Becoming a Jewish adult, a bar mitzvah (boy) or bat mitzvah (girl), is a primary life-cycle event at age 13 that is first and foremost about community. It is about stepping forward in the context of kehillah, our sacred congregation, into direct relationship with the essential holy opportunities of our tradition.

A benei mitzvah at Congregation Beth Shalom is an incredibly special event - and comes with much effort and planning. At the end of this document you will find a pdf of our Benei Mitzvah handbook that will answer nearly all of your questions.

For a short and simple explanation of the Benei Mitzvah process, though, we have created for you this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. If you have further questions, contact Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman at

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Bat/Bar/Benei Mitzvah?

When a Jewish person turns 13, they reach the age of majority - an age at which all 613 of the sacred obligations and opportunities of the Jewish people, which we call 'mitzvot' - are incumbent upon them. Bat mitzvah is the name of the ceremony for girls, and bar mitzvah is the name of the ceremony for boys. The plural is benei mitzvah. A Bar or Bat mitzvah is marked by receiving an aliyah to the Torah and reciting the blessing. Additionally, the bat or bar mitzvah will chant a Hebrew passage from the prophets, called a haftarah, read from the Torah, and lead a part of the service.

What religious education is required before a benei mitzvah?

If your child is enrolled in JJEP and your family are members at Beth Shalom, then some of the preparations for the benei mitzvah take place in the regular process of the JJEP program.

If your child is enrolled at a local Jewish day school such as Community Day or Hillel Academy, Hebrew instruction, Judaic studies, and regular prayer education will serve as the foundation of the skillset they will need for their benei mitzvah.

In both cases, for training of the specific benei mitzvah prayers and the haftorah and torah portions, your child will need a benei mitzvah tutor.

If your child is not currently enrolled in JJEP or a local day school, contact Rabbi Adelson for further instruction.

When should we sign up for a date? And how?

Dates for benei mitzvot are assigned up to two years prior to a benei mitzvah. When your child is 11 years old, contact Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman, for a benei mitzvah date.

When should we start preparing, and how does that work?

In addition to continuing their Jewish education at JJEP, CDS, or another local day school, and in addition to preparing for the Hebrew prayer elements of the service with a tutor, your child will work with a rabbi at Beth Shalom to help them prepare for helping lead prayers, and for the dvar torah ('sermon') that they will give at their bar or bat mitzvah. After completing your Benei Mitzvah Program Request form, you should be contacted by a Beth Shalom staff person about a one-on-one meeting approximately six months before your child's Benei Mitzvah date. If you would like to meet earlier, contact our office by calling 412-421-2288.

What might my child be asked to lead at Beth Shalom on the day of their benei mitzvah?

Shabbat begins on Friday night. Your family will have the honor of kiddush at Friday night services. We would love to see your entire family at Friday night. Some families also arrange for Friday night dinner for family and out of town guests in the adjacent room.

Benei mitzvah kids come in all types, from those with a modest level of skill and experience with the traditional Shabbat morning service to those with tremendous background and language skills and a desire to lead in front of a crowd. Beth Shalom provides a warm and affirming benei mitzvah environment for a wide variety of leadership levels. Below are three suggested lists of the components of the service a young person might choose to do.

Shabbat Morning Service AShabbat Morning Service BShabbat Morning Service C
Blessings before and after Torah

Reading from the Torah - One aliyah of 4-10 lines

Blessings before and after haftarah*

Reading from the haftarah - a selection from the Prophets in Hebrew

Dvar Torah - (A brief 5 minute sermon)

the Ashrei prayer

Adon Olam
Everything in Shabbat Service A

Leading the Torah service (in Prayerbook Lev Shalem from 168-184)

Aleinu prayer
Everything in Shabbat Service A
Everything in Shabbat Service B
The Shacharit and/or the Mussaf Service; prayers including but not limited to the Hatzi Kaddish, Avot V'Imahot, Gvurot, Kedusha, and Kaddish Shalem**

* For more on Haftarah, click here: 'Is a haftarah like a half-torah?' by Audrey Glickstein

** A benei mitzvah might also elect to do what is known as a 'full repetition' of the Amidah, which includes Avot V'Imahot, Gvurot, Kedusha, Tikanta, Yismehu, Eloheinu-retzei-sabeinu, Retzei, Modim, and Sim Shalom.

I hear there's a benei mitzvah retreat. What is that?

Every May, Beth Shalom benei mitzvah youth and their families gather for a Shabbaton (retreat) where we spend time learning about what it means to mark ones benei mitzvah. We experience the Shabbat evening, morning and afternoon services together, eat a lot of great food, take hikes, do activities, have discussions, play games, and generally create community. This is one of the highlights of the Benei mitzvah program, and something we strongly encourage every family to take advantage of.

What else might be really important to know?

Your family's celebration is a great opportunity to demonstrate your values. As part of this, some families make a donation to the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry and display gift baskets of food on the bima in lieu of flowers. Other families give tzedakah - righteous donations - to organizations that help those in need in our community, nationally, and globally. A benei mitzvah is also a good time to do gemilut hasadim - acts of lovingkindness/volunteering - with your child. For ideas on what you might want to do, Rabbi Goodman or Rabbi Adelson can be helpful.

Many families also provide a small handout about their child and their child's interests for guests to read. That handout might include details about the benei mitzvah service, interests your child has, or some of the volunteer activities your child might have been involved in leading up to the big day. For a sample copy of what some past families have done, check with Tika Bonner, receptionist, or with Rabbi Goodman.

I heard there's something called a kiddush as part of this thing. What is that, and who do I contact to help arrange it?

On Shabbat after services, the community gathers to bless the day with a cup of grape juice and wine, and light refreshments. It is customary for those experiencing a simha - a joyous occasion - to sponsor the kiddush. For more information about this, contact Jason Friedman, Events Coordinator, at

There are many other details and pieces of information regarding benei mitzvah. For that, we encourage you to look at our Benei Mitzvah handbook which you can find right here:

Benei Mitzvah Handbook