David Brent

The Western Wall Bar Mitzvah Industry

I am a frequent pilgrim to Jerusalem. My pilgrimage starts in Haifa. It is an hour and half bus ride to the central bus station then a short trip on the light rail to the Jaffa Gate. Most of the time, I come around the weekend. I love to visit the Western Wall on a Friday evening when thousands of Jews from varying backgrounds come to the Kotel to welcome Shabbat.

But the last time I came to Jerusalem was on a Sunday. My daughter was visiting from Florida and I thought that we would spend our last few days in Jerusalem before she had to fly back to the states. We visited the Western Wall on a Monday. I was surprised by all the celebrations and I assumed there was some obscure Jewish holiday that we were celebrating. Since I made Aliyah, I learned that there are a lot of Jewish holidays that I know nothing about (like the fast of Gedaliah). On these holidays all the stores are closed and I am left with nothing to do but go to the beach or a Druze village. This is how most Israelis observe Jewish Holidays.  They either play paddle ball on the beach or eat labanah. Labanah is a disgusting cross between expired yogurt and cream cheese that the Druze successfully market to Israelis as a delicacy.

I digress.

On that Monday, everywhere we walked in the Jewish Quarter of the old city there were people celebrating. There were drums abeating and shofars ablowing and cymbals acymbalating. There were balloons and flags and parades. What was this obscure Jewish Holiday? It is called Bar Mitzvah Monday and it happens every week.

Every Shabbat, Monday and Thursday, Jews read from the Torah (the five books of Moses). Each week it is a different section. On Saturday, we read the whole section. On Mondays and Thursdays, we just read part of the section. When you read from the Torah, you have an opportunity to be called up for an honor. This honor forms the central part of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. So basically, you can celebrate a Bar Mitzvah (or a Bat Mitzvah if you aren’t Orthodox) on a Saturday, Monday or Thursday. The problem with doing this on a Saturday is that you can’t take pictures. So in Israel, you end up having a lot of Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall on Mondays. Jews from all over the country (even from all over the world) come to this sacred place to observe this traditional ritual when a boy turns 13.

The Western Wall Bar Mitzvah Industry is big money. There are signs advertising all over the Old City. For your money, you get a parade down the ancient streets of the old city ending at the Western Wall. A Torah is pulled out and a brief service is conducted culminating with the 13 year old boy praising Hashem for the gift of the Torah and basically promising to uphold its commandments. Women are separated by a wall but the service is conducted next to the wall and the female members of the family can watch the child if they know how to stand on chairs. Photographers are at hand to capture every proud moment.


It is such a popular deal that you feel that you are in the middle of an assembly line producing responsible, Jewish teenagers. If you walk from the wall back to the Jaffa gate on a Monday, you will see a half dozen different bar mitzvah ceremonies going on simultaneously and pass parade after parade of bar mitzvah families waving Israeli flags and singing songs you learned back in summer camp.


It is nice. But it got me wondering.

Where are the Charedi protesting the obvious desecration of this holy of holy places? I was minding my own business trying to daven while being jostled by photographers and proud fathers (I didn’t mind). Women were not hiding behind a wall but brazenly showing their bare elbows over the top of the wall. Why don’t the Charedi protest women hanging over the wall but they do protest when a women tries to wear a tallit on their side of the wall where they can’t even see them?

ceremony at the wall
ceremony at the wall

I know the answer. Money.

The rabbinut get a piece of every Bar Mitzvah service. Each one of these services pays some card carrying member of the rabbinut to conduct the service. This is the solution to every problem an Israeli has with the rabbinut. Pay them. This gave me an idea for Women of the Wall.

Tallit rental for women.

The problem is not that women are not halachically allowed to wear a tallit. They are. The problem is that the rabbinut does not get to extort money from the Women of the Wall. If the rabbinut operated tallit rental stations for women outside the Western Wall, then everybody would be happy. Women would be allowed to wear tallit and read from the Torah. The rabbinut would get their cut. Of course, women would not be allowed to bring their own tallit with them but that is the price you have to pay to be a Jew in Israel.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.