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by: Rabbi Dan S. Wiko PhD
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On Wednesday, September 13, 2006 I was asked the following question:

Dear Rabbi Dan,

Is it true that although boys celebrates their bar mitzvahs on Saturday at Shabbat services, girls can only celebrate their bat mitzvahs on Friday night? If so, why is this the case?

This was my response:

Dear Reader,

"Bar Mitzvah" is one of the most commonly misunderstood observances in Judaism. The term, literally, means "son of the commandments" (bat = daughter of.........). A boy becomes obligated at the age of 13 and a girl at the age of 12, to accept Judaic teachings. Fundamentally, that is the sum total of bar/bat mitzvah.

Celebrating this milestone with the boy reading the haftorah portion of the week has become the traditional way of entering this phase of life. Since the Torah is read on Shabbat, Mondays and Thursdays and on Rosh Chodesh (new month), theoretically, he can celebrate this passage on any one of those days closest to his 13th birthday. If, for some reason, he is incapable of reading, he can deliver a speech on a related topic and satisfy the tradition. If, G-D forbid, he is totally incapable, he is still a bar mitzvah.

Since girls/women aren't permitted on the Bima in Orthodox synagogues, the Bat Mitzvah is often held on Sunday morning or Friday evening. The girl delivers her presentation from the floor of the shul rather than from the Bima. This is the Orthodox way. (some) Conservative and (all) Reform congregations do allow for girls to celebrate their passage during the Shabbat Service.

Nothing is required other than that the boys and girls have reached those prescribed ages. The rest is a expression of acceptance by the bar/bat mitzvot. The elaborate parties? they make for the topic of yet another question.

If you have questions about a personal matter, or jewish practices and customs, you can submit them to me by e-mail. I answer all queries directly, or through this column, when the question is informative to our community.

Thank you for your kind attention and this opportunity to share with you,
Rabbi Dan S. Wiko
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