About Bar/Bat Mitzvah

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The bat mitzvah ceremony observed in the liberal movements came much later. It grew out of a broader societal focus on women's rights, with the first American bat mitzvah occurring in 1922. The concept of a bat mitzvah ceremony within traditional Judaism is far more recent. Because Jewish law limits a woman's religious responsibilities primarily to commandments that are not time-bound (meaning, not required to be performed at a particular time), a woman's Jewish activity occurred primarily within the private, familial realm rather than the public, communal one. Because women were not required to perform any overt and visible mitzvot as were men, a ceremony made little sense. Yet in the late 20th century, as observant women have become more Judaically educated, they too are pressing to create meaningful rituals for bat mitzvah.

bar bat mitzvah quizBecause the rabbis specified no ritual requirements for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, except for the parental blessing, the roles played by the bar/bat mitzvah at the service and even the timing of the service itself can vary widely. The typical bar/bat mitzvah takes place during the Sabbath morning service, where the child is called up to say the blessings over the Torah--his or her first aliyah. Children may read from the Torah; chant the haftarah, the weekly prophetic portion; lead some or all of the congregational service; and offer a personal interpretation of the weekly Torah portion, called a d'var Torah. The bar/bat mitzvah takes on similar roles when the ceremony occurs on a holiday, on Rosh Chodesh--the first day of the new Hebrew month, on a Monday or Thursday morning, or on a Sabbath afternoon. The Torah is not read on Friday nights and would be read by observant girls only at a women's prayer service.

A Time of Change

The year of intensive preparation that precedes the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony itself signals a change in the relationship and "balance of power" between the parent and child along with the immense changes in the child's own physical and intellectual persona. On a religious level these changes are acknowledged by the baruch she'p'tarani blessing. On a psychological level, it is the parents who had better acknowledge them or beware! This period is one of intense negotiation, requiring new models of decision making as well as the adoption of new familial roles. When a child misses this rite of passage, he or she certainly is still bar mitzvah, but the chance is seemingly gone for a spiritual coming of age that mirrors the physical, intellectual, and emotional milestones of the new teenager.

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