Bar Mitzvah Traditions
Bar Mitzvahs are steeped in tradition. But while
your son is busy practicing their Haftara, do
you really remember what this rite of passage
is all about? From Shabbat service to Seudat Mitzvah,
here's your own refresher course.
This rite of passage usually occurs when a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13. The words Bar Mitzvah translate to "son of the commandment," and refer to a time when a child reaches the level of maturity where he or she can be responsible for oneself and one's actions according to Jewish law.
Depending on the type of Jewish faith practiced -- Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or Hasidic -- a boy may celebrate his Bar Mitzvah by performing traditional rituals during Shabbat (Hebrew for "Sabbath") service. This type of service is usually scheduled for the first Saturday after the boy's 13th birthday.
The first aliyah (meaning "going up" in Hebrew) refers to the first time a Jewish boy performs ritual observances during services. These observances can include: reciting a traditional Jewish blessing; reading from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible); reciting the Haftarah (a reading from The Prophets, which also includes a traditional chant); presenting a Drash (a short speech, which usually starts "Today I am a man"); and leading part of the prayer services.
The Tallit and Yarmulke
Traditional Bar Mitzvah attire for a Jewish boy includes a yarmulke (a small cap), which is traditionally worn by all males in attendance, and a tallit (a traditional Jewish prayer shawl) that can be worn over a suit.
Bar Mitzvah Gifts
Gifts for a Jewish boy are usually given at the reception and may come in monetary form in multiples of 18 (a Hebrew number considered to be very lucky in Jewish tradition).
The Seudat Mitzvah is a "mitzvah meal" that may take place in the hall of a synagogue, or at another venue. Depending on budget, a Seudat Mitzvah may be similar to a wedding reception, complete with a DJ, florist, photographer, and a 100-plus guest list. No matter what form the celebration takes, the meal served is usually kosher.
After guests have settled into their seats for the celebration, a rabbi will give a Motzi (a traditional Jewish blessing) over the hallah (a braided loaf of egg bread) before the meal is served.
Candle Lighting Ceremony
At the reception, the celebrant usually honors family members and friends by lighting up to 14 candles (13 plus one for good luck) for each honoree, beginning with the grandparents. Before lighting each candle, the celebrant may also make a small speech describing how each person affected his life thus far.
This celebratory circle dance, also popular at weddings, hoists the Jewish boy celebrating his Bar Mitzvah onto a chair high above the guests. After the celebrant is given his due, siblings and parents may also be hoisted up in chairs.
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