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What is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

Updated on June 24, 2011

If you have ever received an invitation to a special celebration called a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah, you may have questions about what this occasion is all about.

A Bar Mitzvah, or Bat Mitzvah is a ritual acknowledging the coming of age of a Jewish child. A Bar Mitzvah refers to a boy while Bat Mitzvah references a girl. The term B’nai Mitzvah is used when more than one child is involved. The literal translation is "son, daughter, or children of commandment". A Jewish boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. Because girls are thought to mature earlier than boys, a girl can become a Bat Mitzvah at the ago of 12, although in many Reform and Conservative temples a girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah at 13 as well.

Contrary to popular belief, no special ceremony or service is required to become a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah. One becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah automatically as they reach the age of maturity. As a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the young person is now considered an adult in the Jewish religion. He/She can now be called to the Torah, counted as part of a minyan (for girls only in Conservative and Reform synagogues), and participate fully in any other manner as an adult in the community. But with privilege comes responsibility. The child is now accountable for their own actions. They are now required to fulfil the adult commandments of the Torah, such as fasting on Yom Kippur.

Nowadays, it is common to have a special service to celebrate a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the synagogue, where the child will read from the Torah, participate in the service, and often lead the service himself or herself. Afterwards a celebration is usually held ranging from a small get together to a lavish party.

The child most likely will have had a lot of preparation before their special day. Often many years are spent attending Hebrew school to learn to read the Hebrew language and to learn the customs and practices of the Jewish faith. The year prior to the ceremony will be spent learning the Torah portion and other parts of the ceremony the child will be responsible for during the ceremony. The children may have to prepare a number of speeches discussing their Torah portions and thanking all those who helped prepare them for this day. It is now becoming popular for the child to pick a charity or cause and to raise funds for this. They also may choose to donate a portion of their gifts to this charity.

Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a very special and important part of Jewish life. It is not just about one day, but represents the past and future of every Jewish person.

In addition, in many Reform synagogues, students can choose to continue their Jewish education and go on to have a Confirmation. Confirmations were originally held in Reform temples because it was thought that a child of 12 or 13 was not yet mature enough to be considered an adult. A ceremony was held at around the age of 16. Today, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is commonplace and a Confirmation is held as a complement rather than an alternative. A Confirmation does not focus on the individual child, but rather the class of students. They work as a community on a charity project and on the ceremony itself. It in a sense celebrates their graduation from religious studies and their entry into the adult world. It is often held on the late spring holiday of Shavuot which commemorates when the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai.


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