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A Companion to Bnai Mitzvah Guide – updated 2023 Revised 31 May 2023
B- or Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah
A young Jew, upon reaching the age of 12 or 13, is considered responsible to God and answerable to humanity for their own deeds. In Hebrew such a person is termed a bat- or bar-mitzvah, literally a woman or man “subject to the mitzvot” (commandments). At BEKI, we also use the gender-neutral option of b’mitzvah.
We celebrate the young person’s status as a b’mitzvah in the context of our community’s regular Shabbat, Festival, or weekday service because the celebration belongs to the entire community.
Head Covering and Prayer Shawl (tallit)
Our congregation requests that all male-identifying people wear a head covering in the sanctuary and beit midrash (daily chapel). Head covering for female-identifying folks is optional, but required when called to the reader’s table. A skullcap (known in Hebrew as kippah or in Yiddish as yarmulke) may be found near the entrance to the sanctuary. You will notice most Jewish adult males and many Jewish adult females wearing a prayer shawl. Since this is a religious item, visitors who are not Jewish are not requested to wear them.
Our Shabbat morning service usually concludes by noon. Services today may run a little longer because of the ceremonies recognizing the b’mitzvah. The Kiddush reception following the service may last an hour or more.
Telephone, Electricity, Smoking, Cameras
Shabbat is distinguished from the rest of the week, in our synagogue as in many others, by not operating electronic items (although there is a telephone available for emergency use and for physicians on call). Similarly, writing and smoking are prohibited. Photography and video recording are not permitted anywhere in the building on Shabbat.
Prayerbooks and Biblical Texts
Two types of books are available in the racks before your seat. Siddur Lev Shalem is a prayerbook, and Etz Hayim: Torah & Commentary is a Humash, an edition of the Five Books of Moses along with Prophetic readings.
Style of Prayer
In our congregation, the Rabbi does not lead all the prayers; instead, congregants are encouraged to take turns as prayer leaders for the rest of the congregation. Traditional Jewish prayer combines opportunities for communal singing and individual recitation (usually silently or in a low murmur). Often congregants will read a prayer individually and then the leader will chant the last few lines.
The Order of the Service
The morning service, called Shacharit, is the central service comprising the Shema along with its three accompanying blessings, and the seven blessings of the Amidah.
The next portion of the service centers on the chanting of a text from the Torah (Five Books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch) and a text from the Prophets. It is considered an honor to be asked to open or close the ark and to remove or replace the Torah. You will see congregants indicating their respect for the text of the Torah by kissing the scroll – touching the Torah with a prayerbook or a corner of a prayer shawl and then kissing that which has touched the Torah.
The reading is divided into seven or more parts. An aliyah is the Hebrew word for the honor of being called to come up and say a blessing before and after a reader has chanted each part. A person is called for an aliyah by his or her Hebrew name.
Musaf Additional and Ending Prayers
The central element of the Musaf service is an Amidah very similar to the Amidah of the Shacharit (morning) service. Near the end of the service, Mourner’s Kaddish is recited by people observing either a mourning period or the anniversary of the death of a close relative.
Kiddush & Motzi
Celebrating happy occasions with feasting is an important part of our tradition. We hope you can join us for a reception, which will be held in the downstairs Social Hall. We will gather in the Social Hall to recite the prayers sanctifying Shabbat over wine (or grape juice) and the blessing over bread to begin a meal. Please wait until the blessings are recited before partaking of the food and drink. All food served in this synagogue is prepared under kosher supervision.