When a Jewish child reaches the age of maturity (12 years and one day for girls, 13 years and one day for boys) that child becomes responsible for him/herself under Jewish law; at this point a boy is said to become Bar Mitzvah (בר מצווה, "son of the commandment"); a girl is said to become Bat Mitzvah (בת מצווה, "daughter of the commandment"). The collective term for Bar and Bat Mitzvot is B'nai Mitzvah.
Before this age, all responsibility lies with the parents. After this age, the children are privileged to participate in all areas of Jewish community life and bear their own responsibility in the areas of Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics.
Since medieval times it was traditional for a boy to celebrate becoming Bar Mitzvah. On the Shabbat after his 13th birthday, he may read from the Torah and Haftara, give a d'var Torah (homily), and/or lead part of the prayer services. This is often followed by a celebratory meal with family, friends, and members of the community.
Except in Italy, no similar ceremony evolved at that time for Jewish girls. This is because women were not considered obliged to obey the same laws as men. Since there was no obligation for them as adults, there was no issue of change in a girl's status.
However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Jews of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionistdenominations reconceived the notion of "obligation" and gender distinctions within Judaism. Today, non_orthodox Jews celebrate a girl's becoming Bat Mitzvah in the same way as a boy's becoming Bar Mitzvah. Most Reform and Conservative synagogues have egalitarian participation in which women may read from the Torah and lead services. Conservative Judaism is pluralistic, and some synagogues are still concerned about the halakhic propriety of women reading the Torah portion to men. (Some believe that a woman's voice distracts men from fulfilling their obligation in a pious spirit.) In such congregations girls read from the Haftara. Reform Judaism is entirely egalitarian. The majority of Orthodox Judaism rejects the idea that a woman can read from the Torah or lead prayer services and has developed a less public way to mark this occasion.
The bar mitzvahceremony 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.
The bar or batmitzvah 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.
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.
The bar mitzvah or batmitzvah formally marks the child's acceptance of that obligation and recognizes the new, responsible adult as a member of the Jewish community.
Bar mitzvah and batmitzvah also bestow the right to lead 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.
The bar and batmitzvah formally mark the age at which children are required to observe the commandments under Jewish law.
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