Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah
Date Uploaded: 
Thursday 2nd January 2014

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Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah

 

At the age of thirteen, a Jewish boy becomes a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ which means ‘son of the commandments’.  At this age, in Jewish terms, boys become adults in respect of being obligated to live a Jewish life and thereby accept an additional set of responsibilities.  This is why it is traditional to celebrate this milestone by a boy participating in a service in a way which reflects this new stage in his life.

 

The Ceremonies:

Your rabbi will work together with you to help plan a Bar Mitzvah. We have set out some general information below as to how the process may proceed.

On the day of his thirteenth birthday (in the Hebrew calendar), the Bar Mitzvah should go to shul that morning, along with his family, to wear his tefillin for the first time as an adult, rather than the time he has spent learning how to wear them.

If this occurs on either a Monday or Thursday, or another time when the Torah is read, the Bar Mitzvah will receive a call-up (aliyah) to the Torah. He may also choose to read from the Torah.

After the Bar Mitzvah completes his aliyah, his father recites a special blessing of thanks for his son making it to adulthood.  This blessing is at the top of page 126 in the green edition of the Singer’s Siddur.

Some families will celebrate this occasion with light refreshments after prayers finish, but there is no requirement to do so.  Many London Beth Din licensed kosher bakeries can provide platters of bagels and other food for this occasion.  You can find a list of these bakeries here.

On the Shabbat of the main Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the boy will receive a call up to the Torah and often read a portion, if not all, of the Sedra (the Torah reading for that week from the Pentateuch) and the Maftir (an extra piece following the Sedra), as well as the Haftarah (a reading from the Prophets, a later part of the Hebrew Bible, connected to a theme in the Sedra).  Your rabbi and barmitzvah teacher will advise how much the Bar Mitzvah should read and how the service will proceed on that particular Shabbat.

A Bar Mitzvah provides a great opportunity for a family and their community to celebrate together, with fantastic community spirit.  It also provides a gateway for boys into the youth programming that many communities offer for teens to grow their Jewish experiences and social circle. Tribe provides these specific teenage programmes in many synagogues. Please click here to contact your local Tribe worker for more information.


Celebrations:

As befits this rite of passage, it is traditional to have a festive meal to celebrate a barmitzvah.  This could range from a special Kiddush, to a meal at home or shul on Shabbat, or another form of party.

For more information on London Beth Din licensed caterers click here.  For details of the United Synagogue’s special service to help you plan a function to suit your budget and tastes, please click here.

 

Bar Mitzvah Preparations:

The US offer a number of helpful resources for pre-Bar Mitzvah boys, including a list of certified barmitzvah teachers and the Tribe Challenge Programme. Please see the useful links at the top of the page for information.

 

The Special Needs Child at Bar and Bat Mitzvah 

By Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler

Introduction

The celebration of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a time at which every Jewish child should feel connected to their spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. This is perhaps especially so for the child with special needs, for whom day-to-day living presents extraordinary challenges. But in working to achieve this goal, there are several concerns to be taken into consideration:

i) The range of possibilities available that are appropriate to the child’s abilities.

ii) To be mindful of any halachic requirements that needs to be satisfied.

iii) To give careful thought to the emotional and psychological impact on a sensitive child who may be asked to ‘perform’ in public.

Clearly, this process is best facilitated by means of close co-operation between the parents and their local rabbi, who should be contacted at an early stage, preferably at least one year beforehand. Where necessary, he will be able to refer specific issues to a reputable Beth Din or other halachic authority for guidance.


Are Bar Mitzvah Ceremonies Obligatory?

The age of Bar Mitzvah defines the moment at which the young boy becomes responsible for his actions and is regarded as a Jewish adult. Occurring at or around puberty, where intellectual development and physical growth are linked, becoming Bar Mitzvah signifies the capacity of the young adult to distinguish between right and wrong and to make moral judgements. From that moment on, the young person is credited for the mitzvot he performs and is likewise held accountable for any wrong-doing.

According to Jewish tradition, a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah upon reaching the age of thirteen years and one day. This occurs automatically upon reaching the prescribed chronological age. It is totally independent of the means by which this is celebrated. While there are clearly good reasons for encouraging ways of giving communal recognition to this important moment in the life of a young Jew, it should be borne in mind that this is not absolutely essential.

It follows that if a boy has special needs to the extent that he cannot celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in the conventional way, while this is understandably disappointing, it does not affect his Jewish status, neither does it violate any Jewish law.

 

Bar Mitzvah Ceremonies

Convention involves, minimally, that the boy says the blessings over the Torah parsha and reads this on behalf of the congregation. Apart from acquiring the skills required for this, certain halachic requirements also have to be satisfied which might disqualify boys with certain disabilities from this particular form of celebration. The ba’al kriah (reader of the Torah) needs a degree of mental competence which may never be achieved by a person with severe developmental delay or learning difficulties. A person whose vision is seriously impaired may recite the blessings but cannot read the portion. A boy who is profoundly deaf or who is unable to speak cannot fulfil the congregation’s obligation to hear the Torah portion. Since disabilities of this sort encompass a wide range of variation, a competent rabbinic authority should be consulted for guidance. Where the disability is restricted mobility, it may be necessary to provide some physical support and arrangements should be made to convey the boy to and from the synagogue without violating Shabbat law.

 

Alternative Strategies

Where a boy cannot celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in the conventional way, thought needs to be given as to what he is able to do. A number of possible alternatives which can be considered include the following:

  • The father could recite the blessings with the son standing by; this would be followed by the usual mi sheberach (blessing for the person called up to recite the blessing on the Torah).
  • The boy could open/close the ark or, if physically able, perform the mitzvah of hagbahah or gelilah.
  • The boy could sit holding the Sefer Torah while a mi sheberach is recited.
  • The boy's contribution could take the form of a short D’var Torah

 

Emotional / Behavioural Problems.

A child who is very shy or who has behavioural problems may have his anxieties exacerbated by being ‘centre stage’ in a full shul on Shabbat. It should be remembered that the Torah is also read on some weekday mornings and at mincha on Shabbat where the much smaller attendance may be less intimidating. Being called to the Torah in these circumstances may be more suitable and can be followed by a celebratory l’chaim.

 

Conclusion

Both rabbis and parents can work together to make it possible for something special to happen at this important rite of passage which will be enjoyable for the child, appreciated by the family and meaningful for the community. Indeed, the poignancy of the Bar Mitzvah of a ‘special’ child can make a great impact on everyone who is present, not only the immediate family of the boy concerned.

Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler is Director of the Marriage Authorisation Office at the Office of the Chief Rabbi and is Executive Director of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue (RCUS). The above article has been abstracted from an RCUS publication entitled Becoming Bar/Batmitzvah: The Child with Special Needs.