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Bar Mitzvah Services & Ceremonial Rituals
Conservative Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

Which Service is Appropriate for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah

If you haven’t done the advance work, don’t panic. Just about any service is appropriate for a bar mitzvah. Saturday mornings is the most common choice, because it is one of the main services of the week and the Torah is always read at this service. Friday night, when the Torah is read as well, is another time. Saturday afternoon is traditional time for Torah reading.

Some congregations will schedule an afternoon bat mitzvah close to the end of Shabbat when a havdalah service can be held. Havdalah bar mitzvahs perturb some rabbis because reading the Torah so late in the evening is not the normal reading time. Reading the Torah outside of a service could turn the practice into a show instead of a part of worship.

Although many Conservative congregations are limited to Shabbat and holiday services, the Torah is traditionally read on Monday and Thursday mornings too. Special Torah readings are set for Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each Jewish month, all of Chanukah, Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuout. Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur feature Torah readings, but synagogues don’t generally permit bnei mitzvah celebrations during High Holiday services.

In some congregations, a bat mitzvah celebrant will read a short version of her portion on Friday night (to practice) and the whole shebang on Saturday morning. Another time to get in some reading is to read the haftarah, a weekly reading from the Prophets, at the Friday night service. (It is traditionally read at the Shabbat morning service.


Even if participation is limited during the service, the party’s menu and structure can reflect whatever ethnic heritage and traditions you desire.

Hagba – Raising the Torah
After the reading is finished, the Torah is lifted in a ritual called “hagba,” meaning “to elevate”  Hagba requires strength. The 20 lb. Torah hoisted with three columns of text showing. When the Torah is aloft, many congregations will say, “This is the Torah which Moses set before the Children of Israel, according to God’s word as given to Moses.”

G’lilah – Tying the Torah
A special binder is used to wrap the Torah scroll. In some communities a Torah tie, known as a wimple, was created from a newborn’s swaddling blanket and embroidered with the baby’s name and birth date. The was wimple personalized for the baby, used at the bar mitzvah service, and stored in the synagogue as a sort of membership archive.

Maftir – The Final Aliyah
In a traditional setting, the person who will be reading the haftarah, the section from the writings of the prophets, is honored with the eighth aliyah. The aliyah ritual is the same as a regular aliyah, but the reading is a repetition of the seventh aliyah.

Haftorah – A Reading from the Prophets
Following the Torah reading, the haftorah will be chanted. This short portion is a selection from the prophet’s writings. (There are 19 books of prophetic writings in the Jewish Bible. Twelve of the minor prophetic accounts, like Jonah, are gathered into one book. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel are some of the major volumes.) Haftarot has some connection to a theme from the Torah reading. It’s interesting to speculate what the link is.

Reading the haftarah is somewhat easier than the Torah. For one thing, the Hebrew words of the haftarah have vowels and are generally printed in book form, instead of the large-format, multi-column Torah scroll layout. Furthermore, the haftarah’s traditional tune is more sing-song and less varied than the Torah trop.

Jews began the haftarah tradition around 200 C.E. Some say it was begun in response to despotic bans on Torah reading. Or the custom may have begun as a sort of sermon on the Torah portion that was just read.

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