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A guide for teenagers on how to write a dvar Torah

JPS B’nai Mitzvah Torah Commentary, Jeffrey K.Salkin, JPS, £25.99

    Once upon a time maf and haf — maftir and haftarah — used to be the standard requirements for a barmitzvah.  But today barmitzvah boys and, increasingly, barmitzvah girls also mark their entry into Jewish adulthood with a dvar Torah – or “sermonette”, as Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin calls it in his new book. 

    A Reform rabbi in Florida, who has spoken here in Limmuds past, he has taken a particular interest in the ceremony celebrated by most mainstream synagogue youth; it was the subject of his first book, Putting God on the Guest List, published more than 20 years ago.

    “Sharing Torah with the congregation” is the most important skill for bnei mitzvah, he believes, and his latest book is aimed as a guide for teenagers on  how to prepare their dvar Torah. For every sidrah, he gives a synopsis of its main themes, two sample divrei Torah and, perhaps most importantly, a suggested list of questions on how to connect the Torah portion with contemporary issues. He does not shy away from difficult topics such as the relationship of Judah and Tamar — an interlude within the story of Joseph — or the commandment for the children of Israel to destroy the Midianites.

    While he may refer to Midrash, he quotes too the opinion of living rabbis from across the religious spectrum such as Arthur Green or Shmuel Klitsner. Refreshingly, he also provides a separate commentary on the haftarot, which are still too often overlooked in sermons generally (a loss of prophet in modern synagogues).

    However accomplished the delivery of the dvar Torah on the big day, its true value lies in its preparation. The book will be a useful resource for parents who want to discuss their children’s bar/batmitzvah portion with them. And more broadly, if you think by the end of their bnei-mitzvah programme teenagers should be familiar with at least the name of every sidrah in the Torah and the basic contents of each then Rabbi Salkin’s book may help them towards a working knowledge.
     

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