Bar and Bat Mitzvah

One of the most precious moments in every religious community is the moment when a young person appropriates for themselves the central symbols of the tradition. In the Jewish tradition, that central symbol is TorahThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh., the revelationRevelation is the gift or disclosure of knowledge, insight, or instruction from God to the human. The term is used in the Jewish tradition to refer to the revelation of Torah, the law; in the Islamic tradition to refer to the revelation of the Qur’an, t... to MosesMoses was the great Biblical prophet who is credited with leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and teaching them the divine laws at Sinai. The story of Moses is told in the book of Exodus in the Bible and is also told in the Qur’an, wher... on Mt. SinaiSinai is the holy mountain on which Moses is said to have received the Torah, and where the people of Israel once again entered into a covenant with God. and all that has issued from it over some three thousand years. When Jewish children come of age—around twelve for girls and thirteen for boys—they become bat mitzvahBat mitzvah means, literally, daughter of the commandment: a Jewish girl who has achieved the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. In non-Orthodox communities it is also the ceremony in which the girl marks this important r..., “daughter of the commandment,” or bar mitzvahBar mitzvah means, literally, “son of the commandment”: a Jewish boy who has achieved the age of 13 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. It is also the ceremony in which the boy marks this important rite of passage by reading fro..., “son of the commandment.” The term refers both to the persons and to the ritual, in which the Jewish child is called forward to the TorahTorah, meaning teaching or instruction, refers in its most specific sense to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or books of Moses, and to the scrolls on which these teachings are written. More broadly, Torah refers to the whole of the Hebre... scroll and for the first time reads from it publicly. This rite of passage not only bestows a new privilege upon the next generation, it also requires the younger generation to take on a larger set of mitzvotMitzvah means “commandment” and refers to the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or colloquially, to any good deed., including full participation in congregationalThe congregational form of Protestant Christianity has traditionally affirmed the autonomy and authority of the local congregation in calling and ordaining its ministers and organizing its affairs. In the 17th century, the English Puritans introduced cong... life. The ceremony takes place as soon as possible following the twelfth or thirteenth birthday, although adult converts to JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol... also celebrate their bar or bat mitzvahBat mitzvah means, literally, daughter of the commandment: a Jewish girl who has achieved the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. In non-Orthodox communities it is also the ceremony in which the girl marks this important r... as the culmination of their conversion process. While the tradition has historically been reserved for males, most contemporary Jewish movements and synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ..., including OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion., have extended this ritual to females as well.

Whether in childhood or in conversion, preparation for the bar or bat mitzvahMitzvah means “commandment” and refers to the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or colloquially, to any good deed. may take several years and is especially intense during the year preceding the rite, when the Jewish person must acquire a basic understanding of the HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. language and be able to read the Torah portion for the day. In the Orthodox and Conservative traditions, the bar mitzvahBar mitzvah means, literally, “son of the commandment”: a Jewish boy who has achieved the age of 13 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. It is also the ceremony in which the boy marks this important rite of passage by reading fro... male now can put on tefillinTefillin are the small black leather boxes containing verses of the Torah that Orthodox Jews bind to the forehead and non-dominant arm during morning prayer, thus fulfilling the Biblical commandment to love God with heart, soul, and might and to bind thes..., the small black boxes containing four portions from the Torah that he will bind to his head and arms during weekday prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. At a bat mitzvah the female will likewise read the passage from the Torah as well as the weekly portion from the haftarahHaftarah is the selection of reading from the Prophets, following the reading from the Torah in the liturgy of the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. (“Prophets”). As part of the bar or bat mitzvah, the new Jewish adult will also give a short public talk to commemorate their entry into Jewish adulthood. Students may also perform some community service, in keeping with the Jewish values of tzedakahLiterally “righteousness” or “justice,” tzedakah is the biblical mitzvah, or commandment, to give to the needy. Traditionally this is interpreted by Jews as 10 percent of one’s wealth. and tikkun olamTikkun olam means to heal or repair the world, interpreted in Judaism as the responsibility to take action to make the world a better place..

After the ceremony there is a simple kiddushKiddush means sanctification and is a Jewish prayer recited over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday. The term can also refer to the meal as a whole that accompanies the blessing over the wine., in which wine and sweet bread are blessed and passed around for the congregation to partake. After the services are over, the gathered friends and family adjourn from the sanctuary of the synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... to the social hall, a private home, or a gala hotel space for a festive reception complete with food, music, dancing, and gift-giving. In the United States and for twelve- and thirteen-year-old bar or bat mitzvahsBat mitzvah means, literally, daughter of the commandment: a Jewish girl who has achieved the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. In non-Orthodox communities it is also the ceremony in which the girl marks this important r..., these celebrations have become increasingly festive, elaborate, and costly. In other parts of the Jewish community and for adult converts, these celebrations are typically quieter and less expensive, attended mostly by close friends and family.

The bar or bat mitzvah is much more than the recognition and celebration of a single day. It is the entry into a new phase of one’s life and responsibility as a Jew. Traditionally, the parents of a bar or bat mitzvah also recite blessing marking the passage from childhood to adulthood (in Jewish terms), expressing their thanks that the child now has taken full responsibility for their Jewish life. The particular portion of Torah a person has struggled to learn and read with confidence will forever have a special place in his or her memory. Sometimes he or she will be called up to the Torah to read that portion every year. It is not only a private milestone, but the beginning of a new participation in the life of the community.


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