The History of Bar Mitzvah / Bat MitzvahCelebrating the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah among the Jewish children has become so widespread these days. It is considered a very important occasion in the life of a 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy as they enter adulthood. But how did this event evolve?
Originally, only the bar mitzvah is first mentioned in the Talmud referred to as “an agent subject to scriptural commands.” In the Talmud, it is stated that a boy who reaches the age of 13 has legal responsibilities. It is also in the Misnah that the age of 13 is stated as the time a person is made responsible for observing the Torah’s commandments.
The term bar mitzvah as it is used today can be traced back to the 14th century referring to the rabbinical term “bar onshin” or son of punishment which means he is liable to be punished for his wrongdoings. It was in the 1920’s when the first bat mitzvah was held to give equal honor to a young woman’s right of passage into Jewish adulthood.
Many early sources state that the ceremony to celebrate the bar mitzvah started in the Middle Ages. There are also various earlier references to the age of 13 as obligatory for following the Torah commandments.
- By the end of the first century, Samuel ha’Katan stated in his saying on the Ages of Man in the Baraita the 13th year as the age for the commandments. His commentary to the passage actually referred to Jacob’s son, Levi, who was then called “ish” or man at 13.
- The Midrash Hashkem states “The heathen when he begets a son commits him to idolatrous practices…as he becomes of age he brings him into the synagogue and school in order that he may praise God.”
- According to Masseket Soferim, “In Jerusalem, they initiate their children to fast on the Day of Atonement a year or two before their maturity and then when the reach the age, bring the bar mitzvah before the priest or elder for blessing, encouragement and prayer.
- The Midrash says “Up to 13 years, Esau and Jacob went together to primary school and back home; after 13 years, the one went to the beit ha’midrash to study the Law, the other to the house of idols.
- Pirke R. El said “Abraham rejected the idolatry of his father and started to worship God when he was 13 years old.”
The public reading of the Torah, meanwhile, began in 444 B.C.E. with Ezra the Scribe after the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon. The Torah, since then, was divided into 54 weekly portions; each called a Parasha, which are read in every synagogue around the world based on the Hebrew calendar. These readings are done at each Shabbat service.
Today, Jewish religious leaders emphasize that more than the celebration, bar and bat mitzvahs should be made to gain a deep understanding of their spiritual and moral obligations as they assume a new status in their lives. It should be a major task for them to take part in the Shabbat service on a regular basis throughout their adulthood and to give to charitable institutions during their celebration as a way of sharing their blessings with the unfortunate people in their community.
Read more articles on the subject: Bar Mitzvah Traditions Still Being Observed Today