Adult B’ nai Mitzvah
Becoming bar or bat mitzvah happens whether or not there’s a ceremony or celebration to go with it. At the age of 12 a girl is bat mitzvah. At the age of 13 a boy is bar mitzvah. Nothing else has to occur for that to be true.
What we have come to know as the bar or bat mitzvah is a combination of participating in a service, being called to the torah and a celebration with family, friends and community. Though often expected, no event is necessary and there are many reasons why a family might not choose to have a ceremony or celebration. For some 12- or 13-year-olds, their commitment to athletics or other pursuits that takes up all of their afterschool time makes it challenging to add the lessons needed to prepare for the ceremony. For many women, there was no opportunity to be called to the torah when they were younger. For older generations, world events may have interrupted their Jewish learning and rituals. There are some who have converted as adults or recently rediscovered Jewish roots and want the opportunity to be called to the torah. Some people may want to be immersed in an adult learning environment and recommit to their faith. There are even those who have seen their children become bar or bat mitzvah who realize that they, too, want to have this experience.
For people who didn’t mark the occasion at 12 or 13, adult b’nai mitzvah is an option. From their teenage years through to their centenary, young adults and adults have been marking and personalizing this ritual. “You’re never too old,” says Rabbi Jason Miller, who has tutored people in their 80s for the ceremony. Rabbi Barbara Aiello, the first woman rabbi in Italy, has officiated at ceremonies for those in their 90s as well as young adults. She mentions the bar mitzvah of a neurodivergent 19-year-old. He could only recite the Shema, so that became the text of his ceremony. Afterwards, he was thrilled and announced, “I am bar mitzvah!” Welcoming students who have learning differences, are neurodivergent or have physical disabilities requires flexibility. Rabbi Jason says, “I meet people where they are.” Rabbi Barbara notes that many people did not have a bar or bat mitzvah earlier in life because of language humiliation. Adult b’nai mitzvah courses and tutoring can include a range of options from reading and reciting in Hebrew to reading transliteration, thus removing the language barrier without removing meaning from the ritual.
By all accounts, adults who are called to the torah as b’nai mitzvah feel a sense of accomplishment. “In general, I see a lot of pride and satisfaction on the part of participants. For some, it represents fulfilling an expectation of parents or grandparents that they had not been able to do when they were younger. For others it is about gaining more of the skills that they want in order to feel more connected and competent as Jewish adults,” says Rabbi Barry Diamond, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.
The time commitment for those considering adult b’nai mitzvah ranges from 3 – 24 months. Group learning with a group ceremony is an option that synagogues and independent rabbis offer. Whether on Zoom or inperson, group classes offer support and camaraderie. It takes the spotlight off of one person, which can be daunting for some, and puts it onto the accomplishment of the group as a whole. Within that structure, learning and participation in the service can be tailored to each individual’s needs.
Each synagogue may have its own requirements, so there may be research involved to find a program that fits. Says Rabbi Diamond, “There is no certifying body creating requirements… Every rabbi decides for themselves.”
Below are some options for information, classes and tutoring for adult b’nai mitzvah. Some group classes stopped during the pandemic quarantine but are hopeful of resuming these courses this year.
Temple Adat Elohim, Thousand Oaks
An 18-month adult study program that focuses on Hebrew, liturgy, and basic Jewish knowledge. The program culminates with a Shabbat service that includes Torah readings and student speeches. The adult program has been on hold due to COVID, however may resume this year. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Two-year program. For more information, contact Cantor Lizzie Weiss at 310.409.4642 or CantorWeiss@tebh.org
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
This six-month course culminates in a Shabbat morning ceremony over Shavuot. The adult program has been on hold due to COVID, however may resume this year. www.wbtla.org/life-cycle/adult-bneimitzvah. Hannah Gole, (424) 208-8932, email@example.com
Rabbi Jason Miller
Rabbi Jason offers tutoring via Zoom and is available for destination b’nai mitzvahs. The group adult program has been on hold due to COVID, however, may resume. For more information: mitzvahrabbi.com