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What does being a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah actually mean?

A girl reads from the Torah during a Bat Mitzvah ceremony accompanied by Naomi Efrat

Bar mitzvah is a term that comes to explain, literally, that this young man or woman now has to fulfill their good deeds, Mitzvot, as they become young adults.

A Mitzvah is a commandment, or good deed, that traditionally G-d is requesting us to fulfill. The Torah has 613 Mitzvot, and of them, some were made to show respect to God while others were made to show respect between human beings.

Some of the most important Mitzvot are:

  • Loving your friend as you love yourself.

  • Loving the stranger, as we the Jewish people were once strangers in Egypt.

  • Loving God and showing respect to his commandmants.

In Hebrew, Bar Mitzvah is the term for a young man and Bat Mitzvah is the term for a young girl.

Historically, the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah is a ceremonial recognition that this young man or woman now has obligations, privileges and responsibilities, and will now be treated as a responsible adult. ​

When did the first Bat Mitzvah in history take place?

The first Bar Mitzvah ceremonies appeared at the sixth century C.E and were developed as a full Bar Mitzvah ritual by the time of the middle ages.

By the 13th or 14th century, the custom of calling a boy up to the Torah was established as the way of recognizing entry into manhood.

What is the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah typically expected to do in the ceremony?

  • Chant the Torah blessings

  • Read a part (or all) of his or her Torah portion

  • Deliver a sermon, in which they share their thoughts on the Torah and on becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

  • If the Bar Mitzvah ceremony is on Shabbat, the boy or girl are usually asked to read a portion out of their Haftarah (a section from the prophetic books of the Torah).

Is it necessary for a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah to read all of these parts in Hebrew in the ceremony?

No, it is not necessary. Traditionally, in order to become a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, the child should cite the Torah Blessings. Anything additional is extra, and is optional for a Reform Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

When did the tradition of Bat Mitzvah begin?

Starting in the second or third century C.E., Jewish girls at age 12 took on legal responsibility for the performance of the mitzvot. As with age 13 for boys, 12 probably corresponded with their onset of puberty. However, girls were subject to far fewer commandments than boys.

Today, liberal Jews affirm the total equality of women in terms of religious privileges and responsibilities. In the 1800s, Reform Judaism abolished bar mitzvah in favor of confirmation for both boys and girls (bat mitzvah was not considered an option at that time). Within the 19th-century traditional community, some families held as'udat mitzvah for a daughter on her 12th birthday, with the girl sometimes delivering a talk and her father reciting the Baruch Sheptarani. The first-known bat mitzvah in North America was that of Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, in 1921. Reform Judaism (which had by this time reintroduced bar mitzvah) and then Conservative congregations quickly adopted bat mitzvah, though in slightly different forms.​

Why celebrate a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah in Israel?

What could be more fitting than to celebrate this once in a lifetime event by returning to the Jewish homeland?

Bar Mitzvah in Israel can provide your son or daughter with a memorable experience that's not just a trip, it’s a pilgrimage. After all, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a life cycle event in Judaism that marks the transition of a young man or woman into Jewish adulthood. Essentially, it connects the Jewish child to his roots and provides an unbreakable link to what it means to be Jewish. This connection is what gives us our Jewish identity throughout our entire lifetime.


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