Temple Beth Torah

Bar and Bat Mitzvah Guide

"Bar" is the Aramaic word for "son". "Bat" is the Hebrew word for "daughter". "Mitzvah" in Hebrew means "commandment".

A "son of the commandments" or a "daughter of the commandments" is a person who is obligated to observe the commandments and traditions of Judaism.

Bar Mitzvah (and Bat Mitzvah) is not a ceremony. It is an age. One does not get "Bar-Mitzvahed". One becomes a Bar- Mitzvah by reaching a certain age. A boy automatically becomes a Bar-Mitzvah at the age of 13 years and one day. A girl automatically becomes a Bat-Mitzvah at the age of 12 years and one day, even if they have never set foot inside a synagogue. In our society, when one reaches the age of 18, he/she receives the privilege and the responsibility to vote. So too in Jewish society: when one attains the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he/she receives certain privileges and responsibilities.

The ages of 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy are significant. Generally, this is the age when the child enters adolescence, and physically as well as emotionally begins the road to adulthood.

If Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an age, why the ceremony? Calling a Bar-Mitzvah to the Torah was a public way of announcing to the entire community that this child was now part of the adult Jewish world. Reciting the Haftorah, reading from the Torah, giving a Dvar Torah (a short sermon) and leading parts of the service, were ways of showing how much one had learned. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a Simchah ("a happy occasion"). As such, it is appropriate that it be shared with family and friends; and in Jewish tradition, a Simchah is celebrated by a Seudat Mitzvah ("a meal of the Commandment" - a feast that celebrates the observance of the Commandments).

A Statement on Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Bar and Bat Mitzvah represents a beginning, not an ending. From this moment, Jewish young people are obligated to fulfill the Mitzvot of our tradition; from this moment, the Jewish community begins to count on its young people to share in our common destiny.

Under no circumstances should the Bar or Bat Mitzvah signal a graduation from, or an end to, formal Jewish study. Only now, as a child enters maturity, can he or she truly begin to understand the depth and beauty of our history, culture and religion. We urge parents to send their children to Post Bar Mitzvah classes. We also urge you to set an example for your children by participating in adult Jewish education. The celebration of Bar/Bat Mitzvah should be in keeping with the spirit of the event itself. Though peer pressure and community "standards" require the kind of excesses that all of us are familiar with, Jewish tradition does not. Since a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is about following Jewish tradition, what our religious values teach us should be more important than what local social values expect. Dignity and modesty are hallmark Jewish values, and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration should be guided by these two standards.

The observance of Shabbat is one of the pillars of Jewish tradition. Nothing should be done to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah that flagrantly violates the traditional observance of Shabbat (for example: Music, photography, and smoking.) If you plan a Shabbat reception, we urge you to hold it in our Temple, where Shabbat is properly observed.

The observance of Kashrut is another of the pillars of Jewish tradition. Having a non-Kosher affair negates everything that the ceremony stands for. We urge you, in the strongest terms possible, to have a Kosher celebration of any Jewish Simchah.

The Board of Trustees of Temple Beth Torah

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Dates: Temple Policy

Boys technically become a Bar Mitzvah upon reaching the age of 13 years and 1 day, as calculated by the Hebrew calendar. We do not give out Bar Mitzvah dates that would take place prior to that birthday.

Girls technically become Bat Mitzvah upon reaching the age of 12 years old and 1 day, according to the Hebrew calendar. For social and educational reasons, we try to set the Bat Mitzvah date as close to the 13th birthday as possible, but it could be prior to that birthday.

We do not "double-up" children (except for twins). We don't want a child to have to "share" his/her Bar/Bat Mitzvah with another child.

In any given year, there are approximately 35 Saturdays that are available (leaving out summers, winter vacations, and Jewish holidays). When class enrollment in a grade tops 30 students, scheduling becomes very tight.

Boys born during the summer get pushed back to September, which then pushes everyone else back. Girls born during the summer might be pushed forward to May or June - if there are openings, or back to the Fall if there are not.

We do not schedule Sunday, or Thanksgiving, or Rosh Hodesh Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.

We would prefer that every child have a Saturday morning service. We recognize that in some years we might not have enough dates to go around. The Ritual Committee has decided for that reason to make Saturday evening dates available. Please be aware that at a Saturday evening service there is significantly less for the child to do.

As a Conservative synagogue, we require 5 years of Jewish education leading to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Day

The Ritual Committee will call you about one month prior to the date to schedule a meeting to help you with the honors. We keep one Aliyah for the Congregation, and Hagbah is given to someone experienced in lifting the Torah. All the rest - seven speaking Aliyot and seven non-speaking honors - are given to the family.

Aliyot (speaking honors) should only be given to those who know what they are doing, and have reviewed and practiced the blessings. Only Jews may participate in the religious rituals on the Bimah.

Please convey to your guests that they should dress appropriately for a religious service, and that Jewish men are expected to wear a Tallit; it is customary to cover one's head in the Sanctuary. Women who are immodestly dressed will be asked to put on a shawl. We offer direction cards that also provide basic information about our service. We urge you to include them in your invitations.

On Shabbat, we don't use the phones, smoke, write, take pictures or give gifts. Busses may not be parked in front of the Temple, or on Temple grounds.

We will schedule a rehearsal the Sunday before the Bar Mitzvah.

We will be happy to arrange for pictures with you and your photographer in the Temple before or after the Bar Mitzvah. Sisterhood will call you the week of the Bar Mitzvah to arrange flowers.

Contact our caterer to discuss a luncheon or other special arrangements.

Bar Mitzvah parents are responsible for the behavior of the children they invite to the Temple. Should our ushers have a problem with rowdy kids, they have been instructed to get you to deal with the children. Since this may not be how you wish to spend the day, we ask you to consider the following: Speak to your child's friends before the Bar Mitzvah, and inform them of your expectations of proper behavior.

Ask a few of your friends to serve as ushers during the service. It is crucial to keep the Bar Mitzvah in proper perspective: It is not about the party; It is not even about your child's performance in the synagogue that day. Rather, Bar Mitzvah is about a new beginning in life, as a person committed to learning and living as a Jew, and thereby becoming a "Mensch". Our job (the parents and the synagogue) is figuring out how to best help them on that journey.

For Students: Proper Behavior at Shabbat Services
  1. You should come no later than 10:15 am, enter the Sanctuary, open a Siddur, and follow the service.
  2. Plan to be in the Sanctuary until services are over. If you have to leave to go to the bathroom, do it alone, and quickly.
  3. It is not appropriate to spend time hanging out in the lobby, bathroom, or in/or outside of the building with friends.
  4. While we don't expect you to remain silent for an hour and a half, we do expect that your talking will not disturb the service. Talking during the sermon or while the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is leading services is especially rude and distracting.
  5. Any vandalism of the building will be dealt with in the most severe manner.
  6. On Shabbat, do not use phones, write, take pictures, or give gifts.
  7. During the Kiddush or Oneg, we keep our heads covered.
  8. If your friends - who aren't members here - are talking loudly or messing around, we ask you to tell them: "Hey, keep it down. This is my Temple, we don't do that here."
  9. Chewing gum is inappropriate in the Sanctuary during services.
  10. Be supportive and respectful to your friend who is up on the Bimah.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Lessons

The Cantor begins meeting with students approximately 13 months prior to their ceremony. Lessons are for one-half hour, once a week. In the weeks prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, additional lessons may be scheduled.

Students are expected to practice EVERY DAY, for half an hour, by listening to their tapes, and repeating their assigned work. Parents play an important role in seeing that their children diligently adhere to this schedule. Please note: A child sitting in their room with the tape playing does not constitute "practice." We ask you to see to it that they actually sing their assignments out loud.

We recognize that every child is different. Accordingly, each student will be pressed to do as much as they are capable of. Every student does the Kiddush on Friday night, and the Maftir Aliyah and the Haftorah (and its blessings) on Saturday. Almost all of our Bnai Mitzvah read from the Torah, and many lead parts of the service.

Fees

There is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah fee that covers the Oneg Shabbat (Friday night refreshments), the Saturday Kiddush, and the flowers, among other costs.

All fees and dues must be current prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Tzedakah

As Bar/Bat Mitzvah signals the transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood, we encourage you to mark this milestone by the performance of the mitzvah of Tzedakah. Many families make a donation to the Temple Beth Torah Rabbi's Charity Fund; Others choose charities that have significance to them. Consider donating left-over food to Island Harvest, or Interfaith Nutritional Network. Some families have asked guests to bring canned food or new toys to their party, which are delivered to soup kitchens or children's hospitals. Mazon is an organization that suggests people donate 3% of the cost of their party to help feed the hungry. Many support Israel by the planting of trees, through the Jewish National Fund, or the purchase of Israel Bonds.

Celebrating... Creatively

Every child is different, and every family is different. Not every Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration has to be exactly the same. (The Torah says nothing about Smorgasbords, DJs, or Dancers!) Some families decide on a luncheon in the synagogue, and then a separate party just for kids. Other families have opted for a Bar Mitzvah tour to Israel, and a "second ceremony" at the Kotel, or atop Masada. UJA offers its "Gift of Israel" program - where a bank account is set up for the child (into which deposits are made) which is then used three or four years later for a Teen Tour to Israel. From time to time we see a "Twinning" Bar or Bat Mitzvah - where our student symbolically shares his or her day with a Jewish child who may not have had the same opportunities. We urge you to be creative in determining the best way to celebrate your child's special day. We offer you our support, and our assistance.

What's Next?

Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah means that a young adult is now obligated to observe the Mitzvot. Traditionally Jews speak about the "613 Commandments" that comprise the Jewish way of life. These include ethical laws, as well as ritual ones, those that guide us in our relationships with other people, and those that connect us to God!

The very first mitzvot that should follow Bar or Bat Mitzvah is Talmud Torah - the study of the Jewish tradition, so that the young person knows what it is they are obligated to do. Continuing Jewish studies in PBM (Post Bar Mitzvah) Class is one way to fulfill this. In Zayin class, we suggest the reading of the Bible that the students are given - one chapter per day.

Since our children are now counted in the minyan, we recommend they attend our daily evening services (which are very brief; dress is informal), or the putting on of Tefillin each morning along with the recitation of the Shema, and the Amidah.

Besides Torah (Learning) and Tefillah (Prayer), we also encourage our students to do Tzedakah (deeds of charity and kindness), make Shabbat (perhaps by using their gifts to light candles and make Kiddush each Friday night) and keep Kosher (avoiding pork and shellfish, not mixing milk and meat, buying kosher foods). We'd love to see our students (and their families) at Shabbat and holiday services. And of course, we hope they will live up to the highest standards of Jewish ethics.

"May we all be privileged to see our children committed to the Torah, come under the Hupah, and practice good deeds!"