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B'nai Mitzvah Policy, Congregation Am Haskalah, Allentown, PA

Introduction

A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is one of the most important life cycle events for a Jew. For a child, it is the first time that he or she is called to the Torah. It marks the child's becoming an adult member of the community in religious and ritual matters. For an adult, it often represents acquiring a new level of Jewish knowledge and/or commitment. In either case, it is the culmination of years of work and study. While many life cycle events are primarily family or private occasions, such as brit milah/baby naming, conversion and marriage, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a congregational event, since it involves being called up for an Aliyah when the congregation reads the Torah. Although the celebration has sometimes been known to overshadow the religious significance of the occasion, we remind ourselves of the words of Ira Eisenstein, the first president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who wrote in The Guide to Jewish Ritual, "the actual ceremony should be modest, avoiding extravagance and ostentation, and should be appropriate to the religious character of the occasion," (Reconstructionist Press, NY, 1962).

Policy

  1. Process
  2. Criteria
  3. The Service
  4. The Food
  5. Tzedakah
  1. Process

    The person wishing to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah at Am Haskalah meets with the Rabbi of the Congregation. In the case of the child, s/he would be accompanied by his or her parent(s) or guardian(s). This meeting should take place at least a year before the proposed date of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service. The Rabbi, in consultation with the ritual committee, confirms that the candidate meets the criteria established by the congregation. The Rabbi, with the family/candidate, decides on the date of the service and on what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah will do during the service.

  2. Criteria

    1. The person is Jewish, according to Reconstructionist standards, i.e.:

      • At least one parent is Jewish and the family is raising the child as a Jew;

      • Is an adult child of a Jew and is committed to living as a Jew;

      • Has converted to Judaism. (Note: Parents are encouraged to have a conversion for an adopted child whose parents are not known to be Jewish.)

    2. A boy must be at least 13 years of age. A girl must be at least 12 years of age, though many girls wait until age 13.

    3. If a child, at least one parent is a member of the congregation. If the family has not been members of the congregation for at least two years prior to the ceremony, they will make a commitment to be members for at least two years. If an adult, he or she must be a member.

    4. The person has completed an appropriate course of study, as determined by the Rabbi. In general this will include:

    • Study in our religious school or a Jewish Day School Private tutoring;

    • Attendance at a minimum of 10 services, of which at least 5 will be Shabbat morning services, during the year leading up to the ceremony.

  • The Service

    A Bar or Bat Mitzvah must occur at a Torah service, which can be Shabbat, Monday or Thursday morning, Rosh Chodesh, or some holidays. Typically, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah will have an Aliyah and chant the Torah Blessings, chant some of the Torah and/or the Haftorah readings of the week, give a D'var Torah about the reading, and lead some of the service. The exact role will be determined by the Rabbi, accommodating the special needs of any person. The Rabbi will also review any supplemental material planned for the service.

    The service is a congregational event, open to all members of the congregation. The service may take place at or away from the synagogue. If it is away from the synagogue, the time and place must be announced in the monthly bulletin so that all members wishing to attend may do so. If it is away from the synagogue, the Torah, Ark, prayer books and Chumashim may be borrowed for the occasion. The Rabbi shall be consulted about proper handling and transporting the Torah. The family borrowing any materials from the congregation assumes the responsibility for seeing to their safe return.

  • Food (What would a Jewish event be without food?)

    Immediately after the service, the family of the bar/bat mitzvah is expected to host a light Kiddush for the congregation, as long as this does not create a financial hardship for the family. If a full luncheon or reception is taking place at the same location to which not all members of the congregation have been invited, there must be sufficient separation from the kiddush so that hard feelings are avoided.

    Congregational events need to follow the congregation's policy on Kashrut. This means that it is either dairy/vegetarian, or it is certified Kosher. As part of the meetings with the Rabbi, specific issues of Kashrut will be discussed.

  • Tzedakah

    Families are encouraged to make a donation to charity in honor of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Participation in a tzedakah project can be a very meaningful part of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and is encouraged by the congregation.
  • Type: Policy

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