What Is Bar Mitzvah / Bat Mitzvah All About?Around the world, different cultures have various forms of celebration for children entering the teenage years of their lives. In the Jewish community, this special event is popularly known as the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. The celebration not just involves food and music but poetry reading and candle lighting among others.
The word “bar” refers to son while “bat” means daughter in Aramaic, the former dialect of the Jewish people. “Miztvah,” on the other hand, means commandment in both Hebrew and Aramaic hence, bar mitzvah means “son of the commandment” or a child coming of age. Today, though, the term more often refers to the ceremony when a child turns 13 for boys and 12 for girls.
The Jewish law calls for children to observe the commandments when they reach the age of 12 and 13. Through the formal bar mitzvah / bat mitzvah ceremony, these children who have come of age assume their obligations as young adults. These duties include taking part in major religious services, forming binding contracts testifying before religious courts and marrying.
The bar mitzvah / bat mitzvah ceremony is actually just a symbolic event because in real life, this is not required in order to confer the rights and obligations to the children. The ceremony is not needed to fulfill the commandment and to be considered a Jew. The elaborate ceremonies and receptions that commonly take place today only started in the modern times.
During the early days, a male child who turns 13 attends the Shabbat services held on a Saturday shortly after his birthday. In this ceremony, the child goes up to the Torah to recite a blessing over the weekly reading.
Nowadays, the celebrant not only says the blessing but performs other things as well. He or she learns the entire haftarah portion including its chant and recite that during the ceremony. Other congregations let the celebrant read the entire weekly torah portion, or lead a part of the service, or lead in saying important prayers. Another task is to make a speech with the traditional introduction of “Today, I am a man.”
What follows after the religious service is a lavish reception that includes great food and musical entertainment especially for a male celebrant. For families who are Orthodox and Chasidic, the celebration of a bat mitzvah for girls is very simple as women are not allowed to take part in religious services.
It should be understood, however, that the bar mitzvah / bat mitzvah is not the objective of a Jewish education. It also does not refer to the end of an individual’s Jewish education or some sort of graduation ceremony. In fact, some rabbis require a bar mitzvah student to sign an agreement with a promise to continue his Jewish education during his adult life.
Additionally, becoming a bar mitzvah does not give a child full independence such that he can already go out on his own, marry the girl he loves, earn a living and raise children. The Talmud makes it clear that the age of 13 only refers to the proper age for fulfillment of the Jewish commandments as the child enters adulthood.
Read more articles on the subject: Bar Mitzvah Traditions Still Being Observed Today