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Bar Mitzvah Guidelines
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Dear Readers:

To put it mildly, the success rate of instituting simcha guidelines has been less than perfect. Some shuls have pulled it off rather well, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and the wedding “Takanos” announced a few years ago have not been broadly accepted.

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, which I founded 13 years ago, and where I serve as Dean – attempting to institute cost-savings and tone-things-down-a-bit in the area of Bar Mitzvah celebrations.

Below, please find 2 letters that I sent to our parent body. They should tell the tale of how this process has evolved thus far. I would greatly appreciate your input and suggestions. Most of all, if there has been a similar effort in your shul or school; please share the successes, failures and the “process” that created the guidelines.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.


Letter #1

29 Nissan 5769

April 23, 2009

Dear Parents of YDN 4th and 5th Graders:

I have considered formulating guidelines for celebrating the Bar Mitzvahs of our talmidim for years now. Given the tough economic climate nowadays, I feel that the time has come for us to consider establishing parameters that will save our parents a significant amount of money, and reduce the unintended-but-inevitable pressure placed on many families to extend themselves beyond their means when planning their Bar Mitzvah celebrations.

It is not my style to unilaterally impose my thinking on others, not do I wish to be placed in the role of policing parents for adherence to unpopular Bar Mitzvah regulations in the years to come. Rather, I would like to lead a collaborative process that will result in the creation of guidelines that will have the broad-based support of our parent body. It is my hope that we will be able to formulate these guidelines over the next few months. Should we not be able to find common ground, I will with regret, drop the idea.

With that in mind, I invite you to attend a special meeting, to be held בע״ה in our yeshiva lunchroom on Sunday, May 10th at 9:15 a.m. to begin the process. I am scheduling the meeting during sefirah and early in the morning, in order to minimize scheduling conflicts. I respectfully ask that we have 100% attendance of all fathers and mothers of 4th and 5th grade talmidim.

At the meeting, I will present a number of diverse models for consideration, and I ask all parents who may have specific ideas or suggestions to email them to Uri or Tzippy Kirschner who have graciously agreed to collect them over the next few weeks. (When exploring the possibilities, please note that Rabbi Rudinsky שליט״א has generously offered our Yeshiva lunchroom for the ביום בו celebration, where classmates and immediate family members can attend – which alone would afford very significant savings.) Uri will make a short presentation sharing with you the feedback he and Tzippy received, and the floor will then be open for a full discussion of the subject. There will be no final decisions made at this initial meeting, but it is my hope that by the end of the meeting, we will have made significant progress in reaching a consensus.

This letter is being mailed to the parents of our 4th and 5th graders, as you are the ones who will be the first to be impacted by any possible guidelines, and to the parents of 6th graders, as they may wish to voluntarily adopt the guidelines, should we successfully reach a consensus. However, since this will be a long-term policy decision for YDN, I am posting this letter in the Noam Shabbos, and inviting all YDN parents who wish to attend, to come and join in the process.

I am looking forward to a productive meeting with you, and, as always, feel free to contact me in Yeshiva at x 100 or by emailing me.


Rabbi Yakov Horowitz


cc. YDN Parents of 6th Graders

Letter #2

Dear YDN Parents:

I would like to thank the many parents who took time out of their busy schedules to attend and actively participate in the meeting that was held Sunday morning, May 10th to explore the possibility of developing YDN Bar Mitzvah guidelines. I would especially like to thank Uri and Tzippy Kirschner for collecting input from our parents prior to the meeting, and for sharing a synopsis of the feedback with the attendees.

From my vantage point, the meeting was a great success. Many parents articulated their diverse thoughts on the subject in an extremely productive dialogue. I was also pleased that we were all able to hear and be heard -- and wrap things up by 10:30 sharp, the time frame I announced when we began the meeting at 9:15.

A clear consensus emerged as a result of our discussions and was confirmed by an informal show-of-hands vote when we concluded. Three options were offered; of which the overwhelming consensus was for choice #2:

1) I should work on developing a mandatory set of bar mitzvah guidelines

2) I should formulate several lower-cost non-mandatory options for bar mitzvah celebrations that YDN parents can choose to take advantage of.

3) We should drop the idea of bar mitzvah guidelines altogether.

Additionally, there were several themes that emerged from the discussions:

A) We should concentrate our cost-cutting efforts on the 'bo b'yom' component of the bar mitzvah, as the feeling was that the Shabbos Kiddush will be far more difficult to address in a meaningful manner from a school perspective, as opposed to a shul-based initiative.

B) We should tie our efforts of reducing bar mitzvah costs to some form of school-wide, ongoing chesed project (for example: establishing a YDN fund that our kids can contribute to and purchase tefillin for needy boys, use the money to buy suits for them, or help families in need pay for their children’s bar mitzvah celebrations). the point was made that our talmidim who will be celebrating their bar mitzvos in the more modest format, will then feel good knowing that a portion of the savings went to a worthy cause. Several parents suggested that I construct the chesed project in a manner that will allow our boys a clear image of the trail their tzedakah dollars follow (along the lines of the many YDN tzedaka projects we conducted in past years; sending toys to Gilo, building a Bikur Cholim laptop library, adopting our Gush Katif yeshiva, etc.).

C) Finally, I found it interesting that a few parents asked me to actively "sell" this idea to our parents and talmidim by writing and speaking about it.

All in all, I think it was an excellent meeting and it is a tribute to our wonderful parents that we were able to pull it all together in 75 minutes, and take a few giant steps forward in our effort to create a meaningful set of bar mitzvah guidelines.

As always, please feel free to call me 845-352-7100 x 100 or send me an email should you have any comments, questions or suggestions.

All the best,

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz,


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