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Bar Mitzvah 101

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Bar Mitzvah in Israel

Our Bar Mitzvah in Israel website is a free online resource for planning a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah party in Israel

Basic Ceremonies During A Bar Mitzvah / Bat Mitzvah

A bar or bat mitzvah is a birthday celebration full of ceremonies. In modern times, this has become a very common and popular event for Jewish children turning 12 for girls and 13 for boys. Beyond the entertainment and lavish reception, the celebration is a religious service as the child assumes his rights and obligations as a young adult.

In the olden times when no ceremony was necessary, a celebrant simply attends the Shabbat services held on a Saturday shortly after his birthday. During this service known as an aliyah, the child is called to go up to the Torah (five books of Moses) and recite a blessing over the weekly reading.

The Torah reading originated with Ezra, the Scribe, after the return of the Jewish people from Babylonia in 444 B.C.E. Eventually, the Torah was divided into 54 weekly portions called Sidra or Parasha that are read in the synagogues.

Today’s celebration goes beyond more than just the celebrant saying the blessing. The child has to learn the entire Haftarah (selections from the books of the Prophets) portion including the chant and recite it during the bar or bat mitzvah. The reading of Haftarah began during the time of Antiochus IV, ruler of the Syrian-Greek empire where Judea belonged. He then banned the Torah reading and as a result, the Jewish people started reading from other parts of the Hebrew bible.

A candle lighting ceremony is an important highlight of the bar/bat mitzvah celebration. Normally, 14 candles are lit – 13 meant for the celebrant and one for good luck. Depending on their preference, the parents and child can use only one candle or more than 14 during the ceremony. The celebrant leads this part and gives lighting introductions by way of a poem or a story. As each person lights a candle, a special song is also played.

By tradition, there is an order as to who should light the candles. The memory candle is the first to be lighted in memory of a loved one who passed away. This is followed by the great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends of parents, child’s friends, siblings, parents and the last to light a candle is the main celebrant. A candle for the guest of honor or for good luck can be added. A new idea being incorporated into this ceremony these days is donating to a charitable organization for every candle being lit or planting a tree.

The bar or bat mitzvah gives a speech before the candle lighting ceremony. A son usually starts with the phrase “Today, I am a man.” This is then followed by some words of gratitude to his parents and other important people in his life.

It is also during the candle lighting event that poems are read. The poem can be a general one and may mention the names of the honorees. To make it more interesting, the poem can also describe why the honorees are special, the influence they have made in the reader’s life and include some facts about them. It should be light and sincere.

These are the basic ceremonies in a bar/bat mitzvah celebration which gives the celebrants a good opportunity to present themselves as individuals before their family and friends.

Read more articles on the subject: Bar Mitzvah Traditions Still Being Observed Today

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