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Bar & Bat Mitzvah Guide

Bar Mitzvah  and Bat Mitzvah translates to  "son of commandment" or "daughter of commandment". When a Jewish boy becomes 13 years old and a Jewish girl reaches the age of 12, each take on a new status, and are accountable for mitzvot (commandments or deeds) required of them by Jewish law both personally and communally.   These include moral responsibility for own actions.
Bar mitzvah is mentioned in the Ethics of the Fathers, and in the Talmud.  In the late Middle Ages the ages of observing mitzvot for young men and women were set at 13 and 12.  The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is held on the Shabbat after a boy's thirteenth and a girl's twelfth Hebrew birthday, but can be held anytime thereafter.   In non-Orthodox communities, young women also observe the occasion after the age of 13.

The Aliyah

Among Orthodox communities, a boy is called up to read from the weekly portion of Torah , recite the benedictions before or after the Aliyah and/or read the Haftarah (selections from the books of the Prophets).  Young men also don tefillin (phylactaries) upon reaching 13 (tefillin are not worn on Shabbat).  In most communities, both boys and girls give a d'var Torah (a discussion of some Torah issue, and/or lead part of the prayer services.

Celebrations and Gifts

The bar or bat mitzvah includes a seudah (festive meal) mitzvah, shared with family, friends, and members of the community.  At Orthodox events, it is not customary to bring the gift on Shabbat, but to send or deliver the gift to the home.  If the boy or girl has not registered, most popular gifts are shofars and stands, mezuzah for their door, inspirational art for the room, personalized bar mitzvah certificate that can be framed, kiddush cup or candlestick, tzedakah box.  Jewish-themed jewelry is also popular, especially for girls.

Bat Mitzvahs Today

All Reform, Reconstructionist, and most Conservative synagogues have egalitarian participation, in which women read from the Torah and lead services.
The majority of Orthodox and some Conservative Jews differentiate between how young men and women participate in communal service.   In these congregations, women do not read from the Torah or lead prayer services; they often give a d'var torah on a Jewish topic.  Often the acknowledgement occurs in private homes or other venues. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a prominent Orthodox posek, ruled that bat mitzvah celebrations are allowable; however, they do not have the status of seudah mitzvah while Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef holds that it is a seudah mitzvah.
Historically, there were attempts to recognize a girl's coming of age in eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries marked by a party, without ritual participation in the synagogue.  The custom of a young woman being called up in synagogue before the entire community dates back approximately 2,300 years ago. The Jews in Rome recognized her as "being of age" and acknowledged her in a public fashion without her participation in a synagogue service.  American rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaisam on March 18, 1922 in his synagogue in New York City, had his daughter Judith recite the preliminary blessing, read a portion of that week's Torah portion in Hebrew and English, and then intoned the closing blessing.

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