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Bar & Bat Mitzvah

Let us help you prepare for and celebrate your child’s coming of age within the Jewish people in a secular and humanistic manner that makes sense to them and is meaningful for the whole family. You do not have to be a member of Oraynu to participate in this program.

To read general information on Humanistic Jewish Life Cycle Events, click here.

Evolution of the Bat/Bar Mitzvah

People seem to think that Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are mandated in the Torah and require the child to chant the Torah portion of the week and deliver a commentary on it. In fact they are first mentioned in the Talmud as the time when girls at age 12 and boys at age 13 became obligated to follow the mitzvot/commandments of the Jewish religion. A Bar Mitzvah event wasn’t instituted until the late Middle Ages and the first Bat Mitzvah event didn’t take place till 1922. So over time, the rites and significance of this event have evolved. Today there is a trend towards egalitarian celebration of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah but it is still not universal, even in some of the liberal movements.

Significance of a Humanistic Bat/Bar Mitzvah

In Humanistic Judaism girls and boys have equal rights and responsibilities and there is no gender distinction in the way we mark this important coming of age. We welcome the child into the program if either of the child’s parents is Jewish and all family members are encouraged to fully participate in the event. (See Humanistic Judaism’s position on ‘Who is a Jew’ by clicking here.) We recommend that both boys and girls be thirteen by the event date since increased maturity results in enhanced benefits for the child. In our Movement, turning thirteen no longer signifies religious adulthood, but rather, entry into the period of adolescence when a child moves towards independence by assuming greater responsibility for his or her actions.

For Humanistic Jews the process of becoming a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, encompasses an increased commitment by the child to:

  1. acquiring Jewish knowledge,
  2. integrating Humanistic Jewish values into everyday living, and
  3. becoming actively involved in the prophetic mitzvah of tikkun olam — building a better world.

During this period we see an evolution of the child in every area of his or her life, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The purpose of having a public rite is to recognize, validate and celebrate this dramatic growth and transition and to enable our children to strengthen their Jewish identity by connecting them to their Jewish roots and community.

Participating in this process also alters the family and community. It helps us recognize the changing needs and capabilities of our children. It also reminds us of our obligation to help our children grow towards independence by sharing our wisdom with them, by listening to them as they share theirs and by providing them with love, understanding and encouragement.

Preparation for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah

This is a self-study program but parents may choose to provide tutoring assistance. Our Rabbis help the child narrow down their choices and create a study program for them. They also assist with final edits to all material to be presented during the ceremony. It is recommended that the preparation time for the event be between 8-18 months. Some children who are highly motivated and exceptional learners can complete the work in less time. Our expectation for preparation and delivery will be commensurate with the learning and presentation ability of each individual child.

Standard Preparation includes:

  1. Family and Child meet with the Rabbi and commit to the process
  2. Child reads about the history of the Jewish people from ancient to contemporary times
  3. Family and Child familiarize themselves with the philosophy and practices of Humanistic Judaism
  4. Child chooses and executes a research project on an approved Jewish topic (parents provide assistance and tutoring if required) and Child prepares a presentation for the event.
  5. Parents assist Child in finding, committing to and executing a tikkun olam or community volunteer project and Child prepares a brief statement on the volunteer experience for presentation at the event.
  6. Parents have meaningful discussion with Child about significance of being Jewish and preparing for and having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Child prepares a brief personal statement for presentation at the event.
  7. OPTIONAL:  Child may choose to read or chant a relevant Torah portion and deliver a brief humanistic commentary on the reading. (chanting will require a special tutor)
  8. ALTERNATE OPTION: Child may choose to share any relevant Jewish reading at the event.
  9. OPTIONAL:  Child may present a suitable personal artistic talent

Oraynu’s Torah Scroll

If the Child can read or is willing to learn to read Hebrew from a Torah scroll, a very beautiful Torah can be rented from Oraynu for the event. A beautiful large Torah codex (book form) with cantillation marks and vowels is also available.

Humanistic Bar and Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies

Our Rabbis, Rabbi Eva Goldfinger and Rabbi Denise Handlarski will create and lead a humanistic ceremony that

  1. enables all family members to participate in a meaningful way,
  2. takes place on Shabbat or close to a Jewish festival and a brief Shabbat or festival service is incorporated,
  3. shares the significance of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah life cycle event,
  4. recognizes the personality and character of the Child,
  5. incorporates all the Child’s presentations as noted above,
  6. accepts the Child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah commitment
  7. welcomes the child into the Jewish community as a young adult member,
  8. OPTIONAL: includes poetry and singing in English, Hebrew and Yiddish
  9. OPTIONAL: includes a candle lighting or cup of life ‘passing of values’ ritual
  10. incorporates the presentation of a signed Bat/Bar Mitzvah Certificate.

No prayer is incorporated in the ceremony and all poetry, songs and blessings are non-theistic. The event can take place anywhere the family chooses, in Toronto or out of town, as long as there is sufficient space so that the Child will be readily seen and heard by all attendees. Guests seated in rows facing the presentation area, rather than sitting around tables, is recommended.

Group Bnai Mitzvah Program

By registering your child in our school for at least Grades 6 and 7, he or she can participate in June, after graduating from Grade 7, in a wonderful, meaningful group Bnai Mitzvah event. Rabbi Karen Levy and our school principal created the group program and update it each year; our Music Director is responsible for teaching the group all the songs. We encourage all children who are enrolled in our school to participate in the group Bnai Mitzvah event. If the parents and the child prefer they can also have an individual Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony or just the individual ceremony with one of our Rabbis.

Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies

The obligation to increase Jewish knowledge, to live our values and to contribute to repairing the world is not restricted to children and adolescents. Adults who, either never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah as children or who want to participate in one that is humanistic and more significant for them today, can choose to enter a similar self-study program. The event is more flexible and can take place as part of a congregational Shabbat or Festival Celebration.

Contact Us

For more information please contact the Oraynu office by calling 416-385-3910 or by clicking here to email us from our CONTACT US page.