A bar or bat mitzvah is a special ceremony in the Jewish faith. They are a rite of passage for the child involved, in which he or she becomes an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, and is thenceforth responsible for being an active participant. Boys celebrate bar mitzvahs, while girls celebrate bat mitzvahs. Boys become a bar mitzvah as soon as they reach the age of 12, while girls become a bat mitzvah as soon as they reach the age of 13, but ages can vary. It’s also becoming more common for adults to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs.
While it has become popular to throw big parties in honor or a bar or bat mitzvah, they are more than just a celebration.
A rite of passage
The word “bar” literally means son in Aramaic, while “bat” is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic. Mitzvah translates to “commandment” in Hebrew and Aramaic. While the terms bar or bat mitzvah technically refer to the person who is coming of age in the Jewish faith — someone can “become” a bar/bat mitzvah — today it typically refers to the actual ceremony itself.
No ceremony is actually required for a Jewish youth to become a bar/bat mitzvah. The bar/bat mitzvah is a relatively new innovation, and it is not mentioned in the Talmud. However, over the last several hundred or so years it has become extremely common to acknowledge this transition in the form of a formal ceremony. The event is a momentous one in a youth’s life, and bar/bat mitzvahs give boys and girls the opportunity to celebrate this occasion in a memorable way, surrounded by those who care about them.
Bar and bat mitzvahs are a huge milestone in the life of a Jew. The occasion marks the celebrant becoming a full-fledged member of the community, whereas their parents were responsible for educating them in the Jewish faith up until this point. Following the bar/bat mitzvah, the child is morally responsible for his or her own actions. He or she must follow the 613 commandments of the Torah. The child is also eligible to read from the Torah. They may possess personal property, among other things. Put simply, bar and bat mitzvahs are ready to observe all aspects of Judaism and eligible to participate in public worship. Bar and bat mitzvahs reach a spiritual maturity, in which they are able to appreciate the depth and complexity of life.
Preparation and service
Before the milestone of a bar or bat mitzvah, many congregations in the Jewish faith require children to be in good standing with the synagogue and participate in Shabbat prayer services leading up to the event. They are also often required to study at a Hebrew school, and many have a tutor to help guide them through this journey. Children learn about the mitzvahs and develop their own personal relationship with God.
It can be overwhelming for the child to suddenly become responsible for fulfilling what are hundreds of mitzvahs, so many celebrants choose a mitzvah to focus on for a special mitzvah project. This might entail doing good deeds for charity or engaging in something more personalized, like daily prayer. Some children even combine two mitzvahs together. For example, a girl might combine the mitzvahs of kosher cooking and charity, and help prepare meals for those less fortunate. What the mitzvah project will be is different for every child.
Celebrants often do something meaningful on the actual day of the bar or bat mitzvah. Some volunteers in soup kitchens or go visit the elderly in a nursing home. They often bring friends along with them to make the event even more meaningful.
With the diversity in the Jewish faith and how each family chooses to celebrate, the types of parties thrown for a bar or bat mitzvah can vary widely. Some prefer to hold a more subdued, intimate gathering to reflect the seriousness of the occasion. Others, turn it into a big party, inviting many guests and turning it into a serious bash. Many celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs of today throw big, lavish parties at hotels and country clubs. Hundreds of guests might show up to celebrate this rite of passage.
While no two bar or bat mitzvahs are necessarily the same, most ceremonies include a special celebratory meal, known as a seudat mitzvah, with family, friends, and members of the Jewish community. Other common ways to celebrate a bar mitzvah include taking a special trip or organizing some type of special event in the boy or girl’s honor.
It’s common to bestow a gift upon the celebrant at a bar or bat mitzvah. Common gifts include books, religious items, saving bonds, money, and gift certificates. In instances where money is given, it is often gifted in multiples of 18, since the numerical equivalent for the word for life in Hebrew (“chai”) is the number 18.
PRO TIP: Custom designed geofilters for BarMitzvahs is an awesome gift idea!
It is also customary for boy and girls making the transition to prepare a speech for the event. This an an opportunity for celebrants to share the Torah he or she has learned with those in attendance. This might include researching an important figure in Jewish history and recounting important lessons from that person’s life. It can also be something as simple as communicating a Torah idea that had particular resonance in the speech giver’s life. Whatever the subject, the bar or bat mitzvah speech is a great opportunity to family, friends, and all those who have guided them in their journey.
It’s only the beginning
While the celebrant of a bar or bat mitzvah is a huge milestone in the celebrant’s life, it’s important to remember that this is not a graduation of the Jewish faith. No, the journey has only just begun. A bar or bat mitzvah is a celebration, but it is also the start of a life as a full-fledged member of the Jewish faith. With that in mind, it’s important to remember the importance of this event!