It is hard to dispute that Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are very important in the Jewish community.
While there a lot of new types of ceremonies they continue to be a pivotal part of a Jewish person’s life.
So much time, preparation and money go into making sure this event goes on without a hitch.
Since history has always fascinated me, and I am currently getting a degree which requires me to be aware of how history affects us in the present day, I thought it would be fitting to research the history of an event that was monumental in my life.
I read various sources which said somewhat varying things but here are some of the things I learned
History of the Bar Mitzvah
The word Bar Mitzvah is comprised of the word Bar which is an Aramaic word that means “son of” and Mitzvah which means commandments.
In the beginning of the Mitzvah’s history, there were only Bar Mitzvahs. It was not until much later that Bat Mitzvah became a popular event and started to be celebrated.
Growing up I kind of knew this but it was not until I did my research that I learned that there is no mention in the Tanakh or Torah of the modern version of a Bat Mitzvah or even a Bar Mitzvah.
There was also no mention of a certain age signifying manhood.
It was believed that manhood and its practices would occur when the child was mentally ready and that at age 20 a man would be eligible for war and taxation.
For me, this was interesting because I then began to wonder where the age 13 came from.
The first mention of the age thirteen was seen in the Mishnah, but it was with a different context.
It was one of taking a vow, saying that the age 13 was when a boy could start taking a vow and have it be valid. It was mentioned the same 12 for a girl.
In the late Middle Ages there started to be restrictions.
This meant boys could not be called up” to the reading of the Torah or wear tefillin.
It was when this started to occur that there started to be an important distinction between childhood and adulthood.
By the 13th or 14th century it started to be customary to call a boy up to read the Torah during his 13th birthday as the way of recognizing his entry into adulthood.
Thus demonstrating the beginning of the ceremony we have today.
More religious aspects were added to the ceremony when people in Poland started to incorporate the drasha into their ceremony.
There also started to be tutors to help the student in special occasions, like if it landed on Shabbat.
Later on in its history (still during the middle ages ) after the reading of the Torah and the father’s blessing a celebratory meal came into play.
The celebration meal was the evidence of a home celebration of a Bar Mitzvah, which later developed into what is the present day Bar Mitzvah party.
The first account of a Bar Mitzvah Party was seen in Germany during the 16th century.
History of Bat Mitzvah
As discussed before the Jewish tradition declared a girl comes into adulthood at the age of 12.
Yet, this transition was not celebrated in the synagogue because in the early years women did not take part in the public reading of the Torah except as listeners in.
It was not until later in history that the first known synagogue coming of age ceremony was performed in Berlin during 1817.
That being said, before this in Italy and France there were already some coming ceremonies for girls.
It is said that the Bat Mitzvah was developed from the Jewish confirmation ceremonies that happened in the 19th century.
Oral reports have mentioned Bat Mitzvah ceremonies occurred throughout mostly Eastern Europe.
During my research I found out that is was a lot easier to find the origins of the Bar Mitzvah than the Bat and there was a lot less scholarly investigation on it.
I noticed that what people classified as a Bat Mitzvah really changed what they considered to be the first Bat Mitzvah.
I think that while I learned a lot about the history of this event what I really impacted me was the knowledge that there is not just one way of celebrating them.
There is for sure a traditional way to but now in the present day, a lot of nontraditional ceremonies are taking place.
It was really cool to see how they have developed throughout the century.
If you want to see one of my main sources for this post go here