An important life cycle event for a young Jewish boy or girl is the Bar Mitzvah or Bat
Mitzvah respectively. A boy is Bar Mitzvah when he reaches his thirteenth birthday, while
girls are Bat Mitzvah when they are twelve. However, the girl's ceremony can be postponed
to their thirteenth birthday as well. The literal meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is "commandment
age" or age of majority.
Historically Bar Mitzvah and later Bat Mitzvah is the ceremonial occasion that marks the
time when a young person is recognized as an adult in the Jewish community and is
responsible for performing mitzvot. For example before children are Bar/Bat Mitzvah,
they do not need to fast on Yom Kippur. However after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they are
required to fulfill this mitzvah. At the Bar/Bat Mitzvah they are also counted in the
minyan, a quorum of ten required to conduct a service.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony consists of the young person chanting the blessings, and
his/her Torah portion which is the Torah portion of the week. One also reads the Haftarah
portion. There are many traditions that accompany the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience. While
the actual day is important and memorable, the years of preparation before are just as
enlightening and vital.
Over time the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration party has evolved. The custom is to serve a
special meal to commemorate the mitzvah taking place. Moreover with extended families
spread out over the country, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is also an opportunity for families to
reunite and spend time together.
Children begin preparing for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah by going to Hebrew/religious school
some years before they actually turn Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. In fact, some children begin
attending afternoon religious school from the time they enter kindergarten. The purpose
of going to religious school is to learn about Jewish customs, holidays, history, and the
Hebrew language. In the year leading up to the event the person begins more intense
training focused specifically on their Torah portion and the accompanying prayers. The day
the young person is Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the first time he/she will have ever been called to
the Torah. To say the blessings over the Torah one must be Bar/Bat Mitzvah age.
In addition to preparing one's Torah portion the preparatory year serves as a chance for
the young person to begin thinking about what being a Bar/Bat Mitzvah really means. In
some synagogues the young person may make a commentary on their portion and try to apply
the teachings of Torah to their own lives.
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