A Jewish boy is considered to be a man at the age of thirteen and is from this age onwards responsible for himself in keeping to the Jewish Law. Bar Mitzvah means literally “son of commandment”. Likewise, a girl is considered mature enough at twelve to hold responsibility for keeping to the commandments. Bat Mitzvah means “a daughter of commandment”.
On the day of a son’s Bar Mitzvah, a father can make the blessing “Blessed art though O L-rd, G-d, who has exempted me from the punishment of this one”. In other words, the onus of keeping the Jewish Law is transferred on this day of the Bar Mitzvah from the father to the son. Likewise, a girl receives responsibility for her actions from the age of twelve, since girls tend to mature around a year before boys.
From this day, a boy is obliged to wear phylacteries (tefillin) and attend a quorum (minyan) for his three daily prayers. Girls and boys are obliged to fast on Yom Kippur and other fasts from this age. They can own properties, act as witnesses and get married (according to the Jewish Law, alone).
Throughout the ages, it was customary for the father to make a celebratory meal (Seudat Mitzvah) for a Bar Mitzvah and some communities held similar more modest practices for a Bat Mitzvah.
The Bar Mitzvah boy is traditionally given his first call (Aliyah) to the Torah reading in the synagogue at his Bar Mitzvah. Thus, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a “coming of age” and a milestone in one’s religious life. This is a time of great joy for parents, who see that their child has flourished and survived the diseases of childhood and can now demonstrate adulthood by keeping to the Jewish commandments. Some Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s give a speech of Jewish content, read the Torah portion and/or the Haftarah (short selection from the Prophets, read on the Sabbath after the Torah portion).
Many parents rejoice in that they have succeeded in providing their child with a good Jewish education, despite the significant daily persuading and pushing, costs, car pools and investment of time and energy required to make it happen.
However, in the larger less-conforming Jewish society, the aforementioned aspects were never much appreciated and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah has become the equivalent of a Communion, a College Graduation, a School graduation or other reason for a party. Much more emphasis is placed on the party details, the invitation, the dress style, the musical band and the venue.
Moreover, if a neighbor’s/friend’s child had a certain style Bar Mitzvah, then this puts peer pressure on the parents to provide an equivalent “do” to match the previous one.
It has become standard Bar/Bat Mitzvah practice to make a large photo-montage, a photo album, a PowerPoint presentation of the child’s life and video of the party. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is newly clothed from top to toe and the siblings receive suitable matching gear. The whole family undergoes a practical Photoshop with hairdos, nail varnish, cosmetic dentistry, makeup and anything else to make the visual evidence of the party, highly esthetic.
Kosher caterers sometimes over create the kosher catering services in order to please the clients wishes.
Let’s try to re-emphasize the significance!