Judaism: Coming of Age Ritual

Under Jewish law, children are not required to observe the commandments, even though they are encouraged and taught to do so. However, the turning point in a child following the Judaic faith comes when a boy turns 13 years old and a girl becomes 12 years old.

When a boy turns 13 years old, he is considered an adult under Jewish law. From this point, he is expected to obey all of the commandments. He is called a Bar Mitzvah , also known as a “Son of the Commandments.” Girls observe a similar transformation, which is called a Bat Mitzvah (“daughter of the commandment”).

Just because boys and girls reach this age, it doesn’t mean that Jewish law sees the “young adults” as ready to marry or leave the security of living at home. According to the Talmud, the appropriate age to marry is 18, while 20 is a proper age for adults to start earning a living for themselves. Young people are not considered responsible for their actions and have met the minimum qualification for marriage. Keep in mind that this is not a far-fetched practice, as some individuals can marry as young as 14 years old when given their parent’s permission.

The Issue of Girls in Different Denominations

Orthodox and Hasidic Jews do not hold a Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Women do not take part in the religious service. However, a party is sometimes thrown to mark the occasion. Girls belonging to Reform or Conservative synagogues take part in ceremonies in the same manner as boys.

The Rite of Passage

The rite of passage for a Jewish boy has always centered on his first reciting of the aliyah (benediction over the Torah reading). This takes place at the first Sabbath service following his 13th birthday. Over the years, the duties have increased to include reciting the haftarah (selection from the Prophets), reading the entire weekly Torah portion, leading part of the service, or leading prayers.

Custom also sees the youth making a brief speech, which typically starts with: “Today I have become a man [or woman].” A blessing is given by the father, who thanks God for eliminating the burden of being responsible for the sins of his child. A reception usually follows the ceremony, which for some, boys and girls, is an affair comparable to a wedding.  

Responsibilities Associated with Bar (Bat) Mitzvah)

Some of the most significant responsibilities associated with this important coming-of-age ritual include:

·    Morally responsible for their own actions.
·    Eligible to be called to read from the Torah (only boys in Orthodox circles).
·    Participating in the Minyan (only boys in Orthodox circles).
·    Allowed to own what they possess as personal property.
·    Must follow the 613 laws of the Torah.