About Bar Mitzvah Party Traditions

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The day a son or a daughter becomes a Bar Mitzvahs (Bat Mitzvahs) is an important milestone for Jewish parents. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony consists of the young person chanting the blessings, Torah portions and Haftarah portion. This new accountability is a celebration for both the parents who are no longer "blamed" for their son's misconduct, and for the Bar Mitzvah boy who can now be proud of his new responsibility.

There are many traditions that accompany the Bar Mitzvah experience: some families have a festive meal to celebrate this occasion; the boy receives presents and often gives a bar mitzvah speech after the prayer service or during the reception. But where does this tradition come from?

Contrary to what many believe, the bar or bat mitzvah is a relatively modern innovation, not mentioned in the Talmud, and unheard of as recently as a century ago. However, historians have discovered evidence of similar rites of passage in ancient tribes and cultures during which the boy (usually between 12 and 16 years of age) had to prove certain physical skills to be acknowledged as an adult.

In Orthodox and Chasidic practice, women are not permitted to participate in religious services in these ways, so a bat mitzvah, if celebrated at all, is usually little more than a party. In other movements of Judaism, the girls do exactly the same thing as the boys. It wasn't until 1922 that the first bat mitzvah in North America was celebrated.

At the time, Jewish women were struggling for a voice in the synagogue just as women across the nation were fighting for their rights as citizens. Because the bat mitzvah gave Jewish women a voice, it was a controversial event that many traditional Jews did not accept. Bat Mitzvah popularity has never reached the level of Bat Mitzvah, and most modern families choose non-religious Quinceanera or Sweet 16 party venues to celebrate their daughter's coming of age.

According to Torah, a bar mitzvah becomes obligated by God's commandments, i.e. becomes eligible to count in a prayer quorum, lead prayer services and testify before a religious court. After reaching 13 years of age, Jewish boys are considered adults and are fully responsible for their moral and religious duties in addition to becoming a full member of the Jewish community.

No ceremony is needed to confer these rights and obligations, however it is a nice tradition to have a ceremony to have the memories and keepsakes of such special moment.

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