A bar mitzvah ("son of the commandment") is a male Jew who has reached his 13th birthday and is recognized as fully responsible for his own religious and moral actions. A bat mitzvah is the corresponding female Jew. A rite in the synagogue, which is also commonly referred to as bar mitzvah, marks the attainment of the status of bar mitzvah. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, a similar rite is used for the bat mitzvah as well. When reaching puberty, a young man or woman is called upon to read a prophetic passage from Scripture to the synagogue congregation.
Thereupon, he or she is recognized as a full member of the congregation, able to count as a member of the required quorum of ten. On that occasion the parents say a blessing: "Blessed is God who has now freed me from bearing full responsibility for this person." In the 19th century, Reform Judaism created the rite of confirmation, either instead of, or in addition to, the bar mitzvah celebration. It is held on the festival of Shavuoth, or Pentecost, which marks the revelation of the Torah. This rite is now common in Reform and Conservative synagogues.
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A I Katsh, ed., Bar Mitzvah (1955); S Schoenfeld, et al., Bar Mitzvah (1985).
Hebrew term applied to a boy on completing his thirteenth year, who has then reached the age of religious duty and responsibility. The name "Bar Miẓwah" occurs in B. M. 96a, where it is applied to every grown Israelite; but in the sense now used it can not be clearly traced earlier than the fourteenth century, the older rabbinical term being "gadol" (adult) or "bar 'onshin" (son of punishment); that is, liable to punishment for his own misdoings; see Rashi Nid. 45b, on the word . The age of puberty being attained at about the fourteenth year, the boy that is over thirteen years of age has the power of making vows or of consecrating property to holy purposes (Nid. v. 6); he is held to account for his own sins, whereas a child before that age may die on account of his father's sins (Midrash Zuṭṭa, Ruth, ed. Buber, p. 47; Yalḳ., Ruth, 600); and, according to some, the father's merit confers benefits upon the son only until he has reached his "pereḳ"; that is, the age of maturity (Tosef., 'Eduy. i. 14).
The solemnization of the attainment of the age of religious maturity takes place on the first Sabbath of the fourteenth year, when the Bar Miẓwah is called up (see 'Aliyah) to read a chapter from the weekly portion of the Law, either as one of the seven men or as the eighth, where it is customary to read the closing chapter and the Hafṭarah; and if he be unable to read, to recite at least the benediction before and after the reading, while the father offers silently the rather strange benediction: "Blessed be He who has taken the responsibility for this child's doing from me" (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, ccxxv. 2, note of Isserles, and "Magen Abraham," cclxxxii., note 18).
Celebration of Event.
This event is celebrated by joyous festivity, the Bar Miẓwah boy delivering on this occasion a learned discourse or oration at the table before the invited guests, who offer him presents, while the rabbi or teacher gives him his blessing, accompanying it at times with an address (see Solomon Luria, "Yam Shel Shelomoh" to B. Ḳ. vii. 37, and other authorities in "Magen Abraham," l.c.; Löw's "Lebensalter," pp. 210-217, 410-412). Henceforth he is reckoned among the adults to fill the Minyan, or required number of ten (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, lv. 9 et seq.). Regarding the time when the boy's initiation into his religious duties is to commence, when he is to begin putting on the tefillin, or when to fast on the Day of Atonement, see Yoma 82a; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, xxxvii. 3, cxvi. 2). Leopold Löw (l.c.) has shown that the Bar Miẓwah rite had become a fixed custom only in the fourteenth century in Germany.
How It Originated.
Nevertheless there are many indications, overlooked by Löw, that its origin must be sought in remote antiquity. Samuel ha-Kaṭan, at the close of the first century, gives in his saying on the Ages of Man in the Baraita attached to Abot v. 21 (see Maḥzor Vitry, p. 549) the completion of the thirteenth year as the age for the commandments ("le-miẓwot"); and the commentary to the passage refers to Levi, the son of Jacob, who, at thirteen, is called "ish" (= man; Gen. xxxiv. 25). Simon Ẓemaḥ Duran, in his "Magen Abot" to the Baraita, quotes a Midrash interpreting the Hebrew word (= "this") in Isa. xliii. 21-"This people have I formed for myself, they shall pronounce [A. V. "set forth"] my praise"-as referring by its numerical value to those that have reached the age of thirteen. This seems to imply that at the time the Midrash was composed the Bar Miẓwah publicly pronounced a benediction on the occasion of his entrance upon maturity. This is confirmed by the Midrash Hashkem (see Grünhut's "Sefer ha-Liḳḳuṭim," i. 3a): "The heathen when he begets a son consecrates him to idolatrous practises; the Israelite has his son circumcised and the rite of 'pidyon ha-ben' performed; and as soon as he becomes of age he brings him into the synagogue and school ('bet ha-keneset' and 'bet ha-midrash'),in order that henceforth he may praise the name of God, reciting the 'Bareku' (Benediction) preceding the reading from the Law." Masseket Soferim xviii. 5 is even more explicit: "In Jerusalem they are accustomed to initiate their children to fast on the Atonement Day, a year or two before their maturity; and then, when the age has arrived, to bring the Bar Miẓwah before the priest or elder for blessing, encouragement, and prayer, that he may be granted a portion in the Law and in the doing of good works. Whosoever is of superiority in the town is expected to pray for him as he bows down to him to receive his blessing."
This then helps to illustrate the Midrash (Gen. R. lxiii.), which, in commenting upon the passage (Gen. xxv. 27), "and the boys grew," says: "Up to thirteen years Esau and Jacob went together to the primary school and back home; after the thirteen years were over, the one went to the bet ha-midrash for the study of the Law, the other to the house of idols. With reference to this, R. Eleazar remarks, 'Until the thirteenth year it is the father's duty to train his boy; after this he must say: "Blessed be He who has taken from me the responsibility [the punishment] for this boy!"'" "Why is the evil desire ('yeẓer hara'') personified as the great king? (Eccl. ix. 14). Because it is thirteen years older than the good desire ('yeẓer haṭob')." That is to say, the latter comes only with the initiation into duty (Ab. R. N., A. xvi., B. xxx.; Midr. Teh. ix. 2; Eccl. R. ix. 15). According to Pirḳe R. El. xxvi., Abraham rejected the idolatry of his father and became a worshiper of God when he was thirteen years old. In the light of these facts the story related in Luke ii. 42-49, as observed by the elder Lightfoot, Wetstein, and Holtzmann in their commentaries to the passage, finds its true significance: The child Jesus when only twelve years of age, having not yet attained the religious maturity, joined, of his own accord, the teachers of the Law, and astonished all by his understanding and his answers, being, as he said, concerned only about the things of his Father in heaven (, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"). Compare with this what Josephus writes of himself: "When I was a child about fourteen years old, I was commended by all for the love I had for learning, on which account the high priest and principal men of the city came to me in order to know my opinion regarding the accurate understanding of points of the Law" ("Vita," 2).
In Morocco the boy becomes Bar Miẓwah when he has passed the age of twelve years. He usually learns one of the Talmudical treatises by heart, and after he has passed an examination, the rabbis and the parnasim of the congregation, together with his relatives and friends, are invited to a dinner the Wednesday before the Sabbath on which he is to be "called up" to the Law. The following morning (Thursday), at the service which takes place in the boy's house, the chief rabbi puts the tefillin upon his arm, and his father those upon his head, while the choir accompanies the initiation rite with a hymn. He is then "called up" to the Law; and before the close of the service he delivers a discourse, partly in the vernacular, for the benefit of the women who are present. The rabbis follow with a discussion, and the Bar Miẓwah is then blessed aloud by the whole assembly. After this he goes around with his tefillinbag, and first the men, then the women, and finally his parents throw silver coins into the bag, which he then presents to his teacher. A breakfast follows, in which all take part. On the next Sabbath, the Bar Miẓwah reads the "Hafṭarah." When he is called up to the Law, a piyyuṭ is recited, the text of which is given in the "Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums," 1839, p. 278, whence the above account has been taken. See also Banquets.
Regarding a strange custom of cutting a boy's hair when he became Bar Miẓwah, see Abrahams' "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 144, note 2. For Bar Miẓwah in modern times, see Confirmation.
Marcus Jastrow, Kaufmann Kohler
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Leopold Löw, Die Lebensalter, in Jüdische Literatur, pp. 210-217, Szegedin, 1875; J. C. G. Bodenschatz, Kirchliche Verfassung der Heutigen Juden, iv. 94, 95, Erlangen, 1748; Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der Juden in Deutschland, p. 111, Vienna, 1888; idem, Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den Deutschen Juden, p. 143, Berlin, 1891, where R. Jair Ḥaim Bacharach's Rules of Study for the Bar Mizwah boy are given; Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Miẓwah; Schürer, Gesch. des Jüdischen Volkes, ii. 426; Ch. Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, 1897, pp. 97, 98; I. Abrahams, as above.J. Sr. K.
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