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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Should An 80-Year-Old Have A Bar Mitzvah?

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Question: A number of synagogues feature bar mitzvah celebrations for elderly Jews. Is this proper?

Answer: The basis for having a party on one’s bar mitzvah is a statement in the Gemara to the effect that if blind people were obligated to observe commandments just like regular people, they would make a special party. In other words the obligation to perform mitzvot is deemed a joy that merits a party (see Kiddushin 31a; also Yam Shel Shlomo).

Thus, it makes sense that 13-year-olds have a party when they become obligated to perform mitzvot for the first time. What if, however, one never had the chance to make such a party? For example, numerous survivors of the Holocaust never had the opportunity to have a bar mitzvah when they turned 13. These survivors feel they missed out and want to publicly demonstrate their joy at being able to observe Judaism without restraints.

There is no obligation or tradition of celebrating a bar mitzvah years after one turns 13. Nonetheless, perhaps we can find some precedent in the Gemara (Moed Katan 28a) which records that several rabbis made parties when they reached the ages of 60, 70, and 80.

At 60, for example, they celebrated the fact that they lived past the age of kareit (dying or having children die during one’s lifetime). This punishment is not meted out to anyone over 60, so reaching this age is reason to celebrate and thank G-d. The ages of 70 and 80 are also cut-off dates for various punishments.

Accordingly, upon reaching these ages in contemporary times, one might seek to celebrate by being called to the Torah and making a party. And perhaps this Gemara also offers some kind of precedent for thanking Hashem with a festive meal, even way past the age of 13.

About the Author: Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.


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8 Responses to “Should An 80-Year-Old Have A Bar Mitzvah?”

  1. Due to financial and learning restraints and my extended family and ex husband not caring my son did not have a bar mitzfah at 13..He's 20 now and hoping to study for one now..We wont make a fancy party but we may have a get together after he learns the Torah portions necessary…..so he can know them the rest of his life..Amen

  2. Loren Renee says:

    Absolutely, bring on the fountain pens! Lol

    Seriously, I think any age that moment strikes is okay. People miss out for a variety of reasons, many of today’s seniors lost out due to the war and the years on instability that followed. They may have found it empty after the enormous losses of family and friends. They may not have known they were Jewish, or felt Jewish, or feared being known as a Jew. A balchuva May Have felt their bar/bat mitzva was lacking depth or meaning if their families were overly assimilated or if it was all party no meaning. What is important is what we can do today.

  3. Alan Kardon says:

    Of course, why not? I salute them and wish them the very best. Mazel Tov.

  4. remember us Rabbi Cohen Snow birds in to CENTURY VILLAGE W. PALM??? We are indeed ready for the Bat. Sol is now 89. Where can we meet?

    We so much were enlightened and uplifted by your leadership in the short time that we knew you. Zei gesunt. Keep on writing. Be well
    carol and sol fineblum
    still plugging away in my pro-Israel advocacy writing.

  5. Jerry Blaz says:

    At the age of 70, people reach the age what is considered an heroic age, or g'vurot. Then, 13 years later, a second bar mitzvah can take place, when the individual, now age 83, celebrates the reaching of this second bar mitzvah. At least, that is how I did it when I became 83 years old.

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