APRIL 28, 2001
5 IYAR, 5761

Harry L. Rosenfeld, Rabbi Emeritus
Richard Mauer, President


            For many of you, this is the first Bar/Bat Mitzvah you have attended. We provide this introduction to answer some of the common questions we hear. It is yours to keep.

What is Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

            A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an adult Jew responsible for performing Mitzvot, the acts every adult Jew is expected to perform in the course of his/her daily life. Until this time, the child's parents were responsible for his/her religious actions. Upon reaching the age of 13, a Jewish young person becomes religiously responsible in his/her own right.

            Until very recent times, young men and women at 13 years of age worked full-time to help support their families. They were often married by the time they were 16, parents of children at 18 or 19, and most of them died before they reached their fortieth birthday. In those days a 13 year old boy could say realistically, 'Today I am a man'. It was possible under those circumstances for Rabbi Judah ben Tema (3rd century) to say in the Mishnah, A 13 year old is obligated to fulfill (all) the commandments.” However, Judah ben Tema also said that this readiness came after a child had studied the Bible and the teachings of the rabbis, so that becoming a man” was the culmination of a particular educational process.

            The ceremony of becoming Bar Mitzvah had its origin in the Middle Ages. The first such ceremony of which we have any record was held in the 13th or 14th century. After that time, however, the custom of celebrating a boy's becoming Bar Mitzvah became widely accepted in the Jewish world.

            In the beginning any festivities were held in the boy's home, where a modest meal often was served after the service in the synagogue. But with the passage of time the festive family meal grew into an elaborate party, and often lavish banquets were held in the public halls of larger towns. The leaders of the Jewish community in Cracow, Poland, were so aroused at this in 1595 (350 years ago) that they placed a tax on such celebrations to keep them from becoming extravaganzas. They feared, as do most of us today, that the religious significance of becoming a Bar Mitzvah would be dwarfed by a sumptuous party given after the service.

            Since neither the Bible nor the Talmud  give any specific rules about a ceremony upon becoming a Bar Mitzvah, customs varied from place to place. Each Jewish community adopted those practices which made the most sense to it. In most congregations (especially in Eastern Europe), a Jewish boy wore a Talit (prayer shawl) for the first time on the occasion of his becoming a Bar Mitzvah, but in many Sephardic communities a man could not put on a Talit  until he was married. In 17th century Germany, the Bar Mitzvah vowed to donate a pound of wax for candles to light the synagogue; in Morocco the teacher and not the youngster was given gifts in honor of the occasion. In all instances, however, the highlight of the ceremony occurred when the boy was called to read from the Torah."*

            In the early 20th century, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, officiated at the first Bat Mitzvah for his daughter. From that point forward, Bat Mitzvah ceremonies have become as common as Bar Mitzvah ceremonies for boys. We have the same expectations of our 13 year old daughters as we do of our sons.

            We expect each Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrant to fulfill certain requirements before leading a worship service for the congregation. Each student must have completed at least 4 years of Jewish and Hebrew studies in our Religious School or the Religious School of another synagogue. The student along with his/her parents sign a Brit, a covenant with the Rabbi which outlines the requirements for Jewish study, Hebrew knowledge, and the performance of acts of Tzedakah (righteousness, charity) and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness).

            Each Bar/Bat Mitzvah student is encouraged to honor their guests and relatives by inviting them to have an Aliyah (being called up to bless the Torah scroll when it is read) or participate in some other part in the service.


            As you look around the Sanctuary you see ritual objects and artwork. On the bookshelves by the door, you will find our Prayerbook, larger print Prayerbook for the visually impaired and Torah commentaries (containing the first 5 Books of the Bible as well as Haftarah readings from the Biblical prophets).

            Attached to the side of the bookcase is a box with Kipot (skullcaps). In Biblical times, the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem had to keep their heads covered while performing the ritual sacrifices. In the Middle Ages, it became customary for Jews to keep their heads covered during prayer and eventually at all times. Here at Congregation Beth Sholom, the wearing of a Kipa  is optional.

            On the other side of the shelves are Tallitot (prayershawls). Traditionally, male Jews wear a Talit during daytime worship services as it is commanded in the Bible (Numbers 15:37-41) that we should wear Tzitztit (fringes) on the four corners of our garments. Like with the Kipa, wearing a Talit  is optional in our synagogue.

            The central focus of the sanctuary is the Aron Hakodesh (the Ark) which is at the back of the Bema (pulpit). The Aron is a "closet" where we keep our Torah scrolls. Each of our scrolls has special meaning for us. The tallest scroll was taken by the Nazis to Prague after they destroyed the synagogue it came from in the town of Melnik. It was written circa 1850. Its cover design begins with the Hebrew word Shema , which is the first word of the key doxology of Judaism: Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. From this center which calls us to God, the colors of the covers move from one Torah scroll to the next reminding us of the presence of God emanating throughout the world.

            Our middle Torah originally belonged to Ike Beylis, one of Anchorage's original settlers and the founder of the Anchorage Times. In his will he left this Torah to the Jews of Alaska. We are privileged to have it in our Ark.

            The smallest Torah was given to the Congregation by the Salad family of Chicago when we were formed 35 years ago. As our first Torah scroll, it is extremely precious to us.

            Over the Aron Hakodesh  hangs the Ner Tamid (eternal light). The Ner Tamid  calls to mind the always burning altar fire in Solomon's Temple of Biblical times. It also reminds us that God is eternal and always with us. Our Ner Tamid  was designed by local artist, and member of the congregation, John Dobbs. Each piece of glass represents one of the Twelve Tribes.

            The wall hanging, next to the stained glass windows is our Chuppah (wedding canopy). It was designed and created by members of our congregation in honor of the first wedding held in our building. The verse from the Book of Proverbs refers not only to the relationship between bride and groom but also the relationship between God and the Jewish people.

            The wall hanging on the other side of the Bema is a Mizrach  created our member Janice Shamberg Mizrach, means east and thus it hangs on our eastern wall. The Menorah  in the center of the Mizrach  is patterned after the Menorah  which was used in the time of Solomon, with the bottom changed into the form of an anchor, a dual symbol of our location and connection to our past. Echoing the theme of the cover on our Holocaust Torah, the words Shema Yisrael - Hear O Israel rise up from the candelabra. The words in the corner are Mi'tzad zeh ru'ach chayim - From this side comes the spirit of life . We look to the east, to Jerusalem for the source of our spiritual heritage, which is our spiritual life.

            The lectern cover was designed and created by our member Susan Schapira in honor of her son's Bar Mitzvah celebration. The front panel is our Congregation symbol, originally designed by Rabbi and Mrs. Raphael Levine of Seattle for the mosaic in the lobby. The design of the side panels tie the cover to the Chuppah  and the Mizrach..

            When we built our synagogue, we kept in mind the Rabbinic dictum that every sanctuary should have windows so that we do not isolate ourselves from the world when we pray. That is why our stained glass is designed to allow us to see out into the world and revel in the glory of God's creation. The title of the window is B'reishit (Creation). In the center we have the creative power of God sending forth the colors that will become the universe. It too was designed and created by John Dobbs.

            The three stained glass panels over the synagogue entry were designed and created by Janice Shamberg. They were inspired by the Shamberg's frequent trips to Jerusalem, one of the world's most beautiful cities. The glass is European Antique glass to take full advantage of the brilliant sunshine which streams through those windows. The gold and ambers are the colors of Jerusalem. The center window is positioned so that the Old City is seen from the correct perspective as one approaches the synagogue from outdoors, as though entering Jerusalem itself.


            Thank-you for helping us celebrate this joyous occasion as one of our young people celebrates becoming a religiously responsible member of the Jewish community. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

 * From: The Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Fairmount Temple: A Guide for Parents

Sam's Torah Portion - Kedoshim Levticus 19:1-13

Tanach — Leviticus Chapter 19

1. And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying,

2. Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy; for I Adonai your God am holy.

3. You shall revere every one his/her mother, and his/her father, and keep my sabbaths; I am Adonai your God.

4. Turn you not to idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods; I am Adonai your God.

5. And if you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to Adonai, you shall offer it of your own will.

6. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day; and if anything remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire.

7. And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted.

8. Therefore every one who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the consecrated thing of Adonai; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

9. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger; I am Adonai your God.

11. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie one to another.

12. And you shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am Adonai.

13. You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob your neighbor; the wages of one who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning.

Sam's Haftarah – Amos 9:7-15

7. Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? says Adonai. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?

8. Behold, the eyes of Adonai, God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; except that I will not completely destroy the house of Jacob, says Adonai.

9. For, behold, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like grain is sifted in a sieve, yet not even the least grain shall fall upon the earth.

10. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say: Evil shall not overtake or meet us.

11. In that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will rebuild it as in the days of old;

12. That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the nations, who are called by my name, says Adonai who does this.

13. Behold, the days come, says Adonai, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.

14. And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine; they shall also make gardens, and eat their fruit.

15. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, says Adonai your God.