Old Judaism to Bold Judaism

FAQs for Bar and Bat Mitzvah Services

What is this ceremony about?

Congregation Beth Adam recognizes the ceremony of Bar/Bat Mitzvah as marking the transition from childhood to adolescence. It also serves as a celebration of several years of Hebrew, Judaic, and philosophic studies. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the occasion when a boy or girl shares the realization of hard work and study with his or her family, friends, and congregation. As a result, s/he affirms his/her place with the Jewish people.

The Hebrew words, “Bar Mitzvah” mean “son of the commandment.” Information about the first Bar Mitzvah in Jewish history is not available. According to rabbinical teachings, when a boy reaches the age of 13, he is required to participate in mitzvot (religious obligations). Historical records tell us that in Germany around the 14th century, a ceremony for the Bar Mitzvah gained significance. At that time the young adult read from the Torah and recited blessings before and after the Torah reading. The ceremony today is very similar to the practice of the Middle Ages.

In 1922, Judith Kaplan became the first Bat Mitzvah, or “daughter of the commandment.” Before Judith, girls were not allowed to have a ceremony or read from the Torah. The Bat Mitzvah ceremony is the result of the vision and courage of Judith’s father, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who was the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, a modern liberal movement within Judaism.

A Bar or Bat Mitzvah service does not change a young adult’s status. A boy or girl becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah with or without a ceremony. The ceremony serves to mark the occasion.

In all aspects of Beth Adam, we draw from the rich experience of the Jewish people, while incorporating modern ideas and concepts.

Will there be a lot of Hebrew?

No. All of our services are primarily in English.

While drawing heavily on traditional Jewish sources, our liturgy is written by Beth Adam members, and has been since our inception. In our effort to create an atmosphere that allows for individual expression of deeply held religious beliefs, we have chosen to employ a language that we view as expansive and inclusive. We strive to create liturgy that allows each individual to draw spiritual comfort and meaning, while respecting his or her own understanding of God and the nature of the universe.

What should I wear to the service?

Most people “dress up” for the service – wearing something ranging between dressy casual to more formal. Given the formality of the event, jeans are not encouraged. For young men, pants and a dress shirt with or without a tie are appropriate. Young girls typically wear dresses, skirts, or dress pants. Of course, dress for the party depends on the type of event.

Do men need to wear a little hat (beanie, yarmulke, kippah) at the service?

Nope! If you don’t wear one in other settings, you certainly don’t need to wear one here. Our rabbis don’t wear them – and it is rare to see someone in the congregation wearing one. If you wish to wear one, please bring one with you.

What kind of gift is appropriate?

This depends on a lot of factors including your relationship with the student. Gift cards, checks, and other gifts are all common. You may have heard that the number 18 is a special number associated with Bar/Bat Mitzvah. This is true. This is because the numeric value of the word “life” in Hebrew is 18. Thus some people will give gift cards or checks based on a multiple of 18. Many students designate a charity to receive donations in lieu of or in addition to gifts. If you are interested in giving the student a piece of Judaica, you might consider a Kiddush cup, Shabbat candle sticks, tzedakah box, or a piece of art.

Beth Adam