Mazel Tov! We at Temple Emanuel are pleased to help you usher in this special time in the life of your family. Preparing for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah can be both a very exciting and overwhelming experience. We’re here to help! Please browse the following resources which we hope will answer some of your questions.
What Is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
“Bar Mitzvah” literally means “son of the commandment” and similarly “Bat Mitzvah” means “daughter of the commandment.” Practically speaking, the term is used to refer to a child who is coming of age, thirteen years for boys and twelve years for girls and are thus obligated to perform the Jewish mitzvot (commandments). The purpose of the commandments are to keep our lives focused on what’s truly important: family, community, and a relationship with God. A child who has become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is now morally and ethically responsible for his/her decisions and actions.
It is important to note that the ceremony and celebration are not required; the obligation is automatic. But since becoming a bar/bat mitzvah is such an important milestone and joyous occasion, many make a point of celebrating together with family and friends.
The term “bar/bat mitzvah” also refers to the religious ceremony that accompanies a child becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Often a celebratory party will follow the ceremony and that party is also called a bar/bat mitzvah.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony can vary somewhat, but the basic components remain the same. In it’s most basic form, a bar/bat mitzvah marks an important milestone in the child’s life; being called up to the Torah for his/her first aliyah.
In modern practice, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah usually does more than just the aliyah and often requires preparations for at least a year in advance to study for the event. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah “rite of passage” includes not only the mastery of technical skills needed on Shabbat morning, but also an inner transformation in which an individual becomes a full member of the community. Each ceremony is different, but often the child chooses to also do some or all of the following:
- Lead specific prayers during the Shabbat service
- Read/Chant the weekly Torah portion during the Shabbat service
- Read/Chant the weekly Haftorah portion during the Shabbat (or weekday) service
- Give a D’var
- Complete a tzedekah project leading up to the ceremony
- Honor family members of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with an aliyah or multiple aliyahs.
While the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony is a milestone life-cycle event in the life of a Jewish child; it is only the beginning of a lifetime of Jewish learning, study and participation in the Jewish community.
In modern times, the religious ceremony is often followed by a large celebration. Many Jews treat this momentous life-cycle event in a similar fashion as a wedding. While it is understandable that modern Jews celebrate the occasion in this way, it is important to remember that the party is simply the celebration marking the religious obligations of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
What if you never had a bar/bat mitzvah?
It’s never too late! Whether you are eighteen or eighty, if you want a bar/bat mitzvah, you should have one! Temple Emanuel is honored to bar/bat mitzvah adults through their bnei mitzvah program. If you did not celebrate becoming a bar/bat mitzvah and would like to, contact Terri Swartz-Russell. It can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your adult life.