28 Aug 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.
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
Rav Nosson Gestetner (Lehoros Nassan,
ibid., par. 3) explains that according
to Tosafos, the meal is an extension
of the mitzvah
which it celebrates.
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
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.)