Mazeltov on your daughter’s forthcoming Bat Mitzvah, which you have chosen to celebrate at Loughton Synagogue. I am sure that you are eagerly looking forward to this important milestone in her life and in the life of your family. I hope and pray that you derive much Yiddisshe nachas from your daughter.
On the day of her Bat Mitzvah, your daughter will be the centre of attention and that is how it should be! She represents the new generation of British Jewry. Your hopes as parents, and ours as a community, are centred on your daughter.
In this guide, we aim to answer the most frequently asked questions about a Bat Mitzvah. With all the effort and cost that goes into a Bat Mitzvah, I think it would be worthwhile to spend a few minutes considering these questions.
What is a Bat Mitzvah?
A Bat Mitzvah is the moment when a Jewish girl becomes a woman. In a sense it is an almost literal transition from being a caterpillar to becoming a glorious butterfly. It is cause for great celebration and immense gratitude to Hashem.
For a girl, her twelfth birthday is the time when her Divine soul, present from birth, becomes fully functional. The twelfth birthday (thirteenth for a boy) obviously follows the Jewish (lunar) calendar. At this age, one reaches intellectual maturity. Therefore, on the day she turns 12, a girl becomes ‘Bat Mitzvah’ – ‘a daughter of the commandment’ – meaning that in the eyes of Jewish law she has now come of age. From now on she is subject to all the obligations as well as all the obligations as well as the privileges of an adult. At most Shuls, including Loughton, the formal Bat Mitzvah is scheduled for a Shabbat or Sunday after the twelfth birthday, occasionally some weeks after it.
The theme of Bat 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.
Is there a difference between a Bat Mitzvah and a Bat Chayil?
There is no religious difference between a Bat Mitzvah and a Bat Chayil. As explained above, “Bat Mitzvah” is derived from the fact that when a girl reaches her twelfth birthday she becomes obligated to ovserve the mitzvoth (commandments) of the Torah. “Bat Chayil” means “Daughter of Valour”. This terminology developed from King Solomon’s hymn “Eishet Chayil – A Woman of Valour” which describes the woman of valour as one who is energetic, righteous, and capable.
What are the Bat Mitzvah requirements in Jewish law?
It has become customary for parents to make a festive meal on the day their daughter becomes Bat Mitzvah. 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 mean 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.
It is a wide-spread custom that on this birthday your daughter should be encouraged to give some ‘Tzedaka’ (charity), from her own money, to any worthy charitable institution. If it falls on Shabbat, she should give Tzedaka on the Sunday after.
What is the Bat Mitzvah programme at Loughton Synagogue?
During her earlier years you carefully laid the groundwork for your daughter’s moral, spiritual and intellectual life. That has been done. But the superstructure of her personality is still to be built on these foundations. At Bat Mitzvah, when she takes the step from childhood to adulthood, or at least, to becoming a young adult, this next stage in her development begins. Almost a teenager, she has reached a degree of intellectual and emotional maturity, she has new questions and problems a child does not face, she begins to understand concepts a child cannot. It is time for her Jewish education to address these issues, not to come to an end. Your daughter does not live in a vacuum. If you do not continue to help her build on this structure, someone else will. It is not wise to leave her religious, ethical and social guidance in the hands of others.
The Loughton Bat Mitzvah Programme is dynamic and thorough. Run by Rebetzen Orly Portnoy, it invites the participants to explore topics such as Relationships, Belief in Hashem, Mitzvot, Tzniut – the appreciation of inner beauty and the power of Jewish Women.
The individual attention your daughter will receive will enhance her personal growth. She will graduate with a feeling of achievement that she has learned as much as possible so that she can understand the meaning of the celebration.
Once a week your daughter can attend classes on the various topics and enjoy related activities. From Challah baking to Shabbat meal making, the beauty of being a Jewish Woman is depicted in so many ways so that girls graduate from the programme with a deep understanding and positive outlook on what a privilege it is to be a Jewish Woman.
It is highly recommended that, in addition to her private lessons, your daughter attends the cheder Bat Mitzvah program. This also applies to children who are already attending Jewish Day Schools. It will give her the opportunity to develop relationships with other girls her age in the community. Because of time constraints no other environment can adequately give your child an enjoyable, hands on, educational experience.
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 her to sit and pass the test. Failure to pass the test will not stop her from becoming Bat Mitzvah but will prevent her from being accorded other honours, for instance, being presented with a Bat Mitzvah certificate by the Rabbi from the pulpit.
The Bat Mitzvah should be a spiritually meaningful event in your daughter’s life and the life of your family. This should be your primary consideration in planning it.
It is a synagogue requirement that your daughter should begin coming to Shul on Friday night and Shabbat morning in the year preceding the Bat Mitzvah. This way, the Bat Mitzvah is a process of spiritual growth and awareness, rather than a 24-hour ceremony. Moreover, she will feel comfortable in Shul on her 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 mother and daughter 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 daughter to be ‘Shomer Shabbat’ on the day of her Bat Mitzvah. It really is important that, at least on this day, she experience the beauty of a Shabbat.
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 daughter from becoming Bat Mitzvah, it will affect scope and form of the ceremony.
Even if you have booked a “Sunday Bat Mitzvah”, you are invited to join us on the preceding Shabbat to honour your family and friends with being called up to the Torah. 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 selectionfrom 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’.
Our standard practice, subject to the constraints of Halacha (Jewish religious law), has been to call up the Bat Mitzvah girl’s 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 customary at Loughton for the Bat Mitzvah girl to give a speech about a specific mitzvah she has chosen to research and about the significance of her Bat Mitzvah. It is also customary for a Bat Mitzvah girl to then recite the “Eishet Chayil”. A woman of Valour, called Eishet Chayil in Hebrew, is a twenty-two verse poem with which King Solomon concludes the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31). The poem has an acrostic arrangement in which the verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order. The poem describes the woman of valour as one who is energetic, righteous, and capable.
It is your responsibility to arrange with your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah teacher that your daughter is adequately prepared. A Bat Mitzvah girl’s mother is required to join the Kiddush roster of the Ladies’ Guild. This helps create and strengthen new communal relationships and also encourages your daughter to accept responsibilities towards her community happily.
What should we know about the day of the Bat Mitzvah?
Approximately three weeks before the bat 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 Bat Mitzvah. The Rabbi will also go over the bat Mitzvah speech at this stage.
Decorum and Dress
Your co-operation in following these rules of Shul decorum on the day of the Bat 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 and the Torah reading at about 9:55am. The family should arrive before the service begins, but guests should not arrive after 9:25am. If possible, please politely inform anybody who you think would be late, that it is disrespectful, both to the community and to the family, to “waltz in” halfway through the service. This service usually ends at about 11:30am.
- Please ensure that your daughter, family and friends are appropriately dressed for Shul.
The Bat Mitzvah girl’s dress should be appropriate for a religious service.
The Bat Mitzvah girl’s father should wear a jacket and tie and so, too, should any member of your party who will be given a Shul honour.
The mother of the Bat Mitzvah girl 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 daughter, 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 will periodically announce the page numbers 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 Bat Mitzvah girl herself.
- Non-Jewish male guests require a Kippah (Kappel) but not a Talis.
Do not think that your daughter is unaware of the true significance of her Bat Mitzvah. Otherwise, you may discover in later years that despite the gifts and the expensive party, she 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 attend 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.
There will be a charge of £200 which will include the services of an extra Caretaker. However, should you be anticipating a small Bat 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
N.B. A Bat Mitzvah is a wonderful window of opportunity for family growth; particularly in the area of our Jewishness. The Rabbi will be only too happy to discuss this with you at your convenience. Feel free to call for an appointment.