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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

discussion.)

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

requires.

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

sinfulness.

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

down.

(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.)