What a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guest Needs to Know

This guide explains appropriate synagogue behavior, major sections of the service, the synagogue environment, and service participants.

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5.      Maintaining sanctity: All guests and participants are expected to respect the sanctity of the prayer service and Shabbat by:

a)      Setting your cell phone or beeper to vibrate or turning it off.

Mazal tov

b)      Not taking pictures. Many families hire photographers or videographers and would be pleased to take your order for a photo or video memento. In traditional settings, photography is strictly forbidden on Shabbat.

c)      Not smoking in the sanctuary, inside the building, or even on the synagogue grounds.

d)      Not writing or recording tapes.

e)      Not speaking during services. While you may see others around you chatting quietly--or even loudly--be aware that some synagogues consider this a breach of decorum.

6.      Sitting and standing: Jewish worship services can be very athletic, filled with frequent directions to stand for particular prayers and sit for others. Take your cue from the other worshippers or the rabbi's instructions. Unlike kneeling in a Catholic worship service--which is a unique prayer posture filled with religious significance--standing and sitting in a Jewish service does not constitute any affirmation of religious belief, it is merely a sign of respect. There may also be instructions to bow at certain parts of the service, and because a bow or prostration is a religiously significant act, feel free to remain standing or sitting as you wish at that point.

7.      Following the service: Try to follow the service in the siddur, or prayerbook, and the chumash, or Torah book, both of which are usually printed in Hebrew and English. Guests and congregants are encouraged to hum along during congregational melodies and to participate in the service to the extent that they feel comfortable. If you lose the page, you may quietly ask a neighbor for help (although it is better not to interrupt someone in the middle of a prayer). During the Torah service (described below), the entire congregation is encouraged to follow the reading of the weekly Torah portion in English or Hebrew.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

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