Practical Aspects of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah

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For other families who are not affiliated with a synagogue (and are not keen on becoming members in order to have their child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah there) may opt for a private route.  They will hire a tutor to prepare their child and a Rabbi to be a part of the preparations and facilitate the service, which would take place at a site of their choosing.

Some families add personal and familial touches to the ceremony by creating objects of Jewish art, like a tallit (prayer shawl); by selecting a mitzvah [social action] project whereby the child engages in tikkun olam (correcting the world's wrongs); by permeating the entire celebration with acts of social service and environmental awareness, for example, by placing food baskets on the bimah (pulpit) instead of flowers, or sending left over food to a food pantry; or cutting down the amount of waste generated by the party by using mainly recyclable goods.

Some Bar/Bat Mitzvahs Demand Special Sensitivity

Even for a family without additional emotional challenges, extensive decision-making combined with the stresses of negotiating with a preteen child mean inevitable frustration. But when the parents are divorced or intermarried, or the child is severely disabled, the stakes are higher, and both parents and Jewish professionals must be sensitive and flexible.

When divorce is a factor, both parents must try to set aside their own emotional baggage and put the child's interests at center stage.

For interfaith families, the challenge is how to involve the non-Jewish parent and his or her extended family in a celebration that is Jewish. Because most of the potential roles in the service are Jewish ritual acts, they are often off limits for non-Jews. Yet synagogue policies vary with the Jewish movement, the synagogue, and the particular rabbi.

More complicated yet are the complexities of arranging a bar/bat mitzvah for a child with severe disabilities. Parents often encounter prejudice and misunderstanding and must explain why it makes sense for children with limited intellectual ability to celebrate their new obligation to participate in Jewish life.

Finally, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah

On the day of the bar/bat mitzvah, the child steps up to the bimah and performs the ritual activities for which he or she has prepared for months. Depending on the child's abilities and the synagogue's expectations, the child's role varies but nearly always includes being called up to the Torah for his or her first aliyah, reciting the blessings over the Torah (in traditionalist synagogues, girls will not receive an aliyah). Besides reading from the Torah and chanting the haftarah, many children lead all or part of the congregational service. In many synagogues, the child also offers an interpretation of the weekly Torah reading, an opportunity to wrest personal meaning from the sacred communal text.

Although the parents are often involved in the service, the only role with ancient roots is the father's (in traditional synagogues) or both parents' recitation of an ancient blessing formally recognizing the child's newfound physical, emotional, and moral maturity. Parents may also recite the shehekheyanu blessing (which thanks God for the opportunity to celebrate the occasion), present a tallit to the child, help lead the service, read from the Torah, and receive an aliyah.

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