Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah – A Brief History
Literally, the two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The bar is the son in Aramaic, which is the language of the Jews while Bat means daughter. On the other hand, Mitzvah means commandments in Hebrew. Therefore, the terms refer to the son or the daughter of the commandments respectively.
The phrase is used in the Jewish culture to mean the coming of age of a child. While the term does mean the child’s attainment of his/her coming of age, it is more commonly used to describe the ceremony that is performed rather than the correct term, which is becoming a Bat or Bar Mitzvah.
Jewish law says that the children are not obligated by virtue of who they are to accept and observe those things that God commanded them to do although they are certainly raised and encouraged to do just that.
They have an obligation to God to take part in religious observances and to be counted when attending such things as the minimum number of people (Minyan) who are necessary to witness a certain ceremony or observance.
Present Day Ceremonies
Today’s Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah has evolved to be a bit more elaborate than just a blessing read by the child. They very often learn certain aspects of the religious service as well as the accompanying traditional chants by heart and recite them. Sometimes this gets put off for days. Mostly, due to homework in a secular school after school and sports teams. Other activities and learning can be considered with a term I read, ‘overscheduled.’ The child is also required to make a speech teaching a devar Torah (about the Torah portion).
Kiddish (luncheon) vs. Reception (Party)
Today, in modern times, the Shabbat services are very often ended with a reception for the child that would rival a wedding for the ostentatious presentation and the care which is given to it.
The reception can be held anywhere and can be tailored to suit the family and the honored child. While some parents feel the pressure to have a reception that equals or tops the reception of the last child to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah in the community, it really isn’t necessary to go all out with expenses. It is more important to remember that this is for one particular child and not a competition. That adds so much unnecessary stress to a time that should be joyful.
“Behold, I have given you a good doctrine
My Torah: do not forsake it.”
Alternative vs. Traditional Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Adult Bar, or Bat Mitzvah is possible!
Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah is not the attainment of maturities such as being able to marry, to earn a living, or bear children. One of the Jewish Holy books, the Talmud does make this aspect of the Bar Mitzvah very clear. It states unequivocally that 13 is the age to be obligated to the community, and over 20 you must earn your own living. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah is simply the age when a child is old enough to be responsible for his/her own actions and behavior in the community.
The Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah is Over or is it?
What happens to the 13-year-old after the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony and reception? Does this special occasion fade into memory to be brought out only once n a while as a childhood remembrance? For many, this is just what happens. It means no more religious schooling, no more memorizing and practicing. Then, as they have children reaching this age, they can only remember bits and pieces.
But there are those that consider it just a beginning. Now they can be counted in a Minyan. All that was learned can be incorporated into daily life. Learning can continue beyond as Jewish Day School is extended into middle school and high school, too. There are organizations to keep kids connected to their heritage such as NIFTY, and BBYO, organizations for Jewish teenagers, Hillel is available college-bound students and found on many college campuses. The Taglit-Birthright Israel gift is open to all Jewish young adults, ages 18 to 26, post-high-school, who have not traveled to Israel before. This is a sponsored Free trip for our young adults. They have the experience that lasts a lifetime. Many colleges offer Judaica studies and these studies can also be found off-campus near many colleges.
Should the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah be something that ends at 13 and not thought of again until they are parents of children approaching this age? Our hope and desire are for parents of children now reaching the age of 13 will not let it be the end but will work and encourage it to continue. The holidays of the Jewish calendar continue even long after the age of 13. Homes imbued with the presence of Judaism in daily living will reach inside all of us to reaffirm our love and commitment to Judaism. It does not have to end at 13 and become only a memory. It can be just the beginning.
What Other Visitors Have Shared
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
Jonah Becomes a Bar Mitzvah Not rated yet
The photo was taken right before Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah Shabbat Morning Service Ceremony was to begin. See how the morning light shined on this special young …
Kasey becomes a Bat Mitzvah Not rated yet
Memorial Day Holiday weekend was a very special weekend. Kasey became a Bat Mitzvah. She chanted Torah the traditional way with such grace. Her
Coming of Age Ceremony Not rated yet
A beautiful Jewish Coming of Age Ceremony held in Westchester County, New York…
A slideshow of touching photos from Rachel’s …
Bat Mitzvah Ceremony Not rated yet
A photo diary of Samantha’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony held in April 2009.
Sentiments from Parents: Tracey and Chris
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