We Need to Offer Halachically Acceptable Bar Mitzvah Celebrations for Children With Mental Disabilities

The Beit Hillel rabbinic organization has initiated a public campaign within the religious communities to encourage bar mitzvah celebrations in synagogues across the country for children with mental disabilities and developmental issues.

For years, Orthodox synagogues in Israel rarely offered disabled children the opportunity to enjoy a bar mitzvah celebration. Now, Beit Hillel wants to change that image, with a. public campaign to encourage bar mitzvahs for those with developmental mental disabilities in synagogues throughout the country.

In the introduction to the halachic position paper published by the organization in synagogues across the country, Beit Hillel rabbis explain the importance of this action:

a treasured part of God’s world that is required of us, is to correct injustices and to add friends under the “Wings of God” ….. we have to be as stringent as we possibly can in the implementation of the miztvah of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ by including a child as a member of the community just as any other member the community. In cases where the child’s condition does not allow him to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah like all children – it is incumbent upon us to find alternative ways to meaningfully mark his Bar Mitzvah. In any case, so we have to “sew a personal garment” for each child, that appropriately suits his abilities, so that he and his family will celebrate his bar mitzvah in a meaningful and respectful way.”

Boy Reading TorahFor example, in cases where for various reasons the Bar Mitzvah can not be celebrated in the usual manner, the organization suggests a number of alternatives, such as honoring the child with holdeing the Sefer Torah, reading a verse according to his abilities, or getting together one day during the week with family and friends – “the main goal is to establish a time to significantly mark the entry of the boy into the age of commandments,” according to the position paper.

Along with the campaign, Beit Hillel plans to launch a ‘hot line’ through which communities can receive advice and guidance from Beit Hillel Rabbis experienced developing custom celebrations for Bar Mitzvah boys.

During the campaign, the organization will collect and publish the list of synagogues which allows children with disabilities to celebrate their Bar Mitzvahs. In coordination with the families, synagogues will publish the stories of boys who celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs, in order to continue raising awareness of this important issue.

The full text of the halachic position paper, including sources (Hebrew), can be found at:

Comments are closed.