Bar/Bat Mitzvah Handbook

Dear Friends,

          Mazal tov on your upcoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration! You are about to embark on a lifetime Jewish journey, and the path is filled with light and joy. This booklet will help guide you through this awesome experience. Consult it often as you prepare for your most special day.

          May God bless you and keep you.

          May God look kindly upon you and be gracious to you.

          May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.


                                                The Clergy, Staff, & Lay Leadership

of Temple B’nai Torah

Bar and Bat Mitzvah: Its Meaning and Customs

The term Bar or Bat Mitzvah (literally, “son” or “daughter” of the “commandment”) is a title given to all Jews upon reaching age 13 to signify that they are now prepared to take personal responsibility for their own religious actions and moral behavior through performing mitzvot (commandments). It is equivalent to reaching the age of legal majority. Although no ritual or service is necessary to establish this status, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration, over the past few centuries, has emerged as a way for 13-year-olds to demonstrate commitment to Judaism. Before the congregation, family, and friends, the young person reads from the Torah (Five Books of Moses) and Haftarah (selection from the Books of the Prophets) and leads worship. In offering this privilege, the congregation says to its 13-year-olds: you are now participating adults in our religious community. Thus, Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations bear witness to the continuity of Judaism embodied in a new generation of committed Jews. Certainly the beginning of a young person’s transition from childhood to responsible Jewish adulthood is a time of celebration.

            When a young woman or man reaches the age of majority in Jewish life, they become eligible and responsible for the performance of the mitzvot, assuming personal responsibility for their religious, moral, and spiritual behavior. Our B’nai Mitzvah students take advantage of their new status by performing a number of mitzvot for which they are now eligible when they participate in a congregational Shabbat morning worship service. Each Bar and Bat Mitzvah can now wear a Tallit, be called to the Torah for an Aliyah, lead the prayers and interpret the weekly Torah portion.

            Religious studies begin long before this day. At Temple B’nai Torah, preparations start with the study of Hebrew and Jewish customs, holidays, and history. Each student also learns Biblical chanting, extending his or her commitment to Jewish study, prayer, and service to the community.

            A Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration occurs as part of our regular Shabbat morning service. The student helps lead the congregation in Hebrew and English passages from the siddur (prayer book), and reads or chants from the Torah, the hand-lettered parchment scroll that contains the Five Books of Moses. The student explains the portion to the congregation, demonstrating an understanding of the text. Family and friends share the blessings, before and after the reading. After the Torah is read, the young Jewish adult reads a passage taken from one of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, a selection known as a Haftarah. Parents offer blessings of thanks and expressions of joy and pride.

            Here at Temple B’nai Torah, we are very proud of our B’nai Mitzvah students and of the commitment to Jewish life and learning they make.


History of Bar Mitzvah

            In the traditional Jewish world, there are several festive occasions in a boy’s life. The first is the eighth day after his birth, when he is introduced into the Covenant of Abraham through the ritual of brit milah, or circumcision. Another is when he is first initiated into Jewish study – a celebration that echoes our Consecration observance today. When a boy turns 13 years and one day old, he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, a “Son of the Commandment,” legally bound to fulfill the obligations of Jewish law and practice, and to a continuing commitment to Jewish learning.

            By the rabbinic period of Jewish history (from 70 to 600 CE), the age of 13 was recognized as the age of maturity for a boy. Legally, these young men were considered adults – that is, they were responsible for themselves in a religious sense and could testify in a Jewish court of law. Interestingly, they were not yet allowed to make a contractual agreement involving real estate, since they were still considered to be inexperienced in the ways of life and business.

            The Bar Mitzvah celebration dates back to the 13th century. Although customs recognizing a boy’s reaching this milestone varied from place to place, the responsibilities of Bar Mitzvah were always the same: a boy was considered to have reached the age of maturity; he accepted personal responsibility for the mitzvot, he was thereafter counted as part of a minyan, and he was looked upon as a full participant in the “community of Israel.”


History of Bat Mitzvah

            The history of Bat Mitzvah is very different from that of Bar Mitzvah. By rabbinic times, a girl was considered to be legally responsible for herself at age 12 or 12 ½ (depending upon which text you read), but girls did not have a celebration dedicated to recognizing this milestone. This absence of celebration is most likely because, according to traditional Jewish law, a woman is not obligated to fulfill mitzvot that have to be performed at a particular time of day, freeing her to fulfill her family responsibilities. Thus, women were not required to attend synagogue worship services, to pray three times a day, or to be counted in a minyan.

            The idea of recognizing young women at the “age of commandment” was introduced in Europe in the 19th century, when some families honored their daughters on their twelfth birthday with a party and a festive meal.

            The first recorded Bat Mitzvah celebration involving a synagogue service occurred in the United States in 1921. The Bat Mitzvah was Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who founded the Reconstructionist movement in American Judaism. The importance given to becoming a Bat Mitzvah seems to have paralleled the development of Women’s Rights. In the earlier part of the 20th century, very few girls elected to celebrate becoming Bat Mitzvah, but with the advancement of feminism and the recognition of equal rights and opportunities for women, more and more girls choose this spiritual path. Today in Reform Judaism, in the spirit of equality, both girls and boys celebrate becoming B’nai Mitzvah at age 13.


Goals of Temple B’nai Torah’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program

            Our goals are specific and realistic, and their implementation is flexible. They are as follows:

  • To help students reach their religious, moral, and spiritual potential through the encouragement, guidance, and support of the clergy, tutors, and teachers.


  • To instill a thirst for Jewish knowledge through the study of Judaism’s rich heritage and culture, and to inspire students to adopt Judaism as their personal way of life.


  • To encourage the regular practice of the mitzvot of Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim – that is, the life-long study of Judaism, regular participation in community worship, and the continual performance of acts of loving-kindness.


  • To gain the skills necessary to lead the congregation in prayer, to chant the ancient melodies of Torah and Haftarah, and to understand and explain the content and meaning of the Torah passage chanted.


Requirements of the Temple B’nai Torah Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program

Students become eligible for Bar/Bat Mitzvah upon:

  • Reaching their 13th birthday according to the secular calendar.
  • Completion of a minimum of three years in our Religious School.
  • Maintaining family membership in good standing.
  • Attendance by students and their parents at special B’nai Mitzvah Orientations in the years prior to the celebration.
  • Attendance by students and their parents at a minimum of 8 Shabbat services at Temple B’nai Torah during the year prior to celebrating Bar/Bat Mitzvah: 4 Erev Shabbat services, 2 Shabbat Morning services, and 2 Festival Services. One service may be attended elsewhere.
  • Completion of 5 G’milut Chasadim hours (The “Mitzvah Project”).
  • Participation in and successful completion of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation program.

For families new to our area or the congregation, enrollment in another synagogue’s religious school immediately prior to joining Temple B’nai Torah will be accepted toward our requirement. Specific concerns should be discussed with the Rabbi.


An Important Note

Students who celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah at Temple B’nai Torah are expected to continue their Jewish education at least through Confirmation (10th Grade). By participating in Shabbat worship as B’nai Mitzvah, they are understood to be committing to continuing their religious studies. Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are not an ending, rather we see them as a milestone along the path of lifelong Jewish learning. All families should discuss this expectation and be comfortable making this commitment.


Please be advised of the following tasks that are necessary for a successful journey towards your special day:

  1. Please don’t hesitate to contact either Cantor (extension 19) or Rabbi (extension 21)  should you have questions or concerns regarding the progress of your student(s).
  2. It is advisable to routinely review, with your student(s), the materials that he/she has received, including mandatory prayers, Torah and Haftarah portions. Everything provided will have English translations.
  3. Using the form included in this booklet, please begin to gather English and Hebrew names as early as possible for all those to whom you will be assigning honors during the Shabbat morning service. This form must be returned to Rabbi Bellows no later than two weeks before your Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration.
  4. Please attend as many Shabbat Morning services as possible prior to your own. This will enable you to better understand the tasks involved with at Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration and their context in the religious service. Your attendance is especially beneficial in the month prior to your own Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration.
  5. You are encouraged to contact your tutors to assess the progress of your child/children. Make it a practice to contact them routinely.
  6. There are additional ways to help you better understand this process, assist your child/children and feel more comfortable and familiar: 
      • Take time to study with your children. This will send a message that Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the principles it represents are important to you as parents.
      • Plan to study or improve your Hebrew skills. This will better enable you to share in this process with an increased depth and dimension.
      • If you do attend a service, do so as a family. Sit with your children. They will be less distracted by their peers, better focus on the service and realize, all the more, the importance of this day.
      • The more you prepare and participate, the more joy you will experience!

***You are warmly encouraged to make a donation to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, the Cantor’s Discretionary Fund, and/or other temple funds, in honor of your family’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration. These contributions in honor of your child(ren) not only express your gratitude, but they also help enhance our synagogue programs, ensure scholarships for youth to attend camp and youth group events, and allow us to better help those in need within our community.

The Service

Our Shabbat Morning worship service is a warm, inviting experience. All Shabbat morning services that include the celebration of B’nai Mitzvah begin promptly at 10:30 am.

We ask that each family usher for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration that precedes their own. Not only is this a mitzvah, but it provides the family with even more familiarity with the Shabbat Morning service.

Boys and girls may wear a Kippah and a Tallit. At the beginning of the service, we will invite a family member of each celebrant to present the Tallit, at which time its significance will be explained to the congregation.

Still photography will NOT be allowed during the worship service. If you wish to take photographs, please arrange to do so with the main office. Families most often choose to take pictures on the Thursday evening preceding the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration. If you elect to take photographs early on Saturday morning, the building is open at 8:00 am, and you must be completed by 9:30 am sharp.

Rabbi will meet with all family members with honors at 9:30 am on the Shabbat morning of your celebration.

Proper Attire

We ask that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrant dress in appropriate clothing for a religious service. Dress should be suitable for a thirteen year old, as well as for a sacred space. Girl’s shoulders must be covered (and the Tallit may NOT be used for this purpose), and we do not allow short skirts or low-cut tops. Tiaras and glitter are not appropriate for a worship setting. Boys must be in a jacket and tie. High heels are not allowed, nor are sneakers.

Tallit and Kippot are optional, but they are customarily worn by our B’nai Mitzvah students during the Shabbat morning service.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Process Timeline

Fourth Grade:

  • BM Dates distributed to families

Approximately One Year Before:

  • Attendance at B’nai Mitzvah Workshop for Families (parents and students), offered annually

One Year Before:

  • Final Orientation Meeting, with Rabbi and Cantor

Approximately Six Months Before:

  • Tutoring Begins
  • Torah & Haftarah Portions assigned, upon completion of prayer skill requisites

Two-Three Months Before:

  • D’var Torah Meeting with Rabbi

1st of the Preceding Month:

  • Submit Photo and Bio of BM Student to TBT Times

Six Weeks Before:

  • Begin meeting with Cantor, in office and in sanctuary

Four-Six Weeks Before:

  • Family Meeting with Rabbi

Two Weeks Before:

  • Return Honors Sheet to Rabbi (fax, email, or mail)

Shabbat Morning Immediately Preceding Your Celebration:

  • Usher as a family

Friday Afternoon, Eight Days Before:

  • Final Rehearsal with Cantor in Sanctuary, 3:00 pm

Friday Night of Your Celebration Weekend:

  • Participate as a family in Erev Shabbat Services

Saturday Morning of Your Celebration Weekend:

  • Arrive at 9:30 am, including all Aliyah participants, to meet with Rabbi
  • Service begins promptly at 10:30 am

Interfaith Family Members

It is our goal to balance many aspects of kavod (honor and respect) as we formulate the role of non-Jewish parents and family members in our congregational worship. The following considerations all play a role in guiding our thinking and practice.

  • We honor and respect the integrity of each family, and we wish to promote shalom bayit (family unity) on joyous occasions.
  • We recognize the uniqueness of each family. We do not want family members to compromise their identities or beliefs, nor do we wish them to take on roles or speak words that are not in consonance with their religious identity.
  • We respect and honor the particular customs and traditions of the Jewish people, traditions that your son or daughter is embracing on the day of celebration of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Judaism is both a universalistic and a particularistic faith tradition. Many of our central ideals and values are shared by the great faiths of the world. Yet our prayers, our holy language, and many of our practices are unique to the Jewish people. These holy activities are incumbent upon Jews as a way of life, but not upon non-Jews.

Some of our words of prayer are particularistic. Certain prayers, such as the blessings over the Shabbat candles or those before and after reading from the Torah, refer to the obligations Jews owe to God. While non-Jews are welcome to say these prayers at home or along with the congregation, it is not fitting (nor is it their obligation) to lead the congregation in these blessings. Non-Jewish family members can accompany Jewish family members on the bimah as these prayers are recited, but they will not be asked to say them. There are other readings, as well as a parents’ blessing, which the non-Jewish parent will be invited to recite.

Glossary of Important Terms

(Adapted from

Aleinu– first of the closing prayers of the service

Aliyah– honor of being called to bless the Torah

Amidah– central prayer of service

Ark– closet-like cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept in the synagogue

Aron HaKodesh– ark in which Torah scrolls are kept in the synagogue

Ashkenazic– traditions of Jews originating in Germany and Eastern Europe

Baal/Baalat KoraiTorah reader at public prayer service

Bar/Bat Mitzvah– age of religious majority when one is responsible for fulfilling the mitzvot; this occurs at 13 years and 1 day

Barchu– Call to worship

Beit Midrash– One of the names for a synagogue, meaning, “House of Study”

B’rachah – Blessing

Bimah – raised platform from which Torah is read and service is led

Breastplate– a decoration hanging around the “neck” of the Sefer Torah, reminiscent of the breastplate worn by the High Priest when he ministered in the Temple in Jerusalem

Cantor chazzan; the one who leads the singing and chanting at the prayer service

Challah – the portion of bread dough which is burned entirely as a sacrifice to God; today, however, the term is used to refer to a braided loaf of white bread used to celebrate the Sabbath

Chazzan – the one who leads the singing and chanting of the service; cantor

Chumash – printed edition of the Torah, often containing translation and commentaries

Crown – the tops of the wooden rollers of the Sefer Torah are often decorated either with Rimonim or with one metal crown which covers both rollers, symbolizing God’s sovereignty

Eitz Chayim – wooden roller to which the handwritten Sefer Torah is attached

G’lilah– the one who rolls the Torah after it is read and dresses it

Haftarah– portion from one of the books of the prophets read each Shabbat to compliment the Torah portion

Hagbahah – the honor of lifting the Torah after it is read to the congregation

Magbiah– the person honored with lifting the Torah after it is read to the congregation

Kaddish– Aramaic prayer praising God and praying for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth; used to separate sections of the service and also recited by mourners in memory of those who have died

Kippah – headcovering worn out of respect for God

Mantle – the Sefer Torah is covered with a fabric “tunic” called the mantle to protect it; it is often decorated or inscribed

Minhag HaMakom– “custom of the place”; i.e. the local tradition

Minyan– quorum of ten adults required for complete public worship service

Mitzvah (pl. mitzvot)- commandment

Ner Tamid– eternal light which hangs in front of the ark

Parashah– literally “portion”; the Torah portion assigned to a particular week or holy day

Rabbi – teacher and spiritual leader, as well as religious legal decisor for community

Rimonim– literally “pomegranates”; decorations on top of wooden rollers of Torah

Sash– a sash or belt is used to tie the Sefer Torah scroll together when it is not being read because otherwise it would come unrolled

Sefer Torah (pl. Sifrei Torah)- handwritten Torah scroll which is kept in the ark and read publicly on Shabbat, holidays, Mondays, and Thursdays

Sephardic– traditions of Jews from Spain, France, North Africa, Arab, and Oriental countries

Shabbat– the day of rest: Saturday (begins Friday at sundown and concludes Saturday after sundown when 3 stars are visible in the sky)

Shacharit– the morning prayer service

Shaliach Tzibbur– the one who represents the congregation in prayer, leading the prayer service

Siddur (pl. siddurim)- prayerbook for Shabbat, weekdays, and festivals, or some combination of the above

Tallit– prayer shawl with fringes at the corners.

Tikkun– printed edition of the Torah which has vocalized and pointed text in one column, and a photographic representation of a Sefer Torah next to it, used to learn to chant Torah

Torah– the Five Books of Moses

Trop– system of cantillation marks and their music, which are used to chant sacred books; there are trop systems for Torah, haftarah, Lamentations, and the megillot.

Tzedakah– literally “righteousness”; refers to money given to charity

Tzitzit– the special fringes on the corner of the tallit

Yad– pointer used to keep one’s place while reading Torah

Yarmulke– head covering worn out of respect for God; kippah

Resources for Learning More

Putting God on the Guest List, by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin (1993, Jewish Lights Publishing) is a must-read for every family planning to celebrate this milestone in their child’s life. It will help you invest the experience with spirituality, depth, and meaning. Rabbi Salkin has recently published a version for Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates.

Whose Bar/Bat Mitzvah is This, Anyway? by Judith Davis, Ed.D., (1998, St. Martin’s Griffin) is a book suited to modern families with high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles. The author takes on the topics of stress, responsibility, balance, and the need to invest meaning into ritual.

The Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah Handbook: A Spiritual Journey, by Seymour Rossel (1993, Behrman House) provides a brief and readable overview of the meaning and mechanics of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah. This is a very helpful publication aimed at prospective B’nai Mitzvah students and their parents.

Coming of Age: Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah, by Benjamin Efron and Alvan D. Rubin (1977, Jewish Lights Publishing) is a pamphlet-length booklet describing the history of the ceremony and the basic requirements for the service.

The Narrowest Bar Mitzvah, by Steven Schnur (1986, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is a work of fiction. The story takes place before and during Alex’s Bar Mitzvah service and through a series of seeming disasters, Alex learns the true meaning of the occasion. This story is a celebration of grandparents.

Emma Ansky-Levine and Her Mitzvah Machine, by Lawrence Bush (1991, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations) tells the story of 12-year-old Emma whose Uncle Izzy sends her a most unusual birthday present from which she learns the meaning of belief in one God and living Jewish values in her own life. This is an excellent book for children preparing to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Think about these things when preparing your D’var Torah: 

  1. Read the entire Torah portion, especially the English of what you are chanting in Hebrew.
  2. What is important in your Torah portion?
  3. How is the message in your Torah portion relevant to your life?

Use this outline for your D’var Torah:

  1. Begin with “Shabbat Shalom.” Thank your rabbi, cantor, tutors, siblings, and parents. Wish a mazel tov to your bimah partner(s) and his/her family
  2. Briefly summarize your Torah portion. (2-3 sentences)
  3. What does the Torah portion mean to you? Feel free to quote other sources, rabbis, or commentaries in your discussion. (3-5 sentences)
  4. Give one or two examples of why the message in your Torah portion is important in your life. Use stories from your own life experiences. (6-8 sentences)
  5. What does it mean to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Relate your answer to the message that you are teaching in your D’var Torah. Include information about your mitzvah project. (3-5 sentences)
  6. To finish your D’var Torah, write a prayer of hope, in English, that relates to the main theme or message of your D’var Torah. Begin with words such as, “May we all…” “I pray that everyone…” or “I hope that we all….”
  7. End with the word, “Amen.”

How to format your D’var Torah:

  1. Double space. 12-point size. Times New Roman font.
  2. Name, phone number, address, and date of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah at the top of the first page.
  3. D’var Torah should be 1½ pages in length.

Final Steps:

  1. Email Rabbi your first draft as an email attachment to
  2.  Rabbi will edit your draft and send you back the corrections by mail.
  3. Make the corrections and email Rabbi the final draft as an email attachment.

Mazel tov! You are one step closer!



Phone: 516-221-2370, ext 21

Fax: 516-221-5082

Temple B’nai Torah B’nai Mitzvah Honors


Student’s Name: _____________________

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Date: _________________

Student’s Full Hebrew Name: _______________________________

Parent(s’) Name(s): _______________________________________

Names and Ages of Siblings: _______________________________

Instructions: Please fill in every appropriate blank on this sheet with the full name of the person who will be honored. Be sure to PRINT clearly. Return this form to Rabbi at least TWO WEEKS before the date of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Please note: Non-Jews are permitted to be Ark Openers, and may accompany Jews up to the for an Aliyah.

Presentation of the Tallit:      1. _________________________________

ARK OPENERS #1:            1. __________________________________

(Beginning of Torah Service)              2. ____________________________

ARK OPENERS #2:            3. ___________________________________

(Returning Torah to Ark)            4. ________________________________

TO UNDRESS THE TORAH:        1. _______________________________

(Excellent for younger siblings)           2. ____________________________

TO DRESS THE TORAH:           1. ________________________________

                                                    2. ________________________________


ALIYOT: (1-4 people, at least one Jew – all over the age of 13 – per Aliyah. The third Aliyah is traditionally performed by the parents of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrant, and the fourth Aliyah is reserved for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrant. Be sure to include full English and Hebrew names of each honoree.)

                        ENGLISH NAME                                        HEBREW NAME

                                                                                    (in the form “Yitzchak ben (son of) Avraham v’Sarah –

Isaac son of Abraham and Sarah, or “Miriam bat Kalman

v’Brachah,” Miriam, daughter of Kalman and Brachah))

1st Aliyah

a.___________________________________ ___________________________________

b.___________________________________ ___________________________________

c.___________________________________ ___________________________________

d.___________________________________ ___________________________________

2nd Aliyah

a.___________________________________ ___________________________________

b.___________________________________ ___________________________________

c.___________________________________ ___________________________________

d.___________________________________ ___________________________________


3rd Aliyah

a.___________________________________ ___________________________________

b.___________________________________ ___________________________________

c.___________________________________ ___________________________________

d.___________________________________ ___________________________________