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Bar / Bat Mitzvah Basics

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Doniel Karp

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20 Questions

What does the term 'Bar/bat Mitzvah' translate to?

Son or daughter of commandment

At what age does a Jewish boy automatically become Bar Mitzvah?

13 years old

According to Kabbalistic tradition, what comes into awareness at Bar/Bat Mitzvah time?

A new level of soul (neshama)

Why are one's actions after reaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah considered more significant?

A mitzvah performed because one is commanded is considered greater than a mitzvah performed voluntarily.

What is the purpose of the commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah?

To keep our lives focused on what's truly important: family, community, and a relationship with God.

Why is it technically incorrect to say someone 'has' a Bar Mitzvah?

Because the term 'Bar Mitzvah' refers to a status, not an event that can be possessed.

What does the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrate?

Reaching the stage of obligation.

What is the Torah?

A scroll containing the Five Books of Moses.

What is an 'Aliyah' in the context of a Bar Mitzvah?

Being called up to the bima to read from the Torah.

What is the Haftorah?

A portion from the biblical prophets.

What is the purpose of the Haftorah reading?

It corresponds to the theme of the week's Torah portion.

What is the significance of the Kiddush in the Bar Mitzvah celebration?

It is a small lunch that begins with a blessing over wine.

What should the young person ideally do at the Bar Mitzvah celebration?

Relate some Torah thoughts in a speech.

What is a recommended gift for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah according to the text?

A tzedakah (charity) box.

What are some of the important questions that Torah addresses?

How to live a meaningful life, build successful relationships, deal honestly in business, fulfill personal potential, and make a difference in the world.

What is the emphasis of Torah study in terms of belief?

Building a rational basis of belief by engaging the mind, stimulating intellect through questioning and debate, and nourishing the soul.

What is the goal of a Jew according to the text?

To not only study Torah but to become a 'living Torah' embodying lofty ideals like love, peace, justice, education, equality, dignity, and the sanctity of life.

What does a Bar/Bat Mitzvah symbolize in Jewish life?

A stepping-stone to a more mature and profound relationship with Jewish learning, not the culmination of one's education.

What does the analogy of missing letters in a Torah scroll teach about each individual's role?

Each Jew corresponds to a letter in the Torah, implying that every individual has a crucial role in the future of the Jewish people.

What are Tefillin and how are they worn?

Two square, black leather boxes with Torah verses; one on bicep and one on head

Study Notes

Gift Ideas for a Bar Mitzvah

  • A book such as Stone Chumash, Book of our Heritage, The Bar Mitzvah Treasury, The Thinking Teenager's Guide to Life, Sand and Stars, Shmooze, The Long Road to Freedom, Bible for the Clueless But Curious, Candles in my Window, or Triumph can be a great gift for a Bar Mitzvah.
  • Giving money, specifically $18 or a multiple thereof, is also a nice idea, as the numerical value of 18 in Hebrew is "Chai," which means "Life."
  • Tefillin is a wonderful gift for a Bar Mitzvah boy, as owning a pair of Tefillin is an important part of Jewish identity.


  • Tefillin are two square, black leather boxes containing parchments of Torah verses.
  • One box is worn on the bicep, and the other is worn on the front of the head.
  • The two boxes represent the two ways that we serve God in this world: thought (the head) and action (the arm).
  • Inside each tefillin box are parchments containing four Torah sections, which speak about God's unity, the obligation to observe the commandments, and the responsibility to transmit Judaism to our descendants.

The First Bar Mitzvah

  • There are three possible answers to who was the first person to have a Bar Mitzvah: Abraham, Isaac, or Mount Sinai.

Bar Mitzvah Basics

  • The phrase "Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah" translates to "son (daughter) of commandment" and refers to a young person becoming responsible to observe the commandments of the Torah.
  • A Jewish boy automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah when he turns 13 years old, and a girl at age 12.
  • Kabbalistic tradition says that a person's spiritual being has several levels of soul, and a new level of soul (called neshama) comes into awareness at Bar/Bat Mitzvah time.

Synagogue Event

  • On the Shabbat following his 13th birthday, the young man is called up to the Torah and reads a portion from the biblical prophets, called the Haftorah.
  • The Haftorah is read with a traditional melody.
  • Following services, the congregation usually joins in a Kiddush, a small lunch that begins with a blessing over wine.

The Reception

  • The celebration should ideally be held on the day which the young person becomes 13/12 years old.
  • It is proper for the young person to relate some Torah thoughts at the celebration, known as the famous Bar Mitzvah speech.
  • The speech usually contains ideas from the weekly Torah portion and emphasizes the young person's commitment to Jewish values.

The Significance of Bar Mitzvah

  • The goal of any Jew is not only to study the Torah but to become a "living Torah," who embodies the lofty ideals of "love your neighbor," "peace on earth," "justice for all," "universal education," "all men are created equal," "dignity of the individual," and "the preciousness of life."
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah means to become educated, and to strengthen one's Jewish pride through knowledge and understanding.
  • It means to grow Jewishly, one step at a time, and to take responsibility for the world, using the Torah as our guide.

Learn about the meaning of Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah and the responsibilities it entails. Understand the significance of observing the commandments of the Torah and how it relates to family, community, and spirituality.

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