Dear Rabbi Ross. My son just turned 12, and my husband is losing his mind. My son does not want to Lain his Bar Mitzvah Parsha since it’s too long, and my husband insists that he must lain the entire thing. He also wants him to make a Siyum. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. As we read your articles every week, we decided to ask your opinion. Chana – Far Rockaway.
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 Rabbonim will tell you the following. There is no Halacha that a Bar Mitzvah boy must Lain his Parsha.
There are some other options out there that you might want to discuss with your husband.
The other question is, why doesn’t your son want to Lain? There are a few reasons that come to mind.
If it’s because he is nervous and/or has stage fright, maybe let him practice in a Shul. It’ll make him more confident. If the problem is his Kriah - he does not read Hebrew well, that’s a pretty big issue. It’s much more difficult for a twelve-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 Parsha. 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 on teaching him the Parsha. That can make a huge difference as well. Although I know how to Lain, and I can teach, I don’t teach my own children the Laining. 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 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 Mesechta Sotah. Since they 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 Mesechta, because it was the only Artscroll they had in the house!
They hadn’t learned a word. The father wanted his son to make a Siyum. They compromised. 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. It’s beautiful. If he doesn’t want to, that also fine.
There are many beautiful things a boy can do to add significance to his Bar Mitzvah. He can donate a 10th of his money to Tzedaka. 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 ever 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 a good Shabbos (and an early Mazal 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.