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Am I less of a Jew if I was never Bar Mitzvah'd?
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What are the origins of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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


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Maturity 

Simply put a Bar/Bat Mitzvah (lit. Son/Daughter of Mitzvah) is someone who is old enough to be considered an adult as far as Torah law is concerned.

The youngest person to be called an adult in the Torah was Jacob's son Levi, who was called "man" at the age of thirteen.1

The Talmud2 associates adulthood with being able to comprehend consequences. For example, a child is not bound by his oath since he doesn't understand the weight of his words; whereas an adult, on the other hand, is bound by his word.

The Talmud3 goes on to observe that women were created with a heightened level of intelligence and therefore reach intellectual maturity before men. In this context a girl is considered to reach adulthood at 12, and a boy at 13.

From that point on s/he is a Bat/Bar Mitzvah and obligated to fulfill the Torah's directives.

Celebration

The origin for celebrating entrance into the ranks of Torah command, stems from Rabbi Yosef, a Talmudic sage who made a party when discovering that (although blind) he was (nonetheless) obligated to fulfill Torah law.4 His enthusiasm for being part of the Torah mission inspired generations of parents to emulate his celebration with parties for their own children when they in turn entered this covenant.

The Magen Avraham (17th century Talmudist and Halachic authority) writes: "It is a mitzvah for a person to make a meal on the day his son becomes Bar Mitzvah as on the day he enters the wedding canopy."5

Although a universal custom, there doesn't seem to be any textual source in classic Jewish literature for being called up to the Torah in association with Bar Mitzvah.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 34:25 - Midrash Breishit Rabbah 80:10
  • 2. Talmud tractate Nidah 45b
  • 3. Ibid
  • 4. Talmud tractate Bava Kama 87a. This is one opinion in the Talmud, others maintain a blind person is not obligated by Torah law.
  • 5. Orach Chayim 225:2, Magen Avraham 4

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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.
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.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
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.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.