Understanding Jewish Traditions – Bar Mitzvah

What is a Bar-Mitzvah?

Bar Mitzvah translates as ‘Son of the Commandment’ and is a coming of age ceremony. The bar mitzvah ceremony is a significant milestone in the life of a Jewish boy and requires an abundance of study and preparation, it is not regarded as a “graduation” from Judaism, but rather a positive beginning of a vibrant and rewarding Jewish life.

Foremost, when a boy comes of age at 13-years-old he has become a “bar mitzvah” and is recognized by Jewish tradition as having the same rights as a full grown man. A boy who has become a Bar Mitzvah is now morally and ethically responsible for his own decisions and actions.

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Why is it important?

Many Jewish people talk about becoming a bar mitzvah as “becoming a man,” but this is inaccurate. A Jewish boy who has become a bar mitzvah has many of the rights and responsibilities of a Jewish adult but he is not considered an adult yet in the full sense of the word -Jewish tradition makes this exceedingly clear.

Jewish adulthood comes with many responsibilities, but it is also a tremendous privilege. Although a bar mitzvah is not a bona fide adult yet, Jewish tradition recognizes this age as the point when a child can differentiate between right and wrong and therefore can be held accountable for his actions and considered old enough to have certain rights and responsibilities.

These include,

  • Performing Mitzvot: Jewish children are not required to perform mitzvot (plural for mitzvah, meaning “commandments”). In traditional Jewish practice, only when a boy who has become bar mitzvah must observe mitzvot just like any adult.
  • Ethical Responsibility: While not all Jews observe mitzvot, all Jews do recognize that when a boy becomes bar mitzvah he has reached the age of moral and ethical accountability.
  • Religious Services: A bar mitzvah has the right to participate in leading a religious service and is able to participate in a minyan. (A minyan is a gathering of at least ten men of bar mitzvah age or older. It is required to perform a full prayer service)

The tradition of following the religious bar mitzvah ceremony with a celebration is a recent one. Similar to a wedding, the wedding ceremony is far more momentous than the wedding party, it is important to remember that the party is simply the celebration marking the religious implications of becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

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