Bar Mitzvah traditions
In today’s article, we won’t be telling about Bar Mitzvah itself as the tradition to celebrate the 13th birthday of a boy – we’re pretty sure there is more than enough information about this on the Internet. Instead, we want to focus on its separate manifestations and tell you more about its religious and festive traditions of the celebration of Bar Mitzvah (including Bat Mitzvah traditions).
Tefillin and all about it
Tefillin are a set of two small black-colored boxes that are of the same spiritual value as Torah itself. By the religious power, they are also the same or a little bit lower as Torah (depending on to what current of religion a person is attributed to).
Tefillin are produced of the skin of kosher animals processed in a specific way. There are a number of all-covering rules that prescribe how to manufacture Tefillin starting from the form and color of the material ending with the order of putting of lists with quotes from Torah inside of them. What they contain is the 4 pieces from Torah that describe the need to wear Tefillin as a part of it (as it encapsulates sayings from this Book), description of connection with God, and descending ancient Egypt. Thus, it possesses the religious meaning and as if a ‘brief version’ of the main moments that a Jew has to always remember in his mind and heart (and never put those memories down even in the hours of the greatest festivity he/she is experiencing).
There is also a prescription of how many times one should reel up the rezuot (sometimes spelled as retzuot) around one’s arm and fingers to make the right connection of Tefillin with your skin. The same, nothing shall be between Tefillin and one’s skin (or hair) when saying a prayer as it will not make the 100% connection between you and God.
There are two of those boxes, one for the left hand (put as close to heart as possible) and the other for a head. Such positioning means that a Jew that prays will always have Torah inside of his mind and heart. Not only the Book but also Him – the God – as well, that speaks to all of us through the Book and through Tefillin.
It is believed that at the age of 13, the boy already becomes capable of fully concentrating on the prayer and Tefillin as its major part (leaving aside everything else). While praying, a Jew must have no other thoughts than about his words to God. That’s why the religious adulthood starts at 13 as the age of the first early consciousness a boy can bear as an adult man.
The financial side of the issue
When the traditional part, with the use of Tefillin, is finished and a boy is now considered a man, it is just about time to restore powers and eat up.
To put it frankly, it’s not a secret that Torah does not have a prescription of how to celebrate Bar Mitzvah and whether to celebrate it at all. The same as Mishnah does not give any commandments about the issue.
Even up to the beginning of the 20th century, people did not have a habit to celebrate Bar Mitzvah so the ceremony usually ended on the religious part. Maybe it was just a soft brunch or snacks. There is one existing commandment to mark the Bar Mitzvah of a new member of a community – have a traditional meal named Seudat Mitzvah. It is one of the commandments as itself but it does not prescribe what to include in it: what meals, how many guests must be on it, and the other specificities. Therefore, in the old times, it could be just having some bread before going home. Now, the times have changed though.
From the economical point of view, times were always harder before the industrial revolution (if to leave aside the political and religious aspects). So people not always could afford selves to celebrate Bar Mitzvah – and especially it was a little imaginable at the time when Torah was initially created. But since the beginning of 1900, when the global wealth of all (and especially – developed) nations began to become more even, people started having more money for various types of celebrations. That included Bar Mitzvah. The 20th century marked a flamboyant development of traditions of celebration and led to the rise of elements that were not traditional: cakes, expensive gifts, poems, songs, music, dress code, parties, and even tours from abroad.
The biggest luxurious point of the arrangement of Bar Mitzvah has become the pilgrimage to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As it is also not a secret that Jews live practically in all corners of the world, sometimes it cost several thousand US dollars just to fly to the city to approach Wailing Wall.
So, the celebration traditions from the financial point of view started to cost big money in the 21st century, taking into account the flight, road, accommodations expenses, presents, and festive dinner.
However, it is only one point – as for ones living near Jerusalem, it will take much less money and efforts. In addition to that, the ceremony’s cost largely depends on the wealth of every particular family, so the budget can largely vary. This is the first and foremost thing that every professional organizer of Bar Mitzvah has to take into account.
Bar Mitzvah cake designs
All people have to remember that Bar Mitzvah is a very special point in the life of a boy – and it happens only once in a lifetime. The second next biggest epoch for him will start with marriage. So, every sane parent wants to make this festivity as much memorable as possible, bringing special salt into the ceremony that is expressed in the gaiety of music, interesting Bar Mitzvah cake designs, fancy restaurant and so on.
As for the cake designs, they may be absolutely different:
Some parents decide to express in a cake the spiritual value of the solemn day of Bar Mitzvah, thus giving birth to ones shaped like a scroll of Torah, depicting The Temple, putting words of blessing on them, including 6-angled star of David, making it in a form of the Book (specifically writing some words of importance from it), or adding on its surface some other religious items as yarmulke or akin
Others want to put emphasis on the sports or other interests or achievements of the boy, making a cake shaped like the cup (a trophy), the general depiction of the kind of sports the son is engaged into, putting a scarf on top (which both may have the religious and sports meaning though), adding a football ball or basketball ball to it, or making it a tennis-rocket shaped and so on.
Other cakes may be tied to the meaning of the Wall in the system of religious beliefs of Jews and thus, they can decorate a cake with its bricks from a close view or Wall’s general view, the Temple Mountain, writing Mazel Tov words and so on.
Some other cakes can include a number 13, just be beautiful without any hint on the specificity of the treat, or be otherwise free-themed.
Bar Mitzvah inspirational readings
The theme that is poorly highlighted in global network – what specifically a young boy must tell during his limelight minute on the ceremony. It is often told that he must show the knowledge of Torah’s commandments but it remains untold, what kind of inspirational readings he must read in order to understand what to tell. Of course, it is believed that his parents and the tutor who is engaged into the preparation of a boy for the ceremony will discuss this issue with him to point into the right direction. However, a boy may still remain confused facing the new world for him.
Thus, it is recommended to have some Bar Mitzvah inspirational readings on the Internet or guided by the adults to know more about the religion and Torah, to understand the deeper meaning of goodness and badness, to seek for the answers in these readings.
For example, there is one thing called ‘Meditations of Hope and Doubt’, which have such lines:
What an exhilarating prospect!
What a challenge!
What a responsibility!
God, help us to know what to do.
Guide us, nurture our strength and
Sustain our courage.
Reading something like this, a boy, future Bar Mitzvah, will definitely be able to obtain more courage in his soul, scoop from the bravery of what’s written and become more confident.
What a terrifying thought!
Who are we to be entrusted
with such a mission,
such a challenge,
such a responsibility?
How do we know what to do?
Where do we start?
We call upon our heritage.
Reading much of such lines, a boy will be able to understand his mission along with the mission of his people – which will lead to an in-depth understanding of Torah’s lines he will read and those words that will come out of his mouth during the speech.