The bar or batmitzvah is a child’s first public act of personal commitment to Judaism, an opportunity to demonstrate a mastery of the basic elements of the religion, such as knowledge of the central prayers of the service, the meaning of the liturgy, and the ability to read and understand a Torah portion. It is the culmination of many months of study, during which the entire family are expected to show their support by assisting with the learning and accompanying the youngster to Shabbat and festival services.
In the Progressive tradition, we do not discriminate against girls: they have the same opportunity as boys to lay claim to the Torah, to hold it, to recite the blessings and to read from it. For many girls, the privilege of celebrating a “proper” religious batmizvah is one of the key attractions of the Progressive service.
At Beit Emanuel we encourage children to begin their bnei mitzvah preparations at the age of ten, although younger children are welcome. Parents often say to us: “But my child goes to King David, surely this is not necessary.” What we provide that is different, is a rounded religious education within the Progressive tradition with an emphasis on our core values of ethics, tolerance and gender equality.
Our classes are led by Carmit Verryn, an experienced Israeli who also teaches Hebrew at King David. The actual bnei mitzvah preparation classes are led by Rabbi Shaked, who is a particularly inspiring teacher of children. Rebbetzin Sharon Shaked provides the girls with special classes in womanhood and femininity. Classes are held every Monday afternoon during school terms, from 4.00pm to 6.00pm.
Unlike other synagogues which charge extra for bnei mitzvah classes and for the actual celebrations, Beit Emanuel provides all of these free to member families as part of the package of services available with annual subscriptions.
The bar/batmitzvah class curriculum covers the following subject areas:
The Purpose and Meaning of Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah
- What does it mean to be Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
- What is the origin and history of this ritual?
- What does it mean to be a Jew?
- Ideas of God, Torah and Israel.
- We will study these issues in class and help students find answers relevant to their lives.
The Responsibilities of Jewish Adulthood
- A study of the moral and religious responsibilities of Jews in today’s world.
- Students will be encouraged to think about mitzvot, to consider for themselves what living Jewishly means.
- An overview of Torah using key stories as a way to guide students toward religious understanding and moral sensitivity.
- Using JPS Tanakh English translation of the Bible, students will study specific texts.
- They will be encouraged to express their own understandings interpretations.
Different Forms of Jewish Identity
- What are secular Jews and religious Jews?
- What different streams of religious Jews are there?
- What do these groups share in common and what differentiates them?
- Students should be able to recognize and explain their own views of Jewish identity and appreciate diverse approaches as valid.
Hebrew and Liturgy
Students are expected to have basic Hebrew reading abilities upon entering the senior programme. This means that they can easily recognize all letters and vowels and are able to pronounce words. If this is not the case, additional tuition will be required.
Students will study prayers relevant to equipping them with the skills to take an active part in the Shabbat Evening and Morning Service. This will include understanding the structure of a typical service; how services are made up of a sequence of ‘sections’, and the significance and meaning of the sections. They will be encouraged to lead parts of the services in the months before their ceremony in preparation for their bar/batmitzvah service.
Students must become as fluent as their abilities allow in reading key prayers and blessings connected to both home and synagogue observances, e.g. Shabbat and festival evening and morning kiddushim.
Key prayers and blessings
- Shabbat songs (zemirot) L’chah Dodi, Shalom Aleichem, Yom Zeh L’Yisrael etc.
- Main Shabbat prayers, Shema and its blessings, Amidah, Alenu and Kaddish.
- Blessings for the Torah and the Haftarah
- Birkat haMazon (Grace After Meals)
Students will learn to read the Hebrew text of their parashah and understand the content of this Torah portion. Practical Torah reading skills are important. Students will be offered the facility to practice reading from the Torah scroll which they will use for their ceremony.
Speech Writing and Oral Presentation
Students need help to learn how to write and present their own thoughts and ideas about the material they have studied.
At their ceremony, they will present a commentary on their portion.
B’nai Mitzvah Project
This project invites children to create an artistic item to be displayed which connects them and their families to the experience of a bar/batmitzvah.