September 12, 2012
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The meaning of a bar mitzvah

The coming of age for a bar mitzvah boy

for The Brooklyn Paper

A child is a child — no matter how bright, knowledgeable, or rational. Children still lack the mental, emotional, and moral maturity that distinguishes them from adults. Still, at around the age of 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy, that sense begins to kick in. That’s why only at that age does Jewish law consider you responsible for your actions.

This milestone is known as “bar mitzvah” for boys, and “bat mitzvah” for girls, meaning the son or daughter of the mitzvah — because now he or she obliged to keep all the mitzvahs (precepts) of the Torah.

Now that’s a milestone worth celebrating!

So on the child’s Jewish birthday (or shortly thereafter) we hold a festive meal where words of Torah and inspiration are shared by the guest of honor and others.

More importantly, though, is that girls and boys spend the months beforehand brushing up on the how-to and the importance of observing the mitzvahs and deepen their understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

What if you missed the celebration? Once you’ve reached that age you are a bar or bat mitzvah. It’s like a birthday: you can choose not to celebrate it, but that won’t make you any younger.

Bar mitzvah details:

A few weeks beforehand, the young man starts practice-wrapping tefillin daily. The bar mitzvah day starts the real thing. From that day, he is counted in a minyan — the required quorum of 10 for a prayer service. Also, he may lead communal prayers and receive an aliyah at Torah readings.

The bar mitzvah boy is traditionally honored with an aliyah on or shortly after becoming bar mitzvah. In some communities, it is customary for him to read from the Torah or the haftorah (the reading of Prophets that follows the Shabbat Torah reading).

— 2011 Reprinted with permission.

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