If you've just been invited to a Bar Mitzvah, and you don't know what it is or what to do, this piece of information will tell you about this ancient tradition, and the various aspects associated with it.
Did You Know?
Bar Mitzvah is for boys, and is the equivalent of Bat Mitzvah for girls. In literal terms, ‘Bar’ means son and ‘Bat’ means daughter.
Children quickly evolve into adults. As puberty hits, not only does their body change, but their perceptions as well. With information at their fingertips, they feel they know the answers to everything. But that’s certainly not true. Just because you grow a few inches doesn’t mean your brain did.
As contradicting thoughts and emotions occur at the same time, you need some guidance on the path that should be followed. Judaism is one of the oldest religions of the world. While some remember it for only giving us Oskar Schindler and Adam Sandler, it’s far more evolved than that.
The word ‘ceremony’ makes up an austere image in our minds, with bells chiming and too much smoke and less oxygen to inhale in a closed environment. But ceremonies are fun. Weddings, birthdays, and farewell parties are also occasions that celebrate life.
The Jews also have a ceremony that guides a person to a path he should follow in order to live a content life. It’s called the Bar Mitzvah, where Mitzvah means ‘commandment/law’. The sections to follow address the significance of the Bar Mitzvah tradition, an important event in a Jewish boy’s life.
What Happens at a Bar Mitzvah
► Bar Mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys. In this ceremony, the teen takes responsibility for his actions henceforth.
He recites a few lines from the Torah, a holy book in Jewish traditions, and proclaims his vow to hold his promises. Though we say he has a Bar Mitzvah, it’s actually a status he undertakes after turning thirteen.
► The Bar Mitzvah usually takes place on the first Shabbat after the kid’s birthday.
► Tefillin are two square leather boxes which contain parchments of Torah verses. The two boxes are worn on the hand and arm.
It states the two principles with which we can be closer to Him, by thought (represented by head) and action (represented by arm). It’s a tradition to wear tefillin at the time of Bar Mitzvah.
► The boy always gives a speech after reading a few verses from the Torah. The purpose is to talk about the lessons he has learned from the Torah and share it with all.
► After the ceremony ends, the boy is usually pelted with candy. At this point, the father recites lines from the Torah, and thanks God that he won’t be punished for the sins of his son.
► Everyone offer him their congratulations, or Mazel tov in Hebrew, upon completing the ceremony.
► The Bar Mitzvah also lights a candle for those who passed away recently, and recites a few lines in the form of a poem.
► The Bar Mitzvah service is followed by a light reception, called a kiddush.
Attire, Food, and Celebrations
- Family members are usually dressed in formal attire; the women wear dresses. You can wear any formal attire to the Bar Mitzvah, and wear something casual at the party, or anything related to the theme of the party.
- The Bar Mitzvah traditional food served is challah (double-braided bread), latke (potato pancakes), matzo ball soup (matzah, eggs, water, chicken fat), roast beef, corn beef, and turkey.
- If it’s a kosher night, then expect a lot of food made from dairy products. The spread consists of pasta, salads made from kosher, different kinds of quiche, and lasagna.
- Matzo ball soup
- A DJ is hired to keep the kids entertained, while the adults engage in cocktails.
- Usually, the traditional Jewish dance of Hora is done, and it is real fun.
- A caricature artist is hired for entertainment purposes, and part gifts usually emblazoned with the kid’s name are provided in the form of T-shirts and key chains.
- Present time Bar Mitzvah gatherings are lavish parties, instead of a closed ceremony. The hosts invite friends and family. Boys usually receive gifts in the form of cash and books, while girls receive jewelry.
- Gifts in the form of cash are usually given in multiples of 18, as the word for eighteen in Hebrew rhymes with ‘chai’, the Jewish word for life.
- Tefillin is usually gifted by the grandparents, as it is expensive.
- Gifts can be given in the form of educational and religious books and items, or even bonds. Nowadays, most people give stuff like gift certificates, iTunes gift cards, iPods, or a favorite video game according to the boy’s likes.
Bar Mitzvah means to be educated in the laws of the Torah, and is an ongoing process. With the closing of this ceremony, the boy has unofficially reached adulthood, and is responsible for his own actions. It is a stepping stone for a more deep and mature insight to Jewish learning.