All About the Bar Bat Mitzvah Service Ceremony Party

WHAT DO THE WORDS "BAR MITZVAH" and "BAT MITZVAH" MEAN?
"Son of the commandment" and "daughter of the commandment." It's a term for the status automatically conferred on every Jewish boy when he turns 13 and every Jewish girl when she turns 12.

OKAY, SO WHAT DOES 'SON OF THE COMMANDMENT' MEAN?
That Jewish laws now pertain, that the person is morally responsible for his/her actions and that he/she now has certain responsibilities and privileges.

WHICH LAWS, PRIVILEGES AND RESPONSIBILITIES?
*He or she is eligible to read from the Torah (the most important text in Judaism) and to participate in a minyan, a gathering or quorum of at least 10 Jewish people. This responsibility is usually taken as soon as possible after reaching bar/ bat mitzvah age; that's why the bar/ bat mitzvah ceremony features this activity.
* He or she can own personal property.
* He or she is old enough to legally marry (according to Jewish law, at least; in the U.S., state laws disagree).
* He or she must follow the 613 laws of the Torah. One of these, for example, is wearing tzitzit. Here's how-to video about wearing tzitzit. Another law concerns the mezuzah, a small case for a parchment bearing a prayer and G-d's name. Here's a how-to video about affixing a mezuzahto the doorpost of one's home.

DOES ONE 'HAVE A BAR MITZVAH,' 'GO TO A BAR MITZVAH' OR 'BECOME A BAR MITZVAH'?
Technically, no, no and yes. "Son of the commandment" is a noun, like the word "bride" or "groom." During and after the ceremony, you are one or you become one.

And while English has a word referring to the process of becoming a bride -- wedding, of course -- there's no equivalent in Hebrew for celebrating becoming bar or bat mitzvah. Hence the widespread practice, accepted by many kids, parents and a small smattering of rabbis (albeit less-than-enthusiastically), of saying one is having or attending a bar mitzvah.

I THOUGHT "BEN" WAS THE HEBREW WORD FOR SON, NOT "BAR"
You're right. But "bar" is Aramaic, which is what Jews were speaking when the bar mitzvah ritual was first mentioned in "print," in a book called The Talmud. (The Talmud collected all the Jewish oral laws and was written in the early 1st millennium of the common era.) In case you're wondering, "bat" and "mitzvah" are both Aramaic and Hebrew.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE KEY TERMS I MIGHT HEAR AT A BAR OR BAT MITZVAH?
Kippah (pl. kippot) or Yarmulke (the Yiddish equivalent): the thin, round skullcap (aka headcovering), usually made of satin or cotton, that's mandatory at all times for Orthodox men as a sign of reverence toward G-d. It's always worn in Conservative temples, by men and sometimes women. In some Reform synagogues, it's optional. Non-Jewish guests to bar / bat mitzvahs should wear kippot.

Torah: The most important, sacred text in all Judaism. Refers to the Five Books of Moses or the first five books of the Old Testament. [These 5 books are Bereshit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy).] A different passage (also called a portion or, in Hebrew, a parasha) is read each week and the entire Torah is read each year. A Torah scroll is made of parchment, written by a specially trained scribe. During the bar mitzvah (and any other) service, it is read using a special silver pointer (a yad) so as not to touch the ink or parchment directly. It's housed in a special ark, always positioned at the front of the synagogue, on the stage, or bima. As a sign of respect, synagogue attendees (called congregants) are always asked to rise when the doors to the ark are opened and the Torah is removed.

Aliyah: A congregant, friend or family member who is "called to the bima" to recite the blessings before and after sections of the Torah portion are read/sung is said tobe "having a aliyah." (It's a word that derives from the Hebrew root for rising or going up.) In synagogue, the rabbi will often sing out the name of the person being called for an aliyah, chanting both his Hebrew name as well as that of his parents. ("Yitzhak Reuven Ben Y'chaya Dovid V'esther Malka!") Receiving an aliyah is considered an honor.

D’var torah: This is the sermon-ette each bar bat mitzvah child gives the congregation. It's based on the lessons of the Torah he/she recited and is often interspersed with personal insights.

Haftorah: Many temples include the reading of a section of the Prophets.

Kiddush: This is the prayer praising G-d for wine, recited before dinner on Shabbat and at other times to sanctify the day. It also refers to the festive meal that follows after morning synagogue services.

Oneg Shabbat: Held directly after the Friday night synagogue services, the "oneg" is a light snack that includes wine, challah (special braided bread) and treats.

Simcha: a joyous event

Mazel Tov: Expression meaning Good Luck!

ANY OTHER INTERESTING FACTS?
Bar/ bat mitzvah status is granted whether or not you choose to read from the Torah or celebrate with a party. Some people have a second bar mitzvah when they turn 83.

HOW OLD IS THE TRADITION?
According to the many sages at Wikipedia, "the modern method of celebrating one's becoming a bar mitzvah did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud. In passages in the books of Exodus and Numbers, the age of majority for army service is noted to be twenty. The term 'bar mitzvah' appears first in the Talmud, the codification of the Jewish oral Torah compiled in the early 1st millennium of the common era, to connote 'an [agent] who is subject to scriptural commands,' and the age of thirteen is also mentioned in the Mishnah as the time one is obligated to observe the Torah's commandments: 'At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments...' The Talmud gives thirteen as the age at which a boy's vows are legally binding, and states that this is a result of his being a 'man,' as required in Numbers 6:2. The term 'Bar Mitzvah,' in the sense it is now used, cannot be clearly traced earlier than the fourteenth century."

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?

BOOKS
"Putting God on the Guest List: How To Reclaim The Spiritual Meaning Of Your Child's Bar Or Bat Mitzvah" by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

TV, FILM, BROADWAY RESOURCES
Start with the famous episode from The Simpsons in which Krusty the Klown has a bar mitzvah. (Krusty comes to realize that he can’t find happiness in life because he never had a Bar Mitzvah, so he reunites with his father (a rabbi) and sets about having one belatedly.) Check out the recent bar-mitzvah-centric films Sixty Six and Keeping Up With the Steins; both feature boys coming of age -- and coming to terms with their values.



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