Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah

Details describing the holy day

Bar and bat mitzvah mean, literally, "son and daughter of the commandment." Bat

mitzvah is Hebrew, while bar mitzvah, historically a much earlier ceremony, is Aramaic.

The word bar is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew ben (son of). While bar and bat mitzvah are often used to refer to the ceremony, the terms also refer to the child. Thus, a boy if referred to as a "bar mitzvah" and a girl as a "bat mitzvah." Historically, first bar mitzvah and later bat mitzvah represented a ceremonial recognition that a young person had reached the age when he or she was no longer a minor according to Jewish law and thereby took on new religious privileges and responsibilities of an adult. For boys, this age was 13, for girls, 12. Starting in the second or third century C.E., Jewish girls at age 12 took on legal responsibility for the performance of the mitzvot. As with age 13 for boys, they corresponded with their onset of puberty. In Reform synagogues, girls and boys mark symbolic entry into Jewish adulthood at age thirteen. The bar or bar mitzvah is usually celebrated on the Shabbat closest to the child's thirteenth birthday. Congregations usually schedule these dates a couple of years in advance, giving the family plenty of time to plan for the day.

What is a Bar Mitzvah?

Activities that take place on the holy day

Most bar mitzvah celebrations take place directly after the synagogue ceremony and include a festive meal followed by music (if it is not Shabbat) and dancing. When the Torah is publicly read in the synagogue (on Shabbat, Monday and Thursday mornings, holidays and fast days), congregants are called up for analiyah: the honor of reciting one of the blessings over the Torah. It’s customary for the bar mitzvah boy to deliver a speech, either in the synagogue after the Torah reading or at the reception that follows. The speech usually consists of a thought from the weekly Torah portion, which the young man will apply in some way to his own life. The purpose of the speech is to encourage the bar mitzvah boy in the Jewish tradition of sharing the Torah one has learned with others. The speech is also the perfect opportunity to announce the Mitzvah project and thank parents, family and friends. In some communities it is customary for the bar mitzvah boy to chant the Torah reading, or at least one section of it. Others have the custom of honoring the bar mitzvah boy with the final aliyah, known as “Maftir,” after which he chants the haftarah--the reading from the prophets which follows the Shabbat Torah reading.

Best Bar Mitzvah Speech

Significance of the holy day to the religion

The Bar and Bat Mitzvah is the moment in the Jewish life cycle that most deeply defines who Jews are as a people. The Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremony celebrates the link in an unbroken chain of thousands of years of Jewish tradition. When a child reaches to the age of Bat and Bar Mitzvah, she/he assumes a greater maturity in her/his connection to Torah and Mitzvot, to her/his own Jewish identity, to the Jewish people as a whole, and to God. This age marks the young adult’s arrival at the crossroads of moral and spiritual decision making that is engaged in by mature adults. While the bar mitzvah ceremony is a tremendous milestone in the life of a Jewish boy, and obviously requires a great deal of study and preparation, it should never be viewed as a “graduation” from Judaism, but rather as the bright beginning of a vibrant and fulfilling Jewish life.

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Bar Mitzvah 101 - An overview: Everything you need to know about becoming a bar mitzvah - Bar Mitzvah. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2015.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah | Reform Judaism. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2015.

Significance of the Bar & Bat Mitzvah - Chabad of Port Washington. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2015.