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The Jewish Bar Mitzvah

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Introduction

The Bar Mitzvah represents a deeply significant and poignant religious occasion for Jewish people. Invested within this tradition is a sacred ritual and rite of passage as well as the acceptance of a social responsibility. It is a juncture in the coming of age for a boy as he accepts his adult responsibilities to his faith and his moral and ethical place in the world.

Bar Mitzvah literally translated means “Son of Commandment” - “Bar” from the Aramaic for Son and “Mitzvah” from the Hebrew for Commandment. It is often accompanied by ceremonial customs although the progression to adulthood is also possible without ceremony. The equivalent custom for girls known as the “Bat Mitzvah” which holds the same significance.

History

The first reference to a Bar Mitzvah in the Torah is in Genesis 21:8. “..And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned and Abraham made a great feast on the day...”. The modern origins of Bar Mitzvah appear to stem back about 400 years and relate to a formal blessing that was made by the community to free a father from responsibility for examining his son’s Jewish practices. By the late 19th Century the duties were falling more firmly on the son and the term “Bar Mitzvah” became significant. The celebration took on greater magnitude and the preparation became more rigorous. Today, the Bar Mitzvah is generally a highly significant occasion bringing communities together in a celebration of faith and commitment. 

Preparation and Celebration of Bar Mitzvah

A boy will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah usually on the Shabbat after his 13th birthday (although it may take place on other Prayer Days). Of course, his entire life has been a preparation to this milestone but his significant study will probably start about a year before the actual date. Study should include the fundamentals of Judaism and the boy’s place within the faith. In the likely event that there is a ceremony of Bar Mitzvah the boy will need to prepare.    

The content of the Bar Mitzvah may vary. With advice from Parents and his Rabbi the celebrant may decide for example to recite an Aliyah, to read or chant from the sacred Torah Portions, Maftir and Haphtarah or perhaps participate in the Blessings. He may lead a D’Var or research a Mitzvah Project taken from the 613 Mitzvahs given at Mount Sinai. The Celebration of Bar Mitzvah will take place in the Synagogue with parents often participating and is followed by festivities. 

The Significance of Bar Mitzvah

Following Bar Mitzvah the celebrant is regarded as morally and ethically responsible for the decisions he makes. His, Halakha or Path now guides his religious practice and also informs aspects of his daily life. He may observe his religious duties like the fasting on Yom Kippur, perform acts of charity (Tzedakah) and lead or participate in religious services like counting as part of a “Minyan” or reciting the ”Shema” and other weekday prayers. Following the Bar Mitzvah he may wear the Tallit (Prayer Shawl) and the Tefillin in which he dedicates his intellectual and emotional strength to doing the work of G.D. With his Bar Mitzvah the world of the Jewish boy is changed to the world of the Jewish man.

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