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August 28, 2015 | 13th Elul 5775
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Adult B'nei Mitzvah


  1. The UAHC Department of Adult Jewish Growth has just published Adult B'nei Mitzvah: Affirming Our Identity, a 112-page book filled with suggestions and sample curricula. From how to handle Hebrew instruction to critical pointers for structuring "The Big Day," Affirming Our Identity will be an important aide to both the facilitator who has never before offered this course as well as to the seasoned adult b'nei mitzvah instructor. It is available through the Union Press (

  2. Our rabbi recently sent out letters to the male members of the congregation inviting those who had never had the opportunity to have a Bar Mitzvah, and even those who had, to join him to study together. We have always had an Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, but it mainly attracted women. This "men only" group is getting unbelievable response. We already have 20+ men signed up to come to an organizational meeting, and the letters just went out.
    1000+ Families

  3. Does anyone know the source for the occasional custom of a man having a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83? I have only been able to find a reference to having lived a life span of 70 years since the first (bar mitzvah).

  4. My guess would be that the idea emerges from the idea that 70 is the ideal life span, so you count 13 from that "starting over" point. But I don't think we need to find a justification.

    What we need to do is to separate the bar mitzvah concept--becoming obligated to observe the commandments and becoming eligible to be called to the Torah--from recurring occasions to be called to the Torah. I can't begin to count the number of times I have been privileged to read from the bimah--but neither I nor anyone else thought of those as a second (third? twenty-fifth?) bar mitzvah.

    My teacher...first sensitized me to the inherent fallacy in the term "adult bar mitzvah"--since the obligation came into being at age 13 whether or not there was a ceremony to mark it. When he was at [our congregation], he liked to use the term Chaver leTorah--I don't know what the minhag is [elsewhere]. But as a marketing professional, I recognize the magic of the misnomer--and we can sell people on studying Torah for an adult bar mitzvah who won't be sold by the opportunity to become a chaver leTorah.

    At [our congregation], we had a gentleman who had come late to his Judaism, but who came for several years every Shabbat and Sunday morning to the rabbi's classes. Eventually he "bought into the program" to the extent that he celebrated his 70th birthday by having a bar mitzvah. The services were followed by a gala luncheon in a trendy restaurant--and in true bar mitzvah fashion, he never showed up at the temple again!

    1350 member units

  5. I am preparing for my "bat mitzvah," and I've done a lot of studying and learning in the process. Of course I'm very excited about doing this at the age of 63. When I was 13 my family did not belong to a synagogue and I had no religious education. I've been working towards this goal for over a year, and last year I actually read from the Torah, at the rabbi's request, but had no special celebration. The rabbi has teased me ever since because how can you be bat mitzvah when you've already read from the Torah and had many, many aliyahs. So it would be wonderful to come up with another term to acknowledge a special Torah reading under these kinds of circumstances. In any case it will be a special day for me with my kids coming to be with me.
    160 families

  6. I had my bar mitzvah in 1967. Then, about five years ago, my wife and I took a "Hebrew for Adults" class at our temple. The culmination of this class was a b'nei mitzvah for the class. I asked if there were "do overs" allowed and was told that it was, as a graduation and a re-affirmation.

  7. The adults who are in our Hebrew 2 or above (prayer & liturgy focused classes) are offered the opportunity to participate in what we call a "B'nei Torah" ceremony in the spring. As Larry noted, I [too] avoid the term "adult bar/bat mitzvah" as it is a contradiction in terms. That is a lesson in itself. It also allows all--even those who may have marked the age of 13 with the bar or bat mitzvah ritual--the opportunity to mark their commitment to study with this ceremony. I liken it to choosing to mark having reached a landing on a long staircase that continues--you want to mark the spot in a public way, but then continue onward in study.

    This will be the fourth year we have held this ceremony--group size has ranged from two to six. The group creates their own worship--with a combination of traditional liturgy and their own interpretations of some prayers we have studied. They also have the responsibility to choose the section of the parashah they want, as a group to focus on. They then lead the Saturday morning chapel service, which I have described previously. Prior to that, on Friday evening, they each have the opportunity to "pass the Torah"--a ceremony we do on the Friday prior to a bar or bat mitzvah. Then, it is passed down the generations. On this night, each participant gets to pick who participates and who actually passes it to them--sometimes it is parents, sometime children, sometimes a teacher. It is always amazing. The congregation finds it so wonderful--and it has made others choose to study.

    What is so exciting to me is that right now this year's group is wrestling with their portion section choice. Since they come from two different sections of class, their discussion is via e mails, which I am copied on. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to have come back from a few days away to see this thread of Torah dialogue between my students.

    680 member units

  8. One of our congregants had his second bar mitzvah at 83 this year on the exact anniversary of his first, reading the same parashah. It was explained to me that this new custom was on behalf of Holocaust victims who had no ceremony. I may be able to get additional info if it's desired. The ceremony and weekend were very meaningful to all.


  9. With regards to a second bar mitzvah, I had heard it said that somewhere in tradition a full life was 70 years, and that if you are lucky enough to reach that milestone, you can plan a second bar mitzvah 13 years later. Thus the age of 83.

    A few years ago I decided I wanted to read Torah on my 70th birthday, and lo and behold I found my copy of Leviticus with the beginning of my Torah passage marked up--I spoke to the rabbonim and the cantor who were supportive, relearned the parashah, and read from the Scroll. With all my family in attendance it was a wonderful evening. I'm planning to repeat this ten years hence if the Kadish Borachu permits me to reach such an ancient age.


  10. All of this discussion concerning adult b'nei mitzvah is truly heartening--it is a phenomenon that has taken adult liberal Jewry by storm and refuses to go away, thank goodness! More than 700 congregations have requested our Adult B'nei Mitzvah: Affirming Our Identity since it was published a couple of years ago. It is filled with suggestions and best practices from Reform congregations throughout North America. To order, please contact the Press at

    Francie Schwartz, Adult Learning Coordinator
    Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning

  11. The custom of celebrating a second bar mitzvah at age 83 has nothing to do with the Holocaust, but rather derives from the verse in Psalm 90:10--"The days of our years are seventy, or if by reason of special strength, eighty years...." Since a "normal" life span is pegged at 70, one can start counting again, and add 13, you get 83.

    My father, a past temple president, celebrated this milestone last June, reading the same Torah portion and haftarah that he had read in 1933. At the service, we had a "passing up" of the Torah, from the grandchildren to the children, to my father. It was a wonderful simchah.


  12. [Re origin of practice of b'nei mitzvah at age 83:]

    What has grown since WWII, and more particularly in the past quarter-century, has been Reform's embrace of tradition and willingness to make new spins on tradition. Orthodoxy is resistant to any kind of liturgical innovation, and there are those who say that the Conservative Movement will do what Reform does, only twenty years later.

    World War II ended almost sixty years ago--and its impact on Reform Judaism comes from things other than the Holocaust alone--the post-war move to suburbia, the blurring of ideological considerations as new congregations formed, and the influx of Jews at home with the tradition into Reform congregations, wanting to bring their "icons" with them.

    We have a tendency to "credit" the Holocaust for all kinds of things that have relatively little real connectedness to it. (Old saying: for every action, there's a good reason and a real reason.) And by the same token, beware of post hoc ergo propter hoc--it came after, and therefore it must have been because.


  13. [Our congregation] has an adult b'nei mitzvah class every other year or so, led by the senior and associate rabbis. There has been no charge for this weekly study, which culminates with a ceremony after twelve to fifteen months.
    1,000 member families

  14. We recently had a class of six. There was no charge for the class. In the end we had several thousand dollars donated in honor of the occasion.

  15. Our congregation has had adult b'nei mitzvah for several years. We do not charge for the time with the rabbis or cantor.
    1200 member units

  16. Congregations looking at adult "b?nei mitzvah" programs should tie them in with the Union?s Keva program--a recognition program for adult study that is applicable even for those of us who celebrated our b?nei mitzvah at 13.

    Although I think he realized he was fighting an uphill battle, my friend and teacher Rabbi Don Rossoff tried valiantly to establish the name Chaver leTorah for someone called to the bimah for the first time as an adult. His (valid) point was that we become obligated to the mitzvot at 13, whether or not we go on the bimah at that point (and on to the party). It's because of his influence that I put "b?nei mitzvah" in quote marks above.

    I may have shared this story with the list before, but it's worth repeating. At our congregation, we had a weekly devoted participant in adult study, a prominent ophthalmologist who had grown up at a time when Reform congregations typically did not offer bar mitzvah. He got sufficiently involved with his Torah study that he decided to celebrate his 70th birthday with a bar mitzvah--the first such adult ceremony at the congregation. He prepared diligently, read beautifully, gave a nice party afterwards--and was never seen at the temple again!

    1200 members

  17. We run an adult "b'nei mitzvah" (sic) class every two years. The class runs about half a year and culminates in a joint service for the members of the class. We usually have five to six people. We charge $100 for the class and make assistance available to those for whom this is a burden.
    ~860 households

  18. March 2007 Digest 036

                I organize and teach much of our adult Hebrew/prayer and liturgy program (which now spans six levels of year long classes). Anyone who is in level 2 or above is eligible, by choice, to participate in a Shabbat morning service that publicly marks their commitment to study. When we began this six or seven years ago, I  named it a "B'nei Torah" as opposed to an adult Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Done in a group, it is more akin to Confirmation, as what the adults are doing is affirming their commitment (or recommitment) to our faith and to study.

                We discuss each year the fact that they are each indeed already a bar or bat mitzvah by age. This participation is just a public way of pausing to celebrate their accomplishments to date and their commitment to continue.

                So, we still have the public marking of achievement, adding a bit of education about the meaning of bar/bat mitzvah.

  19. March 2007 Digest 036

                My wife and I had what could be termed "Adult B'nei Mitzvah" in August 2003. My wife was raised in a Conservative shul and never had her bas mitzvah commemorated in any way. And when I was 13, I was Catholic. So, we decided (after observing a woman and her daughter-in-law) have a joint ceremony to have one of our own. We learned to leyn Torah from our now-emeritus cantor...Our rabbi does not call it a bar or bas mitzvah for reasons already mentioned on this list. My certificate called me "ba'al torah" and my wife's "ba'alat torah" (I think that's the right feminine version).


    ~550 families

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