Because the bat mitzvah ceremony is a relatively recent phenomenon historically, many adult women never had the opportunity to participate in this Jewish coming-of-age ritual. In response, the adult bat mitzvah ceremony was developed to offer these women a chance to study about Judaism and to affirm their Jewish commitments publicly, and it eventually expanded to include both men and women. Some initiatives, like Chai Mitzvah, encourage all adults to reaffirm their commitment to Jewish life on an ongoing basis, every 18 years. This article, reprinted with permission from JewishFamily.com, explores the motivations that impel Jewish men and women to pursue an adult bar/bat mitzvah.
Most descriptions of an adult bar or bat mitzvah tend to focus on people of a certain age: women old enough to have grown up when females had no ritual purpose on the bimah (pulpit) of any synagogue and 83-year-old men who celebrate a second bar mitzvah, having lived a life span of 70 years since the first.
But adult bar or bat mitzvah happens at many ages and for many reasons. The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony isn’t a mandatory rite of passage; by Jewish law, a boy reaches adulthood when he turns 13 and a girl at 12, no ceremony required. The very lack of necessity makes such an effort even more remarkable as a concrete, hard-won, and public affirmation of Jewish identity and commitment.
Why No Bar/Bat Mitzvah Until Now?
Most of the reasons that Jews don’t have bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies when they’re children fall into two broad categories: couldn’t or didn’t want to. “I was feeling kind of atheistic at that point in my life,” said Ron, a film producer in Los Angeles who grew up belonging to a Conservative synagogue on Long Island. “I remember talking with the other boys at my temple, and they all said they were doing it for a big party and lots of presents. And I just felt at that point that, not having the religious conviction, I didn’t want to go through this ceremony just to have a party and presents. It felt very hypocritical to me.”