Every religion has its rites and rituals. The purposes, ceremonies and customs are varied but usually concentrate on religious obligations and the fulfillment of spiritual needs. But they also include social bonding, religious and moral education, a display of respect or submission and often are a milestone in one’s religious life.
In the Jewish religion a young man celebrates his Bar Mitzvah when he turns 13 and a young woman celebrates her Bat Mitzvah when she turns 12. The ceremony dates back literally thousands of years and is rich in rituals and history.
Special Events Planning Tips – The Religious Meaning of a Bar Mitzvah
A Bar Mitzvah celebrates the coming of age in the Jewish religion. The literal translation of Bar Mitzvah means “son of commandment”. It means that the young person is now responsible to follow the tenants of the Jewish religion and to make their own decisions regarding ritual, tradition, and ethics.
Special Events Planning Tips – What is a Bar Mitzvah?
The Bar Mitzvah ceremony formally and publicly celebrates the coming of age. While a special religious service or ceremony is not necessarily required, over the last few centuries, a larger emphasis has been placed on the ceremony as a rite of passage. Previously a Bar Mitzvah consisted of a young man being called up to read from the Torah at the first service following his 13th birthday.
But times have changed and a Bar Mitzvah has become a much larger celebration, sometimes over the course of a few days. A Bar Mitzvah requires many years of Hebrew study and specific Bar Mitzvah lessons that commence one year prior to the event.
The modern ceremony involves the young man (or woman) reading portions of the Torah to the congregation and often includes a blessing from the rabbi. Details of exactly what is and isn’t included varies in different denominations and even from congregation to congregation.
Special Events Planning Tips – The Celebration
It use to be fairly simple. In the past family, friends and the congregation would attend a Kiddush, which is a luncheon, following the service. But today there are many different ways of celebrating a Bar Mitzvah.
The Kid’s Party – Many parents recognize that, once the religious and family obligations are done, the celebration doesn’t have to include everyone. A friend was recently telling me how sick and tired she was of going to nighttime affairs that become dance parties for 13 year olds. Her main complaint is that “…if it’s a kid’s party, great. But if you invite adults, it has to appeal to the age range attending.”
The easy solution is a nighttime party for the kids. Most adults are content to attend synagogue and join the family for the Kiddush. So forget the big blow out and let the kids celebrate with a dance party that, thankfully, adults aren’t required to attend.
The Blow Out – Today there are some Bar Mitzvah’s that are out of control, perhaps losing focus of what the day is really about. With hundreds of people at a nighttime event, bands, dj’s and budgets that are bigger than most weddings, perhaps the true meaning gets lost somewhere along the way. Most rabbis agree that when the celebration becomes a bigger deal than the ceremony, usually religious and spiritual significance is lost.
The Non-Religious Bar Mitzvah – The “Faux Mitzvah”, a Bar Mitzvah party for non-Jewish kids, has gained popularity in the last decade or so. In my opinion, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A Bar Mitzvah is religious rite and passage into adulthood. There are hundreds of hours of study that are required and it is an important religious milestone. If you want to throw a big party for your child’s birthday, do it. But don’t call it a Bar Mitzvah. No one is out there having a faux confirmation, faux vision quest or faux Hajj. Sometimes a party is just a party.
When planning a Bar Mitzvah it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be about a big blowout bash but rather about sharing an important religious milestone with family and friends.