Revised 15 April 2018
Thank you for joining us in celebrating our son/daughter/child/children becoming a Bar-/Bat- Mitzva/ Benei Mitzva. This Guide is for guests who may not be familiar with our worship service. We are pleased to share this part of our life with you on such a happy occasion. Feel free to take this Guide with you. Thank you again for sharing this important day with us.
A young Jew, upon reaching the age of 12 or 13, is considered for most purposes an adult under halakha (Jewish law), responsible to God and answerable to humanity for her or his own deeds. In Hebrew such a person is termed a bat- or bar-mitzva, literally a woman or man “subject to the mitzvot” (commandments). This status is attained by virtue of age and is not a function of any ritual sacrament or performance. This is analogous to a minor becoming an adult under Connecticut civil law at age 16 (for purposes of operating a motor vehicle or getting married), or at age 18 (for voting) or 21 (for purchasing alcohol).
With adulthood comes responsibility — the responsibility to live according to the Torah of Moshe and the traditions of the Jewish People, as described, in part, by halakha. This means fasting on Yom Kippur, giving tsedaqa (annual monetary support to communal institutions), being honest, dealing kindly with others, honoring one’s parents, studying, and observing Shabbat and kashrut (dietary laws) — among the 613 mitzvot. This means joining as a full partner in the Jewish mission of Tiqun HaOlam, of improving the world by living according to the mitzva system.
With adulthood comes privileges — the privilege of fulfilling mitzvot, counting toward a minyan (prayer quorum), representing the congregation before God as shelihat- or sheliah-tzibbur (prayer leader), and taking part in all areas of private and communal Jewish life in a serious way.
We celebrate the young person’s status as a bat- or bar-mitzva because it is a milestone for the individual, family and community. The bat- or bar-mitzva celebrates her or his new status by exercising the adult privilege of serving as shelihat- or sheliah-tzibbur. The celebration takes place in the context of the community’s regular Shabbat, Festival, Rosh Hodesh or weekday service because the celebration belongs to the entire community.
Our congregation requires all males to wear a head covering in the sanctuary and beit midrash (daily chapel). Head covering for women is optional, but required when called to the reader’s table. A skullcap (known in Hebrew as kippa or in Yiddish as yarmulke) may be found near the entrance to the sanctuary. Special skullcaps in honor of our son/daughter/child/children are available in a basket in the lobby; we hope you take one with you. The scullcap itself is not considered a “sacred” item; it is merely on convenient form of a headcovering which is made available for those who might not have worn their own hat. You will notice most Jewish adult males and many Jewish adult females wearing a prayer shawl. This is a religious item and visitors who are not Jewish are not requested to wear them.
It is a matter of decorum not to enter or leave the sanctuary during those portions of the service when the congregation is standing. If you are standing or waiting in the back of the sanctuary, please do not converse, as even a whisper carries to the front of the sanctuary.
Our Sabbath morning service usually concludes around noon. Services today may run a little longer because of the ceremonies recognizing our son/daughter/child/children becoming a Bar/Bat / Benei Mitzva. The Qiddush-Reception following the service may last an hour or more.
Sabbath is distinguished from the rest of the week, in our synagogue as in many others, by not operating electric and electronic appliances (although there is a telephone available for emergency use and for physicians on call). Similarly, the striking of matches, starting fires and writing are prohibited. Smoking, photography and audio recording are not permitted in the sanctuary during any service (even on weekdays) and are not permitted in the building on the Sabbath. We ask that you respect these traditions.
The restrooms are in the hallway down the hall and to the left from the lobby. You may wear a headcovering in the restroom, but a tallit should be left at your seat or on a hook outside the restroom door. There is a handicap accessible washroom and an infant changing room off the main lobby near the staircase; all of the washrooms have baby changing tables.
Two types of books are available in the racks before your seat. Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat & Festivals is a prayerbook. It is also available in a large print edition and in an annotated editon as Or Hadash. Large print and annotated prayerbooks are available on the table just inside the sanctuary door and have the same pagination as the smaller edition.
Every edition of our prayerbook includes at the front of the book an explanatory introduction to the order of the service and its primary components.
Also in the sanctuary pews are two editions of the Humash, the liturgical edition of the Five Books of Moses along with the Prophetic readings associated with the weekly Torah readings and special days on the liturgical calendar. The maroon edition is Etz Hayim: Torah & Commentary. It includes the best English translation of the Five Books of Moses as well as an excellent but brief commentary, along with the Hebrew text. It also includes maps and in-depth essays on major topics in Jewish thought.
The blue edition, the Hertz Humash (named for Rabbi J. Hertz, a member of the first graduating class of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America over 100 years ago), offers an alternative commentary to the Torah reading.
Near the beginning and end of the service, Mourners’ Qaddish is recited by persons observing either a mourning period or the anniversary of the death of a close relative.
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. Our son/daughter will publicly acknowledge his/her new status as a Bar/Bat Mitzva by leading some parts of the service. You may also see family and friends being called to take part in the service.
The congregation will rise for certain parts of the service. These parts may include sections read quietly at each person’s own pace, at the end of which it is customary to be seated. At these times, please feel free to be seated when you see some of the congregants who finish more quickly take their seats. The respect you show by standing until such time is appreciated. People who are not able to stand comfortably or safely may remain seated.
The service is almost entirely in Hebrew. English translations are provided in each book. An annotated prayerbook, siddur Or Hadash is available as well in the sanctuary. You may wish to follow along in the translation, especially as it may be referred to in the Devar Torah (sermon). Please refrain from any conversation during the service.
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. Each leader has learned melodies for such chants from a musical tradition going back to a particular region of the world or from the teaching of a particular cantor or congregation. In this way our congregation collects and enjoys one aspect of the diversity in Jewish tradition.
The back and forth between the congregants and the leader may continue for a while without announcement of any pages. Please do not be concerned that you are not keeping up with the leader. We hope you find a particular prayer or a particular line that causes you to stop and reflect.
The preliminary morning service, which typically takes 20 to 30 minutes, consists of a series of psalms called Pesuqei DeZimra, “Verses of Song.” This serves as a spiritual warm-up to the morning service by setting a mood of awe and appreciation for God and Creation. The morning service proper, called Shaharit, is the central service comprising the Shema along with its three accompanying blessings, and the seven blessings of the Amida.
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. These proceedings include formal protocol, which reflects the significance of this activity. The Torah scroll itself is handwritten by a scribe on rolled parchment bound to wooden rollers, and is kept in an ark on the bima (raised platform). It is considered an honor to be asked to open or close the ark and to remove or replace the Torah. The service begins with prayers for taking the Torah scroll from the ark, and includes a procession of the scroll through the congregation. 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.
Another way respect is shown for the Torah is by dressing it in a decorative cover. The cover is removed and the scroll is opened to the section to be read today. The reading is divided into seven or more parts. An aliya 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 aliya by his or her Hebrew name.
The chanting from the scroll requires careful preparation. The Torah scroll is written in Hebrew without vowels or “trope” (cantilation marks). Such vowels and symbols are usually found in a printed Biblical text, such as the Humashim available in our sanctuary, or in a book especially designed to help one prepare for chanting from the scroll.
The reading from the Prophets may be chanted either from a scroll written like a Torah scroll, or from a printed text that does include the consonants, vowels and musical symbols. The musical system for chanting the Prophets, though graphically the same as those for chanting from the Torah, represent different musical combinations than those used in chanting from the Torah. The chanting from the Prophets is preceded and followed by blessings contained in the prayerbook.
The following people have been invited to participate in the Torah services with the honors listed below. The order followed in the service may vary from the order listed here. [List]
The Torah service is completed with the recitation of certain psalms, the parading of the Torah around the sanctuary once again, and its return to the ark.
You may wish to read the Torah and Haftara texts carefully, as they may be tje basis for the devar Torah (described below).
Study is a form of worship on par with or superior to prayer. In addition to educational passages incorporated into the prayer service and the reading of scripture — which is itself intended to be educational — our service includes a dedicated period of study, most often in the form of a devar Torah (sermon or commentary) presented by the rabbi, a congregant or a visiting scholar.
This morning, our son/daughter/child/children will present his/her/their thoughts on a portion of today’s readings and the significance of the day. Please do not applaud after this presentation.
Our ancestors developed the Musaf (additional) service in remembrance of the musaf sacrifices offered in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in conjunction with the Sabbath. The central element of the Musaf service is an Amida very similar to the Amida of the Shaharit (morning) service. This service also contains closing hymns.
Near the beginning and end of the service, Mourners’ Qaddish is recited by people observing either a mourning period or the anniversary of the death of a close relative.
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 Social Hall. The Social Hall downstairs can be accessed by the stairway in the lobby, or by the elevator in the lobby. The elevator operates automatically according to a Shabbat clock. To use the elevator, please do not push any button or touch the door; just wait and the elevator will operate (slowly) on its own.
We will gather in the Social Hall to recite the prayers sanctifying the Sabbath over wine (or grape juice) and the blessing over bread to begin a meal. When bread (including halla, bagels, rolls, pita) is served, washing stations are available for netilat yadayim, the ritual cleansing of hands before meals. Please wait until the blessings are recited before partaking of the food and drink. All food served in this synagogue is prepared under rabbinic supervision and served under the strict supervision of the Kashrut Initiative New Haven Area Rabbinical Assembly. Photography and the use of phones, cameras and other electronic devices is not permitted in the social hall or elsewhere in the building on Shabbat (Friday Night and Saturday).
This Guide is based on a text created by Steven Fraade & Ellen Cohen, David & Darryl Kuperstock, Brian Karsif, Terri Stern, Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen and others.
© 2018 Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel and Jon-Jay Tilsen