Bar/bat mitzvah training is the culmination of the many years of Hebrew school that begin when the child enters first grade. Bar/bat mitzvah candidates generally should be able to sound out Hebrew texts and should be familiar with the basics of Jewish tradition and practice. There may be times when accommodations need to be made for children who are new to the congregation and have not attended Hebrew school, but still want to receive bar/bat mitzvah training. The goal of this training is not only to prepare the candidate for the big day, but for the candidate to have a better understanding of his/her identity as a Messianic Jewish person. Therefore, the process is just as important as the end result. The bar/bat mitzvah training typically begins at age 12 and consists of four parts:
- Torah and Haftarah with associated blessings. (Cantor or other insturctor)
- The candidate meets weekly to learn the Torah and Haftarah cantillation.
- Jewish Basics (Rabbi)
- The candidate meets weekly to learn and discuss
- Jewish History: The Big Picture by Gila Gevirtz, Behrman House
- Jewish Values: Jewish Heroes, Jewish Values by Barry L. Schwartz, Behrman House
- Jewish Heroes: Jewish Heroes, Jewish Values by Barry L. Schwartz, Behrman House
- The candidate meets weekly to learn and discuss
- Understanding the Torah and Haftarah portion and its meaning
- Writing the D’var Torah
- Mitzvah Project
The first part of bar/bat mitzvah training involves the student learning to chant Torah, the Haftarah, and the blessings. One of the best training tools available is a program called TropeTrainer http://www.kinnor.com/product-trope-trainer.html. TropeTrainer provides consistency, it allows for change of melodies to match what is used at your synagogue, it provides an audio visual program, and it is customizable and easy to set up. TropeTrainer comes in different packages, including a deluxe version with all of the Torah, Haftarah and High Holiday readings, a standard version without the High Holiday readings and individual parashiot which can be purchased on CD or as a download. All versions include tutorials that teach the trope melodies and how to apply them to the readings. If a congregation chooses to use TropeTrainer, the instructor should have at least the standard version and each student should have at least his or her parashah. If a family has more than one child who will be a bar/bat mitzvah candiate, or if the congregation wishes to encourage Torah reading beyond bar/bat mitzvah, it would be more cost-effective for the family to purchase the standard version as opposed to just the bar/bat mitzvah parashah. Also, using TropeTrainer would enable the teacher to learn right along with the student through the tutorials if there is no one in the congregation currently trained to teach this material.
Torah and Haftarah training will take approximately one year to complete. Usually the teacher works with the students about twice a week for 30 minutes to one hour depending on the student, with the student practicing what has been covered outside of instructional time. Less time in class may be more effective so that the students don't become overwhelmed. The exact structure of your program will depend on what works best at your synagogue. It is recommended to have the student attend class at a regularly scheduled time so that it becomes routine for them. If there are multiple students preparing in the same year, teaching the students how to chant the Torah and Haftarah, as well as instruction on Jewish history and culture can be taught in a group setting. When students are ready to learn their specific portions and develop their speeches, it is necessary to do this on a one-on-one basis.
The second part of bar/bat mitzvah training is the cultural component, which helps the student to understand the “why” of what they are doing and the “how” of how do they fit into Jewish history. This is the part of the training that the Rabbi of the congregation completes with the student. They discuss Jewish history, Jewish values, and Jewish heroes.
The third part of bar/bat mitzvah preparation involves the Rabbi mentoring the candidate through weekly meetings. The Rabbi works with the student to understand their Torah and Haftarah portion and the Rabbi helps the student write their speech. The student’s parents are also involved when it comes to helping the student write the speech.
The fourth part of bar/bat mitzvah preparation involved the candidate choosing a mitzvah project to complete. The mitzvah project involves the student volunteering and giving back to others. The student should start by thinking about what issues they are interested in and where they would like to help out. An internet search can provide many good ideas and is also a great place to start when brainstorming about the mitzvah project. This service part of the bar/bat mitzvah training is a very meaningful and important part of the process.
Restoring the Way Ministries
Messianic Bar & Bar Mitzvah Program (pdf download)