Rodef Sholom: A Reform Jewish Congregation in Marin County, California

Turn the Torah, turn it again and again, for everything you want to know is found within it.
-- Pirke Avot 2:25
frequently asked questions Print E-mail
This section is devoted to helping you and your family plan for your celebration. We are obligated to celebrate when our sons and daughters reach this important milestone in their lives. You and your family can only determine the kind of celebration that is appropriate for your family together.

Here are some questions your family may ask during the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration planning process:

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a. What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
b. When can my child become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
c. Why should my child become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
d. What is my role as a parent and how may my family participate in this special ceremony?
e. Who can have an aliyah?
f. What if I am not Jewish, or a member of my family is not Jewish?
g. What is a kippah and a tallit? Does my child need to wear one for his/her ceremony?
h. What if my child has special learning needs?
i. What is the difference between a double and single Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
j. Invitations
k. Bima arrangements
l. Ritual items
m. Other issues to consider regarding food


a. What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
A Bar Mitzvah, "son of the commandment," or Bat Mitzvah, "daughter of the commandment," is a Jewish rite of passage marking an important turning point in a young adolescent's life. As early as 200 C.E. rabbinic authorities declared that a boy aged thirteen was considered legally binding. It was not until several hundred years later that the first Bar Mitzvah ceremony was celebrated. In the 19th century the first Bat Mitzvah ceremony was celebrated emphasizing the equality between a young man and young woman's transitional state from child to adult.

b. When can my child become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
Traditionally, a boy is considered an adult when he is thirteen, while a girl is viewed as an adult at age twelve. At Rodef Sholom, in the spirit of equality, both girls and boys celebrate becoming Bar or Bat age thirteen. The plural of Bar Mitzvah is B'nai Mitzvah while the plural of Bat Mitzvah is B'not Mitzvah. If it is a Bar and Bat Mitzvah together then it would be B'nai Mitzvah.

c. Why should my child become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is a celebration of naturally occurring commitments that come at the age of thirteen. By becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah one demonstrates their ongoing commitment to remain connected to a generational chain as well as to both Jewish and universal values - values which include Jewish ritual practice, community prayer, both religious and secular education, tzedakah, and living a moral and ethical life, caring for one's community and all who belong to it. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony demonstrates both to the young adult and to all those that are present at the ceremony that this young person is growing toward adulthood and toward responsibility and obligations to the broader community. Completing the B'nai Mitzvah process will leave your child with a sense of independence and accomplishment.

d. What is my role as a parent, and how may my family participate in this special ceremony?

  • a. Candle lighting: Our tradition at Rodef Sholom is to have the mother of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah light candles on the Friday night before the ceremony.
  • b. Passing down the Torah: On the Saturday morning of the ceremony grandparents and parents, regardless of religion, may participate in the tradition of passing down the Torah to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah (This ritual is further explained on the Service Explanation page).
  • c. Aliyah: Your family may decide to honor other family members with theblessings recited before and after the reading of the Torah, an aliyah. In addition, we encourage family members and young adults, post-Bar or Bat Mitzvah to read sections of the Torah. You may have an aliyah at Rodef Sholom if you are Jewish or married to someone who is Jewish.
  • d. Parents' blessing: The parents offer a brief blessing to their child after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah's recitation of the Torah. Your blessing should be spoken to your child in the presence of the congregation (it is not a speech to the congregation). This is a very powerful moment for your son or daughter. Please remember that at the celebrations surrounding the service, you will have ample opportunity to speak at length with and about your child. However, out of respect for the congregation and the integrity of the communal service, we ask that you keep your blessing to your child during the service brief (approximately one paragraph) and from the heart.  Here are links to more detailed guidelines/instructions for parental blessings as well as examples of blessings.

e. Who can have an aliyah?
The aliyah is an opportunity for any Jewish friend or family member of B'nai Mitzvah age (13 yrs.) to be called to the Torah for an aliyah. Non-Jewish parents invited to the bima during the aliyah and are welcome to offer a blessing.

f. What if I, or a member of my family is not Jewish? May we still participate in the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony?
We recognize the uniqueness of each family's situation. We do not want anyone to compromise his/her beliefs or identity nor do we wish anyone to take on a role or speak words that are not in consonance with his/her religious identity. Some of our words of prayer are particularistic. Certain prayers, such as the blessings before and after reading from the Torah, refer to the obligations Jews owe to God. It is not considered fitting (as it is not their obligation) for them to lead the congregation in these blessings. At Rodef Sholom, we permit someone who is Jewish or married to someone Jewish to participate in reading the blessings before and after the Torah. Other honors for those that are not Jewish include: opening the Ark, dressing the Torah, and saying the blessing over the challah, bread. Please use these principles in assigning honors to your family. If you have any questions about your family's participation in services, please feel free to consult with the cantor or one of the rabbis.

g. What is a kippah and a tallit? Does my child need to wear one for his or her ceremony?
A kippah is a skullcap or headcovering, also called a yarmulke in Yiddish. Wearing a kippah is not required. It is a sign of reverence, indicating our awareness that there is One who is above us. Some people also wear a tallit, prayer shawl. The fringes (tzizit) of the prayer shawl remind us of the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. Each family is asked to buy a tallit for your child.

h. What if my child has special learning needs?
At Rodef Sholom we believe that every person deserves the opportunity to celebrate becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We know that not all students learn the same way, they do not have the same natural talents or abilities, and they come from very different life experiences. We are committed to working with every student, and to making this event a truly positive and enriching experience for every family. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah can be a truly enriching and moving event, and we look forward to working towards this goal for your child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

i. What is the difference between a double and a single Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
B'nai mitzvah students do four major things on the day of their bar/bat mitzvah: chant Torah, chant Haftarah, lead parts of the service and teach Torah (deliver a d'var Torah). If it is a double bar/bat mitzvah, the main element that the students do together is leading parts of the service. The other elements (chanting from Torah, Haftarah and delivering a d'var Torah) are done individually. The order of students is determined by which part of the Torah portion they are chanting is first in the Torah. In a double b'nai mitzvah the order of the Torah service is:

  • Student A reads d'var Torah
  • Student A chants from the Torah scroll (includes 4 aliyot)
  • Mi she'berach
  • Student B reads d'var Torah
  • Student B chants from the Torah scroll (includes 4 aliyot)
  • The Torah is lifted (hagbah) by a congregant chosen by the family or clergy and dressed by friend/family of b'nai mitzvah (gelilah). The Torah lifter and dresser sis on bima holding the Torah scroll while:
  • B'nai mitzvah students A and B chant Haftarah blessing together
  • Student A chants Haftarah
  • Student B chants Haftarah
  • The Torah is returned to the ark

A single bar/bat mitzvah would do everything that Student A does above.

j. Invitations
Choosing invitations is one of the more fun activities associated with the celebration. There are myriad designs to choose from. Some things to consider as you look:

  • What type of paper are the invitations printed on? Some companies use recycled paper, which may be a nice step toward the mitzvah of cherishing the earth's resources.
  • Is there any Hebrew on the invitations? Have you used your son's or daughter's Hebrew name, as well as their English name? Using Hebrew, our ancient language, is a nice way to portray the true essence of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration.
  • Have you considered incorporating an especially meaningful line from your son's or daughter's Torah portion on the invitation?

As you choose the wording, remember that someone becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, they do not "have" a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We therefore do not invite people to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Instead we invite them to the worship service during which a young person "will become Bar or Bat Mitzvah," or "will be called to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah."

In addition to the actual invitation:

  • Bar or Bat Mitzvah students may wish to send additional notes in their invitations to communicate the Jewish values on which they wish to focus. These values could include expectations for youth dress and conduct during the worship service and suggestions for giving tzedakah in lieu of gifts.
  • It might also be appropriate to mention their Mitzvah Project and suggest ways of giving that reflect the focus of their project. For instance, if they helped serve food at a shelter, they may suggest that contributions be made in their honor to the shelter.

Below are some examples of notices that you may want to include in the invitations:

Example #1:
Dear Friends and Family.
In thinking about what is important to me in becoming a Jewish adult, one of the things I feel is very important is giving to charities. Tikkun Olam, which means "Repairing the World," and Gimilut Chasadim, "Acts of Loving Kindness," are values I think are very meaningful. I enjoyed working in a soup kitchen this year. Three organizations I especially want to help this year are described below.

[Tzedakah giving suggestions may be listed here with descriptions of each one written by the Bar or Bat Mitzvah]

So, if you are thinking of giving me a gift in honor of my Bar/Bat Mitzvah, I wanted you to know that I would greatly appreciate a contribution to one of these organizations.
Thanks,
David

Example #2:
Dear Family and Friends,
Your presence on July 14th is the only present I need! If you would like to do more, I would appreciate your contribution to American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, or a charity of your choice. See you soon!
Love,
Barbara

k. Bima arrangements - some suggestions
You may want to consider these options when deciding on flower arrangements on the bima for the ceremony and/or centerpieces for the celebration.

  • Is there an organization that will take your arrangements/centerpieces as a donation after the celebration?
  • Perhaps you may want to spend less on the flowers and donate the extra money to tzedakah or your child's Mitzvah Project.
  • Have you thought about using plants instead of flowers? Plants are more permanent gifts that can be donated to the elderly. What about making centerpieces for the celebration that can be useful for those in need? For instance creating baskets filled with toiletries, canned school supplies, books or toys that can then be donated to a charitable organization.
  • You may find that these alternative options will easily mirror your child's celebration theme (if he/she decides to have one). The assembling of these bima arrangements/centerpieces can be an easy, creative, and fun project for the entire family.

l.Ritual Items
There are a variety of Jewish ritual objects that may be used during a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. A kippah, tallit, kiddush cup, and challah cover are just a few of these items (For a complete explanation of these objects see the glossary section). There are many ways in which your family can incorporate mitzvoth and tzedakah as part of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration.

You may want to try exploring www.mayaworks.org where you will find hand crocheted multi-colored kippot made by Guatemalan Mayan women. The money that the Mayan women earn puts food on their tables and provides for other life-necessities. It may be that you only purchase one for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or many for all of the guests to wear during the ceremony and to take home afterwards.

At www.nacoej.org tallitot and tallitot bags can be purchased hand-made by Ethiopian Jews. You may also want to consider using a tallit passed down from a family member or one that was made in Israel to support the Israeli economy.

Bayit Chaim is an organization that helps find employment opportunities for individuals who are recovering from severe mental and emotional distress. The work that they engage in includes beautiful items such as candlesticks, kiddush cups, and yad/pointers that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah may use during their ceremony. The website for this organization is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

m. Other issues to consider regarding food:

  • Consider having the leftovers from the Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration donated to an agency.  Meals for Marin is often able to pick up perishable foods that can be used right away. Their number is 415.457.4666
  • Along with the catering bill you may want to donate money to organizations that provide food in other areas of the world for those in need (www.nacoej.org and www.mazon.org).
  • Throw a pizza party for Israeli soldiers as the Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration complete with personal notes to the soldiers from the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, family members, and friends (www.ziv.org).
 

Sea to Sea hike

Calling all 11th & 12th graders - May 3-4 - join us for a new tradition!  Click here for more.

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Stand up for REST!

It's time to find a permanent home for the Rotating Winter Shelter - learn more on May 15, 6:30 - 8:30 at Rodef Sholom. Click here.
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accessiblecongragationslogoThrough the efforts of our Kulanu/ Inclusion of Those with Disabilities Committee, Rodef Sholom has been acknowleded as an accessible congregation by the National Organization on Disability.