Religious

The Oseh Shalom Religious Committee oversees matters of ritual and Jewish custom, such as our prayerbooks, Interfaith Wedding Policy, Kashrut Policy and related topics. New members are ALWAYS welcome. Check the calendar for meeting times or call the office for a contact person. We welcome your voice on our committee.

Bnei Mitzvah Policy: Version: 1/10/2013

Background:

The goal of this proposal is to increase the emphasis on meaningful content and skills in the bar/bat mitzvah process at Oseh Shalom.

Traditionally, a “Bar Mitzvah” marked the “coming of age” of a Jewish male. Having reached the age of 13, a boy was recognized as an adult in the Jewish community and was thus obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth and obligations of a Jewish adult. To celebrate this coming of age, the synagogue would honor the boy by inviting him to fulfill a public role reserved for adult males. Most often, he would say or chant the blessing before and after the public reading of the Torah (known as the ‘aliyah blessings’ or ‘Torah blessings’).

In contemporary Jewish life, Bar/Bat Mitzvah most often serves as a key life cycle event, in which the congregation and family celebrate both young men and women becoming adult members of the Jewish community. The occasion also serves as an important milestone and focal point in the process of Jewish education.

In most congregations, young Jewish men and women prepare and study intensively. A great deal of time and resources are invested in the education and preparation leading up to the bar or bat mitzvah. As such, the goals and expectations deserve careful consideration, and not merely an automatic adherence to past practices and tradition.

At Oseh Shalom, we typically expect a student to chant the aliyah blessings, chant Torah verses, prepare and deliver a short talk (‘d’rash’), and chant the weekly Haftarah portion. Students focus their preparations especially on their Haftarah, devoting far more time and effort to this skill than to any other.

However, in spite of the great amount of time spent on Haftarah, rarely do students ever use this skill again. By contrast, after learning to chant Torah many of our students chant in synagogue on other occasions during services. After learning to lead prayers, students have the chance to lead prayers here in synagogue, at educational retreats for Upper School, in their homes on holidays and Shabbat, and elsewhere.

As a Reconstructionist synagogue, Oseh Shalom believes that Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. We believe that Jewish life can be expressed through diverse creative and artistic means, such as art, filmmaking, drama, music, etc, as well through prayer and chanting Torah. Thoughtful, pre-approved and supervised projects might help the students to experience Judaism more fully as a religious civilization, with increased relevance for their lives.

Given the above, Rabbi Heifetz and the Religious Committee propose that we change our B’nei Mitzvah expectations for our students, that we shift our emphasis away from the routine study of the Haftarah. We believe that increased attention to learning Torah chanting, prayers, and creative Jewish projects will better enrich our students’ Jewish lives for both the short and long run.

After much discussion at the October and December meetings, the Religious Committee unanimously approved that Oseh Shalom move forward with the process of getting congregational input and considering the following proposal, which if approved, would begin with the FY2014 Bar/Bat Mitzvah cycle (changes would take effect beginning in September, 2013).

Goals:

  • To increase the emphasis on meaningful content and skills in the B’nei Mitzvah process
  • To increase the students’ ability to actively and meaningfully participate in Jewish life
  • To increase the students’ skills chanting Torah and learning key prayers which will be of greater long-term value to them than the skill of learning to chant a particular Haftarah portion
  • To incorporate the study of the Haftarah portions into the Religious School curriculum , while de-emphasizing learning to chant a particular Haftarah
  • To enable our students to apply various creative skills (such as filmmaking, songwriting, art, etc.) to their Jewish lives
  • To enable our students to become more active participants in Jewish communal life as Jewish adults after their bar/bat mitzvah.
  • To enliven and invigorate our Shabbat morning service for students, their friends, families and all congregants
  • To provide our student s with the opportunity to creatively and actively engage in the study of Torah

Process:

  • Religious Committee creates formal proposal
    • Proposal is distributed/made available on-line
    • Proposal is summarized in publicity in the Shalom, on the Listserv, through bimah announcements
    • Feedback is solicited from key stakeholders including, but not limited to, Education Director, Cantor, principal Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutors
    • Letter with explanation, copy of proposal and date for congregational meetings sent to families who would be impacted in the coming year
    • Two “open congregational meetings” will be held to discuss the proposal (first meeting tentatively scheduled for Sunday, March 3, 10:00 AM)
    • Feedback and comments are taken back to the Religious Committee
    • Proposal is discussed with possible changes based on feedback and comments
    • Final proposal is adopted by Religious Committee and submitted to the Executive Committee and Board for adoption at May or June 2013 Board meeting

Proposal:

  • The Haftarah portion will not be sent out to the family along with the information giving the bar/bat mitzvah date and Torah portion.
  • Information on the student’s specific Haftarah portion will not routinely be given to the tutors.
  • Prospective B’nei mitzvah families will be told that, because Oseh Shalom wants to emphasize other skills, chanting the Haftarah and Haftarah blessing is no longer the standard expectation for a bar/bat mitzvah student.
  • Families will be told that, if they choose, their son or daughter may chant the Haftarah portion during their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

The following will be the expectations for all Bar/Bat mitzvah students:

  1. Learning and chanting the Torah blessings
  2. Learning, at a minimum, the Maftir Torah portion for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  3. Preparing a drash to be presented to the congregation
  4. Learning at a minimum, the following required list of Shabbat service prayers and leading the congregation in these prayers during the Friday night and Saturday morning services of their Bar/Bat mitzvah : Shema, V’ahavta, Friday Evening Kiddush, Mah tovu, Aleynu, Adon Olam
  5. Choose one or more of the following options:
  • Chanting additional Torah portions
  • Learning a minimum of 6 additional Hebrew prayers in order to lead more of the Shabbat evening or morning service
  • Completing a “creative project” that will be briefly presented during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service. This project must have direct relevance to the Torah, Haftarah, or upcoming holiday and be smoothly integrated into the flow of the Shabbat service. Oseh Shalom will provide a list tutors who can help with relevant skills, such as Jewish filmmaking, songwriting, web design, visual arts, etc. All creative projects must be reviewed and approved by the Rabbi at least 4 months prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
  • Chanting the Haftarah and its blessings

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