The present form of the Bar Mitzvah celebration is about 600 years old.
When a boy reaches the age of 13, the Bar Mitzvah signifies that he is now a
man and is at the age when adult reasoning and responsibilities commence.
He qualifies to read from the Torah, recite the blessings over the Torah, and
to count as a member of the quorum of worshipers needed before services
may be held in traditional congregations. He is committed to lifelong
religious and ethical obligations. Months of study on the part of the young
Jewish lad prepare him for this most important event. During the service he
will have to demonstrate that he can read from the Torah, sing the prayers,
and converse with the congregation on religious and community matters.
The Bat Mitzvah ceremony is more modern than Bar Mitzvah. It was not
even mentioned until the 19th century. Increasingly, young girls are pre-
paring for this service which parallels the Bar Mitzvah. Preparation for the
rite is similar to that of young men. Depending on the synagogues attitude
toward women reading from the Torah Scroll, a Bat Mitzvah girl may or may
not perform that rite. Her participation in the reading of the liturgy will also
vary depending on the convictions of any given congregation. However,
Bat Mitzvahrecognizing formally in some manner the importance of
Jewishness as the chosen religious identity of teenage girlsis practiced in
every major branch of Judaism. Certificates for the Bar Mitzvah and the
Bat Mitzvah are available through the National Jewish Welfare Board.
In the 19th century some Jewish leaders came to the conclusion that
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs should be replaced or supplemented by Confirmation.
Confirmation would occur in the mid-teen years as opposed to the early teen
years. It was felt at an older age youngsters would be better able to under-
stand their Jewishness and more sincerely and articulately voice their
devotion to both the Jewish faith and people. Confirmation caught on as
a supplement rather than as a replacement for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and has
become very popular. It usually is held after the tenth grade or after religious
studies have been completed. The ceremony has become associated with the
celebration of Shavuot. The late spring date of Shavuot plus each of its
themes lends itself well to the ceremony wherein young people confirm their
identity as Jews.
It is particularly difficult at times for Jewish personnel to manage to get
their children through Bar/Bat Mitzvah and/or Confirmation. Moving fre-
quently and often being stationed in places far removed from a Jewish
chaplain or civilian synagogue makes practicing Judaism difficult. Usually a
lot of preparation is required for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Attending
a Jewish religious school is usually a prerequisite for receiving Confirmation.
The Jewish layleader should be familiar with resources for Bar/Bat Mitzvah
and Confirmation. Usually any local rabbi will be glad to help make special
arrangements to provide for the religious needs of children with parents in