Thursday, September 22, 2011

Business Day Thursday: Bar/Bat Mitzvahs – The Back Story

Good Morning Everybody,

0404MP-0870-DZ_IMG_0671I know has been a bit Jewish centric with the posts over these last few days.  And after today’s post everyone reading my blog should be an expert on Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, know how to photograph them, and heck, maybe even be able to read the Torah ;~) Hey, just kidding but I can’t tell you how many requests we get for more information on the topic of Bar Mitzvahs.

I should probably mention that I am not Jewish but have been heavily involved in the Jewish community and photographing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Weddings, and Bris’s here in Cincinnati, Ohio since 1983 and have thoroughly enjoyed my relationship with my clients over all these many years. That said, how about one more Jewish centric post for today?  Here we go…

Bar/Bat Mitzvahs – The Back Story

I am often -asked about photographing a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Cincinnati is the birthplace of Reformed Judaism and I have had the privilege of photographing many, many Mitzvahs. I cannot explain everything that is involved in this exciting event in this short post but hopefully this article will provide a glimpse into some of the important Hebrew terms, aspects and traditions of this very rewarding experience.

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The crux of the day is the religious ceremony. It usually takes place on Saturday (the Sabbath) which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. There are many different types of Jewish congregations from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform.

Most Orthodox and Conservative do not allow photographs taken during Sabbath. As the photographer you will need to plan for an additional shooting session most often on a day other than the Saturday service, in which to photograph the Mitzvah and family members in the same attire as they plan to wear at the Saturday celebration. You will re-enact reading from the Torah, environmental portraits in the synagogue, and I take my portable canvas background for more formal images. This is extra time involvement on you, but well worth the effort.

As the hired photographer to record this special event, you must become aware of some of the basic concepts to be able to accurately, artistically and sensitively capture the essence of the day. While photographing a Mitzvah has many similarities to photographing a wedding, such as photographing formal family groups, a religious service and completing the day with a party of celebration.

Bat Mitzvah pageAs a professional photographer I highly recommend you consult with the clergy prior to a wedding. I also suggest you meet with the Rabbi and ask the rules and practices of the synagogue. PLEASE remember this is their house of worship. We are guests within their house. Often befriending the Rabbi, understanding what is and is not acceptable will provide many additional benefits to you and for your clients.

Some of the terminology may become frustrating and seem foreign. To help with the terms and language here is a brief vocabulary list.

Bar Mitzvah - "Bar" means "Son (of)". "Mitzvah" means "Commandments". A your Jewish boy after the age of thirteen is called to the Torah. Many months of study and preparation have been involved with learning and practicing passages from the Torah.  "Bat" is a young lady. In Orthodox communities, a Bat Mitzvah is celebrated when a girl reaches the age of 12.  According to Jewish law, when Jewish children reach 13 years of age they become responsible for their actions, and "become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah".  In addition to being considered responsible for their actions from a religious perspective. 

The age of Mitzvah was selected because it roughly coincides with physical puberty. Prior to a child reaching Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the child's parents hold the responsibility for the child's adherence to Jewish law and tradition. After this age, children bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics and are privileged to participate in all areas of their Jewish community life.

0010-For Pat - Silverman-1211-DZ_IMG_1012Aliyah - Selected important family members and/or friends mays be called to give a blessing on the Torah during the service meaning "to rise, to ascend; to go up". It is considered a great honor to be called to the Torah. He or she may also lead part or all of the morning prayer services. Precisely what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah should lead during the service varies from one congregation to another and is not fixed by Jewish law.

Bimah - The Bimah is the altar in the synagogue. On it is the Sacred Ark, which houses the Torah. Most often, non-Jews are not permitted to handle the Torah.

Candle lighting - Occasionally this is done at the reception, at other times this service may be held during the Shabbat dinner on the Friday evening prior to Saturday's service. It is a way of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to honor family and friends by the lighting of a candle. The person or persons being honored also assist with the lighting of the candle. This has no major religious significance.

Challah- Sweet braided bread.

Haftah - Today, it is common practice for the Mitzvah to do much more than just say the blessing. It is most common for the young adult to learn the entire haftarah portion, including its traditional chant, and recite that. In some congregations, the young person reads the entire weekly Torah portion, or leads part of the service, or leads the congregation in certain important prayers. He is basically “Rabbi for a day”.

The Mitzvah is also generally required to make a speech, which traditionally begins with the phrase "today I am a man." The father traditionally recites a blessing thanking God for removing the burden of being responsible for the son's sins (because now the child is old enough to be held responsible for his own actions).

Horah - A festive circle dance including everyone at the reception. Each immediate family member is seated into a chair then hoisted into the air during the horah.

Kiddush - This is the blessing recited over wine on the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holy days. Kiddush derives from the Hebrew word “kadosh,” which means “holy.” By saying kiddush, one is proclaiming the holiness of the day.

Motzi - The blessing recited over bread, which allows the subsequent eating of the meal.  On the Sabbath and other holy days, the festive braided white bread called challah is used.

Siddur - Prayer book

Simcha - The literal definition of simcha is “joy.” Simcha refers to a special happy occasion in a Jewish life, such as a bar or bat mitzvah, bris, or wedding.

Tallis - This is similar to a shawl and is a religious outer garment.  It is representative that God is all around us.

Torah - The Torah is the holy scrolls of the Jewish faith. It is made of parchment and consists of Hebrew lettering all handwritten by scribes. The Torah consists of the Five Books of Moses. It is not permitted to touch the Torah's parchment as the oils from ones hands may damage and deteriorate the parchment paper.

Bat Mitzvah page 2Yad - This is the pointer, usually silver, that looks like an outstretched finger and is used to touch the Torah's parchment. Usually the print is small and the Yad acts as finger-like guide to follow the readings.

Often a brunch/lunch is served after the religious service. The actual party may occur immediately after the morning/noon service, but most often is later in the evening. In that case the family will wear different clothing depending upon the party theme and you will want to again capture family groups in these new outfits. So plan your time accordingly.

The party may be geared to the attending children in a separate party area from the adults. In that case you will find yourself needing to be in two places at the same time. Just know that you will need to have coverage of both the children and the adults. You will also need to have time to photograph all the details of the party, the centerpieces, place cards,  floral arrangements, etc. just as you would the details from a wedding reception.

Judaism is not only a religion but a way of life. At the Bar/Bat Mitzvah the social gathering of family and friends is extremely important,  not only as a religious phenomena, but also as a time for celebration. Through your art, creativity and sensitive photography you will create a lasting memory for generations to share and enjoy.

Enjoy these Related Links too:

"Keeping The Faith" - When Shooting A Bar Mitzvah

Quick Hit Monday: One Great Weekend!


Hey gang, that’s it for me today.  My thanks to LaDawn for getting the post together today – I really appreciate it.  And, I hope you enjoyed reading it.  Heck, even if you don’t shoot Jewish events, it’s still a good idea to have some knowledge of them should a potential client, looking for a Bat Mitzvah photographer, give you a call.

I’ll plan to see everyone tomorrow for a short post to take you into the weekend.  Have a good one everybody!

Till tomorrow,  David

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I was once asked to do a Hindu wedding. I knew nothing! With the help of the officiates and the family I got through it.