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Bar Mitzvah-What is it?

By admin | June 23, 2008

Mezuzah Pendant with ParchmentWhat is a Bar Mitzvah?

Author: Jacob Lumbroso

Ancient Jewish texts convey the idea that along with puberty comes responsibility for one’s own actions. The idea of accountability, goes back even further. Samuel ha-Kaman (i.e.the small) wrote at the close of the first century that the completion of the thirteenth year marks the age for responsibility to the commandments.

This concept of responsibility for personal actions and more importantly adherence and fidelity to the covenant of Torah was solidified in most Jewish communities as being generally applicable to girls at age twelve and boys at thirteen…

Over the centuries, the marking of this passage has developed significantly as a celebration, which some modern critics have stated may overshadow the original religious significance.

In non-Orthodox communities, both Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (literally son or daughter of the commandment) are marked by the individual’s first time to read or chant from the weekly Torah portion and its associated passage in the Haftarah in Hebrew.

Many communities also require the individual to lead a section of the service and present a brief commentary on the text they have read and studied. The custom of giving a tallit (prayer shawl). has also become part of the ritual for many.

In traditional communities the Bar Mitzvah is now counted as part of the minyan (quorum) required for the public reading of the Torah from that day forward as well as for the recitation or repetition of certain prayers such as Kaddish in the case of the former, and the Amidah in the case of the latter.

In most traditional communities, the manner in which a young woman marks her Bat Mitzvah is more limited than in non-Orthodox communities and the young woman is not counted as part of the minyan in accordance with traditionally interpreted Jewish law. In Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal temples and synagogues, the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah equals that of a Bar Mitzvah.

While individual responsibility is traditionally assigned at the ages of 12 (for girls) and 13 (for boys) years of age, the actual Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony itself may be observed at a later time. This practice has increased recentlyas older individuals not having celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzvah’s earlier in life desire to mark their commitment to Jewish tradition.

Many Jewish communities see the ceremony of the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah as an opportunity for the Bar or Bat mitzvah student to study Biblical Hebrew, Bible, Jewish history, and a basic knowledge of Jewish prayer and practice.

Perhaps the most challenging task in preparing for a Bar Mitzvah is learning Biblical Hebrew, so an early start is of great benefit.

About the Author:
Jacob Lumbroso writes articles on history, foreign cultures, and Judaism. For more information on the Tallit or other Jewish symbols, visit

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