What is Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
Bar/Bat Mitzvah literally means Son/Daughter of the commandments. At the age of thirteen and twelve respectively, boys and girls become religiously mature. Strictly speaking, the phrase refers to their coming of age. The phrase is commonly used to refer to the ceremony itself.
What is the significance of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
According to Jewish law, boys under the age of thirteen and girls under the age of twelve are not obligated to fulfill all the Torah commandments. Once they reach these ages, they are considered intellectually mature enough to distinguish between right and wrong.
Is there a special Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony?
A special ceremony is not required. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an automatic rite of passage that begins from the moment the boy/girl reaches 13/12. The earliest form of a Bar Mitzvah is the first calling-up of the boy to the Torah in the Synagogue. He is called up shortly after he turns thirteen and recites a blessing.
Today it has become common for "Bar Mitzvah Boys" to do much more. Some will read the entire Haftarah portion, some the entire Torah portion and some will lead parts of prayer. Many will make a speech. There is a tradition for the father of the celebrant to recite a prayer thanking G-d for the removal of responsibility for his son's sins (now that his child is old enough to be held accountable for his own actions).
It is not acceptable in religious circles for a "Bat Mitzvah Girl" to be called up to the Torah in front of male congregants. Indeed, it is believed that girls, spiritually, do not require such a ceremony as boys do. It is said that girls are naturally more spiritually elevated than boys (possibly the reason their rite of passage is a year earlier than boys'). Others say that she achieves elevation through special commandments that are uniquely feminine. It has become common for both girls and boys to celebrate with a special meal and party that is thrown in honor of their reaching adulthood. Boys will often have a reception after being called up to the Torah in the Synagogue.
Is it the accepted practice to give gifts on the occasion of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
It is common practice to give gifts at the reception or party. For many, gifts that would be appreciated by any twelve/thirteen year old are given. It is a nice idea to give something with a Jewish theme, seeing as this is the celebration of the beginning of adult Jewish life. Jewish Jewelry for a Bat Mitzvah girl, Jewish books, music, or a Menorah for both girls and boys are just some examples. It is worthwhile to check what is acceptable in the community of the child regarding Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts.
What happens after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
Many mistakenly think that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the peak of religious observance. In reality, it is the joyous beginning of a new adult's Jewish life. G-d Willing the Bar/Bat Mitzvah boy/girl will merit to grow in their Judaism and to become a proud member of their religion who carries forward the torch of tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.