Bar Mitzvah from the point of view of religious content it represents
To check your Judaism knowledge, give the quick answer on this matter: what’s the name of religious ceremony that a boy passes in 13 (and a girl – in 12), becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
The correct answer
The right answer is none. It has no name. A boy becomes Bar Mitzvah in any case, whether he spends his 13th day of birth in the synagogue, Wailing Wall touching it, swimming in the ocean of Mediterranean, or simply lying in the bed. The same goes for a girl.
‘Bar/Bat Mitzvah’ only means “the son/daughter of the commandments” or, to put it simpler, the one who’s obliged to follow them. A boy obtains this obligation from 13, a girl – from 12.
Two of the existing commandments are specifically tightly connected to Bar Mitzvah celebration – laying of Tefillin and going to Torah on Saturday that goes right after the 13th Bday on the Jewish calendar.
In the USA, it is considered a norm already for a long time that parents make a delicious and big banquet in this honor. But it is likely so because the country’s general wealth is big and people there are richer. If you don’t want to make a huge party because of that – you don’t have to, as nothing in Torah says about the necessity of any banquet in Bar Mitzvah.
But nobody actually spends this festive day in the bed (unless only a very ill physically boy or girl). It is considered of the increasing interest to come to the Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall in Israeli Jerusalem at this solemn day and spend it being in the most sacred place of all humankind.
The religious context
For the religious Jews, this day is a very big turn in the life of a boy or a girl, as they become young adults since now. The boy’s voice is now counted during Minyan’s quorum that must consist of minimum 10 adult men. Many boys experience a huge proud when their voice counts together with everyone’s. In orthodox schools, Bar Mitzvah boys stay in the schools’ premises for a longer time, learning Talmud additionally, longer and more thorough than other students do.
Of course, today nobody seriously considers a 12/13-year adolescent an adult person. But when Talmud was created, this was an age when the adult life started for them. Young men and women adopted the most part of moneymaking and housekeeping chores in this age and even younger.
In the orthodox synagogue, a boy, as a rule, reads the definite part of Torah or, at least, Haftarah. Sometimes, other responsibilities also put on him. In more traditional ceremonies, he may speak to everyone present with a short comment on Jewish laws or the chapter of Torah to receive Bar Mitzvah blessing.
Reformists and conservative followers do not have the specifics in the ceremony, which a boy must follow. However, it is almost always considered that a boy must bear an honor of ascending to Torah.
Since the Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall is a start of a new life – for non-orthodox Jew, it also means the moment of finish of his Jewish education. Thus, many Jewish parents consider that he must attend the specialized evening school at least for the reason that otherwise, he would not be allowed to celebrate this event in a synagogue. Some religious speakers consider that in today’s world, it is wise to prolong religious education for several more years. However, this point of view does not find the broad populism.
It is often the case when an adult person wants to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah again (or for the first time in life if he was incapable of doing it when the time was right), he should better stick to 13-years periods of own age – 26, 39, 52… Or even to come to Torah every 13th birthday to manifest his adherence to the religion. It is great to see Bar Mitzvahs in the age, who come to the ceremony with own children and sometimes even grandchildren – and it creates warmth in hearts, representing that it is never too late to come to Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. For people as such, in the older age, becoming Bar Mitzvah may cause even bigger mental scattering and rejoice than in the young age, when things don’t seem so solemn.
A word about Bat Mitzvah’s origin
The adult Bat Mitzvah ceremony is of relatively young origin: its first time celebrated and officially acknowledged case was done by the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, the Reconstructionist Judaism movement’s organizer, Judith Eisenstein (nee Kaplan).
In reconstructionist, reformist, and conservative churches, girls do the same actions as boys. Only boys’ Bar Mitzvah age is 13 when girl’s age is 12. Well, sometimes, it is 13 too – to underscore the evenness of men and women in front of religion.
Orthodox Jews declined this tradition because they do not allow their women to take part in religious synagogue service.
For a girl, the festive dinner is often arranged either, during which she speaks aloud her own understanding of Torah (of some its piece or understanding of specific notions), which concludes the ceremony.
Not depending on the church, Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Israel is considered the best option to spend this solemn day and to have a possibility to see sacred places. That’s why many people organize Bar/Bat Mitzvah trips to Israel even from afar.