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Ways the Child May Participate in the Ceremony
There are a number of common ways in which the child may participate in the service, depending on the practice of the synagogue where the bar/bat mitzvah is taking place:
1. He/she is called for an aliyah.
The Torah reading on Shabbat (Saturday) morning is divided into sections. Prior to each section, a person or persons is called to the bima to recite a short blessing over the reading. Only adults 13 and older are allowed to receive an aliyah, which is considered a great honor. The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is the opportunity for the child’s first aliyah.
2. He/she reads from the Torah.
The child usually chants some or all of the weekly Torah reading in Hebrew.
This requires a significant amount of training and tutoring for the child to be able to read Hebrew without vowels and learn the unique music that goes with every Torah reading (the trope).
One way to include the non-Jewish parent in the child’s bar/bat mitzvah process is for the parent to study the Torah and Haftarah text with his/her child. It can be a great way for the non-Jewish parent to learn about Judaism, Hebrew, etc.
3. He/she chants the Haftarah.
Every Torah reading is thematically associated with a reading (the Haftarah) from The Prophets, sacred books that are not part of the Torah, which includes only the first five books of Moses. Almost always, the bar/bat mitzvah child is expected to chant this associated reading. As with the Torah reading, learning the Haftarah and its music takes time and training.
4. He/she delivers a commentary (drasha) on the Torah reading.
In many congregations, the rabbi gives a sermon about ideas and lessons from that week’s Torah reading. In many congregations, the bar/bat mitzvah child is encouraged to give his or her own commentary on ideas and lessons from the week’s Torah reading or his/her Haftarah portion. This is often an opportunity for the child to speak about his/her social action project, if he/she has done one.
It’s also a great chance for the child--if he or she wishes--to recognize the contributions of his non-Jewish parent and/or relatives.
If you’re interested in making the speech accessible to non-Jewish audiences, you can speak to universal values that Judaism and other religions share: social action, compassion, justice, etc. Another way to make the speech accessible to non-Jewish audiences is to speak about Jewish figures that are revered by other religions, such as Judith and the Maccabees, who are revered by Christians, or Abraham, who is revered by Muslims.
Also, if the rabbi is giving a speech or sermon, you can suggest that he or she recognize the non-Jewish parent or relatives in the child’s family. This kind of encouragement straight from the pulpit can put non-Jewish relatives greatly at ease.
5. He/she leads parts of the service.
The Shabbat morning service includes psalms and readings that precede the service, the morning service (Shacharit), the Torah service and the additional service (Musaf). Each service is broken down into numerous prayers and readings, which vary from movement to movement.
In many congregations, the child is allowed to lead some or all of these services. In some congregations, however, bar/bat mitzvah children are discouraged from taking over the service and turning a communal event into an individual one.
There are other ways that some congregations integrate the bar/bat mitzvah child into the service, such as having the child say a pledge to continue his or her Jewish education or having the child recite a unique prayer about his/her bar/bat mitzvah.
6. The child says the blessings over the post-service luncheon.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families is also available as a PDF document.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. 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.