By becoming a bat/bar mitzvah, your child is taking her or his place alongside more than 14 centuries of Jewish children who have celebrated their passage into adulthood as part of a religious community. The very beginnings of the bar mitzvah service go back to the sixth century, when the custom developed of a boy being called to the Torah at age 13 (the age of majority in Jewish law) to recite the Torah blessings for the first time. By the Middle Ages, the boy’s participation in the service expanded to include most of what we know of today as a bar mitzvah service.

It was only in the twentieth century that a ceremony of bat mitzvah developed for girls. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, saw no reason why his daughter should not be afforded the same rights as a 13 year old boy and be called to the Torah; thus, bat mitzvah was born. Variations as to what constitutes becoming a bat mitzvah exist within the different denominations of Judaism and they have changed over time. In some Conservative congregations, for example, where women do not read from the Torah, a girl might read from the Haftarah portion to signify becoming a bat mitzvah. Also, according to Jewish law, girls reach the age of adulthood at 12 1/2; so, in some communities, girls become bat mitzvah younger than the age boys become bar mitzvah.

At Temple Beth-El, as with all Reform congregations, girls and boys are treated equally and no distinction is made between becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. The students demonstrate that they have reached this milestone in Jewish life by participating in the worship service in ways that, traditionally, are reserved for adults: leading the congregation in worship, reading from the Torah, reading a Haftarah portion (selection from the Prophets), reciting the accompanying blessings, and delivering a D’var Torah, a teaching from the Torah.