Bar or Bat Mitzvah means “Son or Daughter of the Commandment”. When Jewish children reach the age of 13, they are old enough to understand the commandments and be responsible for fulfilling them. A child, upon becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is included as an adult in the religious life of our people and is now responsible for his or her moral decisions.
The idea of reaching religious maturity is mentioned in the Talmud, but did not become an established practice until the fifteenth century. At that time the boy became a Bar Mitzvah on the Sabbath after his thirteenth birthday. The Bar Mitzvah was automatic and nothing was required of the boy. About 450 years ago the ceremony was added, along with certain requirements. They were:
- Being called to read from the Torah and recite the blessings over the Torah.
- Offering the d’rash (speech,), which showed his Talmudic understanding.
- Wearing Tefillin and Tallit for the first time.
- Being present while a special prayer was recited by his father.
In modern times in liberal congregations, women are entitled to access the same mitzvot, as are men. Therefore, led by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement, the Bat Mitzvah was created.
At Congregation Sha’aray Shalom, the process of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah includes learning to read Hebrew from the prayer book, the Torah, and from the Prophets, leading the congregation in a Sabbath service, giving a speech as well as performing a Mitzvah project. It also means the family has made a commitment to our heritage and to our congregation and that the student has attended Religious School and is familiar with our Jewish traditions. By deed and word, the student states a commitment to continue on through Confirmation. Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah assumes the student is ready to declare his or her loyalty to Judaism and to be counted as a member of the Jewish people.
Congregation Sha’aray Shalom encourages the children of all Temple members to participate fully in Religious School from Pre-Kindergarten through Confirmation and gives each child the opportunity to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah anytime after the child’s thirteenth birthday. Through study in Religious school, your child should have knowledge of the following:
- The ability to read Hebrew, prayers, and an understanding of the parts that make up the Friday and Saturday services
- The basic knowledge of Torah
- The basic knowledge of important figures and events in Jewish history
- The basic knowledge of Jewish values
- The basic knowledge of the Jewish holidays and festivals
Bar and Bat Mitzvah Training
Training begins approximately six months prior to the event. You will be contacted by Cantor Weiss, to make an appointment with your child for ongoing private tutorial sessions. Lessons normally last approximately 20 minutes. During these sessions, your child will learn the following:
- Torah portion – Selected from the Five books of Moses, the portion is chosen corresponding to the date of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Your child will learn 12 verses to be chanted with the appropriate trope.
- Haftarah portion – Taken from the prophetic writings, your child will chant between 3-5 verses, which correspond to the Torah portion for that week. Several times during the year a special Haftarah is read due to a particular holiday.
- Service Prayers – Your child will prepare to be the service leader. Students will lead the service from Mishkan T’filah. This will include preparation of Hebrew as well as English passage. Students are expected to know the following prayers:
Readers Kaddish – p. 312
Barchu – p.313
Shema – p. 318
V’Ahavta – p. 319
Avot w/Imahot – p. 323-324
Givurot – p. 325
Torah blessings – p. 368
Haftarah blessings – p.372
Blessings over the Candles, Wine, and Challah
“D’var Torah” is the speech presented by the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. This speech analyzes the portion of the week, and expresses the importance of the day to each individual child. Rabbi Joseph will work with the student and parents on preparation of the D’var Torah.
Candidates for Bar/Bat Mitzvah are required to commit themselves to continued study in our religious school through Confirmation and must make that commitment in the D’var Torah (speech) they deliver within the service.
Though your child will meet with the Cantor on a weekly basis leading up to his or her Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as well as meeting additionally with the Rabbi to write the D’var Torah, in the final analysis, no one can study for the student. Only the student can do it. It is recommended that the student study approximately one half hour twice a day leading up to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Some students need less; some need more. This course of study and preparation will be a valuable experience they can use for the rest of their life.