Bat and Bat Mitzvah.

Judaism is different from other religious civilizations because membership in the group is not determined by belief. Not even the creed written by the great rabbi Maimonides was adopted as a test of one's Judaism. Judaism is a way of life, a way of life based on action rather than on belief. A mitzvah, or commandment, is not a thought or a belief, but an act.

What is a mitzvah? A mitzvah is an obligation. Jewish tradition discusses two sorts of obligations: obligations to God and obligations to other people. Even among religious Jews, the first sort is subordinate to the second. As Secular Humanistic Jews, we are concerned with the second sort of mitzvah, our obligations to each other and to our community.

What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah? A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a person who has reached the age at which he or she is expected to assume the obligations of an adult Jew. At this age, the person's parents are no longer responsible for the child's moral and religious behavior. Even in our modern society, when children no longer marry at puberty, the ceremony occurs at a time in their lives when the influence of their parents is waning.

What is the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony? The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is a public performance of one act required of the adult Jew as a symbol that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is now an adult Jew and has agreed to perform the obligations of an adult Jew.

Traditionally, the symbolic ceremonial act is the aliyah, being called up to the reading of the Torah. A secular ceremony may include a symbolic act, but it is of a moral, rather than a religious, nature. A Secular Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony indicates that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah understands and accepts the moral obligations incumbent on an adult Jew. Secular ceremonies are usually full of singing, and include both academic and cultural presentations as well as community and family participation.

How do you prepare to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah as a Secular Humanistic Jew? The Secularist preparation involves head, heart and hands. Young people (and older people who want their first ceremony, or one that is meaningful to them) prepare by finding what interests them and has meaning for them in Jewish tradition. They research these things and present what they've learned to their community. They also engage in any form of community service that has value to them as Jews. In addition, they reflect on the obligations that being Jewish imposes and share those reflections with the community.

The Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah provides a mentoring program in which one or more adult members spend up to one year guiding the bar or bat mitzvah through the process leading up to their ceremony, from exploring topics and projects which have meaning for them, to carrying out those topics and projects.  Though this may include writing and delivering a commentary on a portion of the Torah, the bar/bat mitzvah is not expected to know or use Hebrew in the ceremony.

We will be happy to share models of previous bar/bat mitzvah programs.  Previous bat/bar mitzvahs and their families are also available to share their experiences.