Question: "What is a bar mitzvah? What is a bat mitzvah?"

Answer: The term bar mitzvah (often with initial capital letters) means “son of the commandment.” The term bat mitzvah means “daughter of the commandment.” Within Judaism the idea of a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah ceremony is relatively new. At the age of 13, a Jewish boy is considered to become mature enough to fulfill the obligation of mitzvah (the commandments), and a Jewish girl is considered capable of fulfilling the obligations of mitzvah. The ceremony of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah is a recognition of adulthood; a boy becomes a man, and a girl becomes a woman. As an adult he or she shares the responsibilities and privileges of a full member of the Jewish community. The boy becomes a “bar mitzvah,” a son of the commandment.

For the past hundred years or so, the bar mitzvah ceremony has become more important. In the past, the new bar mitzvah was eligible to wear tefillin (phylacteries) during prayer. Tefillin are small wooden boxes containing Scripture attached by leather straps to the forehead and one forearm. In addition, the bar mitzvah is allowed to read publicly from the Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The more conservative movements within Judaism only allow bar mitzvah for boys, but no corresponding bat mitzvah for girls. The more liberal movements within Judaism observe both bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah.

The bar mitzvah ceremony usually involves the child’s leading prayers or reading portions of the Torah during a Sabbath service. Generally, he also makes a speech, traditionally beginning with the words “Today I am a man.” The father and grandfather may also have a part to play in reciting a blessing or passing the Torah to the child. Leading up to the bar mitzvah service is the completion of a charity project.

Not all Jewish people are religiously active. A great number within the Jewish community are secular and do not observe the religious components of Judaism. However, even secular Jewish families enjoy the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah as rites of passage as their sons and daughters become adults within the community.