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Question: Is a bar mitzvah boy allowed to read the four parshiyot in shul on behalf of the congregation?

Elimelech Feldman

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Last week we noted the view that reading Parshiyot Zachor and Parah is biblically mandated. We also noted that that the Ba’al Ha’Itur considers a bar mitzvah boy to be a minor. But why? Isn’t a bar mitzvah boy by definition an adult?

The answer is that there is more to being an adult than meeting the requirements of “knowing how to care for one’s tefillin” (Sukkah 42a) and “knowing to whom the blessing is addressed” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3). In discussing Nesiat Kappayim, Rabbi Yosef Caro (Orach Chayim 128:34) states as follows:

“A minor who has not shown the earliest visible signs of maturity [two hairs] may not perform the priestly waving of hands by himself. But he may join adult kohanim in order to learn and be trained. Once he has attained the minimum level of maturity, he may perform the waving of hands even when alone. However, this is only true on an occasional basis, not a regular one. When he displays the fullness of a beard, though, he may perform the waving of hands alone on a regular basis. Anyone who has attained the age when one normally grows a beard is considered appropriately mature even if he does not grow a full beard.”

A Talmudic source referring to a minor who has attained the minimum level of maturity might be the Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 4:6, which was possibly the Ba’al Ha’itur’s source on this matter. The Korban Ha’edah, though, writes that the reference is to one who exhibits the earliest visible signs of maturity but has not reached the age of 13 years and one day.

Even according to the opinion that a bar mitzvah boy is still a minor (and, as such, may not read Parshat Zachor), we can give him maftir provided that the ba’al keriah is an adult (Bach, Orach Chayyim 685) since all the bar mitzvah boy is doing is reciting the blessings and berachot ein me’akvot (the blessings do not impact the validity of the keriah).

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 282:10), however, points out that the rule might be different when two Torah scrolls are taken out (this situation is mentioned by Rabbenu Tam, cited by Rivash) since, in that case, only one aliyah is called up to the second sefer, that of maftir. And if the bar mitzvah boy cannot be called up in that situation for maftir, he shouldn’t be able to be called up for maftir when only one sefer is used.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot 3:220) discusses a 15-year-old who served as a ba’al keriah but didn’t show any visible signs of maturity such as a beard or other adult hairs. Could he read Parshat Zachor? On the one hand, we have the rule of the Pri Megadim (cited by the Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 282:13) that once a minor is 13 years and a day, there is a chazakah – a strong assumption – that he has reached the minimum level of maturity. On the other hand, we do not rely on this chazakah in a biblical matter such as the requirement to read Parshat Zachor.

A rabbi who was consulted on this matter adopted the more stringent approach. In his view, until we know for sure that a youth has attained the minimum signs of maturity, he may not read Parshat Zachor unless he informs us that he has, indeed, developed these signs of maturity.

In offering his own opinion, Rabbi Sternbuch first notes that there is no specific biblical requirement to read Parshat Zachor once a year in the presence of a minyan. The Terumat Hadeshen cites the Rosh (see Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 685), who says reading it in the presence of a minyan is a biblical requirement. But this is not at all clear (see Sha’ar Hatziyyun, Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.). (As for the requirement of reading it once a year, Rabbi Sternbuch suggests the words “lo tishkach – you shall not forget” may be a source since forgetting implies a period of 12 months, as we know from the laws of aveilut.)

Rabbi Sternbuch cites Kehillat Yaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky that a chazakah plus the bar mitzvah boy’s own statement that he has the proper signs of maturity should allow him to read Parshat Zachor. Rabbi Sternbuch notes, however, that it may not be proper (tzanua) to question the youth on this matter. Thus, as a matter of practicality, it is easier to have the regular ba’al keriah read this parshah.

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