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Bar and Bat Mitzvah

  Bar mitzvah boy wearing tallit and tefillin

Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בר מצוה‎) and Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew: בת מצוה‎) are Jewish coming of age rituals. Bar "בר" is a Jewish Babylonian Aramaic word meaning son, in Hebrew it's Ben "בן". Bat "בת" is Hebrew for girl, and Mitzvah "מצוה" is a commandment and a law. According to Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13, they become accountable for their actions and become a Bar Mitzvah (plural: B'nai Mitzvah). The age for girls is 12. In addition to being considered accountable for their actions from a religious perspective, B'nai mitzvah may be counted towards a minyan (prayer quorum) and may lead prayer and other religious services in the family and the community. The age of B'nai Mitzvah was selected because it roughly coincides with physical puberty.[1] Prior to a child reaching Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the child's parents hold the responsibility for the child's actions. After this age, children bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics and are able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life.[2]



  Reading from the Torah (Sephardi custom)

Reaching the age of bar mitzvah signifies becoming a full-fledged member of the Jewish community with the responsibilities that come with it. These include moral responsibility for own actions, eligibility to be called to read from the Torah and lead or participate in a Minyan, May possess personal property, May be legally married according to Jewish law, Must follow the 613 laws of the Torah and keep the Halakha, May testify as a witness in a Beth Din (Rabbinical court) case.

Many congregations require pre-bar mitzvah children to attend a minimum number of Shabbat prayer services at the synagogue, study at a Hebrew School, take on a charity or community service project, and maintain membership in good standing with the synagogue. In addition to study and preparation offered through the synagogue and Hebrew schools, bar mitzvah tutors may be hired to prepare the youngster through the study of Hebrew, Torah cantillation and basic Jewish concepts.

  Aliyah to the Torah

  Bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

The widespread practice is that on the first Sabbath of his thirteenth year, a boy is called up to read from the weekly portion of the Law (five books of Moses), either as one of the first seven men or as the last, in which case he will read the closing verses and the Haftarah (selections from the books of the Prophets); and if he is unable to read, to recite at least the benediction before and after the reading.[3] (Calling someone up to say the Torah blessings during a service is called an Aliyah, from the Hebrew: עֲלִיָּה, from the verb la'alot, לעלות, meaning, "to rise, to ascend; to go up"). He may also give a d'var Torah (a discussion of some Torah issue, such as a discussion of that week's Torah portion) and/or lead part or all of the prayer services.

In non-orthodox circles, the above applies to a girl at the time of her Bat Mitzvah as well. In Orthodox congregations, a Bat Mitzvah ceremony will not include the Bat Mitzvah girl leading religious services, as women are ineligible to lead communal religious services in the Orthodox tradition. Some progressive Orthodox congregations do allow women, including Bat Mitzvah girls, to read Torah or lead prayers at women-only prayer groups.[citation needed] Precisely what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah should lead during the service varies in Judaism's different denominations and from one congregation to another and is not fixed by Jewish law.

In Orthodox circles, the occasion is sometimes celebrated during a weekday service that includes reading from the Torah, such as a Monday or Thursday morning service, in which case the Bar Mitzvah will also lay tefillin for the first time publicly.

Some communities or families may delay the celebration for reasons such as availability of a Shabbat during which no other celebration has been scheduled, or due to the desire to permit family to travel to the event. However, this does not delay the onset of rights and responsibilities of being a Jewish adult which comes about strictly by virtue of age.


The custom of laying tefillin begins when a boy reaches bar mitzvah age.

  Bar mitzvah parties

B'nai Mitzvah festivities typically include a seudat mitzvah a celebratory meal with family, friends, and members of the community. Others may celebrate in different ways such as taking the bar mitzvah on a special trip or organizing some special event in the celebrant's honor. In many communities, the celebrant is given a certificate. The main idea according to the Orthodox view is that this boy or girl is so happy that they are now commanded to do mitzvah and now they will earn reward in the next world for their efforts, that they throw a party and have a festive meal.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties in America are often lavish affairs held at hotels and country clubs with hundreds of guests.[4][5][6]The trend has been mocked, most notably in the movie Keeping Up With The Steins. Rabbi [Shmuley Boteach] says that over-the-top bar mitzvah parties were already common when he was growing up in Miami in the 1970s.[7]

  Bat mitzvah customs

  Egyptian Alexandria Jewish girls during Bat Mitzvah.

Today most non-Orthodox Jews celebrate a girl's Bat Mitzvah in the same way as a boy's Bar Mitzvah. All Reform and Reconstructionist, and most[8] Conservative synagogues have egalitarian participation, in which women read from the Torah and lead services.

The majority of Orthodox Jews reject the idea that a woman can publicly read from the Torah or lead prayer services whenever there is a minyan (quorum of 10 males) available to do so. However, the public celebration of a girl becoming Bat Mitzvah in other ways has made strong inroads into Modern Orthodox Judaism and also into some elements of Haredi Judaism. In these congregations, women do not read from the Torah or lead prayer services, but they occasionally lecture on a Jewish topic to mark their coming of age, learn a book of Tanakh, recite verses from the Book of Esther or the Book of Psalms, or say prayers from the siddur. In some Modern Orthodox circles, Bat Mitzvah girls will read from the Torah and lead prayer services in a women's tefillah. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a prominent Orthodox posek, has ruled that Bat Mitzvah celebrations are allowable and should not be construed as imitating non-Jewish customs; however, they do not have the status of seudat mitzvah.[9] Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef[10] holds that it is a seudat mitzvah.

The event is celebrated by joyous festivity, the Bat Mitzvah girl delivering on this occasion a learned discourse or oration at the table before the invited guests, who offer her presents, while the rabbi or teacher gives her her blessing, accompanying it at times with an address.[3]

There were occasional attempts to recognize a girl's coming of age in eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, the former in Warsaw (1843) and the latter in Lemberg (1902). The occasion was marked by a party without any ritual in the synagogue.[11]

According to the archivist at the Great Synagogue in Rome, the custom of a young woman being called up in synagogue before the entire community dates back to the early years of the Roman Jewish community approximately 2,300 years ago. The community recognized her as "being of age" and acknowledged her in a public fashion. This would support more modern documents that record an Orthodox Jewish Italian rite for becoming Bat Mitzvah (which involved an "entrance into the minyan" ceremony, in which boys of thirteen and girls of twelve recited a blessing) since the mid-19thcentury.[12] There were also Bat Mitzvahs held in the 19th century in Iraq.[13] All this may have influenced the American rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, who held the first public celebration of a Bat Mitzvah in America, for his daughter Judith, on March 18, 1922, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (his synagogue) in New York City.[14][15] Judith recited the preliminary blessing, read a portion of that week's Torah portion in Hebrew and English, and then intoned the closing blessing.[14] Kaplan, who at that time claimed to be an Orthodox rabbi, joined Conservative Judaism and then became the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, influenced Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism, through his position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. At the time, most Orthodox rabbis strongly rejected the idea of a Bat Mitzvah ceremony.[citation needed]

  Alternative ceremonies

Instead of reading from the Torah, some Humanist Jews prefer a research paper on a topic in Jewish history to mark their coming of age.[16][17][18] Secular Jewish Sunday schools and communities—including those affiliated with the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations and the Arbeiter Ring (Workmen's Circle)—encourage the youngsters to select any topic that interests them and relates to the Jewish part of their identities.

The kibbutz movement in Israel also encouraged the celebration of the Bar Mitzvah. All those coming of age in the community for that year would take on a project and research in a topic of Jewish or Zionist interest. Today many kibbutz children are opting for a more traditional barmitzvah celebration.[citation needed]

Among some Jews, a man who has reached the age of 83 will customarily celebrate a second bar mitzvah, under the logic that in the Torah it says that a "normal" lifespan is 70 years, so that an 83-year-old can be considered 13 in a second lifetime. This practice has become increasingly uncommon.[19]

As the ceremony became accepted for females as well as males, many women chose to celebrate the ceremony even though they were much older, as a way of formalizing and celebrating their place in the adult Jewish community.[20]

A Bark Mitzvah is a celebration of a dog's coming of age,[21][22] The term derives from a rabbi's letter to the New York Times in 1997 condemning the practice as nonsensical and a mockery of Judaism.[23] Bark Mitzvahs are sometimes held on the festival of Purim.[24]


Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations have become an occasion to give the celebrant a commemorative gift. Traditionally, common gifts include books with religious or educational value, religious items, writing implements, savings bonds (to be used for the child's college education), gift certificates, or money.[25] Gifts of cash have become commonplace in recent times.[when?] As with charity and all other gifts, it has become common to give in multiples of 18, since the gematria, or numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for "life", ("chai"), is the number 18. Monetary gifts in multiples of 18 are considered to be particularly auspicious and have become very common for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Many Bar/Bat Mitzvah also receive their first tallit (a Jewish prayer shawl) from their parents to be used for the occasion and tefillin where this is appropriate. Jewellery is a common gift for girls at a Bat Mitzvah celebration. Another meaningful gift for the Bat Mitzvah girl are Shabbat candlesticks because it is the duty and honour of the woman to light the candles.[citation needed]


  Bar Mitzvah

The modern method of celebrating becoming a Bar Mitzvah did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud. Passages in the books of Exodus and Numbers note the age of majority for army service as twenty.[26] The term "Bar Mitzvah" appears first in the Talmud, the codification of the Jewish oral Torah compiled in the early first millennium of the common era, to connote "an [agent] who is subject to scriptural commands,"[27] and the age of thirteen is also mentioned in the Mishnah as the time one is obligated to observe the Torah's commandments: "At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at 13 for the commandments . . ."[28][29] The Talmud gives 13 as the age at which a boy's vows are legally binding, and states that this is a result of his being a "man," as required in Numbers 6:2.[30] The term "Bar Mitzvah", in the sense it is now used,[when?] cannot be clearly traced earlier than the 14th century, the older rabbinical term being "gadol" (adult) or "bar 'onshin" (legally responsible for own misdoings).[3] Many sources indicate that the ceremonial observation of a Bar Mitzvah developed in the Middle Ages,[29][31] however, there are extensive earlier references to thirteen as the age of majority with respect to following the commandments of the Torah, as well as Talmudic references to observing this rite of passage with a religious ceremony, including:

  • Samuel ha'Katan, at the close of the first century, in the Baraita attached to Abot v. 21 (see Machzor Vitry) the completion of the thirteenth year as the age for the commandments ("mitzvot"); and the commentary to the passage refers to Levi, the son of Jacob, who, at thirteen, is called "ish" (man; Gen. xxxiv. 25).
  • Simon Tzemach Duran, in his "Magen Abot" to the Baraita, quotes a Midrash interpreting the Hebrew word ("this") in Isa. xliii. 21—"This people have I formed for myself, they shall pronounce [ A. V. "set forth"] my praise"—as referring by its numerical value to those that have reached the age of 13. This seems to imply that, at the time of the composition of the Midrash the, Bar Mitzvah publicly pronounced a benediction on the occasion of his entrance upon maturity.
  • the Midrash Hashkem (see Grünhut's "Sefer ha'Likkutim", i. 3a): "The heathen when he begets a son consecrates him to idolatrous practises; the Israelite has his son circumcised and the rite of 'pidyon haben' performed; and as soon as he becomes of age he brings him into the synagogue and school ('beit ha'knesset' and 'beit ha'midrash') in order that he may praise the name of God, reciting the 'Brachu' (Benediction) preceding the reading from the Law."
  • Masseket Soferim xviii. 5 makes matters even more explicit: "In Jerusalem they are accustomed to initiate their children to fast on the Day of Atonement, a year or two before their maturity; and then, when the age has arrived, to bring the Bar Mitzvah before the priest or elder for blessing, encouragement, and prayer, that he may be granted a portion in the Law and in the doing of good works. Whosoever is of superiority in the town is expected to pray for him as he bows down to him to receive his blessing."
  • the Midrash (Gen. R. lxiii.), which, in commenting upon the passage (Gen. xxv. 27), "and the boys grew," says: "Up to thirteen years Esau and Jacob went together to the primary school and back home; after the thirteen years were over, the one went to the beit ha'midrash for the study of the Law, the other to the house of idols. With reference to this, Rabbi Eleazar remarks, 'Until the thirteenth year it is the father's duty to train his boy; after this he must say: "Blessed be He who has taken from me the responsibility [the punishment] for this boy!"" "Why is the evil desire (yetzer hara) personified as the great king? (Eccl. ix. 14). Because it is thirteen years older than the good desire ('yetzer hatob')." That is to say, the latter comes only with the initiation into duty (Ab. R. N., A. xvi., B. xxx.; Midr. Teh. ix. 2; Eccl. R. ix. 15).
  • According to Pirke R. El. xxvi., Abraham rejected the idolatry of his father and became a worshiper of God when he was thirteen years old.[3]
  • "It is a mitzvah for a person to make a meal on the day his son becomes Bar Mitzvah as on the day he enters the wedding canopy." (Orach Chayim 225:2, Magen Avraham 4)

  See also


  1. ^ Niddah, 45b.
  2. ^ Traditionally, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy gives thanks to [God] that he is no longer punished for the child's sins. (Genesis Rabba, Toldot 23:11)
  3. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainMarcus Jastrow; Kaufmann Kohler (1901–1906). "BAR MIẒWAH". Jewish Encyclopedia. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2473-bar-mizwah. Retrieved Jan. 2, 12. 
  4. ^ Cohen, Stefanie (April 18, 2010). "$1 Million Parties - Have NYC Bar Mitzvahs Gone Too Far?". New York Post (News Corp.). http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/million_parties_hBAxzzq32OAbhxtVHDYuqL. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  5. ^ http://www.jewishhumorcentral.com/2011/01/saturday-night-live-mocks-over-top-bar.html
  6. ^ http://www.chicagojewishnews.com/story.htm?sid=3&id=254985
  7. ^ "Extravagant Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs Humiliate the Jewish Community". Huffington Post. October 23, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-shmuley-boteach/extravagant-weddings-and-_b_691579.html. 
  8. ^ Conservative Judaism is pluralistic, and a small percent of Conservative synagogues reject the Orthodox halakhic propriety of women reading the Torah portion in public.
  9. ^ Iggros Moshe OC 1:104 and OC 2:97
  10. ^ Yabia Omer 2:29
  11. ^ Marcus, Ivan G. The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage from Biblical Times to the Modern Age" (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press). 2004 ISBN 02850984406, p. 105.
  12. ^ Marcus, p. 106.
  13. ^ Coming of age a little later than usual - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
  14. ^ a b The First American Bat Mitvah
  15. ^ Waskow, Arthur Ocean and Phyllis Ocean Berman. Excerpt from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC at "History of Bat Mizvah". http://www.myjewishlearning.com/lifecycle/Bar_Bat_Mitzvah/History/HistoryBatMitzvah.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  16. ^ Arking, Linda (2011 [last update]). "Sh'ma, A Journal of Jewish Responsibility | Molly's Unforgettable Bat Mitzvah". shma.com. http://www.shma.com/2000/06/mollys-unforgettable-bat-mitzvah/. Retrieved August 15, 2011. 
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ [2][dead link]
  19. ^ j. - Encore for violinist: 2nd bar mitzvah at 83
  20. ^ Maag, Christopher (March 22, 2009). "Having a Bat Mitzvah in Their 90s Because It's a Hoot". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/us/22batmitzvah.html. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  21. ^ Lily Koppel (20 December 2004). "Today He Is a Dog; Actually He Always Was". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/20/nyregion/20mitzvah.html. 
  22. ^ Shari Cohen and Marcelo Gindlin. Alfie's Bark Mitzvah. Chandler: Five Star Publications, 2007. Book with audio CD. ISBN 1-58985-055-6, ISBN 978-1-58985-055-2. ASIN 1589850556.
  23. ^ Letter to the editor (19 January 1997). "A Rabbi's View Of a 'Bark Mitzvah'". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C03E6D9173BF93AA25752C0A961958260. 
  24. ^ Maryann Mott (6 October 2006). "Pets Gaining Recognition in Places of Worship". National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/061006-pet-church.html. 
  25. ^ "Judaism 101: Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation". jewfaq.org. 2011 [last update]. http://www.jewfaq.org/barmitz.htm. Retrieved August 15, 2011. 
  26. ^ Bazelon, Emily. Slate, May 19, 2005. "Saving the Bar Mitzvah". http://slate.com/id/2119069/. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  27. ^ Tractate Baba Mezia 96a.
  28. ^ Pirkei Avot 5:25, see [3]
  29. ^ a b Olitsky, Kerry M. An Encyclopedia of American Synagogue Ritual, Greenwood Press, 2000. 160 pages. ISBN 0-313-30814-4 p. 7.[4]
  30. ^ Niddah 46A
  31. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia entry on the history of the Bar Mizvah

  Further reading

Oppenheimer, Mark. Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah across America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005.

  External links



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