The transition from child to adult in Judaism happens over a person’s Hebrew birthday. You can calculate a Hebrew birthday by the date and time of birth - your rabbi or rebbetzen can assist you with this.
On a girl’s 12th (Hebrew) birthday, and a boy’s 13th, they automatically become bat or barmitzvah through no action or event. Nevertheless, it is a significant milestone in a person’s life and, given the extraordinary opportunity they now have to fulfil their Godly mission, it is one that deserves celebration. That said, there are no set laws on how a bar or batmitzvah should be celebrated.
Some children may need additional support or do not want a large event. The United Synagogue has put together suggestions for a meaningful and welcoming simchah for people with varying abilities and challenges, which you can find at theus.org.uk/inclusion.
- Many synagogues hold batmitzvah ceremonies on a Shabbat morning (after the prayer service), when the girl gives a speech on a Jewish theme. Some may prefer holding this ceremony at home or in a more private group. Your rabbi or rebbetzen can help you put a speech together.
- You could recite Havdalah (ceremony marking the end of Shabbat) on a Saturday night or at a personal ceremony in shul on a Sunday afternoon for family and friends.
- Another possibility is a women-only service on Friday night or Rosh Chodesh (celebration of a new month), traditionally considered a special time for women.
- The traditional option for a barmitzvah boy is to be “called up” to read the Torah and saying the blessings on the first Shabbat morning after his 13th Hebrew birthday. Or he could do this at another service where the Torah is read.
- Some may choose to leyn (read from the Torah) part or all of the weekly Torah portion; others may read the Haftarah. Your shul rabbi will help you find a teacher; contact the rabbi about two years in advance.
- A boy could learn to daven a prayer service. A dvar Torah would also be an appropriate way to mark the occasion.
- An important mitzvah in becoming an adult male is the wearing of tefillin. The first time donning tefillin, hanachat tefillin, is a poignant moment and is another opportunity to celebrate coming of age.
- Write an article for your shul magazine, create a photo display or make a short video on a topic relating to Jewish ideas.
- Many children now carry out a charity or social responsibility project in the year running up to their bar or batmitzvah, a clear way to demonstrate that they are carrying out a mitzvah as part of the community.
- A challah-make event, where the girl or boy says the blessing for separating the challah (originally the tithed portion for the Temple), is creative and accessible, with tasty results!
To find out more from the United Synagogue, go to theus.org.uk
Article by, Laurie Maurer, United Synagogue educator