Bar And Bat Mitzvahs

A bar mitzvah is a celebration in the Jewish faith that commemorates the maturity of a young man (Bat mitzvah is the term for the same celebration for young women). According to Jewish tradition, a bar or bat mitzvah is held when a boy is 13 or a girl is 12 to commemorate the beginning of his or her adult life and his or her active responsibility for his or her faith.

In fact, the term “bar mitzvah” literally translates from Hebrew to mean “one to whom the commandments apply” or “the son or daughter of commandments.”Bar/Bat Mitzvah Traditions

While the tradition of having a bar mitzvah has ancient roots, the modern manner of the bar/bat mitzvah celebration developed during the Middle Ages (about 400 AD to 1400 AD).

Today, the bar/bat mitzvah starts with a religious ceremony in a Synagogue (a Jewish house of worship) in which the young adult reads blessing from the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Scripture) in Hebrew. The modern day bar/bat Mitzvah religious service takes place on Shabbat, or Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Interestingly, although Jewish men have celebrated the bar mitzvah for ages, the bat mitzvah for young women only became a publicly acknowledged ceremony (except in Italy) during the 20th century. The first bat mitzvah was held on March 18, 1922 in New York City for a young lady named Judith Kaplan.

Over the decades, bat mitzvahs have become widely celebrated. However, some strictly orthodox Synagogues are still concerned with the propriety of young women reading Hebrew blessings aloud.

Once a child has had his or her bar/bat mitzvah, the Jewish faith considers him or her to be:

  • completely accountable for his or her actions and practice of faith
  • fit to read from the Torah and, for men, to participate in the Minyan (a group of 10 or more men gathered for prayer)
  • legally able to marry.

The bar/bat Mitzvah is by no means a “goal” of Jewish education, nor is it a “graduation ceremony” that marks the end of one”s education in this faith. Observant Jews understand that their study of the Torah is a lifelong obligation.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Receptions

After the formal celebration in the Synagogue, family and friends of the young adult generally gather for a festive celebration that includes refreshments, dancing, etc. at a restaurant, reception hall or family members home. Over the years, some of these receptions have become so extravagant (on par with weddings and quinceaneras), that strict, orthodox Jews have criticized them for straying from the religious rite. Nevertheless, these receptions, whether or not they are elaborate and costly, are part of the bar/bat mitzvah tradition.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Gifts

Like most celebrations that commemorate a milestone in a persons life, a bar/bat mitzvah isnt complete without gifts for the young adult. While traditionally bar/bat mitzvah gifts tend to be religious items or educational presents, today, it isnt uncommon for young men and women to receive cash, gift certificates, savings bonds and other forms of currency.

One convention is to give the young man or woman monetary gifts that correlate with multiples of the number 18. This is due to the fact that the word “life” in Hebrew (chai) also translates to mean the number 18. Also, tradition dictates that the parents of the young adult celebrating the bar/bat mitzvah give him or her the first “tallit,” or prayer shawl, that is to be worn during the formal ceremony in the Synagogue.

Second Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

Because a “normal” lifespan is considered to be 70 years, when a person reaches 83 years old, he or she may have a second bar/bat mitzvah, seeing as this age is considered to be another mark of the 13 years. The second bar/bat mitzvah is a commemoration of another point of maturation in a Jewish persons life.