Educating Your Non-Jewish Audience
One of 54 sections of the Torah read, during Shabbat services, in order on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah."
Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
A selection from the books of Prophets that is read following the weekly Torah portion. There is a Haftorah for each Torah portion.
Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time.
A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
One of the biggest barriers for non-Jewish guests at Jewish life cycle ceremonies is understanding what’s going on. A great way to educate your non-Jewish relatives and friends is offering a simple supplement that explains the rituals and other aspects of the bar mitzvah.
Some essentials to include in the supplement include:
- An etiquette guide to attending synagogue (i.e. rules on wearing a yarmulke, how to treat a prayer book, when to stand, what to do about cellphones, etc.). Like Jews visiting a church, many non-Jews do not know the proper etiquette for visiting a synagogue. (See Sample Etiquette Guide for Guests.)
- A guide to the service, giving a chronology and explanation of prayers and rituals. Many congregations jump around in the prayer book and switch between English and Hebrew; a guide to the service can help guests follow along to whatever level they’re comfortable. (See Sample Guide to Service.)
- An explanation of the tradition of bar/bat mitzvah. This will help non-Jewish guests appreciate the holiness and importance of the event. (See Sample Guide to Sanctuary and Customs #1, and Sample Guide to Sanctuary and Customs #2.)
- A glossary of essential terms at the synagogue (e.g., bima, Torah, ark, etc.). Rabbis and spiritual leaders will use these terms quite frequently during the service without defining them. This glossary gives non-Jewish guests a guide to follow. (See Sample Guide to Sanctuary and Customs #1 and Sample Guide to Sanctuary and Customs #2.)
Other items you can include in the supplement are:
- A history of the synagogue.
- An English summary of the Torah portion and/or Haftarah.
- A transcript of the bar/bat mitzvah child’s Torah commentary.
- Any additional graphical guides to the child’s Torah or Haftarah portion, like maps of Israel or photos of archaeological objects.
- A summary of the key pillars of the Jewish religion.
- A Frequently Asked Questions section about Judaism or etiquette at synagogue. (See Sample Frequently Asked Questions.)
- A program listing who will be honored with what ritual. (See Sample Program.)
You can also include a one-page sheet of bar/bat mitzvah etiquette with the invitation. (See Sample Etiquette Guide for Guests.) Sample information to include:
- Expected dress code
- Appropriate behavior at synagogue
- Short explanation of service
- Information on length of service. This could also include times for parents to drop off and pick up their kids.
- Rules on cellphones
- Expectations for men, including whether to wear yarmulkes
- Other rules unique to your synagogue, such as whether you can take photographs or use a pen
Also, check out Jeffrey Salkin’s Putting God on the Guest List (see other Recommended Books), which contains an explanation of the bar/bat mitzvah service specifically for non-Jews.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families is also available as a PDF document.
The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well.
A cabinet- or cupboard-like structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
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