#31 Bar/Bat Mitzvah

#31 Bar/Bat Mitzvah

The transition from childhood to adulthood — the “coming of age” of boys who become young men and girls who become young women — is a significant stepping stone in everyone’s life. Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בַּר מִצְוָה) and Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew: בַּת מִצְוָה) (Ashkanasic: “Bas Mitzvah”) (plural: B’nai mitzvah (for boys, B’not Mitzvah, Ashkanasic: “B’nos Mitzvah” for girls) are Jewish coming of age rituals. Bar (בַּר) is a Jewish Babylonian Aramaic word literally meaning ‘son’ (בֵּן), while bat (בַּת) means ‘daughter’ in Hebrew, and mitzvah(מִצְוָה) means ‘commandment’ or ‘law’. Thus bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah literally translate to “son of commandment” and “daughter of commandment”.


#1 WATCH: What to expect when attending a Bar or Bat Mitzvah


There are several customs that take place at a typical Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. The young person will participate in leading a prayer service and read from the Torah. He/she will deliver a speech which tells about the many things they have learned during their Jewish education and shares insights into the Torah reading of their week. Most who celebrate their Bar/Bar Mitzvah receive a talis (prayer shawl) and officially mark the transition from childhood to adult when they have an aliyah on the Torah reading. Judaism teaches that taking on more responsibility for one’s decisions and young life is a sign of transitioning into adulthood.

#3 WATCH: When Does Someone Become an Adult?

#4 STUDY: Coming of Age Traditions in other cultures

In the Brazilian Amazon, young boys belonging to the indigenous Sateré-Mawé tribe mark their coming of age when they turn 13 in a Bullet and Ant Initiation. The tradition goes as so: they search the jungle for bullet ants which are sedated by a leader who submerges them in an herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves with the stingers pointed inwards. An hour or so later, the ants wake up angrier than ever, and the initiation begins. Each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes.

Enduring the pain demonstrates the boys’ readiness for manhood — so few cry out as doing so would demonstrate weakness. Each boy will eventually wear the gloves 20 times over the span of several months before the initiation is complete.


In many parts of Mexico, Central and South America, young girls celebrate their Quinceanera when they turn 15 years old. The coming of age tradition typically begins with a Catholic mass where the girl renews her baptismal vows and solidifies her commitment to her family and faith. Immediately following the mass is a fiesta where friends and family eat and dance.

#5 WATCH: Initiation with Ants 

#6: Review and Response

1. What happens at a typical Bar/bat Mitzvah ceremony?
2. What is the meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
3. Why is it important to celebrate a Bar/Bat Mitzvah when you are a young Jewish person?
4. What is unique about Bar/Bat Mitzvah in comparison to other coming of age ceremonies?
5. Is there something special you would like to incorporate into your personal ceremony?

Need some help? We’re here for you. At any time, if you have any questions, please contact one of our teachers so we can help you. Also, at the end of the session, remember to review your responses in your Tamid Workbook so you can get credit for this lesson. Behatzlacha (Hebrew for good luck)! You can reach Sarah at (646)360-0689 or connect@tamidnyc.org