vote of confidence. There is actually a simpler and quicker way to get a response to a question like this: simply ask your rav. I’m pretty sure that most rabbanim will tell you there is no halachah that a bar mitzvah boy must lein his parashah.
There are some other options out there that you might want to discuss with your husband.
Your son can lein part of the parashah. This is common and there is nothing wrong with it. In many cases he would lein the first and last aliyos, as well as the haftarah.
He can choose an easier parashah. There is no halachah that requires a specific parashah to be leined. If his parashah has 147 pesukim, the next one might have 105. (Bonus points if you know which parshiyos I’m talking about.)
He can lein on a Monday or Thursday. (Or rosh chodesh for that matter.)
He can do the haftarah only. I’ve been to shuls where they don’t even let the bar mitzvah boy lein.
But the question remains, why doesn’t your son want to lein?
If it’s because he is nervous or has stage fright, let him practice in a shul. It’ll make him more confident. If the problem is his kriah—that he does not read Hebrew well—that’s a pretty big issue. It’s much more difficult for a 12-year-old to work on his kriah. You can certainly practice with him, but it might not be a good idea to go for the whole parashah. If he is feeling too stressed because he’s expected to speak, has a party coming up, or whatever else, maybe discuss it when he’s calmer.
You didn’t mention who was planning to teach him the parashah. That can make a huge difference as well. Although I know how to lein, and I can teach, I don’t teach my own children the leining. In many cases, this causes an additional level of stress. Yes, there are some families that can pull this off, but I don’t recommend it. I hired a rebbe to teach my boys, and I pretty much stayed out of it.
Regarding the siyum, you reminded me of a funny story. I went to a bar mitzvah a few years ago, and the boy and his father made a siyum on Gemara Masechta Sotah. Since we were good friends, I didn’t mind having a little fun. I walked over to the boy and said, “I’m actually a bit confused on a Gemara on daf 32; maybe you can help?” He replied, “You should probably ask my father.” When I asked his father, he told me, “Well, we didn’t really learn the whole thing.” It turned out that they made the siyum on that masechta because it was the only ArtScroll Gemara they had in the house! They hadn’t learned a word. The father wanted his son to make a siyum, so this was their “compromise.”
I think that if the bar mitzvah boy wants to make a siyum, that’s beautiful. He can start anywhere from a year to seven years earlier. If he doesn’t want to, that’s also fine.
There are many meaningful things a boy can do to add significance to his bar mitzvah. He can donate a tenth of his money to tzedakah. He can get involved in, or raise awareness for, an organization that helps others. It doesn’t have to be a siyum. The goal should be to introduce him to additional mitzvos now that he’s a “man.”
While making a siyum is a tremendous accomplishment, it should not be considered a requirement. When your son becomes a bar mitzvah, it should be a joyous occasion, one that makes him feel good about himself and proud to be a Jew. Making it stressful is counterproductive.
Wishing you an early mazal tov!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.