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What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

Library » Life Cycle » Bar/Bat Mitzvah | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Definition of the Term

When you mention Bar/Bat Mitzvah most people think of the celebration associated with a Jewish child reaching a state of maturity; I would like to address the definition of the word, and the true meaning of the term.

Bar means son, Bat means Daughter. Mitzvah, well, it means Mitzvah: G-d's commandments.

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a "son/daughter of Mitzvahs", i.e. a Jewish person who is obligated to fulfill G-d's commandments.

The Torah considers a mentally stable male of thirteen years to be responsible for his own actions. Women reach this stage of maturity a year earlier, at the age of twelve. When the Torah says that a person must do such-and-such and must not do such-and-such, it is speaking to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.1

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah does not happen at the age of 12/13 - it begins at the age of 12/13. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is a one time ordeal, but it should not be confused with, and should definitely not replace, the actual concept of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, which is a life long endeavor.

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah does not happen at the age of 12/13 - it begins at the age of 12/13
Bottom line: Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a person, not a party.

Did you have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Credentials for being Bar/Bat Mitzvah: One becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah the day she turns 12, or the day he turns 13. It's that simple.

Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah is simple. But being Bar/Bat Mitzvah is quite complex. To be sure, it is a great honor to be the recipient of a G-dly memo, and a partner with G-d through the performance of a Mitzvah. But it is a great responsibility as well.

Much preparation and education is required in order to be sufficiently fluent, and amply able to live as a Jew in accordance with G-d's will. Or in other words, to live as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

A Jewish child should therefore receive the best Jewish education available, beginning at the earliest age possible.

If for some reason you missed an opportunity to prepare for, or celebrate, being Bar/Bat Mitzvah, do so now.

Bottom line: A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is inevitable. It's something you either will be, or already are. It's never too early to start preparing for it, and it is never too late to celebrate and embrace it.

A Jewish child should therefore receive the best Jewish education available, beginning at the earliest age possible.
Mazal Tov

This tremendous milestone from childhood into adulthood calls for a Mazal Tov and a Celebration.

Every Jewish celebration includes food, and some sort of party. But every Jewish celebration also includes, and begins with, ritual. The first, and most important, thing that should come to mind for celebrating being Bar/Mitzvah, is the ability to do a Mitzvah!2

The first Friday after she turns 12 a girl should (if she hasn't started already) begin lighting Shabbat Candles. On the first morning after turning 13 a boy should put on Tefillin, and continue to do so every morning thereafter.3

A boy before Bar Mitzvah may not be called up to, or read from, the Torah. Thus, it is customary to honor the Bar Mitzvah boy with an opportunity to be called up to and/or read from the Torah. (See "Why don't girls get called up to the Torah").

Rather than lavish parties and extravagant expenditures, it is the above Mitzvahs, as well as all the others we are fortunate to have, that are the true celebration of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Bottom line: the celebration should be more "Mitzvah" than "Bar".

The Day After

After the celebrations and rituals are over, the real Bar/Bat Mitzvah begins. The newly matured adult now has the knowledge (due to Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparations), enthusiasm (due to Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations), and experience (due to hundreds of previous Jewish generations) to live a Torah observant and Mitzvah filled life.  

Footnotes

  • 1. i.e. a Jew fom the age of 12/13 and on.
  • 2. Just as the age for becoming Bar/Bat differs for boys and girls, so too does the Mitzvah.
  • 3. Except for on Shabbat and major Jewish holidays.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Tefillin
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Bar Mitzvah
The thirteenth birthday of a Jewish male. On this day -- customarily celebrated with a modest party -- the adolescent reaches adulthood and is responsible to observe all the commandments of the Torah.
Bat Mitzvah
The twelvth birthday of a Jewish female. On this day -- customarily celebrated with a lavish party -- the adolescent reaches adulthood and is responsible to observe all the commandments of the Torah.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.