Mazeltov on your son’s forthcoming Bar Mitzvah, which you have chosen to celebrate at Loughton Synagogue. I am sure that you are eagerly looking forward to this important milestone in his life and in the life of your family. I hope and pray that you derive much Yiddishe nachas from your son.
On the Shabbat of his Bar Mitzvah, your son will be the centre of attention and that is how it should be! He represents the new generation of British Jewry. Your hopes as parents, and ours as a community, are centred on your son.
In this guide, we aim to answer the most frequently asked questions about a Bar Mitzvah. With all the effort and cost that goes into a Bar Mitzvah, I think it would be worthwhile to spend a few minutes considering these questions.
What is a Bar Mitzvah?
What is its origin in Jewish tradition? What is its significance? The Torah makes it clear that only an ish – an adult – is bound by the rules of the Torah. But what is an ish – at what age does a child become an adult? In the book of Genesis (34:25) we read that “the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, …took each man his sword…” According to Rabbinic tradition, Levi was 13 years old at that time and the Torah refers to him as an ish – a man, an adult.
For a boy, his thirteenth birthday is the time when his Divine soul, present from birth, becomes fully functional. The thirteenth birthday (twelve for a girl) obviously follows the Jewish (lunar) calendar. At this age, one reaches intellectual maturity. Therefore, on the day he turns 13, a boy becomes ‘Bar Mitzvah’ – ‘a son of the commandment’ – meaning that in the eyes of Jewish law he has now come of age. From now on he is subject to all the obligations as well as all the privileges of an adult. At most Shuls, including Loughton, the formal Bar Mitzvah is scheduled for a Shabbat after the thirteenth birthday, occasionally some weeks after it.
The theme of Bar Mitzvah, is therefore, “assuming responsibility for one’s Jewish and general conduct.” If you feel the need for “a theme” for the party at all, this is it. There is no need to introduce any other themes into what is, essentially, a Jewish religious milestone.
Bearing this in mind, it is essential that every effort should be made to book a kosher certified (under a recognised kashrut authority) caterer. Although there are some local caterers who offer “kosher” functions, there are many issues which they “sweep under the carpet”. The Rabbi will be happy to explain the requirements and assist you in finding a reasonably priced quality kosher caterer. This would also enable all of your guests to happily join you in your Simcha.
What are the Bar Mitzvah requirements in Jewish law?
The Sages declare that it is the responsibility of the father to make a festive meal (a ‘seudat mitzva’) on the day his son becomes Bar Mitzvah, as it is on the day of his wedding. The welcoming of a new member to the Jewish community, to Torah observance, is indeed a cause for celebration. A minimum of ten adult men (to make up a minyan) should be invited, they wash and eat bread and the rest of the kosher meal. The festive meal can be a relatively low-key get-together for family and friends: there is no religious requirement to throw a costly party.
At Loughton, you have the option of enjoying a Kiddush for your family and friends after the Shabbat morning service or a full meal if you prefer it. Our Ladies Guild will cater either of these for you. Please speak to the Shul Administrator to book our hall for your function and she will put you in touch with the Chairlady of our Ladies Guild to discuss your precise needs. Since he is now obligated to keep the mitzvot, your son’s thirteenth birthday will also be the first time that he fulfils various mitzvot.
He will put on his Tefillin. Although he will have practiced for at least two months previously, this constitutes the first time he will have actually performed the mitzvah. We advise that the Tefillin be bought at least 6 months before the Bar Mitzvah. Unfortunately, many Tefillin sets purchased in Israel are not kosher, particularly when the buyer does not know which are the reliable places to buy.
The following sources are recommended –
Rabbi B Benarroch
12 Russell Gardens
Golders Green, London
020 8922 5958
16 Russell Parade
Golders Green Road
London NW11 9NN
Tel:020 8202 3134
There you may purchase all religious articles that you need, including your son’s Tallit. If you are going to be purchasing Tefillin elsewhere, please confirm with the Rabbi that it is a reliable source. We strongly advise you to buy a large Tallit (usually made of wool) and avoid the smaller ‘scarf’-style Tallit, as these are generally too small and not kosher for use. (This may be a good time for Dad to update, as well.)
On his thirteenth birthday, or as soon as possible after it, he is honoured with his first Aliyah, his first call-up to the Torah.
It is a wide-spread custom that on this birthday he should be encouraged to give some ‘Tzedaka’ (charity), from his own money, to any worthy charitable institution. If it falls on Shabbat, he should give Tzedaka on the Sunday after.
In regards to these mitzvot – the Festive meal, Tefillin, his first Aliyah and Tzedaka – the significant day is his Hebrew birthday, not the Shabbat of his formal Bar Mitzvah.
What is the Bar Mitzvah programme at Loughton Synagogue?
During his earlier years you carefully laid the groundwork for your son’s moral, spiritual and intellectual life. That has been done. But the superstructure of his personality is still to be built on these foundations. At Bar Mitzvah, when he takes the step from childhood to adulthood, or at least, to becoming a young adult, this next stage in his development begins.
As a teenager, he has reached a degree of intellectual and emotional maturity, he has new questions and problems a child does not face, he begins to understand concepts a child cannot. It is time for his Jewish education to address these issues, not to come to an end. Your son does not live in a vacuum. If you do not continue to help him build on this structure, someone else will. It is not wise to leave his religious, ethical and social guidance in the hands of others.
It is your responsibility to meet with the Rabbi as soon as possible after receiving this guide to ensure you and your child are familiar with the syllabus requirements prior to the test. It is normal practice to sit the test 3 weeks before the Simcha so that there is sufficient time for a re-sit should that be necessary. We recognise that growing numbers of our children attend local Jewish day schools and thus do not always go to Hebrew classes. Nevertheless, you must make sure by talking to both the Headmaster and your child’s school’s Jewish studies department that your child’s Hebrew knowledge is good enough to enable him to sit and pass the test. Failure to pass the test will not stop him from becoming Bar Mitzvah but will prevent him from being accorded other honours, for instance, reading the Haftorah, and he will not be presented with a Bar Mitzvah certificate by the rabbi from the pulpit.
The Bar Mitzvah should be a spiritually meaningful event in your son’s life and the life of your family. This should be your primary consideration in planning it.
It is a synagogue requirement that your son should begin coming to Shul on Friday night and Shabbat morning in the year preceding the Bar Mitzvah. This way, the Bar Mitzvah is a process of spiritual growth and awareness, rather than a 24-hour ceremony. Moreover, he will feel comfortable in Shul on his special day and be familiar with the Shul service and customs, rather than looking like a fish out of water. The hours spent by a father and son sitting next to each other in Shul are surely amongst the most treasured and memorable of a stage in one’s life that passes all too quickly. If your family is not currently Shabbat-observant, please encourage your son to be ‘Shomer Shabbat’ on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. It really is important that, at least on this day, he experience the beauty of a Shabbat. Also, as a Reader for the Congregation, he should be religiously suitable.
Whilst we understand that some children may have other commitments on some Shabbat mornings nevertheless there is sufficient time in the prior year to conform to this requirement. Failure to meet this condition whilst it will not prevent your son from becoming Bar Mitzvah, it will affect scope and form of the ceremony.
You have booked your son to sing either the Maftir and Haftorah or a Portion on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. When we read from the Torah on Shabbat morning, we divide the Sedra (or Parsha) into at least 7 portions.
After these 7 portions have been read, part of the last portion is read again – this is called the ‘Maftir’ (on special days the Maftir is from a different Sedra and deals with the special nature of that particular Shabbat). Then we read a selection from the Prophets, which usually follows the theme of the Sedra. This is read from a regular book, not from a Sefer Torah – it is called the ‘Haftorah’. In addition, a Bar Mitzvah boy at Loughton may sing either Kiddush on Friday night or ‘Anim Zemirot’ at the end of the Shabbat morning service, or both.
Our standard practice, subject to the constraints of Halacha (Jewish religious law), has been to call up the Bar Mitzvah boy, his father and grandfather(s) as appropriate. We may decide to vary the number of Aliyot but that is dependent on whether there are other people on the day who have the prior right to Aliyot such as bridegrooms or people observing Yahrzeit.
It is also customary at Loughton for the Bar Mitzvah boy to give a short introduction to the Torah portion of the day. It is your responsibility to arrange with your son’s Bar Mitzvah teacher that your son is adequately prepared.
What should we know about the day of the Bar Mitzvah?
In the week before the Bar Mitzvah, you will meet as a family with the Rabbi. The meeting with the Rabbi is to discuss your requests for Shul honours on the day of the Bar Mitzvah.
Decorum and Dress
Your co-operation in following these rules of Shul decorum on the day of the Bar Mitzvah is requested by the Rabbis and Gabboim (Wardens) of the Shul and will help make your celebration the sacred and dignified ceremony will be.
- Our service begins at 7:00pm on Friday night and your guests should be seated by then.
On Shabbat morning, the service begins at 9:00am. The family should arrive before the start of the service, but those receiving Shul honours should not arrive after 9:25. This service usually ends at about 11:30am. Please inform your guests that it conveys a lack of respect to arrive later than 9:30am.
- Please ensure that your son, family and friends are appropriately dressed for Shul.
The Bar Mitzvah boy should wear a jacket and tie and so, too, should any member of your party who will be given a Shul honour.
The Bar Mitzvah boy should not wear an earring in Shul and his haircut should suit the importance of the occasion. Just as long hair looks out of place, so too is hair that is cut too short. In Jewish law a man may not cut his sideburns short (in the area in front of the ear, above the bone).
The mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy should wear some type of head covering, preferably a hat, in Shul.
- Ask your guests not to enter the Shul carrying gifts.
- There is no smoking or photograph taking in any part of the Shul premises, including the garden and outside entrances to the Shul.
If you wish to have photographs or videos taken of your son, please arrange with the office an appropriate time for the Shul to be opened on a weekday for your convenience.
- When arriving in Shul, join us in prayer. Few things ruin the Shul service more thoroughly than loud conversations conducted by visitors who act as if they are viewing some sporting event. The Shul
- has extra Talaisim for those Jews in your party who do not have their own.
- Siddurim and Chumashim should be taken when entering the Shul. The wardens announce the page numbers regularly to assist you in following the service. Both men and women are invited and urged to participate in the service to the maximum degree. This applies most of all to the bar Mitzvah boy himself.
- Non-Jewish male guests require a Kippah (Kappel) but not a Talis.
Do not think that your son is unaware of the true significance of his Bar Mitzvah. Otherwise, you may discover in later years that despite the gifts and the expensive party, he subconsciously considered that the occasion was little more than an elaborate show.
Would you also please note the following:-
- Should you wish the Rabbi of the Synagogue to Bensch (lead the grace) at your Simcha please advise him of the caterer’s Kashrut licence.
- You should contact the Ladies Guild at least 4 weeks before your Simcha to finalise and pay for your Kiddush requirements.
- It is a Board of Management requirement that prior to the date of your Simcha you are up to date with your subscriptions or have made suitable arrangements with the Hon. Treasurer.
The charge to Loughton Synagogue for the Bar Mitzvah is £130 which includes our administration costs and the services of an additional Caretaker. However, should you be anticipating a small Bar Mitzvah that will not require an additional Caretaker, the charge will be £75. Please speak to the Shul Administrator to discuss before making payment. Receipt of your cheque will be accepted as confirmation of your booking and acceptance of the conditions.
Clearly if there are any issues you need to discuss with regard to the above we will be pleased to resolve them with you on a confidential basis. Please feel free to contact us on the number shown above.
Rabbi Zvi Portnoy Mrs Sheryl Weintraub
Mazeltov again on your son’s future Bar Mitzvah. We pray that it will be a stepping-stone towards an even more meaningful Jewish life ahead for him and for your family and that he will give you many years of nachas in good health with much success and happiness.