Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bar & Bat Mitzvah: Thoughts and History


We refer to some events in life as rites of passage. They are unique moments of transition in which we journey from one reality to another.  For millennia we have used the term milestone to describe moments; not merely stones marking distances between linear points of a journey, but moments and events in our lives that mark turning points in our awareness and responsibilities.

Psychologists speak of a specific moment in an infant’s development in which he or she realizes that he or she is not, in fact, the center of the world. The infant learns that when Mommy goes out of sight, she has not ceased to exist but needs to be elsewhere at that moment.  Our hope is that by means of a meaningful journey to Bar and Bat Mitzvah, our children will mature in their perspectives and realize that they are in a world that requires something of them.  We want them to see their relationships to family members, friends and strangers as sacred encounters and as opportunities to bring light where it is dimmed, peace where there is conflict.  Our hope is that our children will be enriched by their Jewish heritage so that they can enrich the world in their lifetimes.

Nineteen hundred years ago, a sage, Judah ben Tema, found that life would be defined by action and that the responsibility for one’s actions would coincide with physical maturity.  He, like the countless sages and rabbis after him, did not want a child’s body to evolve from child to adult without the heart and mind following suit.  Judah ben Tema decided that thirteen was the appropriate age to call a boy a man.

Reform Judaism, which began in Germany in the early 1800’s, pioneered the inclusion of women in an equal role in religious life. Yet it is only in the twentieth century that women began to celebrate coming of age religiously with a Bat Mitzvah ceremony.  Some communities conduct Bat Mitzvahs at age thirteen in the interest of gender equality and othes recognize the differences in adolescent development by conducting Bat Mitzvahs at age twelve.  Our congregation will confer the title of Bat Mitzvah on a girl anytime after age twelve.