Ask the Rabbi

   A column by CSAIR Rabbi Barry Katz

Ask The Rabbi

An occasional column in which Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, answers your questions.  No matter what your Jewish background, I hope you enjoy the learning. If you have follow up/new questions, feel free to write to ! Check back next month and you might find the answer here.


The CSAIR Men's Organization extends our thanks to Rabbi Katz (who we are proud to have as a Men's Club member) for contributing this column and for for all the things he has done to help the Men's Club.



RABBI BARRY DOV KATZ is the rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale. He began his tenure in August 1998. At CSAIR, he has worked with members of the synagogue to build a vibrant urban synagogue known for its programs, energy, and warmth. Innovative programs such as Backyard Davening (outdoor Friday night services in the summer), Torathon (an evening filled with opportunities for Jewish study), and Tashlich-On-Hudson (a multigenerational service on Rosh Hashana) are examples of his vision.

In the past few years, CSAIR expanded its Shabbat programs for young children and families, and has created fine adult education programs. Rabbi Katz served as President of the Riverdale-Kinsgbridge-Spuyten Duyvil Clergy Conference, and helped organize the first Lishmah conference bringing Jews from across the denominations together for a day of learning in NYC. He serves on the Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and on the Board of the Lower Hudson Valley Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Rabbi Katz has extensive experience teaching children and adults of all ages in formal and informal educational settings, including many Jewish summer camps (most recently Camp Ramah in the Berkshires), at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY, and at the Solomon Schechter School in Rockland County. He was active in and worked for the Zionist Youth Movement Young Judaea.

Rabbi Katz received his ordination and a Master’s Degree in Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was awarded the Rabbi Joel Roth Prize in Talmud. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, cum laude, and Gratz Hebrew College in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, Rabbi Katz lived in Israel for three years. He has worked as a professional calligrapher in English and Hebrew.


Q: Can a child under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah recite the motzi (blessing over bread) on behalf of adults?

A. What a great question!

To answer it we should define some terms so that everyone understands why this is even a question.

The motzi is the blessing over bread. It is recited whenever a person is about to eat a significant amount of bread and it is a way of giving thanks to God for the blessing of food. During the week people often recite their motzi quietly but on Shabbat many families have the custom of reciting it out loud for all of the guests at the table.

Based on this, you might say that it would be fine for a child to recite it for everyone at the table. It is a nice way to show off what the child learned in Hebrew School or Jewish Day School. It is a good opportunity to teach the child the importance of blessings and to involve them in an important family ritual. That way, when the child is older, saying blessings will be a natural thing to do. 

There is another factor to consider. That is the issue of mitzvah. People often think of mitzvah as a “good deed” but in this context it has a specific meaning as well. A mitzvah is a commandment, something that we do not only because we want to do it but because Jewish law says that we should do it. The Talmud offers a general principal: “a person who is not obligated to do a particular mitzva cannot fulfill the mitzva on behalf of one who is obligated.”[1]

Who is obligated? Girls become obligated to perform all of the mitzvot at age 12. (Some girls celebrate this at age 13 but, technically, they are obligated from the age of 12.) Boys become obligated at age 13. Kids can (and should!) do mitzvot but they cannot do them on behalf of adults.[2] That’s one of the reasons why we make such a big deal about Bar and Bat Mitzvah. It is a celebration that from now on, the child can participate in services fully. He or she can lead the service and do all of the honors. The 12/13 year-old is obligated but along with the responsibilities come privileges (and often a few gifts!)

So where does that leave us with motzi?

Reciting the motzi is a mitzvah that children should be encouraged to do but according to Jewish law they are not obligated to do it. They cannot, technically, recite it on behalf of adults.

A parent that wishes to train his or her child to recite the motzi can do the following.

1. The child can be asked to recite the motzi along with the adult.

2. When the child learns the words of the blessing and the customs surrounding the prayer, he or she can be asked to recite the motzi before all of the adults. After the child recites the motzi, an adult should do it for the whole table and then everyone can eat.

An interesting note: One child can recite the blessing on behalf of other children since they are at the same level of obligation. Some families might choose to give one child the double hallah on Shabbat and have the child recite the motzi for the kids. Afterwards the adult recites the motzi for all of the adults.

On the first Shabbat after a child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the child can graduate to being the sole motzi maker. As he or she recites the motzi for the first time as an adult (albeit an adult who cannot drive or pay his/her own college tuition!) he or she should keep in mind that this blessing will “count” for everyone at the table. The child is now an active agent in making Judaism happen for others, one of the many small but beautiful steps the child will take toward ultimate Jewish independence and responsibility.

Rabbi Barry Dov Katz

Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale

[1] Rosh Hashana (29a)

[2] Sukka 38a, MB 271:2,3