15.07.2015  Chief Rabbi's Conference at Finchley United Synagogue, with guest sparker, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. www.blakeezraphotography.com

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis speaking during the Chief Rabbi’s Conference at Finchley United Synagogue,  (Photo credit: Blake Ezra Photography)

Boys about to start preparing for their barmitzvah will no longer just study a portion from the Torah, but will instead learn to lead a whole prayer service, said Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis this week.

Addressing a conference at Kinloss in Finchley, Mirvis outlined a raft of changes, telling rabbis that to “change our services from being bimah-centric to congregant-centric,” to leave congregants “more Jewish-ly charged”.

He also made the “unusual” offer of “inviting everyone to midnight slichot service with me at Kinloss,” ahead of the High Holy days, and committed to meeting every communal Rabbinic couple in the UK before Pesach.

But it was his announcement on barmitzvahs that raised eyebrows. “On barmitzvahs, we often get it wrong,” he said, revealing his agreement and consultation with Dayan Binstock on the issue. 

“We spend 15 months teaching a boy to do something that will take him 20 minutes to do, and which he will never do again in his life,” said Mirvis. “Surely it’s better to teach our boys how to daven (pray), because once they can lead a service, they can follow any service.” 

He told more than 100 rabbis present to start the new teaching straight away with any boys beginning their barmitzvah learning, while those who have already begun learning could continue as before. Mirvis said he would engage Jewish schools to help roll it out.

“Let us guarantee that from two years’ time, every barmitzvah boy in our community will have a component of tefillah (prayer) as part of his celebration. This can be for him to lead part or all of the service.”

In addition, Mirvis will hold a seminar on “developing and enhancing the way that we approach batmitzvah ceremonies,” again acknowledging that “in many of our shuls we can do better”.

Outlining the changes, he said: “We need to see fruitful follow-up in the years after, that devening will be part of the course, and that there will be a prayerful ingredient. In so many of the ceremonies, girls stumble over the one or two Hebrew verses. The overall knowledge around the siddur is relatively poor.”