Bar Mitzvah Bewilderment

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

The following story takes place many years ago in Europe. It’s a true story that just hasn’t happened yet. Shimon: My father told me that my bar mitzvah is this week Parshas Noach. Boruch: Mazel tov! I can’t wait for the yummy kichel after you lain. Shimon: I don’t think I’ll be laining my parsha. Boruch: Why not? Shimon: My father went on a business trip and never told the gabbai when my bar mitzvah is. Boruch: That’s no problem. Just tell the gabbai yourself. Shimon: The gabbai says he holds like the Siddur Bais Oved, that a child isn’t believed to say that he himself is bar mitzvah. Only a child who we know is already 13 is believed for that. Obviously, if we know he is 13, then there is no need to believe him! Boruch: The Kaf HaChaim holds that a child is believed to say that he himself is 13. Further, I had a dream that a great gadol named Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt”l, will be born, and he will agree with the Kaf HaChaim. Shimon: Well, that won’t help me for my gabbai. He doesn’t believe that this week is my bar mitzvah and won’t let me lain. Boruch: Did you look for two witnesses that can testify that you are 13? Shimon: I did, but I only found one, the Gadol HaDor. Boruch: I just remembered. Your father was a long-time chavrusa with the Gadol HaDor. The Gadol HaDor must remember exactly when you were born! Shimon: Right. But the Gadol HaDor went over to the gabbai and told him my bar mitzvah is this week. And you know what? The gabbai didn’t believe him! Boruch: What?!? The Gemarra (Kiddushin 63b) clearly says that a father is believed to say his son is 13 even if the question is relevant to bringing a korban! If the father is believed, certainly a Gadol HaDor is! Shimon: That’s what I thought! In fact, I even quoted to the Gabbai, Tosfos on Kiddushin 64a. The beginning of Tosfos says that the fact the father is believed is based on the concept that generally in non-marriage and non-monetary matters, one witness is believed. So the Gadol HaDor should be believed as well.

Boruch: Let me guess, the Gabbai said that he holds like the Tosfos Rid. He states that the father’s believability is based on another logic. Just like a father is granted special believability by the Torah to state who his first-born son is, he is believed to say his son is bar mitzvah. That special believability is only granted by the Torah to a father. Shimon: Exactly! But I scored at least one point. I showed the Gabbai that the Mishna Berura in Siman 58 quotes Tosfos and rules like him and not like the Tosfos Rid. Boruch: So he’s going to let you lain? Shimon: No. He said that the Tosfos that I quoted goes on to say that one witness is only believed in matters under his control. For example, a sole witness is believed to say he shechted a chicken properly. Boruch: Then even a father should not be believed! He has no control when his son will turn 13! Shimon: Turns out, Tosfos asks that exact question. He says that this case is an exception. Since a boy will definitely turn 13 at some point, we believe the father that he already turned 13 even though it’s not in his control. Boruch: We are back to where we started, that logic should apply to the Gadol HaDor as well! Shimon: Tosfos asks that, too! He concludes that since the father is acutely aware of his son’s birthday, the rabbis trusted him more than anyone else, even more than the gadol gador. Indeed, this is how the Mishna Berura rules. One witness is believed to say that a boy is bar mitzvah but only if it is the father. Boruch: Hmm, but wouldn’t that same logic apply to your mother? She is also intimately aware of your birthday. She can tell the Gabbai your bar mitzvah is this week.

Shimon: Yes! I thought of that. The Rogochover Gaon says the same. But my mother went shopping for a gown for the seudah next week and won’t be back until after Shabbos. She didn’t know there was an issue with the Gabbai. Boruch: I’m so sorry. I guess you’re out of luck! Shimon: It’s all from Hashem! I’ll spend extra time working on my bar mitzvah pshetl. Look, here is the Mikraos Gedolos Breishis my father uses. He even wrote my name and when I was born on the back cover. Many people in Europe have the custom of doing that. Boruch: Wait! Can you prove that is your father’s handwriting? Shimon: Sure, I have lots of examples of his handwriting all over the house. Boruch: Quick! Show that to the Gabbai! Shimon: If the Gabbai didn’t believe the Gadol HaDor, he won’t believe the writing in the back of a sefer. Shimon: Yes, he will. The Taz discusses a relevant case. We know that a father is believed to say which of his sons is first born and entitled to a double portion of inheritance. Suppose, the father passed away without telling anyone which child is first born. However, we found inscriptions in the back of his seforim. The Taz ruled that we may rely on them! That is true even for monetary matters. Certainly, the Gabbai can rely on that to know when you are bar mitzvah! Boruch: Amazing! Shimon lained Parshas Noach beautifully for the entire tzibbur thanks to the old custom of inscribing seforim with the birthdates of Ines children.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at

Share this article: