The State of California’s Unofficial Jewish Ethnic Studies Program: Session III: A Ten Commandments’ Project

many ethnic groups have rites of passage into adulthood. the jewish people’s rite of passage is called a “bnei mitzvah.” a rough translation is child of the commandment or law. it is a called “bat mitzvah” for girls and “bar mitzvah” for boys. jewish children, at approximately 12-13 years of age, will undergo this rite of passage.

in california, bar and bat mitzvahs take place all over the state. a comedy film, “keeping up with the steins” depicted a los angeles area bar mitzvah.

while bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies can vary based upon religious observance and ethnicity, the commonality in the celebration is the focus on the child’s emergence via their literacy to becoming a jewish adult. this literacy includes knowledge of the hebrew language, rules, practices and customs. it involves attaining skills in being able to read from the torah and perform certain prayers and blessings.

thus, to be bar or bat mitzvahed, one must study. some people study for up to one year. students often have a tutor that assists them through the process. the study can include learning the hebrew language, learning the prayers, and learning how to chant the both the torah and haftorah. also, jewish concepts and beliefs will be discussed. one very common concept is the obligation to perform charitable acts. in their preparation, they will most likely be asked to prepare a speech.

bar and bat mitzvahs will take place as part of a typical religious torah service. many bnei mitzvahs take place on the sabbath or saturday. in the service, the child will be asked to come forward during the torah reading service to make the blessing for reading the torah. this blessing is called an aliyah. in english, it means coming up. the child will then also be asked to read from the torah. they will also be asked to read from a supplemental text, called the haftorah, which is a reading from another part of the bible. finally, the child will be asked to make a speech. it will usually be a discussion about something they learned from their torah reading.

after the conclusion of the service, many families will have have celebrations. family, friends and fellow classmates often attend.

becoming an adult in the jewish community means that a child is now able to be counted. adults, depending upon the denomination, are counted for the purposes of forming a “minyan”. a “minyan” consists of 10 people and it is the minimum number required to conduct certain religious services. thus, a bnei mitzvah, at age 12-13, now plays an important role in the community. additionally, as an adult, they are subject to all of the rules and regulations within the religion.

discussion questions:

are you aware of other rites of passage? what are they?

what does it mean to be an adult?

why do you think that the ages 12-13 were chosen along time ago to designate adulthood?

why does a community consider literacy an important part of adulthood?

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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