, a Bar Mitzvah
is a boy, and a Bat Mitzvah
a girl, who has gone
through what is in some respects a Jewish coming-of-age
ceremony. The terms also
commonly refer to the ceremony itself, which normally takes place
when the child has turned 13 (for a girl in the Orthodox movement,
- Bar Mitzvah (pl. B'nai
Mitzvah) comes from the Aramaic: בר מצוה, "one (m.) to whom the commandments apply". (If it were
Hebrew it would be בן (ben) not בר
(bar). בר is "son" in Aramaic, and בן (ben) is son in
- Bat Mitzvah ((pl. B'not
Mitzvah) is בת מצוה, "one (f.) to whom
the commandments apply" (Ashkenazi:
There is a common misconception that the Bar Mitzvah ceremony
causes a change in status from youth to adulthood. The rights and
responsibilities vest solely because of age; the Bar Mitzvah
ceremony is typically an ordinary Sabbath service, in which the boy
or girl participates for the first time as an adult.
According to Jewish law
, when Jewish
children reach the age
(generally thirteen years for boys
and twelve for girls
become responsible for their actions, and "become a Bar or Bat
Mitzvah". In many Conservative and Reform synagogues, girls
celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs at age 13 , along with boys. This also
coincides with physical puberty
. Prior to
this, the child's parents hold the responsibility for the child's
adherence to Jewish law and tradition and, after this age, children
bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual law
, and ethics
and are privileged to participate in all areas
of Jewish community life.
In modern Jewish observance, the occasion of becoming a Bar Mitzvah
or (in non-Orthodox congregations) a Bat Mitzvah usually involves
the young man or woman being called
to read the Torah
portion at a Shabbat
or other service and
may also involve giving a d'var
, a discussion of that week's Torah portion. Precisely
what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah may do during the service varies in
Judaism's different denominations and can also depend on the
specific practices of various congregations. Regardless of the
nature of the celebration, males become entirely culpable and
responsible for following Jewish law once they reach the age of 13,
and females once they reach the age of 12.
Whoever becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah has the responsibilities of an
adult Jew under Jewish law
Calling someone to say the Torah blessings during a service is
called an Aliyah
Hebrew: עֲלִיָּה, from the verb la'alot
, לעלות, meaning,
"to rise, to ascend; to go up"). The widespread practice is that on
Shabbat on or after his 13th birthday, a boy may recite the
blessings for the Torah reading, and may also read the week's
portion from the Torah (five books of Moses) and Haftara
(selections from the books of the Prophets), and/or give a d'var Torah
, which may include a
discussion of that week's Torah portion. He may also lead part or
all of the morning prayer services. Precisely what the Bar Mitzvah
should lead during the service varies from one congregation to
another, and is not fixed by Jewish law. Sometimes the celebration
is during another service that includes reading from the Torah,
such as a Monday or Thursday morning service, a Shabbat afternoon
service, or a morning service on Rosh
, the New Moon.
The service often precedes a celebratory meal with family, friends,
and members of the community. In some modern communities, most
notably among affluent North American Jews, this celebratory meal
can eclipse the religious ceremony itself, often rivaling a
celebration in extravagance.
Some communities may delay the celebration for reasons such as
availability of a Shabbat, during which no other celebration has
been scheduled, or due to the desire to permit family to travel to
the event; however, this does not delay the onset of rights and
responsibilities of being a Jewish adult, which comes about
strictly by virtue of age. Not having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah
celebration does not make the child becoming an adult any less of a
Jew. Jews become entirely culpable and responsible for following
Jewish law once they reach the age of 13.
After the celebratory bar mitzvah meal, it is traditional for the
celebrant to lead the Birkat Hamazon
something he could not do as a minor.
In current practice, boys who belong to branches of Judaism that
regularly wear tefilin do not start wearing tefilin
until they are close to bar mitzvah. The
most widespread custom in those branches involves starting to wear
tefilin about 30 days before the thirteenth birthday, although
others commence about three months in advance, and there is also a
custom (prevalent among chasidim
tefilin to be worn for the first time on the thirteenth birthday.
For this reason there is a strong perceived correlation between the
bar mitzvah ceremony and the commandment of tefilin.
Most non-Orthodox Jews celebrate a girl's Bat Mitzvah in the same
way as a boy's Bar Mitzvah. All Reform and Reconstructionist, and
most Conservative synagogues
egalitarian participation, in which women read from the Torah and
The majority of Orthodox Jews
reject the idea that a woman can publicly read from the Torah or
lead prayer services whenever there is a minyan
of 10 males)
available to do so. This was done because a woman reading the Torah
or leading the prayer services implied that the men were illiterate
and could not do so. (Massechet Megilah) However, the public
celebration of a girl becoming Bat Mitzvah in other ways has made
strong inroads in Modern Orthodox Judaism, and also in some
elements of Haredi Judaism
. In these
congregations, women do not read from the Torah or lead prayer
services, but occasionally they will lecture on a Jewish topic to
mark their coming of age, learn a book of Tanakh
, recite verses from the Book of Esther
or the Book of Psalms
, or prayers from the siddur
. It is increasingly common in modern Orthodox
circles for girls to read from the Torah in a women's tefillah
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
, a prominent
has opposed anyone
attending a Bat Mitzvah and has referred to the ceremony as
, nonsense. The Sephardic
rabbi René Samuel Sirat
, who served as
Chief Rabbi of France
also opposed Bat Mitzvah.
Secular Humanist Jewish Practices
Instead of reading from the Torah, some Humanist Jews
prefer to research, write,
and present a research paper on a topic in Jewish history to mark
their coming of age. 
Secular Jewish Sunday schools and communities — including those
affiliated with the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations and
the Arbeter Ring (Workmen's Circle) — encourage their bas/bar
mitsve candidates to select any topic that interests them and that
relates to the Jewish part of their identities. After extensive,
guided research and/or profound thought, the young people present
their findings in any format they may select: reading an essay or
creating an AV presentation, dramatic piece, work of biography or
fiction, even a modern dance.
Second Bar Mitzvah
Among some Jews, a man who has reached the age of 83 will
customarily celebrate a second bar mitzvah, under the logic that a
"normal" lifespan is 70 years, so that an 83-year-old can be
considered 13 in a second lifetime. This practice has become
Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts
Like weddings, Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations commonly become an
occasion to give the celebrant a commemorative gift. Traditionally,
common gifts included books with religious or educational value,
religious items, writing implements, savings bonds (to be used for
the child's college education), gift certificates, or money
. Gifts of cash have become commonplace
in recent times. As with charity and all other gifts, it has become
common to give in multiples of 18, since the gematria
, or numerical equivalent of the
word for "life", ("chai
"), is the number 18. Monetary gifts in
multiples of 18 are considered to be particularly auspicious and
have become very common for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Many Bar/Bat Mitzvah
also receive their first tallit
parents to be used for the occasion.
The modern method of celebrating one's becoming a Bar Mitzvah did
not exist in the time of the Bible
Passages in the books of Exodus
note the age of majority for
army service as twenty. The term "Bar Mitzvah" appears first in the
, the codification of the Jewish
compiled in the early 1st
millennium of the common era
, to connote
"an [agent] who is subject to scriptural commands," and the age of
thirteen is also mentioned in the Mishnah as the time one is
obligated to observe the Torah's commandments
: "At five years old a person
should study the Scriptures
ten years for the Mishnah
, at thirteen for
the commandments..." The Talmud gives thirteen as the age at which
a boy's vows are legally binding, and states that this is a result
of his being a "man," as required in . The term "Bar Mitzvah", in
the sense it is now used, can not be clearly traced earlier than
the fourteenth century, the older rabbinical
term being "gadol" (adult) or "bar
'onshin" (son of punishment); that is, liable to punishment for his
own misdoings. Many sources indicate that the ceremonial
observation of a Bar Mitzvah developed in the Middle Ages, however,
there are extensive earlier references to thirteen as the age of
majority with respect to following the commandments of the Torah,
as well as Talmudic references to observing this rite of passage
with a religious ceremony, including:
- Samuel ha'Katan, at the close of
the first century, gives in his saying on the Ages of Man in the Baraita attached to Abot v. 21 (see Machzor Vitry) the completion of the
thirteenth year as the age for the commandments ("l'mitzvot"); and the commentary to the passage refers
to Levi, the son of Jacob,
who, at thirteen, is called "ish" (man; Gen. xxxiv. 25).
- Simon Tzemach Duran, in his
"Magen Abot" to the Baraita, quotes a
Midrash interpreting the Hebrew word
("this") in Isa. xliii. 21—"This
people have I formed for myself, they shall pronounce A. V.
"set forth"] my praise"—as referring by its numerical value to those that have reached the age
of thirteen. This seems to imply that at the time of the
composition of the Midrash the Bar Mitzvah publicly pronounced a
benediction on the occasion of his entrance upon maturity.
- the Midrash Hashkem (see
Grünhut's "Sefer ha'Likkutim," i. 3a): "The heathen
when he begets a son consecrates him to idolatrous practises; the
Israelite has his son circumcised and the
rite of 'pidyon haben' performed; and
as soon as he becomes of age he brings him into the synagogue and school ('beit ha'knesset' and 'beit ha'midrash'),in order that he may
praise the name of God, reciting the 'Brachu'
(Benediction) preceding the reading from
- Masseket Soferim xviii.
matters even more explicit: "In Jerusalem they are accustomed to initiate their children to
fast on the Day of Atonement, a
year or two before their maturity; and then, when the age has
arrived, to bring the Bar Mitzvah before the priest or elder for blessing, encouragement,
and prayer, that he may be granted a portion in the Law and in the doing of good works.
Whosoever is of superiority in the town is expected to pray for him
as he bows down to him to receive his blessing."
- the Midrash (Gen. R. lxiii.), which, in commenting upon
the passage (Gen. xxv. 27), "and the
boys grew," says: "Up to thirteen years Esau
and Jacob went together to the primary school
and back home; after the thirteen years were over, the one went to
the beit ha'midrash for the study of the Law, the other to the house of idols. With
reference to this, Rabbi Eleazar remarks, 'Until the thirteenth
year it is the father's duty to train his boy; after this he must
say: "Blessed be He who has taken from me the responsibility [the
punishment] for this boy!"" "Why is the evil desire (yetzer hara) personified as the great king?
(Eccl. ix. 14). Because it is thirteen
years older than the good desire ('yetzer
hatob')." That is to say, the latter comes only with the
initiation into duty (Ab.
R. N., A. xvi., B. xxx.; Midr. Teh. ix. 2; Eccl. R. ix. 15).
- According to Pirke R.
El. xxvi., Abraham rejected the idolatry of his father and
became a worshiper of God when he was thirteen years old.
- "It is a mitzvah for a person to make a
meal on the day his son becomes Bar Mitzvah as on the day he enters
the wedding canopy." (Orach Chayim 225:2, Magen Avraham 4)
Except among Italian Jews
, no ceremony
parallel to a boy's Bar Mitzvah ceremony developed for girls before
the modern age: "There were occasional attempts to recognize a
girl's coming of age in eastern Europe in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, the former in Warsaw (1843) and the latter in
Lemberg (1902). The occasion was marked by a party without any
ritual in the synagogue."
Documents record an Orthodox Jewish Italian rite for becoming Bat
Mitzvah (which involved an "entrance into the minyan" ceremony, in
which boys of thirteen and girls of twelve recited a blessing)
since the mid-nineteenth century and this may have influenced the
American Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan
, who held the first public
celebration of a Bat Mitzvah in America, for his daughter Judith,
on March 18, 1922 at the Society for the
Advancement of Judaism
in New York City.
Orthodox rabbi who joined Conservative Judaism and then became
the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism,
influenced Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism, through
his position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
At the time, most Orthodox
rabbis strongly rejected the idea of a bat mitzvah ceremony.
As the ceremony became accepted for females as well as males, many
women chose to celebrate the ceremony even though they were much
older, as a way of formalizing and celebrating their place in the
adult Jewish community.
- Niddah, 45b.
- Traditionally, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy gives thanks to
God that he is no longer
punished for the child's sins. (Genesis Rabba, Toldot 23:11)
- Conservative Judaism is pluralistic, and a small percent of
Conservative synagogues reject the halakhic propriety of women reading the Torah
portion in public.
- j. - Encore for violinist: 2nd bar mitzvah at
- Actor Kirk Douglas had a second Bar Mitzvah at age 83.
- Bazelon, Emily. Slate, May 19, 2005.
- Tractate Baba
- Pirkei Avot
5:25, see 
- Olitsky, Kerry M. An Encyclopedia of American Synagogue
Ritual, Greenwood Press, 2000. 160 pages. ISBN 0313308144 p.
- Niddah 46A
- Jewish Encyclopedia entry
- Jewish Encyclopedia entry on the history of the Bar
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Marcus, Ivan G. The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage
from Biblical Times to the Modern Age" (Seattle and London:
University of Washington Press). 2004 ISBN 0-285098440-6, p.
- Marcus, p. 106.
- Waskow, Arthur Ocean and Phyllis Ocean Berman. Excerpt from
A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, LLC at
Oppenheimer, Mark. Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah
. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux,