B'nai Mitzvah – Our Approach
Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is when a Jewish child comes of age religiously and ranks in importance with a birth or a marriage. Bar is the Arameic word for “son,” Bat for “daughter,” and the word mitzvah means a commandment, an obligation or responsibility. Together the words signify the fulfillment an educational and spiritual milestone that has demanded a great deal of study and reflection by the youth.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the celebration of the shift from childhood to adulthood: the awakening of the Jewish child’s spirit to take responsibility for his or her way in the world. May it be a blessing!
Rabbi Ron Li-Paz's Thoughts on B'nai Mitzvah
Psychologists speak of a specific moment in an infant’s development in which he or she realizes that he or she is not, in fact, the center of the world. The infant learns that when Mommy goes out of sight, she has not ceased to exist but needs to be elsewhere at that moment. Our hope is that by means of a meaningful journey to Bar and Bat Mitzvah, our children will mature in their perspectives and realize that they are in a world that requires something of them. We want them to see their relationships to family members, friends and strangers as sacred encounters and as opportunities to bring light where it is dimmed, peace where there is conflict. Our hope is that our children will be enriched by their Jewish heritage so that they can enrich the world in their lifetimes.
Nineteen hundred years ago, the sage Judah ben Tema found that life would be defined by action and that the responsibility for one’s actions would coincide with physical maturity. He, like the countless sages and rabbis after him, did not want a child’s body to evolve from child to adult without the heart and mind following suit. Judah ben Tema decided that thirteen was the appropriate age for a spiritual shift from boy to man. It is only in the twentieth century that girls and women began to celebrate coming of age religiously with a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, after Reform Judaism in Germany pioneered the inclusion of women in an equal role in synagogue life in the early 1800s. Some communities conduct Bat Mitzvahs at age thirteen in the interest of gender equality and others recognize the differences in adolescent development by conducting Bat Mitzvahs at age twelve. At VOS, we follow the latter and will guide a girl to become Bat Mitzvah at age twelve.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bar & Bat Mitzvah
Who can help me navigate this part of my child’s life?
Reduce your stress and concern by reaching out to the clergy assistant by phone at 818-879-8087 or email at RabbisAssistant@vosla.org.
Will VOS educate my child for Bar/Bat Mitzvah and will tutoring be necessary?
Absolutely. We will see to it that your child’s education is enriching and that he or she is fully prepared. In addition to our JEWELS education, you should anticipate several months of private tutoring for Torah portions, and if a Shabbat or holy day morning service, haftarah.
How do I find a tutor for my son or daughter?
Call the rabbi’s assistant at 818-870-8087 who will pair your child with the right tutor.
If my child does not want to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, should I abandon the idea?
While we firmly believe in honoring our children, we also believe that as parents, we are obligated to make wise choices on their behalf. It is up to us to enrich their lives with positive and empowering experiences just as it is our duty to feed and clothe them properly. We can categorically state that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah will be a positive and profoundly enriching experience for your child. Time and time again, teens have said, “It made me feel like I could do anything.” That, in itself, should be reason enough to persevere with the studies and with the personal sacrifices which accompany such a journey.
Should I resist the temptation to spend more than my family can afford on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
Having officiated in hundreds of Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations of all sizes and budgets, Rabbi Li-Paz passionately believes that the money spent does not make the day. In some cases, it, in itself, can serve as a distraction from the essence of the event and from the values that it represents.
If I state 10:00 AM or 5:00 PM on the invitations, when should I anticipate that the service will commence?
Usually, a 10:00 AM/5:00 PM invitation suggests that the service will start no later than 10:15 AM/5:10 PM.
How long does the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service last?
The duration of the service is approximately one and a half hours. The Shabbat afternoon service includes the beautiful Havdallah ceremony (during months when sunset is not too late) and is therefore slightly longer.
Can my photographer/videographer shoot film during the service?
As long as photographers are discrete and do not use flash photography, we welcome them to record the entire event. Usually, families do formal photography prior to the service. See your photographer for a suggested starting time.
How many prayer books should I have printed?
At VOS, we personalize the siddur (prayer book). Most, if not all those attending should have a prayer book. Ironically, it is usually the children who benefit most from the ability to follow along in the service and who therefore are less disruptive as a result.
Should we provide kippot (yarmulkes) for all of the guests?
Jews (usually males) wear kippot to acknowledge God’s presence above them, and as symbolic of their obligations to God. It is customary for one to wear kippot during all Jewish life-cycle events (including baby namings, bar mitzvahs and funerals). It is therefore appropriate to make kippot available for both Jewish and non-Jewish guests.
How can I honor non-Jewish family members or friends?
Having worked extensively with interfaith families, we welcome non-Jewish family members to the bima. There are many opportunities for their participation in the service.
When and why are candies thrown during a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service?
There is a wonderful custom of showering the Bar or Bat Mitzvah with “sweetness” at the conclusion of the Haftarah service following the Torah reading. It can be a wonderful surprise for your child. Please only use soft candy! (Sunkist Gourmet Soft Chews hurt the least.)
Can younger siblings be included in aliyot (Torah honors)?
Children under Bar or Bat Mitzvah age are not honored with an aliyah. They can, however, participate in the service by opening the Ark, wrapping the Torah after the reading, or by reciting a reading in Hebrew or English. Some children also join parents in making brief speeches in tribute to their siblings. Younger siblings can stand at the Torah when their sibling is chanting.
What constitutes a “Dedication Page”?
The Dedication Page is usually found at the start of the prayer book and is not read aloud during the service. It is a letter of welcome from the family to their guests.
Can we have input in the assembly of the siddur (prayer book)?
Absolutely. You are welcome to include photographs, artwork, and poems in the siddur.
Should we include candle lighting in the service?
According to Jewish law, once Shabbat candles have been lit on Friday night, we refrain from lighting others until the sun has set on Saturday and after Havdallah. While we personally do not object to candle lightings in parties, we do not believe that they belong to the Shabbat prayer service.
Who is required to wear a tallit (prayer shawl)?
According to Jewish law, during morning services men above the age of Bar Mitzvah are required to wrap themselves in tallits, at least while praying. While women are not required to wear tallits, they are also not prohibited from doing so.
How many aliyot (Torah honors) are included in the service?
It is customary to include seven aliyot (Torah readings) on Shabbat morning and three in a Shabbat afternoon service. In our synagogue, the standard number of aliyot is four.
If I am honored with an aliyah, what am I required to do?
First of all, mazel tov! An aliyah is a great honor. You will be asked to recite two Hebrew blessings – one preceding and one following the section of Torah which is read in your honor. I strongly advise you to familiarize yourself with the blessings prior the date of the service. It is helpful for families to send these blessings to honorees long before the date of the service.
Is it true that a chaplain or cantor can perform all life-cycle ceremonies (birth, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, weddings, funerals)?
Yes. Jewish law permits any knowledgeable Jew to perform these rites. Our Chaplain and Cantor frequently perform life cycle services for congregants as well as for other members of the community. While they occasionally co-officiate with rabbis, they more frequently lead services alone.
If we are having a service off-site and not in our synagogue, do you provide the Torah and furnishings?
Yes. We can provide the Torah as well as a beautiful hardwood ark and podiums. We also provide a high-quality sound system and everything necessary for a beautiful service. Please contact the rabbi’s assistant for further guidance. Email email@example.com or call 818-879-8087.
Should we order a riser for an off-site ceremony?
A 20’ x 10’ x 1’ riser (stage) works well in most locations.
Is it customary for teens to donate a portion of their Bar or Bat Mitzvah gift money to charity?
Yes, it is a wonderful first act of Jewish adulthood. Regardless of the nature of the charity (though we do recommend researching their practices), the act of giving is an important one. As a guideline, in keeping with Jewish laws of tzedakah (giving justly), it is customary to donate ten percent of the total received.