Bar and Bat Mitzvah 101

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In the last three decades, an adult bar/bat mitzvah ceremony has developed that is not a coming of age, but rather an affirmation of Jewish identity for Jews who did not have bar/bat mitzvahs as children.

Practical Aspects

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The meaning of the ceremony flows out of the planning details, which themselves are determined by a familial vision of what the event will be. Families must decide with whom they will share the event, when it will take place, what kind of celebration will follow it, whether it will involve social action, and on and on.

Usually, the child will begin preparations for his or her bar/bat mitzvah about a year before the big day. At the bar/bat mitzvah, the child will generally get an aliyah and usually chant the haftarah (prophetic reading) as well. Many children also chant all or some of the weekly Torah portion and/or lead all or part of the prayer services.

Contemporary Issues

Egalitarianism and feminism have pushed the development of meaningful bat mitzvah ceremonies for girls in traditional communities, and some Orthodox feminists want rabbis to explore the legal texts and develop a consensus on expectations for a girl's bat mitzvah in the public sphere.

Bar MitzvahAn issue that has reshaped the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony in some liberal communities is the appropriate balancing of individual desires and communal norms. When adopted children are ready for bar/bat mitzvah, for example, the issue of conversion can become a problem. Whereas the parents feel at a gut level that their children are Jewish, because they have been raised in a Jewish family, halakha (Jewish law) maintains that an adopted child is not Jewish unless formerly converted. Another instance of the increasing weight given to individual needs is the inclusion of many new ceremonies that highlight the bar mitzvah child yet may alienate regular congregants whose service is being lengthened for a child they may not even know.

While the popularity for bnai mitzvah ceremonies is increasing, and more Jewish pre-teens are interested in having a bar/bat mitzvah, there are many Jewish families who are not members of synagogues and are creating personal and privatized ways to mark this coming-of-age ceremony.  

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