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Bar and Bat Mitzvah

We are extremely proud of our BM Mechinah programme, supporting children and their families through this significant life-cycle event. Each year, approximately forty young members of the congregation form a close-knit peer group, supporting each other and celebrating their transition to involvement in the community – and the world – as Jewish teenagers.

In traditional Jewish law (halachah), a boy was deemed to be Bar Mitzvah on his thirteenth birthday. A girl achieved majority at the age of twelve. From the age of twelve, for a girl, and thirteen, for a boy, the child assumed responsibility for themselves with regard to the performance of the mitzvot (the commandments). For a boy, this meant that he was eligible to be called up to the Torah and to perform other positive commandments. It also meant that the young person had to undertake responsibility to observe the negative prohibitions. Before his thirteenth birthday, his father was responsible for his son’s observance of the commandments.

From about the Middle Ages, a boy would be called up to read from the Torah on the Shabbat after his thirteenth birthday to make the transition from minor to ‘adult’ status according to traditional Jewish law.

Reform Judaism regards the moment of Bar/Bat Mitzvah in a slightly different way. To begin with, it also allows and encourages girls to become Bat Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. Traditionally, a girl did not participate in any ceremony to mark her transition from childhood to the age of majority.

Boys and girls who become Bar or Bat Mitzvah in our Synagogue are taking an important first step in their Jewish life. Of course, they will already have come from Jewish homes, celebrated the festivals and Shabbat and been taught Jewish values, and have attended Cheder, but Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a decision they make for themselves. On one level, it is a declaration of their seriousness and commitment to Judaism. They will have pursued an intensive course of study and preparation leading up to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

On another level, it marks the transition from childhood to puberty and the physical and emotional changes that take place in a boy or girl as they enter their teenage years. It is right that Judaism should mark these moments with a rite of passage. In more than one way, it is also an initiation rite. A boy or girl must master the skill of reading Hebrew, lead the congregation in public prayer and read or chant from the Torah. There is a fair amount to be learnt before a girl or boy becomes Bat or Bar Mitzvah.

Fri, 24 September 2021 18 Tishrei 5782