What a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guest Needs to Know

This guide explains appropriate synagogue behavior, major sections of the service, the synagogue environment, and service participants.

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The Torah Blessings (Aliyot to the Torah)

On Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is read in seven divisions. Each division of the reading provides an opportunity to honor a member of the congregation or a guest by calling him or her (just him in traditionalist communities) up to the bimah (pulpit) to recite the blessings over the Torah reading. This is known as "receiving an aliyah," that is, "being called up" to the Torah. The day of the bar/bat mitzvah celebration is when the child is called to the Torah for the first time to recite these blessings.

At the conclusion of the Torah reading, two people are called to lift up and wrap the Torah scroll. The lifting displays the open Torah scroll to the congregation, showing symbolically that the Torah is an open book and belongs to everyone.

The Haftarah

Once the Torah scroll has been removed from the reading table, another person--usually the bar/bat mitzvah child--chants a portion from the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible. The haftarah (which means, "concluding teaching") is usually chosen to reflect a theme or literary allusion in the Torah portion. The purpose of the haftarah is not only to provide an opportunity to teach from a different section of the Bible, but also to assert that prophecy serves to reinforce the laws of the Torah.

Mourner's Kaddish

Although there is no mention of death in this prayer, the Kaddish is recited at the end of all worship services by family members who have lost a loved one in the past year or who are observing the anniversary of a death in years past. Despite sorrow and pain, the mourner rises to declare continuing commitment in praising God's name, to which we all respond, "Amen."

Kiddush (Sanctification of the Wine)

At the conclusion of the worship service, everyone is often invited to the social hall for kiddush, the blessing over the wine; a Shabbat song; and the hamotzi, the blessing over the bread. Then everyone is invited to enjoy a festive light luncheon.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.