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B’nai Mitzvah Program

What is a B’nai Mitzvah? 

The word mitzvah is loosely translated as a good deed. However, a mitzvah is much more than just a good deed. Literally, the word Mitzvah means “commandment.” Mitzvot (plural) include the ethical and ritual laws, observance of Shabbat and other holidays, dietary and clothing restrictions, marriage, civil law and criminal law. 

A Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah is one who is required to observe the mitzvot. Any Jewish child upon his/her/their thirteenth birthday is technically a B’nai Mitzvah. No ceremony is actually required. However, over the past few centuries this rite of passage has come to be celebrated in a religious ceremony. 

The institution of Bar Mitzvah, as it developed over the centuries, signified that the 13-year-old boy has achieved the age of legal majority. His father was no longer responsible for his son’s deeds. The son, henceforth, could be counted among the 10 male adults required for the minyan (quorum for public worship). He also began to wear t’fillin (phylacteries) and tallit (prayer shawl) for daily worship. He was expected to fast on Yom Kippur and was eligible to give legal testimony when so required. Our Reform movement has extended the responsibilities of adult Judaism to women; a Bat Mitzvah has the same obligations and responsibilities as a Bar Mitzvah. 


Nina Pachino, Director of Youth Education and B’nai Mitzvah Concierge
(443) 278-9347

Inaugural Senior Rabbi,
Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph. D.

Inaugural Cantor,
Alexandra S. Fox

Amy Mallor, Executive Director

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B'nai Mitzvah Questionnaire

Becoming a B’nai Mitzvah Today

Today, we recognize that children 13 years of age have not yet reached the age of full spiritual maturity or responsibility. Becoming a B’nai Mitzvah is considered to be a major step toward adulthood. The ceremony marks the moment when teenagers will be expected to make more decisions on their own and assume greater personal responsibility and accountability for their actions. The ceremony also provides an added incentive for continued religious education. The Posner JEM Religious School curriculum at Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation is designed to prepare the B’nai Mitzvah candidate for a fulfilling experience within a Reform Jewish framework while maintaining the highest standards. The B’nai Mitzvah ceremony provides an opportunity for the B’nai Mitzvah candidate to demonstrate some of what they have learned at Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation as well as what they have learned about life. 

B’nai Mitzvah is not a substitute for Confirmation. In fact, your child’s B’nai Mitzvah is a meaningful milestone on the road toward Confirmation and a full adult Jewish life. 

Prior to acceptance into the B’nai Mitzvah Program

The Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation Board of Trustees has adopted the following policies: 

  1. B’nai Mitzvah candidates must be enrolled and in good standing in the Posner JEM Religious School, or its equivalent (such as a Jewish day school) at the time of the life cycle event. 
  2. B’nai Mitzvah candidates must complete a minimum of three years of Religious School, or its equivalent through their B’nai Mitzvah, as determined by the Senior Rabbi in order to be eligible for a B’nai Mitzvah. 
  3. All Religious School fees, B’nai Mitzvah fees and temple dues must be current prior to commencement of B’nai Mitzvah training. Membership dues must remain current or the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony will not be permitted to take place. 
  4. Each student is required to fulfill a Mitzvah Project, community service, tzedakah and/or good deeds. The Mitzvah Project will be determined in consultation with the Clergy approximately eight months prior to the B’nai Mitzvah Service. 
  5. Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation is committed to lifelong Jewish learning. For this reason, we require every B’nai Mitzvah to continue formal Jewish education until the end of the 10th grade (Confirmation) and continued involvement in the congregation after that.
  6. B’nai Mitzvah is a privilege that accompanies membership in a congregational community. Accordingly, B’nai Mitzvah families are expected to have been members our congregation or another congregation for three years prior to the B’nai Mitzvah date. 

B’nai Mitzvah Expectations During Their Service

Each B’nai Mitzvah student will learn and recite: 

1.  These selected Hebrew prayers and readings:
Shabbat Morning Service: Prayer for Those Who Wear a Tallit, Daily Blessings, Yotzier Or, V’ahavta, Avot, G’vurot 
Shabbat Evening Service: Prayer for Those Who Wear a Tallit, Ashrei (Psalm 145), Avot, G’vurot, Havdalah Blessings
Torah Service: Torah Blessings, Torah Portion

2.   A selection of English prayers that are included in worship service. 

3.  Write and share a d’var Torah based upon themes suggested by the Torah and/or Haftarah portions as well as “thank you” remarks. 

4.  Candle lighting selected Hebrew prayers (usually the Sh’ma and V’ahavta), Kiddush and Motzi at the Friday night service prior to the B’nai Mitzvah are optional but encouraged. 

Hebrew Training

Approximately one year prior to the B’nai Mitzvah, parents will be contacted by the B’nai Mitzvah Concierge to begin the scheduling process. We ask that parents respond with scheduling preferences within two weeks of that email being sent. If preferences are not received within two weeks, the B’nai Mitzvah Concierge will assign appointment times based upon availability. Parents will then receive an email informing them about their child’s tutoring sessions. Each student is scheduled for a series of thirty (30) minute sessions over a ten-month period at Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation with one of our B’nai Mitzvah tutors. 

The student will be given a copy of the entire Torah portion. Students are expected to select and learn 16-20 verses (4 aliyot) for Shabbat Morning B’nai Mitzvah will select 16-20 verses (4 aliyot) to be read during the Torah Service. Students with Shabbat Mincha B’nai Mitzvah will select and learn at least 16-20 verses (4 aliyot) to be read during the Torah Service. 

Students begin working on their d’var Torah (sermonettes) at varying times in the process. We attempt to coordinate this with school schedules to allow the students maximum opportunity to concentrate on this project. These meetings are with our Clergy. Sessions last approximately 30 minutes each.

Each student will be evaluated on an individual basis. We will endeavor to accommodate the various learning styles of each child and ask that parents make us aware of any learning style differences. 

We anticipate that students will practice their Hebrew approximately 30-minutes every day during the ten (10) months preceding the B’nai Mitzvah. 

Those students who may need additional tutoring may be required to attend extra sessions at the family’s expense. 
NOTE: If you are aware of any special circumstances which might necessitate additional training or attention for your son or daughter, please notify the B’nai Mitzvah Concierge when your B’nai Mitzvah date is assigned. 

Schedule of Preparation 

Timeline is approximate

One Year Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date 
Meet with the Executive Director, for details about logistics and finances
Meet with our Clergy to select Torah portion and discuss mitzvah project
Meet with B’nai Mitzvah Concierge to discuss timeline of B’nai Mitzvah preparation, tutoring information and scheduling

Ten Months Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date 
Begin weekly private lessons (30-minutes) with tutors
During that time, your B’nai Mitzvah will:
Review and/or learn prayers 
Begin working on their Torah portion, first with vowels and then without vowels so they may read from the Torah during their service.  

Eight Months Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date
Meet with Clergy to determine Mitzvah project

Five Months Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date 
Continue working on their Torah portion and begin chanting 
Keep polishing the prayers!
Begin working on Haftarah portion (Shabbat Morning only)

Three Months Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date 
Begin chanting the Torah portion without vowels
Keep polishing the prayers
Continue working on Haftarah portion (Shabbat Morning only) 
Begin working with the Rabbi on the d’var Torah 

One Month Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date 
Parents meet with Rabbi to final details of service
    Participation and honors
    Correct spelling of English names of all participants
    Share Hebrew names of B’nai Mitzvah student and all aliyot honors
Rehearsal(s) with Rabbi to go through outline of service and practice reading from the Torah

One Week Prior to B’nai Mitzvah Date
A final rehearsal will take place during the last week before the Bar/Bat/B'nai Mitzvah service, frequently on Friday the day before the service. The final rehearsal will take one hour and involves the immediate family only; no special dress is required. Formal pictures may be taken around this time. If you wish to schedule formal pictures coordinate with Executive Director.

Friday Evening Prior to the B’nai Mitzvah Date (optional but encouraged) 
The B’nai Mitzvah family will perform the candle lighting ceremony
The B’nai Mitzvah will lead selected Hebrew prayers (usually the Sh’ma and V’ahavta) 
The B’nai Mitzvah and their siblings will lead the Kiddush and Motzi 

Extended Family Participation: Options & Honors

Decisions about the family participation options will be discussed with the Rabbi during the family meeting. Final decisions will be made one month prior to the B’nei Mitzvah. 

Friday Night: Should the family choose to attend the Friday evening Shabbat worship prior to the B’nai Mitzvah service, the B’nai Mitzvah is expected to recite the Sh’ma, V’ahavta, Kiddush and Motzi and family will be honored with leading the candle blessings. 

Tallit: Many of our young people, male and female, elect to wear a tallit during the ceremony. If your child chooses to wear a tallit, we encourage someone from the family to come forward and present the tallit to your child. A few words are appropriate, although not necessary, followed by the recitation of the blessing to wear the tallit. Any remarks made at this time should not exceed two minutes in duration. We recommend the prayer or poem on page 262 in Mishkan T’filah (our Shabbat siddur). 

Passing the Torah: When we take the Torah out of the Ark, it is very common for the generations of a family (grandparents, parents and child) to gather in front of the Ark and pass the Torah from generation to generation. We can vary the details of how this is done to accommodate older people who cannot handle the steps or support the Torah. The purpose of this is to visually and literally represent the main purpose of Bar/Bat Mitzvah: to pass the heritage of Judaism on to the next generation. 

Opening the Ark: Twice during the Torah service, two or more people may be invited to open the Ark. 
Hakafah: In the context of passing the Torah, the B’nai Mitzvah, along with family members, carry the Torah through the congregation so that others may touch the scroll and symbolically share in passing it to the young person. 
Aliyot: An aliyah is when a person is called up to the Torah and given the honor of saying/ chanting the blessings which frame the Torah reading while a section from the text is read. Someone called to the pulpit for an aliyah must be Jewish and at least age thirteen. In our congregation, we usually have four aliyot, including the B’nai Mitzvah, in the Shabbat Morning Service. For the Mincha Service there are usually six aliyot. Copies of the Torah and Haftarah blessings will be given to each student. 

Havdalah (following Shabbat Mincha): Family members and friends can participate in this lovely and meaningful brief service that separates the Sabbath from the work week. 

Lifting/Holding & Dressing the Torah: After the reading of the Torah, someone needs to hold and another needs to dress the Torah. Those so honored also help return the Torah to the Ark. 

Concluding Blessings: At the end of the service in the morning, we always lead the congregation in the blessings over the wine (Kiddush) and the challah (Motzi). These prayers are led by the B’nai Mitzvah, but also could involve others, including younger siblings, cousins, the entire family, etc. 

Hebrew Name: We will need to know the Hebrew name of your child. If he/she/they does not have one, we can create one for him/her/them. We will also need to know the Hebrew names of the child’s parents, since Jewish people are known as “X”, the son, daughter or child of “A” and “B.” Please consult with the Rabbi. Hebrew names are usually found in baby naming certificates and the parents’ ketubah (marriage contract). 

Service Program: The office staff will prepare a B’nai Mitzvah pamphlet for your child’s special day. We would need the name of those participating in the service 2 weeks prior to the B’nai Mitzvah date as well a little about your child(ren) and what Mitzvah project they completed.

Special Music: You may select your favorite melodies in Hebrew or English to be sung at your B’nai Mitzvah service. A song that is especially significant to your family or child may be requested. Our clergy will help you select a special song or songs for your service when you meet to discuss music several weeks before your B’nai Mitzvah. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning of B’nai Mitzvah? 
Bar and Bat Mitzvah literally mean “son and daughter of the Commandment.” Bar and Bat Mitzvah represent the ceremonial recognition that a young person has reached the age when he or she is responsible for the performance of mitzvot. 

How old is the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony? 
The association between age 13 and obligatory religious observance began during the Second Temple period, more than 2,000 years ago. There was a brief ceremony held at the Temple in Jerusalem in which the Kohein blessed the boy. At that point, he was eligible to be counted as a member of the minyan, could buy and sell property and make binding vows. It was only in the Middle Ages that a B’nai Mitzvah ritual (similar to what we have today) developed. The first Bat Mitzvah ceremony was in 1922. Its observance has become widespread in the last half century. 

When do we celebrate the B’nai Mitzvah? 
A B’nai Mitzvah ceremony is celebrated near a child’s 13th birthday. (Girls can have their Bat Mitzvah at 12 years of age.) At Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation we offer many options for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah service. The following paragraphs will describe some of your options. 

Service Options and Times:
1.    Saturday Morning B’nai Mitzvah Services begins at 10:00 AM, is approximately one- and one-half hours in duration, and includes a Torah and Haftarah reading as well as a D'var Torah by your child. Our clergy will officiate. 
2.    Saturday Afternoon (Mincha) B’nai Mitzvah Services service begins at 5:00 PM, is approximately one hour and fifteen minutes in duration. Our clergy will officiate. This service does not include Haftarah reading as part of the liturgy and concludes with the lovely service of Havdalah -- the separation between the Shabbat and the week. 
3.    Other options are available upon request of the family.

Service Location: 
1.    The Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Sanctuary can accommodate up to 800 people. 
2.    The Peggy and Yale Gordon Chapel can accommodate as many as 165 people. 

Note: We do not schedule B'nai Mitzvah dates during the months of July or August. 

A Note About Finances

In order to have a child enter training to become a B’nai Mitzvah, the family must be a member in good standing of Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation, up to and including the membership year in which the event takes place. Our Board of Trustees have passed a ruling that life cycle events cannot be performed for members of the Congregation who owe money from either a prior year or the current year of the event including the current school tuition, facility use fees and any other additional fees which have been assessed. 

Failure to maintain an account in good financial standing may result in the surrender of the date, interruption of B’nai Mitzvah instruction, and cancellation of facilities reservations. All charges are payable upon billing, unless a special payment schedule is approved and confirmed in writing by the Executive Director of the synagogue. Questions or concerns should be directed to the Executive Director. 

Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation is strongly committed to Jewish education — the ability to pay will not be an obstacle for B’nai Mitzvah. Do not hesitate to discuss this matter with our Executive Director. 

B’nai Mitzvah Fee 
Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation assesses your membership account with a B’nai Mitzvah fee that is determined on an annual basis. A communication will be shared prior to the charge being added to your account. This fee covers all materials, the cost of instruction (approximately 30 half-hour sessions), books, meetings and rehearsals with clergy. 

Tree of Life 
Perhaps you want to honor the weekend with a lasting memory? As you come into the Temple from the Chapel entrance, you may have noticed the beautiful Tree of Life. A leaf currently costs $350.00 and can be a lasting memento of a very special time in the life of the family. 

In Jewish tradition it is customary to celebrate the happy occasions by giving tzedakah. Contributions are the lifeblood of any religious organization. Without the generosity of our members and friends, Har Sinai - Oheb Shalom Congregation would not be able to function at the high level of excellence that our membership has come to expect. The congregation is always grateful for contributions made in honor of a B’nai Mitzvah, and our Executive Director will be happy to assist families in choosing an appropriate fund. You may also wish to make a donation expressing appreciation to those who have helped your child in preparation, for example, Religious School staff or Clergy. Please feel free to contact Amy for details. There is no charge for the services of our Clergy at the B’nai Mitzvah. 

At your discretion, you may choose to make a commemorative and general offering (contribution) to the Temple. The commemorative offering honors the occasion by memorializing deceased family (and friends). The general offering honors the occasion and refers to living members of the family (and friends). 

The family shall be held responsible and will be billed for any loss, breakage or damage to the Temple equipment and property. Damages to our Temple’s equipment may require an additional assessment. We urge you to make certain that the Temple facilities are maintained in a manner commensurate with the highest level of care and consideration. 


  • Aliyah (plural, aliyot) — Literally, “going up.” The ascent to the bimah to say the blessings over the Torah scroll. 
  • Amidah — Literally, the “standing” prayer. The nineteen prayers (seven on Shabbat and festivals) that constitute the main body of Jewish liturgy; also known as t’filah and the shemoneh esrei. 
  • Bimah — The raised platform or pulpit in most synagogues where the service is conducted. 
  • Chavurah (plural, chavurot) — An independent, participant-led Jewish fellowship group; or, a semi-independent study or prayer group within a synagogue. 
  • Chumash (from chameish, “five”) — The Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses), or a book containing the Pentateuch. 
  • Haftarah — Literally, “completion.” The reading of the section from the Prophets for a particular Shabbat. 
  • Halachah —Jewish law. 
  • Havdalah — Literally, “separation,” “distinction.” The ceremony that ends Shabbat. 
  • Hazzan — The cantor, also known as the shaliach tzibur, the community prayer leader. 
  • Kashrut — The Jewish dietary laws. 
  • Kiddush — The prayer accompanied by wine or grape juice and recited before dinner on the eve of the Sabbath or a festival, to inaugurate the day and proclaim its sanctity; also, the food and wine that is customarily served in the synagogue after morning services on the Sabbath or festival. 
  • Kosher — Food that may be eaten, according to the Jewish dietary laws. 
  • Maariv — Evening prayer service. 
  • Mincha — Afternoon prayer service. 
  • Mitzvah (plural, mitzvot) — An obligation of Jewish life. 
  • Musaf — The “additional” prayer in traditional liturgy. Recalls the ancient sacrificial rites of the Temple (the musaf or additional sacrifices) and repeats some themes covered earlier in the liturgy. 
  • Parasha — The Torah portion of the week. Also sometimes referred to as the sedra. 
  • Shabbat — The Sabbath. 
  • Sh’ma — A central prayer of the worship service. Essentially a statement of faith which is derived from Deuteronomy, Chapter 6: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” 
  • Shul — The Yiddish word for “synagogue.” 
  • Simcha — “A joyous event.” Often used to refer to a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, or other celebrations. 
  • Tallit — A prayer shawl. 
  • T’filah — The major section of Jewish liturgy, also known as the Amidah (standing prayer). The generic term for Jewish worship. 
  • Torah — Literally, “teaching” or “direction.” Narrowly, the first part of the Hebrew Bible that is read from the scroll; broadly, all Jewish sacred literature and by implication, all of Judaism. 
  • Tzedakah — The mitzvah of sacred giving. 
  • Yad — The thin pointer shaped at the end like a hand, which a reader of Torah uses so as not to lose his/her place. 
Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782