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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776
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B'nei Mitzvah Ceremony Decorum and Dress
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  1. For both my sons' b'nei mitzvah, I reprinted a chapter from Jeff Salkin's Putting G-d on the Guest List, the part that says "reprint this and give it to the non Jews at your services". We are currently in the process of a handout, which will include some basic rules of decorum. As soon as it is completed we would be willing to share it.

  2. This is a perennial problem. I manage it this way. First, I tell the kids that they have to sit where I can see them, up near the front. They also have to have prayerbooks in their hand. Also, I will give one warning--a shush--from the pulpit and stare at them with big eyes. Then I will leave the pulpit and go to the most offensive child and make the child stand up, and sit in the front row, which is often empty. The service stops until the child moves. This happens, usually, once a year. The kids get the message pretty quickly, and the word spreads. Sometimes I do this twice a year. It isn't foolproof, but it works pretty well.
    Rabbi J

  3. Our rabbi brought the idea from Chicago of ushers and hushers. The parents pick two of their guests to be ushers. The ushers stay at the entry doors and hand out prayer books from about twenty minutes prior to the service starting to about twenty minutes into the service when they are relieved and the head usher takes over.

    The parents also pick two couples to act as hushers. We assign several rows in the sanctuary for children without parents present to sit. The hushers sit with them and hopefully keep the young adults quiet.

    We also have a head usher assigned from temple board. This person is responsible for overall decorum. If someone takes out a camera, or cell phone or anything else that makes noise the head usher will go over to that person and request it be turned off. I had one incident when I was a head usher and a girl received a call on her cell phone and did not know how to turn the phone off.

    The head usher will also relieve the ushers the family has assigned about twenty minutes into the service and will stay at the back to hand out books to latecomers and also give the "parental look" to the unaccompanied young adults.


  4. We recommend the "Hushers" approach of having adults sit around the area where the kids congregate. It is important to have enough adults (some of our services have 100 classmates of the bar/bat mitzvah). We don't encourage the children to sit near the front because of concern that it will distract the bar/bat mitvah or make them more anxious.
    2700 families

  5. When I was the cantor of a 2000-family congregation, we had at least two to three b'nei mitzvah per week. I was always concerned about the ceremonies of children from a particular private school who were notoriously disorderly during services. Ushers were challenged, and children felt they could be disruptive and rude without fear of any repercussions or consequences. One Shabbat morning I was pleased and curious to see all the children from this school sitting and participating and being on their best behavior. I later found out that the family had invited the Head Master to the ceremony and strategically seated him with the children. What a creative way to approach this problem. In this way, ushers didn't need to be police or "hushers," and children were not embarrassed. I would suggest that sports coaches, youth group leaders and popular classroom teachers might be equally effective.

  6. As a former head usher, I have tried a number of techniques to keep most (not all) young boys and girls from weakening the decorum during a service. Having positioned ushers close to the seats that the children have chosen to group themselves at (we never could force them to stay with their parents), I would identify one or more individuals that were becoming the noise leaders. Very early in the service, after a couple of stern looks, a verbal warning, I would wait for the congregation to stand and then ask the leader to come to the end of the aisle. I would then escort the individual, in front of his/her peers, to a single empty seat between adults in a row in front of the rest of the group. I would ask the adults if they would mind if this nice boy or girl sat with them for the rest of the service. I never got turned down, and the adults always understood the issue.

    It didn't work all the time, but I found that the word got passed around, from one service to another, that I was the usher to avoid.


  7. We make sure that our Ritual Committee ushers, our parent ushers, and the Board of Trustees member who is there to present certificates are well-advised as to what is expected. Prior to the beginning of the service Rabbi or Cantor reminds the young people in a most respectful manner that this is their friend who is probably a bit nervous, etc., etc. The ushers are strategically placed throughout the sanctuary, acting as a presence as it were. We act as menchen hoping that we are role models for synagogue decorum. Our kids really know what is expected of them when they are in the sanctuary as they are instructed as a part of their training. Since we are surrounded by six to eight other congregations, our guest pool extends beyond our 900 membership.

  8. Digest #2006-128

                At our temple the kids are usually in back where the "Board Member of the Month" is usually located. (We're a small temple that holds, at maximum, about 170.) We often find that having an adult presence is very helpful in keeping the proper mood. For larger number of kids, we've asked other parents to help. A small touch in the shoulder, a whispered word is often all that's needed. Personally, I think it's a great, quiet way to maintain order.

  9. Digest #2006-128

                I ask b'nei mitzvah parents to fill out a "bimah honors worksheet." Among the positions to be filled is one I call "wrangler." (I'm from the desert Southwest, so sue me!) The wrangler's job is to sit near the largest concentration of pre-teens/adolescents, and to gently restore order if they get out of hand. Fortunately, in over five years with this congregation and about eighty b'nei mitzvah in that time, we've only had this concern three or four times.


    125 units
  10. Digest #2006-129

                At my shul, we've been able to steer the young men/women to the first two rows directly in front of the rabbi's shulchan. The bar/bat mitzvah parents/family are normally in the first row in front of the chazzan (better angle to view their child). Being up front, the youngsters are normally on their best behavior (though there are usually congregants right behind them, just in case). This arrangement has worked out quite well.

  11. Digest #2006-132

                I appreciate the need to communicate expectations in advance to teens attending B'nei Mitzvah/Shabbat Services. But if a child forgets (or doesn't care) I know another way that is less perverse than the "parental look" or hairy eyeball reminder. My approach described below adds to the whisper-fest momentarily, but does quell the problem for the entire service, without a trace of negativity.

                When I sit behind chatterers, I watch for awhile to identify the ringer, lead, alpha kid. Then I tap him/her on the shoulder FRIENDLY style and whisper, wide-eyed with enthusiasm and with a smile, "Are you a FRIEND of (insert name of sacrificial lamb up on bimah)?" Acting like a celebrity, the child always says "YES!" "Wow!" I say, wide-eyed, truly impressed with his status as friend-of-b'mitzvah. "Did he practice hard?" There's always a big positive nod (I guess the kids broadcast that part to friends as the date approaches).

                Then I say, "It's great his friends support him now by listening quietly!" I get an enthusiastic nod back; and, by now, the kid is imitating my wide-eyes.

                The kid immediately quiets down. Like a border collie, he has a task now. Once the alpha quiets down, the change is so obvious that the others just copy him without exactly knowing why. I've never had to say it twice to the same kid. It really works, perhaps because it's counter-intuitive…

  12. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                [At one congregation]…the families had to submit a list of the young adults who were attending, along with their phone numbers. The rabbi gave a copy of this list to the head usher, who knew that he/she had the authority to ask a child to step out of the service and call the parents if they were being too disruptive.

                We also had all of the teens sitting together in the 3rd, 4th, 5th rows on each side--they were marked off and designated for "Unaccompanied teens." They knew they either had to sit there, or with their parents, but that way, they were all in one place, and not little groups spread out throughout the congregation. It made it easier for the ushers, the rabbi and myself [the cantor] to keep our eyes on them.

  13. April 2007 Digest 062

                We let… b’nei mitzvah [students and families know about] requirements including projects, service attendance, dress code, etc., one year ahead of time at a family meeting. We have just finished our b’nei mitzvah booklet...For dress it is slacks and dress shirt for boys minimum (most wear a suit). For girls, no exposed shoulders (a tallit is not considered a shoulder covering; I don't recall if dress/skirt length is addressed. Our booklet also has a letter from our rabbi, cantor, b’nei mitzvah tutor, and educator. In addition there is a timetable for preparations (including preparations for the reception). We also give them a book entitled Putting Gd on the Guest List.


    323 families
  14. April 2007 Digest 062

          …I have a school website at that has our b'nei mitzvah guidelines, including dress code, in the "Study Materials" section.

  15. April 2007 Digest 063

                I found [the passage below] online several years ago, and found the tone to be respectful, and yet specific enough for those who need more direction.


    320 families

           "The NVHC Worship Committee has adopted the following statement concerning appropriate bimah attire:

           We rejoice with your family as your child prepares to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah during our congregational Shabbat service. As you know, Shabbat is a day set apart from the rest of the week, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is both a joyful and sacred experience, one that takes place within the context of a worship service where the Torah is read.

           To maintain this sense of holiness, we ask you to communicate with all those you invite to participate in the service, as well as your child, to dress appropriately. The Jewish value of tz 'ni 'ot, modesty and restraint in  dress and behavior, is one that helps us focus on the sacred dimension of  Shabbat and of a very special day in the life of a young person, his/her family, and our community. With this value in mind, we ask that girls and women wear a dress or skirt of modest length, or dress pants, and that shoulders are covered.

           Strapless or ‘spaghetti’ strap dresses are not considered appropriate. Boys and men may wear a suit or jacket, with a collared shirt and tie, or similar dress attire. Men and women who wish to wear a kippah and/or tallit (for a Torah service) are encouraged to do so, although they are not required.

           We hope that you and your guests will experience a sense of holiness as you celebrate Shabbat and a
    bar/bat mitzvah with the congregation. If you have any questions on this matter, please speak with the Rabbi."

  16. April 2007 Digest 064

                I have a nice relationship with my b’nei mitzvah students so I tell the parents and the students, both at the 7th grade meeting and while teaching the children in 6th grade, what constitutes appropriate attire on the bimah.

                This is also reinforced when they lead class services starting in 4th grade.

                I also add that if there is something they are considering wearing but are unsure that they may bring it in beforehand to show me, or email me a photo or a link to the article of clothing and I will let them know if It¹s okay.

                However, I am in a unique position. I think a congregation needs the Worship Committee or the board to approve an official, specific and detailed policy so that it does not fall to the rabbi or cantor to be the fashion police. Say clearly--no bare shoulders, no dresses or skirts cut above the knee, no low cut tops. Also, give some examples of acceptable attire--suits, modest dresses, skirts, pants suits, etc. My rabbi used to be quite concerned about open-toed shoes, but that has become a lost cause due to fashion.

                As for women wearing dresses or skirts, I think that it is entirely appropriate for a woman to wear pants on the bimah if that is more comfortable for her. The issue is modesty and respect. There is no reason why pants can’t convey both. It¹s somewhat sexist or at least old-fashioned to require a woman to wear a skirt or dress...


  17. April 2007 Digest 064

                At my synagogue, I give the following spiel to our b/m families:

                "We cannot control what people wear in the pews, but there is an expected level of decorum for those on the bimah. Any family or guests who will be honored by being on our bimah should be dressed accordingly:

                Gentlemen, a minimum of shirt and tie, where a jacket and tie or suit would be even better, no sneakers please (I have to say this because I've seen sneakers with a shirt and tie before); women's dresses should have shoulders covered, knees covered, and blouse/dress cut to cover at least to the collar bone (in real life, when I'm speaking with families, I point rather than saying "collar bone"). Pant suits are also acceptable…"

                At my last synagogue, it was much easier to deal with the B/M student, since they wore robes. At first, I thought it odd and distancing, but in reflection, it made sense on two fronts: 1) the student didn't have to worry about how their dress was cut, etc. 2) if a family couldn't afford the nicest dress/the fanciest suit, the robe was a great equalizer. Plus the kids didn't have to be self conscious about their dress on the bimah.


  18. June 2007 Digest 111

                The reality is that teenagers are teenagers, and I personally cannot fault them for that. We take care of their behavior in the following fashion:

                Before the start of the service (about ten minutes before on a Saturday morning), the ushers gather all the 12-13 year olds without a parent present into a side room close to the sanctuary. I then give them the "spiel." I welcome them all and then go on to tell them there are two parts of the day: the second is the celebratory part, but the first is a holy and special part, not just for their friend but for the congregation, as there are many there who are solely present to pray because it is the Sabbath day. I tell them only two at a time to the bathroom, no leaving or entering the sanctuary while people are standing, and keep the talking down to a minimum (many of our "strangers" are conservative Jews who are used to a 3-4 hour service where things are more...animated? I've been teaching them our culture slowly). I have to tell them to turn all phones and SMS text messaging devices off (oy, what a world!), and most of all, that their active participation in the service, whether it be singing, reading the Hebrew, or reading the English--in a strong voice--is very appreciated and a great way to show the bar/bat mitzvah that you support him/her.

                I also give a stern warning (after all, they are teenagers!): If I give them the "hairy eyeball" or the "stink eye", that's a problem. Either an usher will move them in the sanctuary or ask them to actually leave the sanctuary. I have no qualms talking to a child after a service, tell them in a direct manner that their behavior is unacceptable during a worship service, and that if this is how they will behave in the future, they are not welcome back. They learn pretty quickly, and I find that by October-November, the kids are in pretty good shape.

                We can get from 20-45 kids in this demographic at our Shabbat morning service. We got this down to a science now.

  19. June 2007 Digest 111

                …In addition to the Ushers we have the B'nei Mitzvah families pick from their attendees, we also ask them to give us two Hushers. These will be people attending the Service that will sit with the young adults (in designated rows) and are prepared for the Parental Stare or more if necessary. We also have a Head Usher from the Temple Board who is at the door of the Sanctuary during the entire Service. Their role along with giving the spiel to the young adults prior to the Service [and] greeting latecomers would be to help the Hushers if a problem arose… that they could not see. This seems to work for us. Kids will be kids and sometimes they need help.


    600 Families
  20. June 2007 Digest 112

                When I confer with a bar/t mitzvah family about seven months before the service, I give them a "bimah honors list worksheet" listing all the honors they may appoint. One of those is what another respondent called a "Husher." As a native of the desert Southwest, I call this person a "Wrangler." I ask the Wrangler to sit near the largest concentration of teens and restore order if necessary.

                Fortunately, in the last six years I've had only four or five rowdy groups (with 15-18 b'nei mitzvah a year). A couple of weeks ago the Wrangler was sitting in front of the teens, who were behaving badly. I walked off the pulpit and whispered to him a request that he watch from the back of the Sanctuary. He did so, and peace was restored without any fuss.


    125 families
  21. June 2007 Digest 113

                I have tried a technique that has never failed to keep large groups of 13 year old guests at a bar/bat mitzvah service reasonably quiet.

                After a gentle but firm warning to the entire group before the service begins, I watch for the first offender. After a second firmer but individual warning, I gesture for the offender to come out of the seats to speak with me.

                Once out, and in full view of the rest of the 13 year olds, I put this first offender in a new seat, way up front and next to a group of adults.

                The first offender is quieted, and the rest of the group knows what their fate could be. I have never had to move a second person.

  22. June 2007 Digest 113

                I have used a…technique…all it takes is moving the big offender away from his/her peers. In large part, these kids are bored, having attended many B'nei Mitzvah over the course of the approximately eighteen months that they are in what I call the Bar Mitzvah cycle and they need the help of enforced expectations of behavior. I do not hesitate to hold cell phones until the end of services or move kids.


    400 member units
  23. June 2007 Digest 117

                …Perhaps every b'nei mitzvah invitation needs to include a card indicating proper dress and proper behaviour, with the request that parents discuss it with their off spring…



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