What is a Bat Mitzvah?

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

1 : a Jewish girl who at about 13 years of age assumes religious responsibilities
2 : the initiatory ceremony recognizing a girl as a bas mitzvah

[noun] (Judaism) an initiation ceremony marking the 12th birthday of a Jewish girl and signifying the beginning of religious responsibility
Synonyms: bath mitzvah, bas mitzvah

[verb] confirm in the bat mitzvah ceremony, of girls in the Jewish faith.

bat mitzvahExcept in Italy, no ceremony parallel to a boy’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony developed for girls before the modern age. The Orthodox Jewish Italian rite for becoming Bat Mitzvah made a great impression on Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, a rabbi who was originally Orthodox, became Conservative, and then became the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Through his influence at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, in New York, Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism learned about and emulated this practice, though at the time most Orthodox rabbis strongly rejected its usage, despite its Italian Orthodox background.

The first public celebration of a Bat Mitzvah happened on March 18, 1922 at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York City for Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. 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.

bat mitzvahToday, 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 Conservative synagogues have egalitarian participation in which women read from the Torah and lead services. Conservative Judaism is pluralistic, and a small percent of Conservative synagogues are still concerned about the halakhic propriety of women reading the Torah portion in public.

The majority of Orthodox Judaism rejects the idea that a woman can publicly read from the Torah or lead prayer services. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a prominent Orthodox posek has opposed anyone attending a Bat Mitzvah and has referred to the ceremony as hevel, nonsense. The Sephardic rabbi René Samuel Sirat, who served as Chief Rabbi of France, has also opposed Bat Mitzvah.

However, the public celebration of a girl becoming Bat Mitzvah has made strong inroad in Modern Orthodox Judaism and in some elements of Haredi Judaism, especially Chabad-Lubavitch.

In these congregations women do not read from the Torah or lead prayer services but occasionally they will lecture on a Jewish topic to mark their coming of age, learn a book of Tanakh, recite the verses from other texts (such as the Book of Esther or the Book of Psalms) or prayers from the siddur.

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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