Coming of Age in Judaism
Within Judaism there is the well-known ceremony of Bar mitzvah for a boy when he turns thirteen years old and becomes recognized as a "man". For a girl at twelve years of age she becomes a "woman". In Judaism it is recognized that girls mature slightly ahead of boys. Judaism recognizes that these ages coincide with puberty, which in past times made them eligible for marriage.
The coming of age ceremony called a bar mitzvah ("son of the commandment" in Aramaic) is held on the Saturday (Shabbat) after a Jewish boy's thirteenth birthday. A similar ceremony called a bat mitzvah (or bas mitzvah which is for "daughter of the commandment") is held on the Saturday closest to a Jewish girl's twelfth birthday. However, the female coming of age ceremony is not as commonly practiced as the bar mitzvah. The bat mitzvah is recognised mostly by Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Modern Orthodox Judaism. Haredi Judaism and Hasidic Judaism only celebrate bar mitzvahs.
What happens during the ceremony
During the ceremony, several important events take place.
What does the Bar Mitzvah mean?
- The boy is called forward, for the first time to read, in Hebrew, from the Torah scroll. Since only adult males (in the Orthodox community) are allowed to read from the Torah. This is a public announcement that the boy has come of age.
- The boy will receive his father's blessing. The father thanks God that he has now been freed from responsibility for the boy's sins and rejoices that his son is now a man.
- The parents will arrange a meal (the Seudah) for all the boy's family and friends after the ceremony at which the boy will deliver a sermon of thanks. Gifts will be given to the boy at this time by his family and friends.
There are three main reasons why the Bar Mitzvah is so important for every Jewish male:
- The boy who has come of age is given the full religious responsibilities of the adult male. He is allowed to wear the ritual clothes the Tallit and the Tefillin, he can make up the minimum 10 males who must be present for a service to take place (the minyan), and he can take part fully in the worship in the synagogue.
- At any time in the future he can be called upon to read from the Torah. All Jews consider this to be a great privilege.
- In many synagogues this is seen as a serious statement of faith by the young adult. They acknowledge their faith and acknowledge that the responsibility for their spiritual life now passes from their parents to them.
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