Witness the Passage

Help us Witness the Passage.

I  heard something interesting recently. I was discussing the two wonderful young ladies who will be called to the Torah for their B’not Mitzvah. I was saying how wonderful it would be to have the whole community come out for these two wonderful occasions. The response I got was basically, don’t hold your breath. I ask what they meant by that? We have such a wonderful warm and caring community of course they would come out for these two young ladies to show their support. The other person said well yes, you are right that we have a wonderful warm and caring community but when it comes to B’nei Mitzvah unless they are invited they do not come. This person felt that the event of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is meant for the family not for the general congregation. I was shocked! Since being at TBS I have only had the privilege of participating in two B’nei Mitzvah, at the time I wasn’t paying attention to the number of our congregants that had attended, but thinking back I realize that there really weren’t that many. That got me thinking. Maybe the congregation doesn’t really understand the purpose of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

So here is a short explanation of why we have this right of passage. Bar mitzvah (literally, “son of the commandment”) and bat mitzvah (literally, “daughter of the commandment”) are the titles given to all Jews who reach the age of 13, regardless of whether or not they have studied to commemorate the occasion with a ritual, ceremony, or celebration. Jewish tradition dictates that at 13, young people assume personal responsibility to live a moral and religious life and to be accountable for their actions separate from their parents. Status as a bar or bat mitzvah entitles one to be counted in a minyan, receive an aliyah, and chant Torah.

According to the Mishnah (2nd century C.E.), sometime in the 4th century C.E., for the first time, a 13-year-old boy received an aliyah to the reading desk on the bimah on a given Shabbat to read verses of Torah. After 500 C.E., was when the practice of studying prior to the day of the Bar Mitzvah began. The first time the term “bar mitzvah” was used was in the 14th century and it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that the tradition of “laying tefillin” and receiving an Aliyah became an important part of the ritual as well as the custom for the family to sponsor a party, which was modest generally in the family’s home or synagogue.

On March 18, 1922, Judith Kaplan, the 13-year-old daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, became the first young girl to celebrate her bat mitzvah in America. Despite Judith’s pioneering role, the bat mitzvah ceremony did not become commonplace until the 1970s.

So, why this history? To show you that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is meant to be a communal event. This does not mean that it isn’t important for the family to celebrate their son or daughter, but this right of passage commemorates the young person becoming part of the wider Jewish community. Although in the Reform Movement the need for a “minyan” (10 Jews who have had their Bar/Bat Mitvah) has moved away from this halakha (Jewish Law) there are moments in our lives that a Minyan is needed, to read Torah, to say Kaddish, to be a part of the communal prayer. But more importantly, we talk constantly about bring our young into the fold. If we are not there to celebrate their achievements, especially the one where they become an integral part of the community, why should they join us when we have communal events?

Just in case you would like to join us for these two B’not Mitvah, Alex Shakelton will be called to the Torah on Saturday May 4th at 9:30 AM and Nora Chim will be called to Torah on Saturday June 1st at 9:30 AM. Both of these young ladies have been working very hard to lead us in the service and they have both been working with their moms and other volunteers to put together the Holocaust Memory wall in our school hall.

I would really love to see you all there to welcome them into our community!We invite our TBS community to Join us in-Person or on Zoom!