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WHAT IS A BAR MITZVAH?

According to Jewish law, a boy is deemed a "bar mitzvah" when he turns 13 and achieves the status of adulthood. A Jewish girl becomes a "bat mitzvah" when she turns 12.

At this auspicious time they become full-fledged Jewish adults and are presented with both the opportunity to grow spiritually and the responsibility to become a better person.

Girls achieve the status of adulthood a year earlier than boys because girls typically mature physically and emotionally earlier than boys, ready to embrace the responsibility adulthood entails.


What is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?   An important life cycle event for a young Jewish person, the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, is one of the most traditional and momentous of Jewish symbols and rituals.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah means that a Jewish child is old enough to perform the mitzvot (the commandments of Jewish life); the literal meaning is "commandment age" or age of majority, and the ceremony which takes place when a child is thirteen years old, signifies the point at which that child has acquired enough maturity, responsibility and knowledge to be considered an adult for religious purposes.
In helping to lead the services, Jake (our Bar Mitzvah Boy) will demonstrate that he has become skilled in reading and chanting Hebrew, and also that he understands the significance of the moral, ethical and theological obligations of being a Jew.
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is not in and of itself a religious service, nor are the Shabbat services being conducted because of the Bar Mitzvah. The reverse is true. Jake becomes a Bar Mitzvah by participating in the Sabbath services. Were there no Bar or Bat Mitzvah scheduled, the services would still be conducted and the portions read by Jake would be read by some other adult member of the congregation. Jake's Bar Mitzvah signifies the first occasion on which he participates in a Jewish religious service as an adult.
About midway through the service, there is a section known as the Torah service. A Torah is a parchment scroll which contains, in hand-lettered Hebrew characters, the entire text of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. For Jews this is the most important part of the Bible, in that it contains the laws and traditions by which we guide our lives. When the Torah is removed from the Ark (a large ornate cabinet in the front of the sanctuary), the congregation stands as a sign of respect.
When Jake becomes a Bar Mitzvah, he will publicly read a section from the Torah; this is the first day he will have ever been called to the Torah. Each week, every congregation in the Jewish world reads the identical passage. In this way, Jake is linked to the entire Jewish people all over the world. The Torah is divided into several parts; the portion of the Torah read during Shabbat services the weekend that Jake will become a Bar Mitzvah is Acharei Mos (Leviticus, Chapters 16-18).  For each section (parsha) that he reads, a member of the congregation is honored by being called to the Torah to recite a blessing before the portion is read and another blessing after the reading. On the day of the Bar Mitzvah celebration, it is customary to give these honors to members of the family of the Bar Mitzvah boy.
He will also read a haftarah, which is a selection from the weekly section of the prophetic writings - from Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, etc., or from historical books like Joshua, Judges, Samuel, or Kings. During the exile from Israel, the Jews were forbidden to read the Torah.  Thus they read selections from the prophetswhich reminded them of the corresponding Torah readings.  This tradition has continued and each Shabbat a selection from the prophets is read. The haftarah reading on the weekend when Jake will become a Bar Mitzvah, Kedoshim, comes from the Book of Amos.
While the actual day is important and memorable, the years of preparation before are just as enlightening and vital. Jake began preparing to become a Bar Mitzvah by going to Hebrew/Religious school some years before he actually turned Bar 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, more intense training focuses on the specific Torah portion and accompanying prayers.
In becoming a Bar Mitzvah, Jake participates in a tradition that began over 400 years ago, and which has been passed on from generation to generation, thus insuring the continuity of our faith and our people throughout the centuries.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A BAR AND BAT MITZVAH

When boys and girls become bar and bat mitzvah, they reach a new stage of development in their lives and start thinking about the kind of people they want to be.

At puberty a person no longer lives in the fantasy world of childhood and can begin to make a realistic appraisal of their world. This is the time when their moral awareness and sensitivity fully develops, enabling them to take complete responsibility for their actions.

According to Jewish tradition, it is at this point that they are deemed ready to channel their inclination to do good and overcome their natural tendencies to put their own needs before those of others.

It is at this point that the boy and girl are deemed ready to channel their inclination to do good.

On a deeper level, just as their bodies are growing and changing in a new way, so too their souls are growing and changing.The Kabbalistic tradition tells us that a person's spiritual being has several levels of soul. A new level of soul called neshamah comes into awareness at bar or bat mitzvah time. This level is what gives a person the ability to make conscious, rational decisions.

WHY THE TERM BAR OR BAT MITZVAH?

The term bar mitzvah literally means "son of a commandment," and bat mitzvah means "daughter of a commandment." This alludes to two things:

A bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl strives to come closer to God -- like a son and daughter to his or her parent.

The chief way of doing so is by keeping the commandments or mitzvot that God gave in the Torah.Indeed, perhaps the most significant occurrence on this day is that the young person becomes fully responsible for keeping the commandments of the Torah as of that day.

THE BAR MITZVAH CELEBRATION

Bar and bat mitzvahs are typically celebrated with a festive meal, with the family and friends of the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl on hand to celebrate their entrance into adulthood.

Friends and relatives encourage the bar or bat mitzvah to strive to add spirituality to their lives.

The meal is often accompanied by speeches from friends and relatives who encourage the bar or bat mitzvah to undertake their new role as a full-fledged Jewish adult with joy, and to strive to add spirituality to their lives.

In addition, on the Shabbat following the bar mitzvah boy's thirteenth birthday, he is called to the Torah during morning services at the synagogue to recite the blessing on the Haftorah. Many boys also read the weekly Torah portion, having studied it in advance with a cantor or scholar experienced in reading the Torah.

We congratulate all those reaching Bar and Bat Mitzvah as adult members of the Jewish people. May you all reach your potential for greatness.


BAR MITZVAH, BAT MITZVAH, CONFIRMATION

"Bar Mitzvah" literally means "son of the commandment." "Bar" is "son" in Aramaic, which used to be the vernacular of the Jewish people. "Mitzvah" is "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. "Bat" is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic. (The Ashkenazic pronunciation is "bas")
Under Jewish Law, children are not obligated to observe the commandments, although they are encouraged to do so as much as possible to learn the obligations they will have as adults. At the age of 13 (12 for girls), children become obligated to observe the commandments. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony formally marks the assumption of that obligation, along with the corresponding right to take part in leading religious services, to count in a minyan (the minimum number of people needed to perform certain parts of religious services), to form binding contracts, to testify before religious courts and to marry.
A Jewish boy automatically becomes a Bar Mitzvah upon reaching the age of 13 years. No ceremony is needed to confer these rights and obligations. The popular bar mitzvah ceremony is not required, and does not fulfill any commandment. It is a relatively modern innovation, not mentioned in the Talmud, and the elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago.
In its earliest and most basic form, a Bar Mitzvah is the celebrant's first aliyah. During Shabbat services on a Saturday shortly after the child's 13th birthday, the celebrant is called up to the Torah to recite a blessing over the weekly reading.
Today, it is common practice for the Bar Mitzvah celebrant to do much more than just say the blessing. It is most common for the celebrant to learn the entire haftarah portion, including its traditional chant, and recite that. In some congregations, the celebrant reads the entire weekly torah portion, or leads part of the service, or leads the congregation in certain important prayers. The celebrant is also generally required to make a speech, which traditionally begins with the phrase "today I am a man." The father recites a blessing thanking G-d for removing the burden of being responsible for the son's sins.
In modern times, the religious service is followed by a reception that is often as elaborate as a wedding reception.
In Orthodox and Chasidic practice, women are not permitted to participate in religious services in these ways, so a bat mitzvah, if celebrated at all, is usually little more than a party. In other movements of Judaism, the girls do exactly the same thing as the boys.
It is important to note that a bar mitzvah is not the goal of a Jewish education, nor is it a graduation ceremony marking the end of a person's Jewish education. We are obligated to study Torah throughout our lives. To emphasize this point, some rabbis require a bar mitzvah student to sign an agreement promising to continue Jewish education after the bar mitzvah.
The Reform movement tried to do away with the Bar Mitzvah for a while, scorning the idea that a 13 year old child was an adult. They replaced it with a confirmation at the age of 16 or 18. However, due to the overwhelming popularity of the ceremonies, the Reform movement has revived the practice. I don't know of any Reform synagogues that do not encourage the practice of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs today. In some Conservative synagogues, however, the confirmation practice continues as a way to keep children involved in Jewish education for a few more years.
The age set for bar mitzvah is not an outdated notion based on the needs of an agricultural society, as some suggest. This criticism comes from a misunderstanding of the significance of the bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah is not about being a full adult in every sense of the word, ready to marry, go out on your own, earn a living and raise children. The Talmud makes this abundantly clear. In Pirkei Avot, it is said that while 13 is the proper age for fulfillment of the Commandments, 18 is the proper age for marriage and 20 is the proper age for earning a livelihood. Elsewhere in the Talmud, the proper age for marriage is said to be 16-24. Bar mitzvah is simply the age when a person is held responsible for his actions and minimally qualified to marry.
If you compare this to secular law, you will find that it is not so very far from our modern notions of a child's maturity. In Anglo-American common law, a child of the age of 14 is old enough to assume many of the responsibilities of an adult, including minimal criminal liability. In many states, a fourteen year old can marry with parental consent. Children of any age are permitted to testify in court, and children over the age of 14 are permitted to have significant input into custody decisions in cases of divorce.

WHY CELEBRATE A BAR MITZVAH?

Though people talk about being "bar-mitzvahed" there is NO ritual that must be performed to be considered a Jewish adult in the eyes of Jewish law.  So what’s the big deal all about?  Why all the celebration?  
Jewish law holds parents accountable for their children's misdeeds. And since moms and dads, as of their child's "coming of age,"  are now no longer liable if their little darling cause damage, steal or lie, it's cause for celebration. It is also a reason to be joyful for the the bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl, who are now at the age when personal responsibility dawns.  This new accountability is cause for celebration - for both, the parents who are no longer "blamed" for their child's misconduct, and for the child can now be proud of the new responsibility.
For many children, preparing for a bar mitzvah ceremony a highlight of their growing awareness of Judaism and is a moment when they are the center of attention (a most craved position).  To participate in the service gives a sense of belonging.  To be the focus of all the fussing provides a sense of importance.  If it is done right, the experience will be positive and will build a warm, happy, lasting bond with Jewish life.  
Furthermore a bar and bat mitzvah is timed to coincide with the first stretch of adolescence.  As a teen reaches for identity throughout these rocky years, bar and bat mitzvah memories fend for what it means to be a Jew.  In the best case they will foster a sense of connection with all Judaism has to offer





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