Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah

The bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah ceremony is a child’s first public act of personal commitment to Judaism, an opportunity to demonstrate a mastery of the basic elements of the religion, such as knowledge of the central prayers of the service, the meaning of the prayers, and the ability to read and understand a Torah portion. It is the culmination of a long period of study, during which the entire family are expected to show their support by assisting with the learning and accompanying the youngster to Shabbat and festival services.

Judith Kaplan, probably the first ever Bat Mitzvah in 1922

In the Reform tradition, we do not discriminate against girls: they have the same opportunity as boys to lay claim to the Torah, to hold it, to recite the blessings and to read from it. For many girls, the privilege of celebrating a “proper” religious bat mizvah is one of the key attractions of the Reform tradition.

At Sha’arei Shalom we encourage children to begin their bnei mitzvah preparations at about the age of eleven, although younger children are welcome to study too. Parents often say to us: “But my child goes to a Jewish school, surely this is not necessary.” What we provide that is different, is a rounded religious education within the Reform tradition with an emphasis on our core values of ethics, tolerance and gender equality.

The actual bnei mitzvah preparation will be supervised by a Rabbi. Unlike those synagogues which charge extra for bnei mitzvah classes and for the actual celebrations, Sha’arei Shalom provides all of these free to member families as part of the package of services available with annual subscriptions.

Ten Biblical precepts in Hebrew to the entrance to the Tomb of King David in Jerusalem, Israel

Typically, the bar/bat mitzvah class curriculum covers the following areas:

What does it mean to be Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

What is the origin and history of this ritual?

What does it mean to be a Jew?

Ideas of God, Torah and Israel.

The Responsibilities of Jewish Adulthood

A study of the moral and religious responsibilities of Jews in today’s world.

Students will be encouraged to think about mitzvot, to consider for themselves what living Jewishly means.

Torah/Bible

An overview of Torah using key stories as a way to guide students toward religious understanding and moral sensitivity.

Using the JPS Tanakh English translation of the Bible, students will study specified texts. They will be encouraged to express their own understandings interpretations.

Different Forms of Jewish Identity

What are secular Jews and religious Jews?

What different streams of religious Jews are there?

What do these groups share in common and what differentiates them? Students should be able to recognize and explain their own views of Jewish identity and appreciate diverse approaches as valid.

Hebrew and Liturgy

Students will study prayers relevant to equipping them with the skills to take an active part in the Shabbat Services. This will include understanding the structure of a typical service; how services are made up of a sequence of ‘sections’, and the significance and meaning of the sections. Students will become as fluent as their abilities allow in reading key prayers and blessings connected to both home and synagogue observances, e.g. Shabbat and festival evening and morning kiddushim.

Key Prayers and Blessings

Shabbat songs (zemirot) L’chah Dodi, Shalom Aleichem, Yom Zeh L’Yisrael etc.

Main Shabbat prayers, Shema and its blessings, Amidah, Alenu and Kaddish.

Blessings for the Torah and the Haftarah.

Birkat haMazon (Grace After Meals)

Students will learn to read the Hebrew text of their parashah and understand the content of this Torah portion. Practical Torah reading skills are important. Students will be offered the facility to practice reading from the Torah scroll which they will use for their ceremony.

Speech Writing and Oral Presentation

Students need help to learn how to write and present their own thoughts and ideas about the material they have studied.

At their ceremony, they will present a commentary on their portion.