One of the best known customs of the Jewish people is a coming of age
ceremony called the Bar Mitzvah (Son of the Commandment) and Bat
Mitzvah (Daughter of the Commandment).
A Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem
The meaning of the term Bar (son) and Bat (daughter) Mitzvah (commandment)
implies the importance of this milestone in the life of a young Jewish person,
since this is the age when they assume responsibility for his or her own
actions and faith in God.
Boys have their Bar Mitzvah at age 13, while girls have their Bat Mitzvah at 12.
While some believe the Bat Mitzvah (daughter) ceremony is a fairly recent
innovation, likely arising in the 1920s in America, there is archival evidence
from the Great Synagogue in Rome dating 2300 years ago, that young
woman were called up in the synagogue before the entire community to
publicly mark their coming of age.
Bat-Mitzvah Girl: This young woman is reading from on open Torah scroll
before the entire congregation on her Bat Mitzvah. Behind her is the Aron
Kodesh with its doors wide open. In this special closet, also called an Ark,
these valuable handwritten Torah scrolls are safely stored.
Unlike Reform and Conservative Judaism, most Orthodox Jewish
communities still don’t accept the Bat (daughter) Mitzvah ceremony,
though some inroads are being made.
A ceremony isn’t necessary to mark this event; in Judaism, this is the
age when a child becomes a son or daughter of the commandment
and crosses over into adolescence.
Fathers actually rejoice because they are no longer responsible to God for
the sins of their sons. The boy is now responsible for his own actions.
Among the many beautiful prayers of the day, this one is prayed by the
“Baruch sh’ptarani m’onsho shel zeh. Blessed is He who frees me from the
penalties due to this one.”
While such a prayer may seem startling, this blessing helps prevent children
from becoming stuck in the holding pattern of blame, putting them firmly
on the path of becoming healthy adults who can accept responsibility for
their own actions.
This Bar-Mitzvah boy from Maoz Zion (a town near
Jerusalem), is wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin
(black straps with boxes containing Scripture), and holding a
siddur (prayer book). The honor of wearing the tallit and
tefillin for the first time is extended at the Bar Mitzvah.
Why Bar Mitzvah and not Ben Mitzvah?
While the Hebrew word for son is ben, the Aramaic word for son is bar.
Mitzvah (commandment) is both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Aramaic was the language Jews spoke in Babylon and Israel, and Yeshua
(Jesus) likely spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and even Greek as it was the
common language of the day.
Yeshua’s famous words spoken in agony on the cross were in Aramaic:
Eli Eli L-mah-Na Sa’a-Ba’ach-Ta’a-Ni, which means My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?
It’s thought by some scholars that the book of Matthew and perhaps all of
New Covenant (New Testament) was originally written in Aramaic.
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New Covenant Relevance
“And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the
custom of the Feast [Passover].” (Luke 2:42 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
We learn in the New Covenant (New Testament) that Yeshua (Jesus) was
12-years-old when he held Himself accountable for His own relationship
with God. He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
He made this statement when His parents, Yosef (Joseph) and Miriam
(Mary), thought He was lost as they returned by caravan to their hometown
of Natzeret (Nazareth) from their Passover visit to Jerusalem.
When they finally tracked Yeshua down, they found Him where any ‘good
Jewish Bar Mitzvah boy’ was likely to be—in the Temple conversing with
the rabbis and scholars.
This particular student, however, was unlike any other. He amazed the
rabbis with his understanding, wisdom and knowledge of drashah (teaching).
“After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the
teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard
Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
The fact that this is the only recorded event of Yeshua’s childhood
demonstrates its importance.
Yeshua is the ideal example of what a Bar Mitzvah should ideally be about:
becoming a perfect son of the Father’s commandments (Bar Mitzvah).
Isn’t this the cry of every godly mother and father’s heart for their sons and
daughters—that they would receive the Word of God and be obedient to
“My son, if you accept My words and store up My commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you
look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you
will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
(Proverbs 2:1-5 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
A Bar-Mitzvah boy is reciting the Torah reading using a yad (Torah pointer)
to keep his place.
Historical Background of the Bar Mitzvah
The Bar Mitzvah ceremony didn’t become commonplace until the
Middle Ages as an official initiation for boys into adolescence and Jewish
Because there is no specific Scriptural reference to the Bar Mitzvah, its
historical background is rather difficult to trace. We do learn from the
ancient writings of the Rabbis, however, that the age of 12 or 13 was
considered the age of accountability.
By 13, a Jewish boy would usually have completed his early Hebrew and
religious studies, though study of the Scriptures is to continue throughout a
Jewish person’s life.
At that age, the child was expected to assume more duties and
responsibilities of religious life such as celebrating the feasts of the Lord,
fasting on fast days, and wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) in the synagogue.
Before this time, the parents would generally assume all responsibility for the
child’s actions, vows, discipline and religious training. However, these
things begin to transition to the child at this time, which is marked by this
Western Wall Bar Mitzvah: This young man (left)
reads from the Torah as the adults look on. The
Torah scroll is encased in a fabulous, ornate mantle
that is crafted from silver, gold and expensive fabric.
Bar Mitzvahs Today
Preparing for a Bar Mitzvah takes considerable time, cost, and effort on
behalf of the parents.
It’s well worth this investment, since the ceremony itself is both beautiful
and significant as the child leads a portion of the synagogue service.
Jewish children who prepare for this ceremony spend several months to a
year in synagogue and Hebrew school studies training for this ceremony to
chant their allotted Haftorah portion (Prophetic portion of Scripture),
prayers and blessings.
Hebrew prayers may include the traditional Shema (“Hear O Israel” from
Deuteronomy 6:4 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
), the Amidah (The Standing Prayer/ 18 Benedictions),
Adon Olam (Lord of the Universe) and various Psalms.
Torah scroll covered by a lavish mantle: To pay
respect to the Torah, people reach out to touch it
with their tallit (prayer shawl) or siddur (prayer
book) while it’s paraded through the congregation.
After this special liturgy, the child chants the weekly reading (Parsha and
Haftorah) from the Torah and Prophets in beautiful traditional Jewish melodies.
These musical notes that accompany the reading is called the cantillation.
These melodies are so ancient, they are believed to date all the way back to
the time of Moses!
The Bar Mitzvah child is also given a very special honor during the ceremony.
Just before reading the Scriptures, the cantor (worship leader) or father
opens the Aron Kodesh (Ark) containing the Torah scrolls and places the
scroll in the arms of the child.
As blessings are chanted, the child leads a holy processional down the aisles
of the synagogue while holding the Torah scroll.
It’s common practice for people to show their reverence for the Word of
God by reaching out to the scroll and touching its mantle with their tallit
(prayer shawl) or siddur (prayer book).
On the occasion of the Bar or Bar Mitzvah, the child
often receives a Bible, Kiddish cup or Shabbat
candlesticks as a gift from the congregation.
After the Scripture reading or chanting, which is selected from the yearly
cycle of Torah readings closest to the child’s birth date, the Bar Mitzvah
child gives their own ‘Drash’ (commentary on the Word), usually followed
by a speech during which they also thank family and friends.
It often can be an incredibly moving and inspiring experience to hear deep
and spiritual insights from a young teenager.
The synagogue or congregation usually gives a gift: a Bible or religious item
such as an engraved Kiddush cup for a Bar Mitzvah boy or the first pair of
Shabbat candlesticks to a Bat Mitzvah girl.
Quite often, a reception or party follows the ceremony. Gifts (often of
money in multiples of 18 which symbolizes the Hebrew word ‘chai’ meaning
‘life’), a delectable spread of food, and Israeli folk dancing characterize the event.
It’s so much like a wedding reception that during the dancing, the bar
mitzvah boy or girl can be hoisted up on a chair and joyously paraded
around the room as is done with the bride and groom during their reception.
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Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall
For people who live outside of Israel, some Jewish parents go all out and
bring their family to Israel to celebrate their child’s Bar Mitzvah at the
Western (Wailing) Wall, also known as the Kotel.
This is a very special time, and it’s so meaningful to hold such a significant
ceremony in Jerusalem at the site where the ancient Holy Temple stood!
The air is “electric” with excitement, singing and rejoicing. There can be a
number of Bar Mitzvahs going on at the same time.
It’s also inspiring to see Orthodox boys wrapping tefillin around their arms
and strapping them to their foreheads as they say prayers.
Tefillin are black straps that have two small black boxes with verses of
Scripture in them, which serve as a reminder that the words of the Torah
should always be before our eyes, in our hearts, and guiding our actions.
The Western Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is a meaningful place to have a
Bar Mitzvah, since it is so close to where the Temple once stood. The men’s
part of the wall is on the left side of this photo and women’s part of the wall
is on the right. In this photo it is separated by the flag of Israel.
Putting on tefillin is biblical in origin. (Deuteronomy 6:5 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on
your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you
sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when
you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your
foreheads.“ (Deuteronomy 6:5-8 [show/hide]ERROR: You have exceeded your quota of 5000 requests per day. Please contact the developer of this application if you have questions. (If you're the developer and have questions about this error message, please contact Crossway.)
In ceremonies at the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Bar Mitzvah boy reads his
Haftorah portion and then parades the Torah around the men’s area of the
Western Wall while others follow.
Because women are not allowed on the men’s side of the Wall, they are
often seen standing on their tiptoes on chairs peering over the partition to
watch the activities of their sons, brothers, or nephews.
The women participate by cheering the Bar Mitzvah child on from the
sidelines and also by showering them with candies after they finish their
Haftorah portion (prophetic portion of the reading).
Hand of a Bar-Mitzvah boy wrapped in tefillin while praying at the Western
(Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a copy of the
Messianic Prophecy Bible was in the hands of every Jewish person?
Messianic Adaptations of the Bar Mitzvah
Followers of Messiah Yeshua sometimes find having a Bar Mitzvah problematic.
Traditional synagogues, even conservative or reform, are often unwilling to
host a Bar Mitzvah ceremony for a child from a Messianic Jewish family.
In Israel, as well as in the Diaspora, the growing number of Messianic
Congregations makes it possible to hold the ceremony in the company of
other followers of Yeshua, where these children can openly declare their
faith in Yeshua as the Promised Messiah of Israel.
The Messianic Bar Mitzvah for the young person who believes in Yeshua
haMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) is distinctive, as it usually reflects the
child’s personal commitment to Him.
Recently, here in Israel, a young girl named Liat had her own Bat Mitzvah.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was the blessing imparted upon her by
the Ro’eh Kehilla (shepherd of the congregation) along with all the elders,
who also prophetically spoke destiny into her life.
Messianic Bar and Bat Mitzvahs reflect the love of
God’s word, and the commitment to wholeheartedly
follow Yeshua (Jesus).
Liat was presented with a ‘True Love Waits’ pendant, accompanied by
prayers that God would help her maintain her purity and innocence until she
enters into a holy marriage covenant under the chuppah (traditional canopy
over a bride and groom at a Jewish wedding).
As followers of Yeshua, we are each sons and daughters of the Living God.
As we grow to maturity in our faith, may we be living examples of people
who keep His commandments and live in His grace.
While some Jewish people today regard the Bar Mitzvah simply as a
ceremony or ritual to be performed, others attach to it great meaning and
Unfortunately, here in Israel some Messianic youth are being persecuted
for being Jews who believe in Yeshua (Jesus).
Many children who have had Messianic Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are ostracized at
school and in their communities.
Some have even been beaten up for their faith, but you can stand with them,
as they profess Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah of Israel.
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