What is a Bar Mitzvah?

hebrew celebrationbar mitz·vah
Pronunciation: bär-‘mits-v&
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized B&M

1 : a Jewish boy who reaches his 13th birthday and attains the age of religious duty and responsibility
2 :In Jesus’ day boys of twelve had their Bar Mitzvah and were, in many cases, tested on their knowledge and belief in the Temple. Look at the story of Jesus in the Temple ( Luke 2 v41-52 ) in this light. He had come up to Jerusalem for his first Passover, and may well have had his Bar mitzvah while the family was there. In Jewish culture, the quality of a persons questions is seen as the best measure of his understanding and maturity. Remember how the scribes were amazed at his questions!

Nowadays a young man has his Bar mitzvah on the Shabbat after his thirteenth birthday. He has to recite a portion from Torah, read and pray.

“Shema Israel” is an important scripture for this day. It starts, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad” “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God The LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6 v4-9) It goes on to exhort Israel to love GOD wholeheartedly and teach their children well. It also speaks of binding GOD’s word to ones arms and forehead. The young man will do this pictorially as part of the service with his Tefillin, which are the small black boxes on long leather straps which contain portions of the “Sh’ma Israel” passage.

bar MitzvahA father is responsible for his son’s actions until his Bar mitzvah. During the ceremony he says, “Praised be he who released me from punishment for the actions of this one.” This led to a famous quote, “Until the thirteenth year I talk to my son about God; after his Bar mitzvah I talk to God about my son.”

According to Jewish law, when Jewish children reach the age of maturity (13 years for boys and 12 years for girls in Orthodox synagogues, though it is mainly also celebrated at 13) they become responsible for their actions. At this point a boy is said to become Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בר מצוה, “one (m.) to whom the commandments apply”); a girl is said to become Bat Mitzvah (בת מצוה, “one (f.) to whom the commandments apply”), or Bas Mitzvah (in Ashkenazi, or Eastern European Jewish, pronunciation).

Before this age, all the child’s responsibility to follow Jewish law and tradition lies with the parents. After this age, the children are privileged to participate in all areas of Jewish community life and bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics.

The current way of celebrating one’s becoming a Bar Mitzvah did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud. This ceremonial observation developed in the Middle Ages.

The current practice is that on a Sabbath on or after his 13th birthday, a boy may recite the blessings for the Torah reading, read the week’s portion from the Torah (five books of Moses) and Haftara (selections from the books of the Prophets), and/or give a d’var Torah, which may include a discussion of that week’s Torah portion. One may also lead part or all of the morning prayer services. Calling someone to say the Torah blessings is called an Aliyah from the Hebrew: עֲלִיָּה, from the verb alàh, עָלָה, meaning, “to rise, to ascend; to go up”). Precisely what the Bar Mitzvah should lead during the service varies from one congregation to another, and is not fixed by Jewish law. The Sephardic Jews tend to bring the boy into adulthood a little later than Ashkenazi Jews, waiting until after his 14th birthday. Notwithstanding the celebrations, however, males become entirely culpable and responsible for following Jewish law once they reach the age of 13.

bat mitzvahSometimes the celebration is during another service that includes reading from the Torah, such as a Monday or Thursday morning service, a Shabbat afternoon service, or a morning service on Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. The service is often followed by a celebratory meal with family, friends, and members of the community. In the modern day, the celebration is sometimes delayed for reasons such as availability of a Shabbat during which no other celebration has been scheduled, or 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. Not having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration does not make the child becoming an adult any less of a Jew.

Jewish Adult Responsibilities: Once a person is Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he or she has the responsibilities of an adult under Jewish law:

* He or she is responsible for his or her own actions (good or bad). Traditionally, the father of the Bar Mitzvah give thanks to God that they no longer have to carry the burden of their child’s sins.

* He is eligible to be called to read from the Torah, and to participate in a Minyan (In Orthodox denominations, only males read from the Torah or participate in a Minyan).

* He or she can own according to Jewish law, what they possess.

* He or she is, in theory, legally old enough to be married according to Jewish law.

* He or she must follow the 613 laws of the Torah.

The idea of having this ceremony is it is the point in the adolescents life where they must take their faith as their own. They must realise that they cannot have faith by proxy, they must own it for themselves.

Bar Mitzvah Gifts: As with weddings, it is common to give the Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrant a gift to commemorate the occasion. Traditionally, common gifts included books with religious or educational value, religious items, writing implements, savings bonds (to be used for the child’s college education) or gift certificates. Gifts of cash are commonplace in recent times. As with charity and all other gifts it has become common to give in multiples of 18: the gematria, or numerical equivalence 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 B’nai Mitzvah. Many Bar/Bat Mitzvah also receive their first tallit from their parents to be used for the occasion.


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One response to “What is a Bar Mitzvah?”

  1. Krie says:

    Commenting usually isnt my thing, but ive spent an hour on the site, so thanks for the info

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