Mazel Tov on your Bar Mitzvah

A Bar-Mitzvah is a very significant event in Jewish Life, a celebration of when a boy becomes a man. Now, as your big day is around the corner, you have a challenge ahead of you. The stage is all yours. This is very exciting, but also somewhat new and unfamiliar. You may have many questions about what to do and how to go about preparing for your Bar-Mitzvah. You have arrived at the right place! When it comes to celebrating this very special occasion, is the address for all of your Bar-Mitzvah needs, and we’ll be happy to help, So let’s get started!!

What is a Bar-Mitzvah

Becoming a Bar-Mitzvah is a “coming of age’” milestone for a boy who reaches his 13th birthday. It is a rite of passage to adulthood. According to Jewish law, a Bar-Mitzvah boy is considered to be able to discriminate between right and wrong. The Bar-Mitzvah boy takes on the commandments that G-d gave the Jewish people thousands of years ago. He becomes, in essence, a responsible member of the Jewish Nation. A boy is considered to have reached Bar-Mitzvah on the Hebrew calendar date of his 13th birthday. If you are unsure of the date of your Hebrew birthday, go to the Date Calculation section of our website for assistance.

Bar- Mitzvah Basics:

Reaching Bar-Mitzvah brings with it new responsibilities and opportunities. A Bar-Mitzvah boy becomes responsible for the recitation of the “Shema” and other Weekday Prayers while wearing a set of “Tefillin” (“Phylacteries”). The” Shema “Prayer is an acknowledgement of G-d’s absolute sovereignty in the world, and as such is a basic statement of the Jewish faith.
The set of Tefillin consists of two small boxes each containing specific Torah Portions.
These portions quote the “Mitzvah” (commandment) of wearing Tefillin as it is written in the Torah. The Tefillin, one part of which is worn on the arm and the other part which is worn on the head, reflect the wearer’s heart/mind connection to G-d. The Tefillin are worn only during the Weekday Morning Prayers (except on the Fast of the Ninth of Av when they are worn in the afternoon). It is also customary for a Bar-Mitzvah boy to begin wearing a Tallit (a special four cornered prayer shawl) while he is praying. For a more detailed explanation of, and information about the Tefillin and the Tallit, please refer to the Study the Laws section.

A second important tradition is that of being called to the Torah (getting an “Aliya”) on the occasion of one’s Bar-Mitzvah. There are many customs and opportunities for participating in this traditional part of the service. A Bar-Mitzvah boy may choose to recite the Blessings before and after the Torah Reading, may read all or part of the Torah Portion, and /or participate in the “Maftir” and “Haftorah” Readings and Blessings. The decision regarding what the Bar-Mitzvah boy should undertake to learn in preparation for his Bar-Mitzvah should be a joint one, made by the Bar-Mitzvah boy together with his parents and teachers/Rabbi.

To learn more about the Torah and Haftorah Portions, please refer to the Blessings and Readings section. For a general overview of the Synagogue Service, please continue reading.

The Synagogue Service- An Overview:

You have probably visited your synagogue in the past, but even if you haven’t, now is a perfect time to do so. To familiarize you with the service, let’s review a bit about the Prayer structure and schedule. Synagogue Prayer services include weekday, Sabbath (“Shabbat’) and Holiday prayers. While all of these prayers have some common components, each has its own unique structure. Most often the Bar-Mitzvah is celebrated during the Shabbat morning service.
So let’s focus on that first.

The Shabbat morning service is divided into three parts. The first section is called the Shacharit Service which includes, among other things, the recitation of the “Shema” and the “Shmona Esrei” (“Silent Devotion” or”Amida”). This is followed by the taking the Torah Scroll out of the Ark and the reading of the weekly Torah Portion (“Kriyat Hatorah”). The Shabbat Torah Reading is generally divided up into seven sections (“Aliyot”). After all of these “ Aliyot” are read, the last section is repeated. That is what is referred to as the “Maftir Reading”. It is customary that the one who reads the”Maftir” then continues on to read the specifically selected relevant section taken from the book of Prophets called the “Haftorah”. When the Haftorah reading is completed, the Torah is returned to the Ark. This is followed by the final part of the Service, or the Additional Prayer (“Musaf”). The “Musaf” ends with the singing of the” Adon Olam”, signaling the completion of the Shabbat morning service.

How can you and your Guests Participate?

There are many possibilities for participation in Prayer services for the Bar-Mitzvah boy himself as well as for his family and friends. A Bar-Mitzvah generally revolves around a Prayer Service in which a Torah portion is read. This could potentially include a Monday or Thursday morning weekday Service, or a Shabbat or Holiday Service. The Bar-Mitzvah boy can choose to be involved in the Torah or Haftorah, as discussed above. In addition, the Bar-Mitzvah boy may lead the Morning (“Shacharit”) or Additional (“Musaf”) Service, or he may be called to open or close the Ark. He may be choose to deliver a short speech pertaining to the Torah portion or related topic. Relatives and close friends may also be invited to participate in the Service. In short, there are many possibilities that can be tailored to fit each and every Bar-Mitzvah celebration. The Synagogue Rabbi, or Director of Services (‘Gabbai”), may have helpful suggestions and should be consulted.

More about the Torah Reading:

As has been mentioned, on most Shabbat morning services, the Torah Portion is divided up into seven “Aliyot” plus the “Maftir Aliya”. On a Shabbat of a Bar-Mitzvah, more divisions of the reading can be added to allow for additional people to be honored with the Torah Blessings. The Torah is read on a special table placed in the center of the Sanctuary called the “Bima”. During the Torah Reading, the “Gabbai” stands at the” Bima” together with the Torah reader. The ”Gabbai” calls on each of the designated people, one for each” Aliya”, to come up to the “Bima” and recite the Torah Blessing before and after their “ Aliya”. Traditionally, the first person to be called up for an Aliya is a “Kohen”, (a person of Kohanic family descent), the second a “Levi”, and the rest are generally those who share the “Yisrael” family designation. It is important to let the Rabbi or the “Gabbai” of your synagogue know or help you research your familial affiliation (“Kohen”, “Levi”, or”Yisrael”) and that of your guests whom you would like to honor with an “Aliya” to the Torah.

On holidays and on Monday or Thursday weekday readings the Torah reading follows the same basic format, with the exception of differences in the number of “Aliyot”.

If the Bar-Mitzvah boy is to read the Torah he must be well prepared and ready well in advance of the Bar-Mitzvah day. The Torah is read using a specific set of musical notes (called the “Taamin”) according to Ahkenazic, Sephardic, or Yemenite tradition. The Torah Scroll itself is hand written on parchment by a scribe without punctuation, vowels, or musical notes. For this reason, anyone reading a Torah portion must study the notes and punctuation carefully and be well prepared in order to read from the Torah Scroll in the Synagogue. The Haftorah is read to a different tune than that of the Torah and “Maftir”readings, however it is generally read from a book in which the punctuation and notes (“Taamim”) are included. For more information about the” Taamin” for all of the Readings and Blessings please go to the section labeled Tunes and Notes , The Blessings before and after the Torah and Haftorah readings, as well as all of the Torah, Haftorah, and Maftir readings themselves can be found on our website in the section called Blessings and Readings.

This interactive program has many helpful features. that are designed for learning and reviewing the Blessings and Readings. This program allows for simultaneous listening to and reading of the text. It can be used independently or in conjunction with a qualified Torah Reading teacher.

Looking Ahead:

With enough planning and practice you can approach your Bar-Mitzvah with the confidence that you are well prepared for the challenge. This will go a long way towards making your Bar-Mitzvah an enjoyable and successful experience. In many places it is customary to throw candy at the Bar Mitzva boy after the Torah Reading. This custom is a symbol of the sweetness and joy shared by all who have come to celebrate with you on your special day…

Best wishes and Mazel Tov to you on this joyous occasion
from all of us at !!!