Bar Mitzvah, literally "Son of the Commandments," is a Jewish rite of passage at age 13 for a boy. The idea behind the Bar Mitzvah ceremony is that the boy is old enough to follow the commandments as an adult does-as an obligation. Children are not obligated by commandments; they don't "have to" fast on Yom Kippur, for example.
Once a boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah (the traditional way of saying it is "becomes a Bar Mitzvah"), he is old enough to understand and accept the obligations of the commandments, and he is proud to have the obligation. The traditional ritual marking a boy's becoming a Bar Mitzvah is for him to read from the Torah in a Torah service in Synagogue. Only Jewish adults may read from Torah at a Torah service, so this marks his first time doing so as an adult.
The Bar Mitzvah boy will learn some Biblical text and lead some prayers with it at a Torah Service. He may also need to make a speech about the meaning of his particular Torah portion. This usually happens on Saturday morning, but traditional Torah readings also happen on Saturday evening and Monday and Thursday mornings.
Kids who are not adept at Hebrew, or who want some creative leeway may end up with a time other than Saturday morning. Some congregations also do them on Friday nights. Follow the traditions of your particular Synagogue in planning a time for the service. As for fees, some Synagogues expect the family to contribute to the Kiddush fund to help pay for the food after the service, the flowers for decorating the Bimah or some other associated donation. Be sure to find out ahead of time what your particular Synagogue expects.
A Bar Mitzvah has come to mean more than the Jewish ritual and traditional religious ceremony. It also means there will be a celebration of some kind. Here are some suggestions for planning a Bar Mitzvah celebration without being overwhelmed.
The Night Before. Guests who come in from out of town could be invited to a dinner on Friday night or the night before the ceremony. This is usually casual and is also optional.
The Post-Ceremony Lunch. Usually, everyone who has been invited to the Bar Mitzvah will be invited to lunch afterwards. Plenty of places advertise as Bar Mitzvah venues, and some have Kosher meal preparation or hire caterers who handle Kosher meals. Choose a venue that is appropriate for the number of guests, affordable, and is willing to work with your needs.
Some people have a separate menu for adults and kids, as kids are usually happy with less expensive foods like pasta or pizza, and adults prefer a more sophisticated menu. That doesn't mean you have to go gourmet. A large salad bar with tuna, egg salad, smoked fish, fresh fruit and soup could be a very lovely lunch.
Some families have the main entertainment at this lunch event. Others have a nighttime celebration just for the friends of the Bar Mitzvah boy at a bowling lane, roller rink, or restaurant. If you choose to have a night party, pizza, wings, dessert or other casual food offerings are generally fine.
Entertainment. Many Bar Mitzvah parties feature a Bar Mitzvah dj spinning music and encouraging the guests to dance and play Bar Mitzvah games. The games are usually some kind of party game, such as the Limbo, or other funny contests designed to have the guests interacting and having fun.
A Tribute. It's nice to have a tribute to the Bar Mitzvah boy. This could be anything from a speech about how proud you are of him, followed by his thanking everyone for being important in his life. You can also have a slide show or video showing pictures of him at significant moments of his life, although you may want to consult with him about which pictures to use and let him have feedback on the tribute in general.
Key Guests. No matter how large your party, be sure to prepare invitations weeks in advance. Don't forget to send the Rabbi and Cantor invitations, and, if the Bar Mitzvah boy had a tutor helping him learn his part, it's important to invite him or her as well.
What About Young Women? A Bat Mitzvah is the female version of a Bar Mitzvah, "Daughter of the Commandments." Not all Jewish girls have a Bat Mitzvah, but most Jewish boys have a Bar Mitzvah. Girls and women are not obligated by the same commandments as men are, so a Bat Mitzvah ceremony is not a given for some Jewish girls.
If you're getting stressed from all the party prep, just remember that the day is a Jewish milestone, not a reason to overdo it. It's a celebration of taking on Jewish responsibility and a chance for family and friends to get together.
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