Dear Rabbi Ross. My oldest son is going to be having his Bar Mitzvah in a few months, and he had an odd request. He told us that his friends hate long speeches and he doesn’t want any. He only wants to say a Dvar Torah and nothing else. My husband and I were going to ask the Rav, the Menahel and possible one other speaker to say a few words. Since we read your column every Shabbos at the table, we were wondering if you would share your thoughts. Yaakov K. – Teaneck.
First of all, Mazel Tov! It’s not surprising that your son’s friends were the ones that admitted they don’t like speeches. I would venture to say that many of the adults don’t like speeches very much either. I was at a Bar Mitzvah recently that had over 90 minutes of speeches! While I’m sure that a few people enjoyed (no doubt spouses, or parents!), many of the guests were on their phones or talking quietly to someone else. Why are there so many speeches?
When I was younger I used to play as a one-man band at Bar Mitzvahs. I loved speeches. I was paid by the hour, and it was fantastic! This was before the days of cellphones, so I had to actually read a book to pass the time, but it was so relaxing and profitable! As a Rebbe, I try to go to as many Bar Mitzvahs as possible. I must admit that it’s truly frustrating when I stop by for an hour and I end up sitting through an hour of speeches.
It’s very important to have a Dvar Torah at a Seudas Mitzvah. If the Bar Mitzvah boy is delivering a Dvar Torah, I would think that it would take care of this requirement, in addition to giving his parents and Rebbeim Nachas. At my son’s Bar Mitzvah a few months ago, I introduced my son - who spoke for a few minutes and then made a Siyum, and we also had one Rav speak for four minutes. The total time spent on speeches was under twenty minutes. I can assure you that our guests were thrilled.
I guess what it comes down to is, why do you need more speeches? What’s the purpose? Many parents have told me they’re scared to offend their Rabbonim, so they ask them to speak. This includes their current Rav, the Rav where they used to live, the Menahel and their son’s Rebbe. I’m not sure that this fear is justified. If a Rav is offended because you didn’t ask him to speak, it’s a bit worrisome.
Certainly, you should thank all the Rabbomim, especially the ones that had, and have, an impact on your family or the Bar Mitzvah boy. Spend a few moments speaking about each one. Explain that you have decided to curtail the speaking, so everyone can enjoy themselves a bit more. You can say, “I would like to apologize in advance. There are so many wonderful Rabbonim that we could have invited to say a few words of Torah. However, after careful consideration, we’ve decided to minimize the speeches at this Simcha. Therefore, the only speakers will be my son and the Rav of our Shul.”
While I’m sure that all the speakers have something nice to say about your family, you need to read the room. If your guests are the type that would love to sit through an hour or more of speeches, then by all means, go for it. I would venture to say, though, that most people don’t want to sit quietly for more than twenty minutes.
A few months ago, I went to a Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn. While sitting through the 4th speaker of the program, I overheard someone comment, “Look at the boys on their phones! It’s a disgrace!” Meanwhile, almost every adult was either on the phone or talking to someone else. I truly feel bad for the boys. They want to dance. They want to have a fun time. They’re so pumped up… and now they’re sitting through speeches. To make things worse, everyone is judging them.
However, ultimately, you’re the parents. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re paying for the party. If you want to have six people speak, that’s your prerogative. Sometimes parents do things that children don’t understand, appreciate or even like. That’s just too bad. If you want my opinion, I am not a fan of speeches. Nonetheless, I’m not the one paying for your son’s party. You are. If your son really feels strongly about this, he can pay for his own party. Furthermore, when he makes a Bar Mitzvah for his son, he can do it without speeches. You're the parents now, so you make the decisions.
Have a Good Shabbos and Mazel Tov!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.