What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah about?
An important life cycle event for a young Jewish boy or girl is the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah respectively. A boy is Bar Mitzvah when he reaches his thirteenth birthday, while girls are Bat Mitzvah when they are twelve. However, the girl’s ceremony can be postponed to their thirteenth birthday as well. The literal meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is “commandment age” or age of majority.
Historically Bar Mitzvah and later Bat Mitzvah is the ceremonial occasion that marks the time when a young person is recognized as an adult in the Jewish community and is responsible for performing mitzvot. For example before children are Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they do not need to fast on Yom Kippur. However after Bar/Bat mitzvah, they are required to fulfill this mitzvah. At Bar/Bat mitzvah they are also counted in the minyan, a quorum of ten required to conduct a service.
The Bar/Bat mitzvah ceremony consists of the young person chanting the blessings, and his/her Torah portion which is the Torah portion of the week. One also reads the Haftarah portion. There are many traditions that accompany the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience. While the actual day is important and memorable, the times of preparation before are just as enlightening and vital.
Over time the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration party has evolved. The custom is to serve a special meal to commemorate the mitzvah taking place. Moreover with extended families spread out over the country, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is also an opportunity for families to reunite and spend time together.
The purpose of Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons is to learn about Jewish customs, holidays, history, and the Hebrew language. The day the young person is Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the first time he/she will have ever been called to the Torah. In addition to preparing one’s Torah portion the preparatory time serves as a chance for the young person to begin thinking about what being a Bar/Bat Mitzvah really means. The young person may make a commentary on their portion and try to apply the teachings of Torah to their own lives.
Doesn’t a Bar or Bat Mitzvah have to take place in a synagogue?
No. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony can take place anytime and anywhere. According to Jewish law, public prayer requires the presence of a minyan (10 adults) during which time the Torah can be read in public. Location can be a synagogue, home, meeting place, an auditorium or anywhere that people are gathered together for public prayer. In Judaism, there is no such thing as ‘Sacred Place’ but rather, ‘Sacred Space’ which is created by people coming together for communal worship.
I see you live in Westchester and we are in Long Island. Who will perform the ceremony and work with our child?
I will always perform the ceremony and in the location of your choice. As for who will work with your child, I am limited geographically as well as by my own busy teaching schedule. I have a team of highly qualified teachers throughout the Metro New York area who have been working with me in teaching and preparing youngsters. I can send someone to your home to work with your child or you can make other tutorial arrangements. Either way I am involved in the entire process: providing all materials, guiding the process, staying in touch with you, phone sessions with your child, an in-person run-through wherein I bring the Torah prior to the ceremony and regular communication with the tutor. If the tutor is not the right match, I will find someone else in less than a week until you and your child feel comfortable.
How far in advance do we need to book the date of the ceremony?
I perform between 30 – 40 B’nei Mitzvah ceremonies each year. Once you have decided that you would like to utilize my services, it is always best to confer with me on possible dates and not wait long to schedule a date as I cannot hold a specific date indefinitely.
Many Jewish boys and girls do not have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration, perhaps because the family does not belong to a synagogue. Not having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration does not make the child becoming an adult any less of a Jew. Still, there is a great void to fill when a Jewish child cannot participate in this rite of passage. I feel privileged to be able to serve this need in our society.