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    Are Bar Mitzvah Invitations Kosher?

    In a responsum about bas mitzvah

    celebrations, Rav Ovadiah Yosef

    quotes an authority who raises questions

    about bar mitzvah invitations.

    In Yechaveh Da’as (2:29), Rav Yosef

    quotes Rav Avraham Musafya who

    says that the practice in his community

    is to celebrate both a bar and bas

    mitzvah with a festive day and a mitzvah

    meal. Rav Musafya adds that this

    means that someone who is invited

    cannot decline to attend, like a circumcision.

    Unpacking this surprising

    conclusion allows us to evaluate the

    widespread practice of sending formal

    invitations to bar mitzvah celebrations.

    (We will set aside the issue of bas mitzvah

    celebrations, which requires separate


    I. Meal at a Bris

    The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:12) writes

    that the custom is to have a minyan eat

    a meal at a bris, which constitutes a

    meal for a mitzvah (se’udas mitzvah).

    Elsewhere (Orach Chaim 551:10), the

    Rema rules that you may eat meat and

    drink wine at a bris during the Nine

    Days, which otherwise runs counter

    to the custom of mourning during

    that time, because the meal constitutes

    a se’udas mitzvah. We do not send invitations

    to a bris because people are required

    to eat there. They are obligated

    to accept the invitation (Pischei Teshuvah,

    Yoreh De’ah 265:18 in the name

    of the Mekom Shmuel). Similarly, Rav

    Musafya seems to argue, people may

    not decline a bar mitzvah invitation.

    The Gemara (Pesachim 113b) says that

    someone who does not sit at a mitzvah

    gathering is cut off from heaven

    (menudah la-Shamayim). Tosafos

    (ibid., 114a s.v. ve-ein) have a text that

    says “meal” rather than “gathering”and

    explains that it refers to someone who

    does not eat at a bris or the wedding of

    two very religious people. The Maharik

    (Responsa, 178) distinguishes between

    a sheva berachos meal and a bris meal.

    The former is a great mitzvah while the

    latter is merely a custom (see Rema,

    Orach Chaim 640:6; Shulchan Aruch,

    Yoreh De’ah 265:12).

    Sha’arei Teshuvah (551:33) quotes Or

    Ne’elam who deduces from Rashi

    above that the meal is biblical. If the

    biblical rule of bris on the eighth day

    depends on a meal, then the meal must

    be biblical as well. Or Ne’elam is disagreeing

    with Responsa Beis Ya’akov,

    who believes that the meal is rabbinically


    Whether biblical, rabbinic or customary,

    the meal seems to be important.

    Why is it so important? According to

    Tosafos above, this seems to be a general

    rule about mitzvah meals. Presumably

    the reason for the severity is

    that refusing to eat at a se’udas mitzvah

    amounts to turning away from a

    mitzvah. Our normal desires direct

    us to eat. Failing to do a mitzvah that

    comes so naturally is an extra level of


    Rashbatz offers a different explanation

    (Magen Avos 3:4). He quotes the

    Gemara (Pesachim 113b) and explains

    that failing to attend a se’udas mitzvah

    is problematic because those meals

    were accompanied with Torah discussions.

    It is not clear whether someone

    who declines to join a se’udas mitzvah

    should have attended and spoken

    or merely listened. Either way, it constitutes

    a refusal to engage in Torah

    study, whether by teaching or learning.

    II. Leniencies

    According to Tosafos, attending

    a se’udas mitzvah is itself a mitzvah.

    According to the Rashbatz, it is an opportunity

    to study or teach Torah. One

    practical difference between the two

    opinions is someone who fails to attend

    a se’udas mitzvah because he has

    to learn or teach Torah. I suspect that

    since in the end he is teaching and/

    or studying Torah, according to the

    Rashbatz he commits no transgression

    by declining the invitation. According

    to Tosafos, it should not matter. Additionally,

    according to the Rashbatz, a

    woman — who is not obligated to learn

    or teach Torah — would bear no guilt

    for declining an invitation to a se’udas

    mitzvah (see Lehoros Nassan 7:76:3).

    Similarly, someone lacking sufficient

    training to understand the Torah discussions

    would also be exempt from

    attending the meal. According to

    Tosafos, people‘s obligation is equal

    regardless of obligation or ability to

    study Torah.

    Rav Nosson Gestetner (Lehoros Nassan,

    ibid., par. 3) explains that according

    to Tosafos, the meal is an extension

    of the mitzvah

    which it celebrates.

    Therefore, someone

    who is not

    obligated in the

    mitzvah would not

    be required to attend the meal. Since

    a woman is not obligated in circumcision,

    she may decline an invitation

    even according to Tosafos. Tosafos

    (ibid.) add that if unsavory characters

    attend the se’udas mitzvah, others are

    not obligated to join them. Therefore,

    since most gatherings of family and

    friends include at least a few people

    who are less than righteous, there is

    almost always an easy exemption from

    attending a se’udas mitzvah.

    According to this leniency, which the

    Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:12) adopts,

    there is no reason to refrain from inviting

    people to a bris or any se’udas mitzvah.

    If anything, a bris is less important

    than a wedding, as we saw above from

    the Maharik. If we send invitations to a

    wedding, certainly we can send invitations

    to a bris or bar mitzvah.

    Additionally, it is not clear why a bar

    mitzvah is a se’udas mitzvah. The Maharshal

    (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma

    7:37) points out that we celebrate

    a bar mitzvah when a boy turns 13. At

    that point we are not certain whether

    physically he has reached maturity.

    Therefore, the celebration is based on

    a presumption (chazakah) and cannot

    be called a se’udas mitzvah. However,

    since the bar mitzvah gives a speech

    full of Torah, the learning makes the

    meal into a se’udas mitzvah.

    Maharshal contrasts a bar mitzvah

    with a bris. Since the bris is an actual

    mitzvah, the meal is a se’udas mitzvah.

    Maharshal seems to say that for a bris,

    the meal is an extension of the mitzvah

    (like Tosafos). For a bar mitzvah,

    the meal is a fulfillment of Torah study

    (like Rashbatz).

    According to Maharshal, we can understand

    why we would send bar mitzvah

    invitations but not bris invitations.

    Since attending a bar mitzvah falls

    under the mitzvah of learning Torah,

    a person can find many legitimate exemptions

    from the mitzvah — including

    learning Torah elsewhere. However,

    attending a bris is a mitzvah unto

    itself which you cannot easily turn


    (It would seem that a wedding is similar

    to a bris in this respect, which raises

    the question why we send wedding invitations.

    I do not know why we distinguish

    between the two.)