Bnei Mitzvah Information
Bar and Bat Mitzvah
In Jewish tradition, the Bar mitzvah ceremony is the celebration of the fact that the child has reached the age of religious majority, an event which would be marked by calling up the child to the reading of the Torah at the very first opportunity- the Shabbat following the thirteenth birthday. Girls reached religious adulthood earlier, at the age of twelve, reflecting their earlier physical maturation.
Nowadays bar/bat mitzvah means both more and less than the traditional understanding. Everyone is aware of the Bar mitzvah speech cliché that "today I am a man", and knows too that reaching the teenage years is not achieving adulthood, but marks instead the threshold to maturity. Here at Wimbledon Synagogue we recognise that bar/bat mitzvah is not marking the transition into full religious adulthood, but is the opportunity for the child to begin the journey, with the support and teaching of the Jewish community, family and friends. We have made a deliberate decision to make the preparation for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony as detailed and stretching as possible. This will give the child as many of the tools as possible for them to approach the texts and traditions of Judaism for themselves, as intelligent and enquiring minds and thoughtful souls. We aim to ground the children firmly in biblical text and Jewish thought.
Bar/bat mitzvah preparation
This begins in the family and in the Cheder. The child who will undertake bar/bat mitzvah must do so within the context of a supportive family and a caring educational system. We expect the children to be familiar with the synagogue services. The Cheder does teach about this, but there is no substitute for attendance in the synagogue. Just as important is that the child sees that the family also attends services in the synagogue, and takes in the message that for the family this is an important expression about being Jewish. If we expect the bar/bat mitzvah to consolidate a Jewish identity, we have to have such an identity to build upon.
The current expectation is that the child begins to attend regular weekly services (Saturday mornings) from the age of eleven. Certainly by the age of eleven and a half the child must be attending every week, so that the service becomes familiar to them, and a comfortable experience. The child should also be a regular attendee of the Cheder. Bar/bat mitzvah is not the graduation ceremony marking the end of Cheder.
The synagogue expects each child to continue to the end of the academic year regardless of the month in which their bar/bat mitzvah ceremony takes place. This is followed by a further two years of study culminating in an optional G.C.S.E. In the years leading up the ceremony, we expect the child to attend every festival morning service in the synagogue, and to experience the whole of the Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Kippur services. The rabbis are happy to discuss this requirement with your child's head teacher if this would be helpful.
The date for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony is set in a meeting with the whole year group to which the families are invited at the appropriate time. At Wimbledon we do not automatically set the bar/batmitzvah on the Shabbat following the birthday although this date is reserved for the student in priority to any other date. We do not celebrate bat mitzvah earlier for girls. We try to arrange a date which is convenient for the family, and which allows enough time for the child to study and attend enough services. This date will always be after the child's thirteenth birthday according to the Hebrew calendar.
When you send out your invitations to your friends, please request them to be in the synagogue for 10:20am, so that we have a better chance of starting the service on time and in a dignified way. Men are expected to wear a head covering, and appropriate dress for a religious service is expected. If you are expecting a lot of small children we can organise toys and juice and a dedicated room for them if we are warned in advance - it can be quite hard for young teenagers to make themselves heard over the sound of excited toddlers, so please explain to your guests that there is somewhere for the children to go if they would like a break from the service.
The Service on the Day
The new MRJ Siddur has many opportunities to reflect and explore Jewish prayer in a way that is meaningful to your family. There are a variety of possibilities for readings, meditations, songs, responsive readings and so on. As you become familiar with the Siddur through regular attendance, a particular set of prayers or readings or songs may well appeal to you. If you want a specific prayer, study passage, song or tune, let the rabbi know in good time - we enjoy and encourage more customised services on these occasions and are happy to work with you to create one.
During the service, the synagogue honours the Bar/Batmitzvah child by calling them up to say the blessings over the Torah before and after it is read, by reading the weekly portion from the scroll, and by giving them the privilege of reading the Haftarah and reciting its blessings.
We also ask each child to give a D’rasha (explanation) of the Torah reading, and we expect to provide the resources and some of the teaching for this. We are well aware that we have high expectations for each child, and hope to work with each candidate for bar/batmitzvah over whatever period of time is necessary.
While there is a strong tradition at Wimbledon that the teaching takes place in the Cheder, and individually both with the rabbi and with tutors who are members of the community, we also hope that the parents and close relatives of the bar/batmitzvah will take on the responsibility for teaching their child, for listening to the portion being practised and for discussing the ideas which emerge as the child looks in detail at the portion. Ultimately the more the family are involved in the religious aspect of the preparation, the more likely the ceremony is to be meaningful to the child.
During the bar/bat mitzvah service, most of the mitzvot of the service are usually offered to the friends and family of the bar/bat mitzvah. These mitzvot are:
- A study passage/ responsive readings etc.
- Opening and Closing the Ark for the Torah Service (2 X 2 mitzvot)
- Hagba'ah (lifting the scroll from the Ark, carrying the around the synagogue on the first procession, raising and displaying the opened scroll in front of the congregation, handing over the dressed scroll to the bar/batmitzvah child) (1 mitzvah)
- G'lilah (the undressing and dressing of the scroll) (1 or 2 mitzvot)
- Up to two call-ups to the scroll (aliyot)
When there is another Simchah (e.g. an aufruf or a baby blessing), the mitzvot are shared.
We always reserve some mitzvot for the community.
The bar/bat mitzvah is set into the context of the community, and so the community is happy to celebrate with the family. It is expected that the family will provide a Kiddush for those attending the service. Please let the synagogue office know by a fortnight before the date how many people from outside of the community you are expecting to be present, so that we can set up the Kiddush appropriately.
The synagogue kashrut rules apply at all times, and please bear in mind that you must count in the regular weekly synagogue community when you make your plans for the Kiddush. Please contact the office to discuss your Kiddush plans at least three months before the date of the celebration.
If you want to celebrate your simcha in the synagogue hall, we would be delighted. However you will need to speak to the synagogue office. If you are organising a meal or other celebration in our building, the kashrut rules apply at all times, and it is the responsibility of the family to make sure that the building is left clean and secure at the end.
The synagogue office can help with suggestions for caterers and waitressing staff
After The Big Day
Bar/Batmitzvah is NOT a graduation ceremony, after which you never have to see the synagogue again. The bar/bat mitzvah child is still expected to attend Cheder till the end of the academic year, and we like to see them and their families involved in the services too! We hope that we have created a more Jewishly aware individual, and a more Jewishly aware family who will enjoy their contact with the synagogue and the community, and will want to stay actively involved with us. Maybe you could assist in a service or read a section of the scroll? Maybe you'd like to join one of the committees which work to keep the community active and alive? Maybe you'd like to help in the Cheder, or learn in the adult education programme or teach another bar/bat mitzvah candidate? And at the age of 16 plus we offer Ben/Bat Torah. Ask the rabbis for details