When a boy reaches the age of 13, it is believed in the eyes of the Jewish religion that he is now an adult and thus becomes fully responsible for his own actions. He becomes Bar Mitzvah (son of the commandment) automatically this is because in the Mishnah is says, “Thirteen is the age for the fulfilment of the commandments.” However, a girl is believed to mature earlier so their ceremony, the Bat Mitzvah (daughter of the commandments) occurs automatically at the age of 12. The main significance of both the Bat/Bar Mitzvah is that the child now becomes fully responsible for fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Torah.
There is no written or oral command that a Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony must take place or that the child must even say prayers before a Torah reading. The child will simply become Bat/Bar Mitzvah by just having the appropriate birthday, whether they attend the synagogue or not. The development of the secondary sexual characteristics associated with puberty is connected with the classification of the new era a Jewish child is preparing to enter into. Theoretically a minimum of two pubic hairs is necessary for adulthood but in practice, age is sufficient. The celebrations acknowledge the physical and emotional changes that they are going through by making them feel important and giving them a new position within the community whilst symbolising the new relationship with them and their parents.
Both are a cause for celebration in the Jewish community as they mark the end of the first stage in the education of a Jewish child and bring them to the point where they can now fulfil the mitzvoth of their own accord. Such a celebration signifies the acceptance of the Jewish values that the family has attempted to transmit. For both sexes, it is believed to be a valuable way of reinforcing identification with Judaism and encouraging continual practice and study of the faith.
As of this day, the boy could be called up at any time to read the whole or part of the Torah portion, which is believed to be a great privilege. In addition to the main feature of the Bat/Bar Mitzvah person reading the weekly Torah portion (sidra) on the morning of the Sabbath they may also say the blessings both before and after. The person is responsible for the whole Torah reading rather than just the last few verses, which is common in Orthodox synagogues. In many synagogues they will then read the Haftorah (weekly reading from the Prophets) as well as its blessings. In some synagogues they will give a short explanation of the Torah reading and maybe deliver a sermon from their Jewish studies. In addition, many will lead prayers or read The 10 Commandments out, in front of the Ark, with their parents stood behind them. In some synagogues the father will hand his child a Torah scroll to symbolise the tradition being passed from one generation to the next.
In the year prior to his Bar Mitzvah, a boy must learn Hebrew so that he will be able to read aloud in the synagogue. He must also learn how to put on the Tefillin, the tallit and the kippah that he must now wear for his daily morning prayer. The rabbi will teach him how to keep various other religious duties also, such as the fast at Yom Kippur that he will no longer be exempt from. Once a boy has become Bar Mitzvah he can be included as one of the minyan, required for synagogue prayers. These are some of the main rituals associated with a boy’s Bar Mitzvah celebration.
Until this point in a boy’s life his father has been responsible for ensuring his son had preformed his religious duties and during the ceremony this transference of responsibility is acknowledged by the father saying “Blessed is the one who has freed me from responsibility for the boy’s sins.” (Baruch Shepatrani). This doesn’t mean a father will stop caring for, or teaching his son, but the boy is now responsible for his own actions and their