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The difference between Saturday morning and evening bar mitzvah services

Saturday night vibe

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

My synagogue gives families the option of scheduling a bar mitzvah service on Saturday evening, and doing a Havdalah service. What’s that about? Should we do it?

— Some Chanted Evening?

Dear Chanted,

Well, one advantage is that you can sleep late on Saturday morning.

Your temple is offering you two options. The first is the more familiar service. It’s on a Saturday, will last two or three hours (depending on how slow your cantor sings), and your kid will be responsible for all the usual suspects such as Torah reading, haftorah, and parts of the service.

The second option allows your child to take part in a Shabbat afternoon and an evening service. If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry — both the mincha (afternoon) and ma’ariv (evening) services are brief. Put together, they shouldn’t last as long as a regular morning service. The ma’ariv service on Saturday concludes with Havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat.

There are many pros and cons correlated with an evening service. Let’s go over them:


If you planning an evening reception, the timing of a Saturday night service might be more convenient because guests can make their way over to the party right away. If you choose a Saturday morning service and an evening reception, your guests have to kill a lot of time in the afternoon waiting for the festivities to begin.


Your child will have to learn a different set of skills. The Torah reading aside, the rest of the service will be somewhat unfamiliar — even to a student who has regularly attended Hebrew school. It’s nothing he can’t learn, but if you choose this option for your child, he will begin his lessons with less prior knowledge.


The Havdalah ceremony, which marks the end of Shabbat, is quite beautiful. You light a special braided candle and make blessings over the flame, spices, and a cup of wine. This part of the service may also provide opportunities for you to hand out some honors to family and friends … just don’t let a little kid hold the Havdalah candle!


Your temple may not have a regularly scheduled mincha service, so there probably won’t be any regular congregants in attendance. That might appeal to you because you will have more space for your guests and feel that your family will be the center of attention. That is true, but you will also miss out on the very important sense of community that exists when a young member of the congregation becomes bar or bat mitzvah in front of everyone.


The service is shorter. The average total time for mincha, ma’ariv, Havdalah, and any speeches that people might give is about an hour and a half, if that.


Watch out for sundown! It depends on the rules of your temple, but at many you can’t mark the end of Shabbat until Shabbat is really over, which takes place about an hour after sundown. If you want to have a service in June, that could be around 9:30 pm, which may be too late for you or some of your guests. The most convenient dates for mincha b’nei mitzvah services are in November through March — that way you will be finishing up the service just in time for a well-timed evening party.

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at

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Nancy from Jewish Family Service of Roch. says:
What time can an event take place on a Saturday evening? Can it begin with Havdalah service?
Aug. 21, 2014, 10:16 am

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