What’s a B’nai Mitzvah, anyway?
B’nah Mitzvah is the plural of Bar Mitzvah which means “Son of the Commandment” and Bat Mitzvah means “Daughter of the Commandment.” Under Jewish Law, children are not obligated to observe the commandments, although they are encouraged to do so. Jewish tradition says that when children turn 13, they take on the responsibilities in the community. Historically, the Bar Mitzvah was the point at which boys were expected to start attending a daily minyan (prayer group) and became obligated to observe the commandments. Today, this ceremony formally marks the assumption of obligations and rights to take part in leading the religious services, to generally to be an active member of the Jewish community, and be a more responsible citizen in the larger world. Even though in today’s world no one expects these teenagers to suddenly become adults after the ceremony, it’s important to honor this time with ritual. The ceremony requires study and discipline on the part of the child, learning enough Hebrew to read from the Torah and master enough Jewish history and law to understand the context of what they’re reading. During the year leading up to their B’nai Mitzvah prepare, kids take classes and often meet weekly, working one-on-one with their rabbi, teacher, and tutor focusing on their portion of the Torah, to learn the Hebrew and trope (the traditional “melodies”), the meaning of the prayers, and the relevance of his Torah portion to the world long ago and to today. In addition, there is usually a “mitzvah project” which the child undertakes to demonstrate the gratitude he feels for his life’s blessings. By doing so, he fulfills the mitzvah “Tikkun olam” — the religious obligation to repair the world.
The typical Saturday Shabbat Service starts the day, with the B’nai Mitzvah student leading parts of the service, saying blessings over and reading from the Torah, and then reciting a Haftarah portion in Hebrew, all in traditional chant. They will also give a brief d’var Torah (a word of Torah) about what their portions means to them. Relatives, Friends, and community members are given honors by taking part in the service. After the morning service there is often a Kiddush luncheon for the congregation, hosted by the family.
How we prepare children for b’nai mitzvah at CBH:
To prepare for this day, our students attend religious school at Beth Hatikvah from kindergarten through 7th grade, where they learn about Jewish history and heritage, holidays and customs, as well as Hebrew and prayer study. The entire congregation “qvells” (take great pride!) to see the children who were toddling around the Sanctuary seemingly minutes before dressed in their finest and taking on a leadership role in our t’filot (services).
We are very proud at how many of our bar/bat mitzvah students continue their Jewish education in our Teen treks program, volunteer to chant Torah for our community, work in our school as madrichim/madrichot (teaching assistants), and participate in social justice and outreach projects on their own or within the community. Our goals is that the day of bar or bat mitzvah marks not an ending of our students’ Jewish learning but rather the beginning of the next level of learning and that they will commit to help us “make the minyan” (be counted as one of the ten Jews of more than age 13 required for a prayer service) as part of their obligation of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah.