Monday, November 14, 2005

Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem

My friend Meir Herman started a new business of hosting families in Jerusalem, Israel, when they come to celebrate their son's Bar Mitzvah or their daughters' Bat Mitzvah. He also started a new Blog in which he's going to follow the development of his business.

I decided to help him out with background material and this is what I sent him:
"Bar Mitzvah" literally means "son of the commandment." "Bar" is "son" in Aramaic, which used to be the vernacular of the Jewish people. "Mitzvah" is "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic.
At the age of 13 (12 for girls), children become obligated to observe the commandments. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony formally marks the assumption of that obligation, along with the corresponding right to take part in leading religious services, to count in a minyan (the minimum number of people needed to perform certain parts of religious services), to form binding contracts, to testify before religious courts and to marry.
A Jewish boy automatically becomes a Bar Mitzvah upon reaching the age of 13 years. No ceremony is needed to confer these rights and obligations.
The popular bar Mitzvah ceremony is not required, and does not fulfill any commandment. It is a relatively modern innovation, not mentioned in the Talmud, and the elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago.
When a Jewish child reaches the age of maturity (12 years for girls, 13 years for boys) that child becomes responsible for him/herself under Jewish law. At this point a boy is said to become Bar Mitzvah ("son of the commandment"); a girl is said to become Bat Mitzvah ("daughter of the commandment"). The plural form term for people of obligation is B'nai Mitzvah, though when referring to multiple celebrations, many say "Bar" or "Bat Mitzvot."
In popular usage, the terms "Bar Mitzvah" and "Bat Mitzvah" are often mistakenly used to refer to the event itself; however the term actually refers to the boy or girl. The event is often misunderstood to be a rite of passage by which a Jewish boy or girl becomes a Jewish adult, in fact it is merely a celebration of the adulthood that came about automatically by virtue of age.
The current way of celebrating one's becoming a Bar Mitzvah did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud. Rather, this ceremonial observation developed in medieval times.
The Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah are a "rite of passage," a crossover from childhood to adulthood; a milestone in a Jewish life.
Judaism deems a boy a "bar Mitzvah" when he turns 13 and a girl becomes "bat Mitzvah" when she turns 12. (Reform Jews celebrate both boys and girls coming of age on their 13th birthday).
Why Celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvah?
And since moms and dads, as of their child's "coming of age," are now no longer liable if their little darling cause damage, steal or lie, it's cause for celebration. It is also a reason to be joyful for the the bar Mitzvah boy and bat Mitzvah girl, who are now at the age when personal responsibility dawns. This new accountability is cause for celebration - for both, the parents who are no longer "blamed" for their child's misconduct, and for the child can now be proud of the new responsibility.
For many children, preparing for a bar Mitzvah ceremony a highlight of their growing awareness of Judaism and is a moment when they are the center of attention (a most craved position). To participate in the service gives a sense of belonging.
Furthermore a bar and bat Mitzvah is timed to coincide with the first stretch of adolescence. As a teen reaches for identity throughout these rocky years, bar and bat Mitzvah memories fend for what it means to be a Jew.
The Hebrew word for "commandment" is Mitzva. The word Bar means "son" in Aramaic (which was once the everyday language of the Jews). Literally translated, Bar Mitzva means "son of the commandment".
In Torah law this is when adult responsibility begins. From this time and for the rest of his life, he is and remains Bar Mitzva, "son of the commandment", subject to all the laws of the Torah as they apply to men.
For the new Bar Mitzva, the thirteenth birthday is his personal day of receiving the Torah. On that day and for the ensuing days of joy and celebration, the Bar Mitzva is the shining Chatan Torah, Bridegroom of the Torah.
Rabbi Scheinerman's Home Page - Bar/Bat Mitzvah
Every Jew becomes a Bar Mitzvah automatically. It is a change of legal status; it has nothing to do with how much an individual knows or has learned.
The centerpiece of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is the child's first aliyah: the first time the child is permitted to ascend the bima and recite the blessings over the Torah on behalf of the congregation. In most congregations, the child also chants part of the Torah portion and the Haftarah portion, as well.
In many congregations, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah also leads some or all of the service, this too being a function reserved for adults.
Traditionally, after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah assumes his/her place in the congregation, signified by reciting the blessings over the Torah, the parents recite a brief blessings thanking God for releasing them for the responsibility for their child's sins, since the child is now fully responsible before God for his/her own behavior. This ceremony would take place on the Shabbat, Monday, or Thursday following the child's becoming 13 years and one day.
In general, Bar/Bat Mitzvah means a young Jewish boy/girl, age 13, is considered by Judaism to be of age to be included as an adult member of the Jewish people, with personal responsibility for following the Commandments (In Hebrew, called Mitzvot, plural of Mitzvah, as in Bar Mitzvah). "Bar/Bat Mitzvah" means "Son/daughter of the commandments."
If the service you are attending takes place, as most Bar/Bat Mitzvah services do, on a Saturday morning, the synagogue service is the Jewish Sabbath morning service. In Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues the service runs on average 90 minutes to 2 hours; in Conservative synagogues it can run to three hours.
As far as gifts, there are several traditions. One is to make a donation to a Jewish charitable organization in the name of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah student. This is a traditional Jewish gesture of "tzedaka", a word which means "charitable support of those in need", and derives from the Hebrew word "tzedek", which means "justice". Bar Mitzva in Ghetto Theresienstadt Bar Mitzva in Theresienstadt A Tallit (ritual garment) and Tallit bag, received by Jerzy Bader for his Bar Mitzva which was celebrated in Theresienstadt on his 14th birthday. The bag was sewn from fabric remnants by a friend of the family, Eugenia Yelinkova.
The Bader family led a traditional Jewish lifestyle and owned a store which enabled them to live comfortably. In January 1943, just two months before Jerzy’s Bar Mitzva, the Bader family was deported to Theresienstadt along with the rest of the Jews of Kyjov. Naturally, in the midst of the upheaval in the family’s life, it was impossible to celebrate Jerzy’s Bar Mitzva.
Six months after the Bar Mitzva celebration, Jerzy and his father were deported to Auschwitz where they both perished. ]
A recent phenomena, Adult Bar/Bar Mitzvah, has emerged. Often, these are group ceremonies following an extensive study process; they appeal to people who did not have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony when they were children, or who moved away from Jewish tradition and are now returning. I must admit that I find them peculiar, since the notion of an adult becoming bar/bat Mitzvah is inherently contradictory. One becomes bar/bat Mitzvah automatically when one reaches the age of 13 years plus one day, whether one is aware of this status and its ensuing obligations or not.
Coming of Age: Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah by Benjamin Efron and Alvan D. Rubin (1977, Jewish Lights Publishing) is a pamphlet-length booklet describing the history of the ceremony and the basic requirements for the service.
"Mitzvah" is "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. "Bat" is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic.
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.
An important life cycle event for a young Jewish boy or girl is the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah respectively. A boy is Bar Mitzvah when he reaches his thirteenth birthday, while girls are Bat Mitzvah when they are twelve.
However, the girl's ceremony can be postponed to their thirteenth birthday as well. The literal meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is "commandment age" or age of majority.
Historically Bar Mitzvah and later Bat Mitzvah is the ceremonial occasion that marks the time when a young person is recognized as an adult in the Jewish community and is responsible for performing mitzvot. For example before children are Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they do not need to fast on Yom Kippur. However after bar/bat Mitzvah, they are required to fulfill this Mitzvah. At bar/bat Mitzvah they are also counted in the minyan, a quorum of ten required to conduct a service.
The bar/bat Mitzvah ceremony consists of the young person chanting the blessings, and his/her Torah portion which is the Torah portion of the week. One also reads the Haftarah portion.
Your Bat Mitzvah symbolizes a transition from girlhood to womanhood, from childhood to Jewish adulthood. How does this change affect you on a personal level?
A Bat Mitzvah with the theme of Jewish women's history will help you forge your own link in the chain of Judaism: a chain of tradition and traditions, of stories and of storytellers.

I wish you, Meir, good luck on your new adventure and please - break a leg…

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