Question: I find myself in a very delicate situation and am calling upon your halachic expertise. I am the rabbi in a small town of a very close-knit community with a small Orthodox minyan. We have two boys who are exactly the same age and will reach the age of bar mitzvah next year on the same day. My question is: How do we schedule two bar mitzvahs in shul on the same Shabbos as well as two catered affairs on their birthday? Even though they are friends, both families seem to be in pain over the potential conflict.
The Rabbi in a Small Community
Answer: The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 225) defines the age of bar mitzvah as “13 years and one day.” He notes a “new” custom (the Magen Avraham lived in the 17th century) of the father reciting “Baruch she’patrani” when the boy leads the congregation in prayer for the first time or on the Shabbat when he reads from, or is called up to, the Torah. At that point, the community becomes officially aware that he has reached bar mitzvah and is obligated to fulfill the commandments.
Accordingly, calling up two bar mitzvah boys to the Torah on one Shabbos and giving them both the opportunity to participate in the service in some other way should not present a problem since they are not both celebrating their bar mitzvahs together. They are merely indicating that they are now “counted” in the congregation.
Quoting an early source, the Magen Avraham writes that a person is required to prepare a se’udah on the day his son becomes bar mitzvah just as he must on the day he gets married. He also quotes the Yam Shel Shlomo, who states that the se’udah can be held on a day other than the bar mitzvah day if the boy presents a dvar Torah.
Why is that so?
When G-d asked King Solomon what he wished to be given as a gift, Solomon requested “an understanding heart…to discern between good and evil.” G-d promised him both wisdom and understanding (plus riches and honor even though he didn’t ask for them), and when he awoke, says the Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah, ch. 1) he realized he could understand the braying of the donkeys and the chirps of the birds. He then came to Jerusalem, offered sacrifices, and prepared a feast for his servants and advisors. R. Eleazar states that this incident is the source for the custom to prepare a feast after completing the Torah.
The commentary Anaf Yosef (ad loc.) sees in this story the source of our Simchat Torah festivities upon the completion of the annual Torah cycle reading. He also notes that from this evolved the practice to eat a festive meal after completing a Talmudic tractate.
Returning to the two bar mitzvah boys in your community: Can saying a dvar Torah be considered the equivalent of completing a Talmud tractate, which warrants a se’udah? In his discussion on the siyum made on the eve of Passover to exempt firstborns of their obligation to fast that day, the Gaon R. Moshe Feinstein suggests (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim, vol. I:157) that an in-depth Torah discussion is, indeed, an acceptable reason to celebrate and eat a se’uda. And the Yam Shel Shlomo uses the term “doresh” for the bar mitzvah boy’s presentation, which refers to an in-depth Torah discussion. Thus, a bar mitzvah dvar Torah does, indeed, justify a festive meal.
But which bar mitzvah boy should have his se’udah first?
Unless the two boys were born exactly at the same moment, one is necessarily older than the other. In the case of twin boys who are the first children in a family, only one is the bechor according to halacha – the one who was delivered first. Thus, the older boy should have his bar mitzvah se’udah on his birthday, and the younger one should have a se’udah on the following day or another evening and present an in-depth Torah discussion at the meal.
We might add, in conformance with the Magen Avraham, that since the drasha is the reason we celebrate, care should be taken not to interrupt the second bar mitzvah boy during his speech.
Having a joint se’udah would seem to be another solution, not evidently violating the principle of “Ein m’arvin simcha b’simcha – One rejoicing may not be merged with another rejoicing” (Mo’ed Katan 8b). That principle was stated in regards to marrying on yom tov. Scripture says (Devarim 16:14), “Ve’samachta b’chagecha – You shall rejoice in your festival,” implying that you shall rejoice because of the festival, not because of a new marriage. Tosafot (s.v. “Mipnei bitul”) points out that “simcha” refers specifically to a wedding, and only two wedding meals that should not be merged. (That’s why, incidentally, our patriarch Yaakov wanted a hiatus of seven days after marrying Leah before marrying Rachel.)
Yet, the Magen Avraham writes that the requirement to have a se’udah at a bar mitzvah is comparable to the requirement to have a se’udah at a wedding. Moreover, the Rema (Even HaEzer 62:2, Hilchot Kiddushin) quotes the Mordechai who states (on the first chapter of Mo’ed Katan) that we do not combine wedding meals even when the two brides are strangers because of the hostility that might ensue. That same logic would apply to two bar mitzvah boys.
In summation, when two boys become bar mitzvah on the same day, both may be called up to the Torah on the Sabbath of their bar mitzvah and both may also be called to participate in the service in another way. As for the se’uda, one will be able to have it on his actual birthday, while the other will have to have it on another day at which he must deliver a drasha.
May the parents of the two boys, your community, and klal Yisrael derive much nachas from these two young men, and may we witness the redemption with the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days.