The Parents' Role in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Service

Traditionally, the father recited one blessing during the service, but today, parents are often much more involved.

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Expanding the Parental Role With New Traditions

Over time, parents have taken on new roles in their children's bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, which vary by synagogue and community.
 
1.      Presentation of a tallit. The tallit is worn by adult Jews over the age of bar/bat mitzvah, though some traditionalist Jews don't wear one until marriage. In some synagogues, the parents publicly present their child with a tallit on the occasion of his or her first worship service as an adult Jew, sometimes accompanied by a few personal remarks to their child.
 
2.      Passing the Torah through the generations. When the Torah is removed from the ark, many communities invite the grandparents and parents of the child to the bimah (pulpit) and physically hand the Torah from one generation to another, symbolizing the chain and continuity of the Jewish tradition within families.
 
3.      Receiving aliyot to the Torah. Receiving an aliyah--that is, being called to the Torah at a Shabbat morning service to recite the blessings before and after the ritual chanting of the weekly Torah reading--is the essential ritual activity of the bar/bat mitzvah at the worship service. To honor the parents and make it possible for them to be at the reading table during their child's aliyah and Torah reading, a custom has developed for the parents to receive an aliyah. In traditional synagogues it is less likely that the mother will be called to the Torah.
 
4.      Participating in leading the worship services, along with other family members. While nepotism is generally frowned on in the business world, the celebration of bar/bat mitzvah is considered an ideal opportunity for other members of the family to participate in the worship services. Family members, including parents, brothers and sisters, and more extended family members may lead parts of the worship service, chant other sections of the weekly Torah reading, or lead English readings.
 
5.      Making speeches to the bar/bat mitzvah child. At the end of worship services involving a bar/bat mitzvah celebration, many communities invite the parents to the bimah to share a few personal words of reflection and blessing with their child before the entire community.
 
These rituals are merely custom and vary from one synagogue to the next. Some are even considered controversial, as their inclusion lengthens the worship services and turns a public, communal worship service into a seemingly private event. Other communities value these customs as they emphasize the transformation of children into fully participatory adults in the Jewish community. In either case, the celebration of bar/bat mitzvah in modern synagogue worship services continues to be a case of evolution, change, and development.

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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.