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B’nai Mitzvah

The origins of the Bat Mitzvah ceremony go back at least two thousand years. While the Bible offers no clear demarcation of the stage of life when one is expected to practice the obligations of Jewish adulthood, we know that by the first century C.E., those obligations were set at age thirteen for boys. At this age, a minor’s word was valid in a court of law. We read in the Talmud (Avot 5:21): “At age five a child is brought to the bible, at ten to the Mishnah, at age thirteen one becomes subject to the Commandments.”

In contemporary America, the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony has become an important life cycle event. The B’nai Mitzvah of a child is a joyous experience for the whole family. Often, relatives and friends will gather from near and far to participate in this significant event in the life of the B’nai Mitzvah and the family. Various honors are distributed at any Shabbat morning service, but to acknowledge their achievement, honors are given to significant family and friends of the Bat/Bar/B Mitzvah student.

The process of transitioning from child to “tween” to teen is not an easy one and becoming Bar/Bat/B Mitzvah can offer meaning and guidance at this particular tender time. It also offers challenges that allow our children to stretch beyond their expectations and grow beyond their comfort zones. The student has been challenged to take on a task larger than any other they have undertaken. This, along with the love and support they receive from community and family deepens our children’s self-esteem and confidence. Becoming B’nai Mitzvah ideally, grounds and guides our young people in Jewish values as they make their way through life, both as Jews and as human beings, willing and ready to take on a measure of more responsibility, both in synagogue life and in our wider community.

The B’nai Mitzvah journey serves as a kind of “rites-of-passage” for our young people. What makes the ceremony uniquely Jewish is that, after several years of study, the child begins to frame their sense of responsibility in a Jewish context, aligning themselves to a system of mitzvot—sacred instructions—which instills a desire to walk a path of awareness, blessing compassion, decency and justice.

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a time for great joy. Calling B’nai Mitzvah to the Torah is a public way of announcing to the entire community that they are now part of the adult Jewish world and ready to take on a measure of more maturity and responsibilities. Rituals performed by our B’nai Mitzvah at their ceremonies include being given an alliyah, reading publicly from the Torah, and sharing a d’var Torah (also known as a speech); these are honors that only adult members of the Jewish community can take on. Our B’nai Mitzvah demonstrate their “Jewish ritual adulthood” by doing things on behalf of the community that only more learned Jewish adults can do, earning a special place in our tradition.

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784