For a bar or bat mitzvah, Leviticus can present a true challenge


April and May are very popular months for bar and bat mitzvahs. The weather is nice. Friends and teacher are still in town. The kid has seven or eight school months to prepare.

Unfortunately, as anyone involved in planning them knows, there is one problem. The Biblical Book of Leviticus, which we read during these months, is with the exception of Parashat Kedoshim not very inspiring to your average teenager.


Leviticus is largely a compendium of rules and specifications about burnt animal and plant sacrifices and the hereditary priesthood. A thoughtful rabbi can almost always find some subject to preach about, but the going gets a little rough for our nervous 12-year-old.

Ideally, the rabbi sits down with the child and they read through the portion together to find some verse that the bar/bat mitzvah can enthusiastically share with the congregation.

I’ve tried this with Emor. The results were that I either heard from the parents that I, the rabbi, should write the speech or we agree to talk about some general concept like leadership or sacrifice. We did get through it. I’m here and the two girls I worked with are in college.

Why do we do this? Why not simply omit Leviticus? It’s been tried and never really worked. Bar/bat mitzvahs have been reading all the Torah for hundreds of years.

There is an argument that people profit from reading passages that come from other times and world-views.

Maybe not right away but later in their lives. If that’s true, Leviticus is an especially difficult case. We can’t even place it accurately in another time. The time-line for this book is difficult whether we take the traditional or the scientific view.

We can learn from the general themes of sacrifice or leadership or mourning in this portion. We can speculate about the stories behind even the most obnoxious flaws. The book seldom gives us back stories.

And those kids? They’ll be fine. If Jews continue to dominate Broadway, we might even eventually see “Leviticus The Musical” from some upcoming Sondheim.

Rabbi Alan M. Klein is a retired Chaplain in the United States Air Force.