Can bar mitzvah guests skip the service?

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: Can you address etiquette regarding our son's upcoming bar mitzvah? We have had a few guests mention on their RSVP that they won't be able to attend the service (10 a.m.-noon) but will attend the party celebration (12:30-4 p.m.). I gather it is because their child plays sports on Saturday mornings. We have invited our friends and family to witness, support and celebrate our son's accomplishment in being called to the Torah and the honor of leading the service -- a tradition celebrated for hundreds of years that has required years of preparation and study for our son and family. This is a milestone event where the religious ceremony is the most important part. Is it wrong to feel that if they can come to the party, they should skip their soccer practice/game for this special occasion? In fact, if time is limited, I'd rather they come to the service and skip the party. What are your thoughts?

Mitzvah MomDEAR MOM: I shared your query with Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, of Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, Calif., who urges you to approach this challenge with a different spirit.

"Step away from the 'why' of why people are missing the service. Don't draw conclusions. The origin of the meal -- the seudah mitzvah -- is even more ancient than the current bar mitzvah ceremony. The meal is a sacred event in and of itself, especially if it includes the motzi (blessing for the meal), and kiddush." "Guests do not have to 'earn' the meal by attending the service, and I hope you're not planning it as a reward. It undermines the message when the meal celebration becomes silly, meaningless, juvenile or frivolous. The meal is intended as a communal gathering for everyone, inclusive of the whole community.

"Your response to people who cannot attend both celebrations should be, 'Sorry you can't make the first mitzvah, but we are so happy you can make it to the second.' "