Coming-of-Age: What Is a Bar Mitzvah?

Juliet D'cruz

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Are you on the invitation list for a bar mitzvah? Many people who aren’t of the Jewish faith may know of bar mitzvahs by name, but they likely don’t know what a bar mitzvah is. 

Bar mitzvahs are a Jewish custom for young boys who are ready to “transition to adulthood” (even if we don’t consider these boys adults today). 

Keep reading for more information about this coming-of-age ritual.

Who Gets to Have a Bar Mitzvah? 

Bar mitzvah’s are for young boys of the Jewish faith. They’re coming-of-age ceremonies that boys get to partake in when they turn thirteen. Girls don’t get to have bar mitzvahs, but they do get to have a bat mitzvah which serves the same purpose as a coming-of-age ritual. 

When a boy comes of age, he’s expected to take on all of the religious responsibilities associated with the Jewish faith. They must then follow the commandments that they were free from in childhood. Little is known about why boys come of age at thirteen. There is no mention of this in the Torah so the age seems arbitrary, but nevertheless, the tradition continues. 

This is a traditional event, and while people still practice it today, there’s not as much weight to it. It’s more of a formality for regular practicing Jewish people. 

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What Happens During a Bar Mitzvah?

As we mentioned, modern bar mitzvahs are different from traditional bar mitzvahs, though they do have a similar routine. 

Bar mitzvahs were once quiet and more “intimate” ceremonies in which family members and a few other guests would gather to hear the boy make a blessing over the Torah. 

After this, the boy would address his guests with a public discourse and thank them for attending his ceremony. These are the main requirements of this Jewish custom. 

Traditionally, there was no equal ceremony for Jewish girls. Bat mitzvahs are a modern tradition.

Today, though, bar mitzvahs are often more lavish. They seem to be celebrations that the Jewish faith has continued despite tragedies and tribulations. Each child that comes of age and continues the faith is a blessing. 

During these modern ceremonies, Jewish boys must read out loud from the Torah. This means that they must learn Hebrew before the ceremony. They may also have to recite a chant and lead a prayer service for the guests.

Guests give the boy a bar mitzvah gift, often money or jewelry, before they leave the ceremony. They may also share their blessings with the boy to bless his newfound “adulthood.” 

The Bar Mitzvah: A Coming-of-Age Jewish Tradition

Bar mitzvahs are one of many types of coming-of-age or faith-affirming ceremonies. They’re similar to quinceañeras and even confirmations. They’r often fun events that blend modern parties with ancient rituals.

If you’ve been invited to a bar mitzvah, you’re in for an interesting event.

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