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B'Mitzvah Preparation & Requirements: “On Three Things”

In the Mishnah, the earliest collection of rabbinic teachings, we find this saying: “On three things the world stands: on Torah, on avodah (prayer), and on gemilut chasadim (deeds of lovingkindness)” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Our children’s Jewish education is based upon this three-fold formula, and the B'Mitzvah process reflects it as well.

1) Torah/Learning

“Torah” refers to the first five books of the Bible, but also to Jewish learning in the broadest sense. The B'Mitzvah ceremony represents the culmination of the first stage of a young person’s Jewish study. For Reconstructionist Judaism, “Torah” encompasses all the richness of Jewish culture — including Hebrew language, Bible and other sacred texts, music and literature, and Jewish history.

We recognize that different children have different strengths and capabilities, and we want to make sure that preparing for the B'Mitzvah ceremony does not become a stressful burden. With the caveat that children’s special needs and abilities will always be taken into account, these are the specific components of B'Mitzvah preparation:

‣ Competence in Hebrew reading. B'nei Mitzvah are expected to be able to read portions of the Shabbat liturgy as well as selections from the Torah and haftarah (prophetic reading).

‣ Ability to leyn (chant) from the Torah scroll and the haftarah. Each student will work with a private tutor to learn the trope, the traditional modes of chanting Torah and haftarah. It is recommended to begin this preparation 8-10 months before the ceremony, depending on the student’s facility with Hebrew and singing. Please contact Rabbi Toba or Earnest Vener for a list of possible tutors. 

‣ Preparation and delivery of a d’var Torah, “Torah talk.” Over the course of the year preceding the ceremony, Rabbi Toba or Earnest Arky Soloman will meet with each student to discuss the Torah portion and help them prepare their d’var Torah. 

In addition, the upcoming B'nei Mitzvah class and their parents are expected to attend the family education sessions held in the 6th & 7th grade years.

2) Avodah/Worship

Communal prayer is a central component of Dorshei Tzedek’s life as a community, and so we expect our B'nei Mitzvah to have familiarity with our Shabbat morning service. In addition, knowledge of the service is an important connection to Jewish communities around the world. 

Part of becoming a Jewish adult is figuring out what role prayer and Jewish spirituality will play in one’s life. As a community however, we affirm the value of each Jew being able to participate in religious services, being able to make a decision about the role of prayer in their own life from a place of knowledge and experience.

To that end, B'nei Mitzvah learn to chant segments of the Shabbat morning service, as well as the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah and haftarah. There are minimum requirements for service-leading, but each B'Mitzvah is encouraged to lead as much as they are able and interested. They learn portions of the service as part of the religious school curriculum, and will also be trained by their tutor.

In order to gain familiarity with the Shabbat morning service in general, and with our Reconstructionist service in particular, each student (along with a parent) is required to attend Shabbat morning services twice a month in the year leading up to the ceremony. If you are busy attending B'nei Mitzvah services at other synagogues, then one service at another synagogue can count towards the monthly requirement, and the other at Dorshei Tzedek.

3) Gemilut Chasadim/Acts of Lovingkindness

Caring for others, by giving of one’s time and material possessions, is a fundamental Jewish value. As part of their preparation for becoming full members of the Jewish community, B'nei Mitzvah are required to become involved in some sort of social action (“tikkun olam”) project in the year leading up to their ceremony. This can include volunteering at a soup kitchen, tutoring someone in need, working with an environmental organization, or any other project that involves giving of one’s time and energy and care for those who are in need. This can also be a family project. These projects will be discussed at one of the Family Education programs, and the rabbis will discuss specific tikkun olam opportunities with you at the family meeting one year before your ceremony.

A Note on Special Needs

It is important to reiterate that every Jew becomes B'Mitzvah when they turn 13, regardless of what ceremony they may or may not have. Congregation Dorshei Tzedek is committed to making this important life cycle celebration accessible and meaningful to all of its members, including those young people who have disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to participate in all of the ways outlined above. In such cases, a special program of preparation will be worked out in consultation with the rabbis and the Inclusion Coordinator.

Next: Opportunities for Tzedakah

Tue, June 28 2022 29 Sivan 5782