Many cultures have rituals which mark the major transitions in a person’s life, including the passage from childhood to maturity. Judaism is no exception. The Bar Mitzvah (for boys) or Bat Mitzvah (for girls) is not mentioned in the Talmud, and in fact the ceremony as we now know it is fairly recent. However, by at least the fourteenth century it was common to mark the occasion of a boy turning thirteen by giving him an Aliyah (calling him to the Torah), which was often followed by a toast or food provided by the boy’s parents.
Thirteen was the year in which a boy was considered an adult from a religious standpoint. He was obligated to perform all of the Mitzvot (commandments) incumbent on a Jewish male, including Tallit, Tefillin, and Tefilah (prayer). He is also counted for a Minyan (prayer quorum of ten people), is permitted to make vows, and can be a witness in a religious court.
The traditional age for girls is twelve. In some places, girls may become a Bat Mitzvah at that age. In the Reform movement, a young woman will also be counted in a Minyan and can be a witness in a religious court.
At Beth Shalom
There is a great deal of variation in the ritual as practiced today. At Beth Shalom Synagogue the Bar or Bat Mitzvah leads most of the Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night) service and most of the Shabbat Shacharit (Saturday morning) service. In addition, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah chants from the Torah, sings their Haftarah portion, gives a drosh (speech explaining the Torah portion) and has a mitzvah project they participate in.
It is important to note that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony is not the end goal of a Jewish education, nor is it a graduation ceremony.
Bar or Bat Mitzvah marks the beginning of the what will hopefully be years of the child’s full participation in Jewish life. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah at Beth Shalom Synagogue gives the child the ability to lead services when called upon, and many gain the ability to chant Torah or haftarah with minimal or no preparation. We are proud to see B’nei Mitzvah of Beth Shalom leading services in colleges and becoming active leaders in the communities to which they belong.
For Guests Attending A Bat Or Bat Mitzvah Services
The services on Friday and Saturday are usually followed by a reception to which all attendees are invited. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah at Beth Shalom is seen as a community event, and all will want to celebrate. The reception on Friday is called an ‘Oneg Shabbat.’ Oneg means joy. The Oneg Shabbat may consist of desserts, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and fruit.
Shacharit service on Saturday ends about lunchtime, and often concludes with a congregational kiddish luncheon in honor of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.