Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Figure 1.--The Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies have become major events in the life of a Jewish child. Unlike Baptism in Christianity, not ceremony is required. A jewish child on his birthday autmatically becomes an adult in Jewish religious law. Here we see a Jewish boy in his Bar Mitzvah portrait about 1970.

The Bar and Bat Mitzvah is the major rite of passage for Jewish children. It is the point at which Jewish children formally come of age and join the religious community. "Bar Mitzvah" means "son of the commandment" in Hebrew and "Bat Mitzvah". "Bar" also "son" in Aramaic which became the vernacular of the Jewish people. " Mitzvah" means "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. In modern usasge the term has come to mean not the child coming of age, but the ceremony associated with it. Children under Jewish law are now seen as obligated to obey the commandments and other provisions of Mosaic law. Their parents are legally responsible for their behavior and for teaching them the religious law and for guiding them to observe it as far as possible. Boys at age 13 years and girls at 12 years become adults and are thus obligated to observe the commandments and Mosaic Law. The Torah does not explain why these ages were chosen. But surely it much havebeen timed with the onset of adolescene. This would have been especially important for girls and the need to ensure that they would abide by Mosaic Law. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah formally marks this trasition, but in fact the obligation occurs automatically. The child at the appropriate age is no longer a child in the eyes of the Jewish religious community. And is thus responsible for his own behavior, spiritually, ethically, and morally. Other changes take place. The individual has the right to take participate in leading religious services as well to be counted in a minyan (the minimum number of participants required to perform certain elements of religious services), to make binding contracts, to testify in religious courts, and to marry. There are a number of Bar Mitzvah portraits archived on HBC. One example is an unidentified German boy in the 1930s.


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Created: 8:16 PM 4/29/2006
Last updated: 4:16 PM 7/31/2007