What is a Bar Mitzvah?

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    A Bar Mitzvah, or Bat Mitzvah, is a Jewish celebration to commend the coming of age in Jewish children- for boys, this happens when they turn 13, and for girls it’s 12. When the Jewish child comes of age, it means that they are from then on held responsible for their religious actions, ethics, and traditions, and they can make their own decisions the same as an adult Jew. The Bar Mitzvah, for boys, and the Bat Mitzvah, for girls, tends to coincide with puberty and is deemed a special honour to be able to participate in all areas of the Jewish community. Prior to the celebration, parents assume full responsibility for their child’s adherence to Jewish law and tradition.

    At the Bar Mitzvah itself, the child in question has to stand up in front of all their friends and family at the synagogue and recite the Torah, which is printed in Hebrew and so read from right to left. This tradition has come down through the ages for two thousand years since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. When reading passages from the Torah, the words usually have to be chanted with special cantillation and once finished is ceremoniously returned to its ark (home) in the synagogue. Sometimes, depending on what day of the week the celebration is held, it may also involve giving a d’var Torah- a discussion of the week’s Torah portion.

    Once the child has officially come of age, they are then classed as an adult. This means that they may possess a property if desired, and can even be legally married without parental consent. Once the service has ended, it is usually followed up with a celebratory meal that includes family, friends, and members of the Jewish community to show everyone he is officially an adult. These celebratory parties can be very large and magnificent, and have been known to completely eclipse weddings with their grander scale. After the celebrations, it is traditional but not essential for the celebrant to lead the Birkat Hamazon (a set of Hebrew blessings that follow a meal which includes bread, wheat barley, and oats that must be said after eating these), something that he or she would not have been able to do as a minor.

    The Bat Mitzvah for the girls isn’t usually celebrated on as grand a scale as the boys’, though is of course still celebrated. It’s only as the times move on that now, non-orthodox Jews have the same participation, where they can read from the Torah and also lead services. It used to be that a woman could not do this if there were more than 10 men present to do it; however, modern Judaism has allowed the Bat Mitzvah to be celebrated in other ways. Instead of reading from the Torah they can instead give a lecture on a Jewish topic to show their understanding, learn a book of Tanakh for reciting, or say prayers from the Siddur. It is also becoming more common for women to read from the Torah in a woman’s tefillah (morning and afternoon prayer time).