The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is Judaism's second most important ceremony for Jewish males, the first being ritual circumcision on the eighth day of life. While ritual circumcision, or Brit Mila, initiates a male Jewish child into the covenant of his people, the ceremony of Bar Mitzvah initiates a boy into manhood at age 13. Upon reaching this plateau, a young man obtains the rights of Jewish Manhood, including being counted in a Minyan or prayer group requiring at least 10 Jewish males to conduct formal Jewish prayer. It also allows a young man the honor of being called to the Torah, Judaism's most sacred text, and is a major milestone in his Jewish education and preparation towards all the responsibilities of an adult, including marriage and heading a family.
The origins of the formal Bar Mitzvah ceremony date back at least to the period of the Second Temple and though customs differ somewhat in various Jewish cultures, including European or Ashkenazi backgrounds verses Sephardic or Oriental cultures. The basic ceremony of being called up to the Torah for the first time, and reading portions from both this holy scroll and from the Haphtarah or supplemental readings based on the Torah, are more or less the same in all of Jewish tradition.
When a young man approaches age 13, he begins studying for this ceremony including learning special melodies or trope in order to chant the verses from the holy readings of the Torah and Haphtarah portions for the Shabbat that he is to become a Bar Mitzvah. In many Jewish cultures, this also includes the Thursday preceding Shabbat as this enables proud parents and relatives to take photographs of his chanting from the Torah, an act forbidden on Shabbat. In Israel, this event can be even more meaningful as it is often done before the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Some people living abroad consider this act to be of such importance that they actually travel to Israel in order for their child to be formally initiated into Jewish Manhood in front of Judaism's most sacred symbol: the last remaining portion of the Temple.
In American, non-orthodox congregations, the mothers and other female relatives of the Bar Mitzvah have a greater role in the religious part of the ceremony with the entire family often invited to join the young man on the Bimah or platform where the Rabbi and the Torah reader are located to receive a special rabbinical blessing on Shabbat. In some conservative and reform congregations, the mother is even given the same honor as her husband in being called up to the Torah. Upon finishing his Haphtarah reading the Bar Mitzvah is often bombarded with sweets being thrown at him by his family, guests, and by members of the congregation.
After the Rabbinical blessing, the Bar Mitzvah may give a small talk or sermon to thank those who prepared him for this special moment in his life, as well as express what this occasion means to him and his ascent into Jewish Manhood. The ceremony of becoming a Bar Mitzvah is truly a milestone in the life of every young Jewish male.
In addition to the religious element, this event is also accompanied by parties and even formal banquets for the young man, his family and friends. These parties can range from being simple family get-togethers to very elaborate affairs, costing thousand of dollars; with limitations only to the parent's (and grand parent's) pocketbooks.
In addition to receiving various religious articles such as books, prayer shawls or talitim and the leather tifillim worn daily by religious Jewish men in morning prayers, the young man also receives numerous Bar Mitzvah Gifts of both money and personal items which add to the excitement of the occasion. In recent years Bar Mitzvah gifts have included more Israeli made products like unique Hamsa Hands and Jewish jewelry handcrafted by leading Israeli artists.
Visit our Bar Mitzvah gifts section for some great gift ideas.
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