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Pros and cons for an adult’s presence during bar mitzvah lessons

Shadow of doubt

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

My son is starting lessons soon. Am I supposed to just drop him off at the temple or do I sit in the cantor’s office with him for the lesson? Is it like a doctor’s appointment or something? Should I shadow?

— Shadow of a doubt

Dear Shadow,

No, it’s not like a doctor’s appointment. So, unless your kid aspires to be the lead singer of a metal band, you should probably be concerned if you hear any screaming.

But, the answer to this question depends on your cantor or b’nei mitzvah tutor’s preference — and your own.

Let’s look at both sides of the shekel.

If you sit next to your son during each lesson, several things will happen:

• You will benefit from the cantor’s teaching, even passively, and might start learning some trope and prayers too.

• You will always be aware of your son’s progress and his study obligations.

• You can ask the cantor a question whenever something sounds confusing.

However, if you just drop off and pick your son up, here’s how things might go:

• You won’t have any direct knowledge of what your son is learning.

• There might be some misunderstandings that arise over what your son was supposed to practice or if he’s moving along as fast as the cantor would like.

• Your son will likely be learning a bunch of material that is a complete mystery to you.

So what do you think? It’s a no-brainer, right?

Actually, I strongly discourage parents from sitting in on lessons.

If you’ve read any of my previous columns then you know that I’m all about the process of bar mitzvah training. I believe that what we’re really trying to accomplish here is having a young kid take on and manage a significant responsibility, which includes being in charge of when and how much he’s supposed to practice, and keeping track of his own progress. It entails him asking his own questions when he’s confused and ‘fessing up when he has a bad practicing week. It’s one of his first adult responsibilities, so you can’t hold his hand.

I have seen parents — thoroughly excited by this interesting material that they never got the chance to learn — start to dominate and take over the lesson with their own questions. On the other hand, having a one-on-one lesson with the cantor, with no parent in the room, means that your son and the cantor will get to develop their own rapport, which is a wonderful life skill for any young person.

So go ahead — drop him off and drive happily away from the temple. Use your newfound time to develop tactical ways of paying for his party … and hiding all his hardcore metal albums.

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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