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Make this special day even more special with a heartfelt Bat/Bar Mitzvah Gift!
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Before ordering a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah Nameplate as a gift, please make sure to have collected accurately the follow information regarding the boy or girl:
The details inscribed on the tile:
The following details will be written in Hebrew or English according to your choice when ordering:
- Date of the event
- Name/s of the boy or girl
- Additional details, like location or a brief greeting
David repeats his parashah during a visit to the ancient synagogue of Casale Monferrato, Italy.
… While Esther, the little sister, congratulates David on his arrival at the age of mitzvot.
The meaning of Bar Mitzvah & Bat Mitzvah
by Michael Hallel
simple, literal translation of the term Bar Mitzvah would mean “son of the commandment”. The Aramaic word Bar means “son”, and the word Mitzvah means “commandment” in both Hebrew and Aramaic. But as in other similarly combined terms, the expression as a whole carries a meaning slightly different than the literal addition of its words. For example, the term Bar Onshin does not simply mean “son of punishment”, but “person liable for punishment”. Similarly, the term Bar Mitzvah meaning is actually: “[Jewish, male, major] person obligated to the Commandments”.
The term already carries this meaning in its earliest recorded use, in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metsi’a, page 96A).
Accordingly, under Jewish Law, the term Bar Mizvah refers to an adult Jew obligated to observe the Commandments, an obligation not binding children.
Though not an outright requirement, the Bar Mitzva Ceremony formally marks the assumption of adult religious obligations, along with the corresponding rights to lead religious services, to be reckoned in counting the quorum for a minyan (the minimum number of people needed to perform certain parts of religious services), to enter into some contracts, but not to sell land or to marry.
The public ceremony notifies the whole community of the youngster’s new status, obligations and rights included. In other words: a Bar Mitzvah is fully responsible for behaving morally and carrying out religious duties, and is eligible for becoming a fully fledged member of the Jewish community.
Bat Mitsvah is the feminine form of Bar Mitsvah, and refers to a “[Jewish, female, major] person obligated to the Commandments.”
A Jewish boy automatically becomes a Bar Mitzvah on the day after he reaches the age of 13 years; a Jewish girl automatically becomes a Bat Mitzvah on the day after the age of 12 years.
In the past
The Bible makes no mention of a Bar Mitzvah ceremony or celebration, but it is clear that the custom was common towards the end of the Second Temple period, as can be learned from ancient texts.
The Sages anchored the custom in the Bible by applying various homiletic commentaries to events in the Bible.
According to Midrash Genesis Rabba (53, 10) Abraham held a feast when Isaac was “weaned” (Genesis 21, 8) away from the evil inclination and was ready to accept the responsibility of the Commandments.
Elsewhere, Midrash Genesis Rabba (63, 10) explains that Jacob “grew” (Genesis 25, 27) and then went to Bet Hamidrash (to study Jewish law).
According to Masseket Sopherim (18, 11) in the Talmud, after being trained, a mature boy was brought before the priest or elder to be blessed and encouraged to learn the Law and obey it. That would include the right to be called up to read a portion of the Torah.
The first report of an actual Bar Mitzvah ceremony seems to be that of the son of Rabbi Yehudai Ga’on. The Rabbi is reported to have said that he had recited, in the synagogue, the blessing thanking G-d for removing the burden of responsibility for his son’s sins when the son was called up to read the Torah for the first time (Orhot Hayyim, Berakot, 58).
Rabbi Abigdor Hatzarfati (13th century) ruled that a religious feast should be held to celebrate a boy’s thirteenth birthday (Perushim UPsakim al HaTorah, 4 ).
Rabbi Menahem Tziyyoni (15th century) seems to be the first person to use the term “Bar Mitzvah” to mean the occasion of becoming obligated to obey the commandments (Sefer Tziyyoni, comment on Genesis 1, 5).
Rabbi Shlomo Luria (“Maharshal”, 16th century, Poland) observed that the Jews of Ashkenaz (= Germany) would celebrate the Bar Mitzvah with a religious feast where a sermon would be delivered, probably one the youth had prepared (Yam Shel Shlomo, Baba Kama, 7:37).
The Book of Customs of the Worms Community (Germany, mid-17th century) notes that being called up to read from the Torah was a central part of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony there (Peraqim LeToldot HaHinnukh BeYisrael, vol. 1, 108).
Rabbi Abraham Gombiner (17th century, Poland) ruled that a religious feast celebrating a Bar Mitzvah should be as elaborate as if the youth were marrying (Magen Abraham, Orah Hayyim, 224, 4).
A common topic for the sermon would concern Tefillin and it was often called Drashat Tefillin or Drush Tefillin. Among the Jews of Morocco it was common, at least from the beginning of the 19th century, to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah with a feast on a Wednesday, when the boy would wear Tefillin and deliver a sermon; he was consequently called up to read from the Torah on the coming Shabbat.
In Tangier in northern Morocco, the Bar Mitzvah sermon was already the central part of the ceremony in the 17th century.
Among the Jews of Iraq, too, the ceremony had these two stages. There, during the service, the celebrant’s younger brothers would show their respect for him by rising and standing from the moment he was called up till he returned to his seat (MiMinhageyhem Shel Yehudei Iraq 24-30).
The custom in Persia was similar: on one of the days on which the Torah was read, the young celebrant would put on Tefillin and then be called up to the Torah, accompanied by the congregation’s singing in his honor and their showering him with candies. A religious feast at his house followed. On the following Shabbat, the youth was called up to the Torah in a similar fashion, after which the family offered candies and sweetmeats to the congregation. A feast for the extended family ensued.
In the Yemen, however, the Bar Mitzvah boy’s sermon was the climax of the ceremony, as there younger boys were also called up to read from the Torah.
The existence of a special religious celebration of a Bat Mizvah for a girl is known only since after the early 19th century in Germany and in Italy (Efrati, BiSdeh Hemed 1961; Zebed HaBat; Barkat, Haaretz newspaper, May 27, 2003). In Germany, Rabbi Ettlinger would deliver an address at such celebrations in the mid-19th century.
In Iraq it was strongly advocated by Rabbi Joseph Hayyim (Ben Ish Hai, 1st year, “Re’eh”, 17) but did not carry a formal religious characteristic.
The first time a girl was called up to read from the Torah as part of becoming a Bat Mizvah was in the early 1920s (Barkat). Several rabbis of the 20th–21st century have voiced the opinion that a girl’s Bat Mizvah should be celebrated or even followed up on this by specific actions.
In Tunis, Rabbi Shetroug used to deliver a sermon during girls’ Bat Mizvah celebrations during the 1920s.
After the Holocaust, Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg wrote that he thought it logical and almost obligatory to celebrate a girl’s Bat Mizvah (Seridei Esh 2, 39).
Rabbi Meshulam Ratta (Roth) wrote, in 1957, that he supported celebrating a girl’s Bat Mizvah (Kol Mevasser 2, 44).
Rabbi Hanokh Grosberg published his opinion that a girl’s Bat Mizvah was to be celebrated within the family, accompanied by a sermon on girls’ education, thereby turning the occasion into a religious feast (HaMa’ayan 1962).
Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, (in 1963) said a girl’s Bat Mizvah is to be marked by her praying in the synagogue, and celebrated at a feast in honor of the occasion at which she delivers a sermon and reads out Judges 5, and her father pronounces he is no longer responsible for her sins. This turns it into a religious feast and all those invited are obligated to participate.
Rabbi Musafia said that a father’s feast in honor of his daughter having reached the age she is obligated to fulfill the commandments is worthy of being a religious feast.
Rabbi Ovadiah Hadayah says that as at Bat Mizvah a girl becomes a young (obligated) woman, she has reached a higher personal level and therefore deserves a religious celebration.
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, relying on several of these modern predecessors, complains about the discrimination between boys and girls reaching the obligatory age, and says a girl’s Bat Mizvah should be celebrated (Yabia Omer, part 6, 15).
Today the most basic form of a Bar Mitzvah ceremony is the celebrant’s first Aliyah laTorah (calling up to read from the Torah). On the Shabbat, Monday or Thursday morning service after the child’s thirteenth birthday, the celebrant is called up to the Torah to recite the blessings preceding and following the reading of one part of that week’s Parashah.
It is common practice for the Bar Mitzvah celebrant to do much more than just recite the blessings. Usually the celebrant also learns the entire Haphtarah, including its traditional chant, and recites that. In some congregations, the celebrant reads the entire weekly Torah portion, or leads part of the service, or leads the congregation in certain prayers.
The celebrant may sometimes also be required to deliver a sermon. The father recites a blessing thanking G-d for removing the burden of responsibility for the son’s sins.
The religious service is often immediately followed by a ritual meal in the synagogue for the congregants, at which the Bar Mitzvah may be the adult to recite Kiddush (brief prayer and blessing preceding the meal).
Rituals are usually complemented by a party that is often as elaborate as a wedding reception.
Family, friends and members of the synagogue come to celebrate the young person’s coming of age. The Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mizvah actively participates in the ceremonial parts of the reception party, reading prayers and making a personal speech, which traditionally begins with the phrase “Today I am a man.”
In some communities it is still the custom for the audience to start singing loudly a short while after the speech begins, thereby cutting the sermon short. This is done so that the young Bar Mitzvah wouldn’t feel embarrassed if he couldn’t proceed with the sermon due to stage fright.
The precise form of a girl’s Bat Mizvah ceremony varies, depending on the branch of Judaism and the young adult.
In some congregations it is exactly the same as a boy’s Bar Mitzvah. In others, the Bat Mizvah may read from the Torah after the regular reading (in the women’s partition or in front of the Ark), during or immediately following the general service.
In some congregations the Bat Mizvah may deliver a sermon during a special mixed or an all-female service or religious feast.
The sermon traditionally focuses on the religious aspects of becoming an adult woman, such as lighting candles, preparing challah, religious physical purity, children’s education, or any religious topic stemming from the week’s Portion.
Sometimes the young adult reads the Song of Songs.
In other communities the Bat Mizvah’s sermon may include religious learning, praying in front of the Holy Ark, and even reading from the Torah.
In some cases the girl’s father is called up to the Torah in the synagogue.
According to the above-mentioned modern rabbis, he may then recite the blessing thanking G-d for removing his responsibility for the daughter’s sins. In other cases he gives a Talmudic lesson in his daughter’s honor.
In ultra-orthodox and Hasidic practice, women are present but not active participants in religious services in the ways outlined here, so a Bat Mizvah celebration, if marked at all, may be little more than an occasion for a new dress and a family party.
Some Jewish boys and girls may not have a formal ceremony at all. However, their religious obligations do not depend on any ceremony, but on having reached the right age.
Right Age for Bar & Bat Mitzvah
As the Bible does not mention a Bar Mitzvah, it does not stipulate its precise age. Later, the Sages made it clear that a boy assumes the obligations of a Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. Some concluded this by commenting on the Bible, others presented various explanations without relying on it.
At the end of the first century, Samuel Hakatan (in a Beraita on Abot 5) referred to a passage where Levi, Jacob’s son, is called an “ish” (= man, Genesis 34, 25) and explained he had been thirteen at the time.
The Talmud (compiled at the end of the fifth century) is not always quite precise about the right age for assuming religious obligations. Massekhet Sofrim (18, 11) says that in Jerusalem they used to train the boys in observing Mitzvot for about a year from before the age of 12 till maturity. But in Massekhet Abot (5, 21), traditionally from the fifth-sixth century, the Talmud is quite specific and mentions the age of thirteen as the appropriate age for assuming the obligations of Mitzvot. Massekhet Kiddushim (16:2) claims a boy becomes an adult at the age of thirteen years and a day.
The logic for this age is explained in extra-Talmudic sources.
Midrash Genesis Rabba (63, 10) comments on Genesis 25, 27 and explains that a boy grows till the age of thirteen, and that at that age Jacob went to Bet Hamidrash (to study Jewish law).
The explanation in Abot de-Rabbi Natan (16, 2) claims it is at the age of thirteen that a person develops the good characteristics required to overcome his evil inclinations. That is why a boy’s father is accountable for his misdeeds till then, as both Midrash Genesis Rabbah (16, 10) and Yalkut Shimoni (13th century) explain. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (26, attributed to Rabbi Eliezer of 1st – 2nd century, but perhaps from 8th century) claims Abraham to have been thirteen years old when he adopted the worship of G-d and forsook the idols.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Ytzhaki, 11-12th century, northern France) claimed that the age of thirteen was an obligation Moses had been given with the Law on Mount Sinai (Comment on Abot 5, 21).
Maimonides (“Rambam”, 12th century, Yad Hazakah, Ishut 2, 10) stipulated that a boy becomes obligated at the age of thirteen years and a day. This was also Rabbi Abigdor Tzarfati’s idea (Perushim UPsakim al HaTorah, 479-480).
A 14th century interpretation of Samuel Hakatan’s Beraita by Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (“Rashbatz”) relies on the numerical value of the Hebrew consonants in the word “zo” (= this, Isaiah 43, 21) to prove the age of thirteen as befitting for assuming the obligations of adulthood (Magen Abot, D). Rabbi Menahem Tziyyoni (15th century) relies on the numerical value of the consonants in the word “ehad” (=one, Genesis 1, 5) to conclude that thirteen is the right age (Sefer Tziyyoni on the Torah).
In Morocco a Jewish boy became obligated to obey the Law after the age of twelve, when he began to learn Talmudic portions by heart.
The Talmud specifies that a girl becomes an adult at the age of twelve.
Massekhet Niddah (45:A+B) says a girl is a minor till she reaches the age of twelve years and a day, and from that age may become pregnant and avow herself.
The custom of a girl becoming Bat Mitzvah at the age of twelve years and a day is also prescribed by Maimonides (Yad Hazakah, Ishut 2, 1-2). He, however, sees a girl maturing in two stages: after twelve years and a day she is no longer a minor, but only after twelve years and six months is she an adult.
Rabbi Jacob ben Moshe (“Maharil”, 14-15th century Germany) claimed that the age of twelve for a Bat Mitzvah was an obligation Moses had been given with the Law on Mount Sinai (Responsa Maharil 51).
Several propositions have been offered to explain why boys and girls become obligated to obey the Commandments at different ages.
The Talmud postulates that women gain wisdom faster than men, basing this on understanding the verb in the Torah on the creation of Eve as meaning that G-d “made [her] wise” (= vayiben, Genesis 2, 22) (Tractate Nidah 5,6).
Rashi, in commenting on children’s education, observed that baby girls grow strong faster because they don’t tire from learning Torah (comment on Masseket Ketubot 50 A).
Maimonides commented that the reason was that women usually live shorter lives than men (Commentary on the Mishnah, Nidah 5,6).
An adult convert to Judaism becomes a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah upon converting.
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Ozar Yisrael Encyclopedia (Hebrew)
- Bar Mizvah Encyclopedia (Hebrew) 1958
- Talmudic Encyclopedia (Hebrew)
- Encyclopaedia Hebraica (Hebrew)
- Encyclopedia Judaica
- MiMinhageyhem VeOrah Hayyeyhem Shel Yehudei Iraq (Hebrew) 1980(?)
- Halikhot Bat Yisrael (Hebrew) 1984
- Zebed HaBat (Hebrew) 1990
- Sefer Hayyei Adam: Gil HaMitzvot (Hebrew) 1993
- Lihyot Ishah Yehudiah (Hebrew) 2001
- Ma’amad HaIshah BaHalakhah (Hebrew) 2001
- Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew) 2002
- Lihyot Ishah Yehudiah, vol. 2 (Hebrew) 2003
- Bat Mitzva and Bar Mizvah (Hebrew) 2004
- Lihyot Ishah Yehudiah, vol. 3 (Hebrew) 2005
Biblical and Talmudic references were rechecked, as were most other references.
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