The assumption that every Jewish adult has had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is presumptuous. The assumption that every Jewish adult (other than a convert) has become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is logical. After all, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah means only that a man or woman has passed the age of 13 or 12 (respectively), and is therefore recognized as having reached the age of personal religious responsibility.

It is unclear when in recent history the Bar Mitzvah became a fancy celebration. By the 20th century, however, the Bar Mitzvah party was a staple in Jewish society. The development of the Bat Mitzvah celebration, on the other hand, is well documented. The first official Bat Mitzvah was held in March 1922 at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which was the synagogue of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. The girl celebrating her Bat Mitzvah was his 12 year old daughter, Judith. The ceremony replicated that of a Bar Mitzvah, with the Bat Mitzvah girl being called to the Torah for an aliyah and reading the parasha (Torah portion).

By the 1970s, making an elaborate Bat Mitzvah celebration had became the norm in American Jewish life. In more traditional circles, however, the celebration is more “low-key,” is not part of the synagogue service and does not involve reading from the Torah. Even without the service, however, a girl’s transition into adulthood is still celebrated.

As making large Bar/Bat Mitzvah “coming of age” parties became normative, many articles, and even a few books have been written that focus on re-infusing the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with “meaning.” Perhaps it is a basic question of perspective: Does one have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or does one become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah–a Jewish adult ready to take responsibility for his/her actions?

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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