B Mitzvah With No Hebrew?
No Hebrew, No Problem!
Most children outside Israel cannot speak Hebrew well, needing a little bit of coaching and support. I have added some resources to help you get started. From learning the "Alef-Bet" through to the "day" of chanting, there are many facinating ways to connect to one's history, heritage, and people. In our community, every child is important and deserve the rich inheritance that our ancestors fought so hard to preserve.
What Are Bar and Bat Mitzvahs?
Bar and Bat are the Aramaic/Hebrew terms for "son" and "daughter" respectively.
Mitzvah is the term for "religious commandment" as written in the Torah. The Torah is the term used for the Five Books Of Moses. If you are familiar with Passover, Rosh Hashana (or any Jewish holidays, for that matter) you are engaging with the Torah. Furthermore, the Christian religious is predicated on the Torah, which are expanded to include the Prophetic Works and "Writings". One could say that the entire Western Tradition is based on the Torah, since it includes "every category of personality, context, and condition".
Up until the age of 13 (12 for girls in some communities) the parents are responsible for the conduct of the children. As such, parents are encouraged to teach their children in both "mundane" and "Holy" activities, ensuring that they develop critical thinking and the ability to decipher good from bad. This also comes at a unique time when children are facing physical maturity, with a whole bunch of internal changes going on. In many ways, the ceremony marks the change for both the body and the soul, signally full "membership" in the Jewish People.
Most people think about the "big day" and not so much that goes into the prep. work.
Think about all of the things that need to be covered.
Reading the Hebrew Language
Reading the Hebrew Torah font
Learning how to chant while reading
Learning the prayers and how to lead a service
Put on Tallit and Tefillin (and recite the appropriate prayers)
Develop a Thesis and deliver a sermon on the Parsha
Do We Have To Do Everything?
Of course not!
However, it does get addictive.
Some students face different barriers that make it difficult to learn different languages. Working within a student's comfort zone and interest, you can adapt different things to ensure accessibility to all! Judaism teaches that all children are Made In The Image of Gd and deserve special consideration. It is inspiring when anyone shows an interest in the Torah!
Do I Have To Read Hebrew?
You do not have to do anything!
If someone cannot read the Hebrew font (whatsoever) we will be happy to provide a transliteration of the Parsha. Please click here to email me and I will send you the "spelled-out" version of the Torah portion. Please tell me if you are having the event on your "legal Hebrew" birthdate. You want to make sure that you are preparing for the correct "weekly portion"!
If you are interested in learning Hebrew, that is awesome!
That is double, triple awesome!
Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew are very close but different in some grammar and vocabulary. Furthermore, there are other changes, like the order of words and so forth. The goods news it that you will be able to read both with ease, assuming that you take your Hebrew Classes seriously!
What is Ulpan?
Israel has developed the Ulpan program which is successful at teaching new immigrants how to speak Hebrew "functionally". In other words, after roughly 6 months of full-time students, Ulpan graduates can:
Read "intermediate" newspapers with ease, understanding roughly 75% of mainstream media.
Get advanced placement in Mechina, or Hebrew university studies in Israel.
Doing transactions at the bank, restaurant, hotel, government office or so forth.
Understand Jewish history, both during the Exile and after The Return (Aliyah).
Socializing in Hebrew, making friends and building strong relationships.
What About Hebrew Prayers?
The "Main Event" is when the Torah and removed from the Ark and the student starts to chant the blessings. This is will signal for the congregation to respond, reflecting their support for both the Reader and the Subject Matter. The Prayers are rociprical in nature, requiring participation from all in attendance. It would be helpful for the parents to study these prayers as well. The prayers differ based on what is being read, whether it be from the Torah-proper or the Prophets. Most Jewish Prayers have a simular (perhaps even recognizable) meter to them, with the same "Baruch Ata Adonai..". This can be helpful for learning addition prayers, since the "core essentials" are so easy to master. If you would like a transliterated copy of your specific prayer, please drop me an email with your request.
Even if I cannot help you (or get you connected) here in Toronto, I can send you things like:
Your Hebrew Birthday
The Appropriate Torah and Hafta Portion
Transliterated copies of all of the Prayers
Hebrew Language Learning Materials.
Accessing a Torah in your local community.
Equality And Inclusivity?
I am the son of a Rabbi and I have been taught to follow in the Worldview of my father. I grew up hearing girls studying for their Bar Mitzvahs, mastering the same trope as their male peers. I (speaking for myself) encourage everyone to study for B Mitzvah, as it will ensure the continuation of our Faith, Values, and Identity. Assuming that a student is interested in "being called", there is no condition where we would ever deny this Mitzva, on any condition. This includes (but not limited to all) sexual orientations, genders, and ancestry.
Do I Need A Rabbi?
You need someone who:
1) Can read Read, Chant, and Understand The Torah With Fluency.
2) Is able to teach those skills (not everyone who can do, can teach)
3) Understands synagogue ritual, order, and roles.
This person could be a Rabbinical student, ordained Rabbi, or Hebrew teacher.
While you can study online (through Zoom or whatnot) you will still need access to a Torah. Furthermore, Torah Calligraphy is much different than the script found in a Chumash or Sefaria. Most notably is the letter Chet.
If you notice that the letter on the left has "a triangle" on the top whereas the letter on the right does not. They are the same letter-with the same meaning-causing many students to get confused. Your teacher will go over these small "tricks and tricks" in order to Master Your B Mitzvah!
How Much Time Does It Take?
It really depends on how much the student wants to do.
If they student wants to master all of the objectives decribed above, it will take around 2-3 years of hard study. This means that they student will start around age 10 or so, gently transitioning into Jewish Life and Practice. Hebrew learning can be understood as a ladder, with each rung leading up to something higher. It doesn't really matter where you start, rather whether you get on the ladder at all!
If a student has barriers of any kind, the material can adapted to meet their specific needs. Even if a student wants to do a "little", it is still WAY better than not doing it at all! The act of B Mitzvah is powerful, staying with the student for the rest of their lives. It will orient (and ground) their values, basing it off both Ancient Custom and modern considerations.
What WIll Parents Need To Buy For B Mitzvah?
B Mitzvah Tips!
Buy a replica Torah to practice! Real Torahs can cost $50k+ but a replica can cost $100-$300. Of course the replica will not be handwritten but will "do the trick" and be a great memento.
Tefillin costs between $300-$3,000. This is due to the quality of the Script inside both the hand and head boxes. The lower prices offerings may or may not be Kosher. For example, the Script may be glued together from many different other Scrolls, instead of being one solid piece. The choice is up to you but you should understand what is being sold and what is "valued".
It is possible to have your Bar or Bat Mitzvah at a banquet hall or other community space. This would be bringing the Torah, Ark, Podium, Cover, Torah Pointer, Prayer Books, and so forth.
If you have any questions whatsoever, please reach out by clicking here. This is a very exciting time for your entire family and I wish you happiness, health, and togetherness.