What is the difference between a Bar Mitzvah and a Bas Mitzvah celebration? Does one need to throw a major party for a Bas Mitzvah celebration?What happens to those who never had a Bas Mitzvah celebration? How do we plan a date for a Bar Mitzvah ceremony? Find out the answers to these type of questions as we learn the halachos of halachic adulthood.
Halachos pertaining to a Bar/Bas Mitzvah
A. Halachic Adulthood
1. The Mishna tells us that a person becomes fully obligated toobserve all mitzvos at the age of 13. (Avos) The Talmud explains thatthis refers to a male. A female reaches halachic maturity at the ageof 12.
2. Halachic works do not state anywhere WHY 13 should be regarded asthe age of adulthood for boys and 12 for girls. Rashi and RabbenuAsher state that the designation of these ages is a result of a directtradition going back to Mt. Sinai with no specific textual basis in Scripture or logical explanation.
3. Midrashic sources state that 13 is the crucial age of decision-making for young men. For example,
a) Yaakov and Esav were indistinguishable in their life-stylesuntil they turned 13. Yaakov began to devote himself to the study ofTorah, while Esav became an outright idol worshipper.
b) Until the age of 13, a child only posseses the evil inclinationwhich leads him to sin. Once he turns 13, he also receives his yetzer hatov. His capacity to do good and evil and to be responsible for his actions is only achieved at that stage of life. (Avos d’Rabbi Nasan)
c) Avraham categorically rejected the idol worship of his father Terach whenhe reached 13.
All these would be true for girls when they become Bas Mitzvah at 12.
4. For matters involving questions of Torah Law, age alone is not the sole determinant of halachic adulthood. Additional evidence of physical maturity is required, such as the appearance of a minimum of two pubic hairs on the body after the age of adulthood has been reached. (Orach Chaim)
5. For matters of Rabbinic Law, we rely on age alone as proof of adulthood.
6. Even when a question of Torah law is involved, we rely on age aloneas evidence of adulthood ONLY when doing so causes a stringency rather than a leniency for the individual concerned. (Orach Chaim)
a) a boy who has turned 13 may be counted in a minyan or be given an aliyah to the Torah, since these matters involve Rabbinic Law.
b) Boys of 13 and girls of 12 are required to fast on Yom Kippur, because fasting on Yom Kippur is Torah Law and is a stringency. By refusing to rely on age alone (and also rely on physical maturity) would result in a leniency.
7. Rule #6 applies to most mitzvos and laws. However there are exceptions. For example,
a) we do not accept a boy even above 13 as an adult to write Tefillin or Torah scrolls. Physical evidence is required, because relying on age alone would create a halachic leniency. It is a matter of Torah Law that for tefillin to be kosher, it must be written by an adult. Most poskim accept a full growth of facial hair on the beard as reliable proof of physical maturity in this case.
B. Date of Bar/Bas Mitzvah
1. In the eyes of Halacha, a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah and a girl becomes Bas Mitzvah when their 13th or 12th Hebrew birthdate arrives, with the nightfall of the previous day. This rule applies regardless of the time of day of the child’s birth. Once the day has begun, (nightfall of the previous day) the child is considered a full adult. (Mishna Berura)
2. One exception to this rule is when a child was born during twilight. Halacha regards it as unclear whether twilight is part of the preceding day or the next day, hence, a child born during this time MUST wait until the next day before being granted the status of a Jewish adult. (Mishna Berura)
3. A child’s 13th or 12th birthday must have actually begun for him/her to be considered an adult. If the date falls on Shabbos, this may cause a problem. In many communities whose custom is to bring Shabbos early and to recite Maariv on Friday evening before the time of actual nightfall, a Bar Mitzvah boy whose birthday falls on Shabbos may not serve as chazzan for Maariv because he only becomes an adult at nightfall and the prayer is recited before that time. (Orach Chaim, Magen Avraham)
4. In regards to leap years, where an additional 13th month (Adar II) is added to it, the following resolutions are followed for children whose birthdays fall in the month of Adar:
a) If a child was born in a leap year and his/her bar/bas mitzvah also occurs in a leap year, the actual birth date should be followed. E.g. if the child was born on in Adar I, then his adulthood also begins on the same date in Adar I. Similarly for birthdays in Adar II.
b) If the child was born in either Adar I or II of a leap year, but his/her bar/bas mitzvah occurs in a non-leap year, then his/her adulthood falls in the only Adar of that year. E.g. a child born on 1st Adar II, becomes an adult on the 1st of Adar, while another child born in the same year on 29th Adar II becomes an adult on 29th of Adar. Technically, the younger child becomes an adult before the older one.
c) If the child was born in a non-leap year, but his/her bar/bas mitzvah occurs in a leap year, then his/her adulthood is celebrated in Adar II, because Adar I is not considered the real month of Adar as it is merely an extra month inserted into the calendar to make the year into a leap year.
C. Bar Mitzvah Ceremony
1. According to strict Halacha, a boy automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah when he reaches 13. No ceremony or special action is necessary for him to enter into the state of adulthood. He simply becomes a Jewish adult by reaching the required age.
2. Despite this, the universal Jewish CUSTOM, however, has established a specific way to mark this important rite of passage in a boy’s life. The Bar Mitzvah boy is given an aliyah to the Torah, thus publicizing his emergence as a Jewish adult. (Magen Avraham)
3. The custom of giving an aliyah to a boy becoming Bar Mitzvah is so strong that he has precedence over all others except for a groom who is either about to e married or was just married in the previous week. (Shaarei Efraim) The Bar Mitzvah boy is only entitled to such a preference when his Bar Mitzvah ceremony is being held in the actual week of his 13th birthday. Otherwise, others such as those observing a yahrzeit that week have precedence over him.
4. It is nowhere specified which aliyah should be given to the BarMitzvah boy. It is not necessary to restrict him to only Maftir. According to some opinions, he can be given his aliyah on a weekday as just as well as Shabbos. (Shaarei Efraim) Magen Avraham states however that the accepted minhag (custom) is that the aliyah be given specifically on Shabbos. Later poskim has accepted this as the normative procedure. (Mishna Berura)
5. The father of a Bar Mitzvah boy is required to make a ‘Baruch Shepatrani’, a special beracha given at the time that his son receives an aliya to the Torah. (Rema) The purpose of this beracha can be interpreted in 2 different ways:
a) Magen Avraham explains that the father thanks HaShem that he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins. Until then, the father is bound by Chinuch obligations to see to it that his son does not sin.
b) Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe explains that the father thanks HaShem for having freed his son from being punished for the father’s sins, based on the idea that minors can be punished for the sins of their parents.
6. Some poskim decide in accordance to Rema that a father should leave out any mention of HaShem’s name and His Sovereignity when reciting ‘Baruch Shepatrani’, because this beracha is not mentioned in the Talmud and it is questionable whether a father is actually required to recite it. (Orach Chaim) The majority disagrees with Rema and prescribe that the beracha should be recited in the normal way because it is mentioned in Midrashic literature and can therefore be considered binding on the the father. (Mishna Berura)
[ Moderator’s Note: This is the first time I’ve encountered that the majority rule based on Midrash over Gemara! ]
7. Parents are required to make a seudah mitzvah (a feast made in fulfillment of a mitzvah) in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of their son. To properly do this, the meal should be made on the boy’s actual 13th birthday. However, parents may also fulfill this obligation on a day other than the boy’s actual birthday. As long as the Bar Mitzvah boy gives a divrei Torah (speech containing words of Torah), the occasion is transformed into a full seudas mitzvah. (Magen Avraham)
D. Bas Mitzvah
1. A girl automatically becomes a Bas Mitzvah when she reaches 12. No ceremony is required for her to achieve this change in legal status. She simply becomes an adult with the passing of time and the maturing of her body.
2. Historically, no ceremony was accepted to mark a girl’s Bas Mitzvah. She merely reaches her adulthood without much fuss or fanfare. Contemporay parents, however, often express the desire that something of a formal nature be done to mark this occasion. The girl herself too, often is desirous of such an event, even though they are all aware that Jewish Law and custom do not prescribe anything of this nature for a bas mitzvah.
3. It must be noted that a Bas Mitzvah girl cannot be given an aliyah to the Torah, because women cannot receive such synagogue honors. (Orach Chaim)
4. Some parents wish to have the BAs Mitzvah celebrated in the synagogue in some form, for e.g. the girl might address then congregation or receive a Bas Mitzvah present there. There seems to be no halachic prohibition on ceremonies of this kind. However,
a) Rabbi Moshe Feinstein argues that it is forbidden to hold such activities within the precincts of a synagogue, since Halacha does not demand a Bas Mitzvah ceremony, therefore such actions are not mitzvah-prescribed and are voluntary. Rabbi Feinstein rules that it is permissible for families to hold such a gathering at home. (Iggeres Moshe)
b) Rabbi Yechiel Weinberg states that a Bas Mitzvah ceremony has Torah value in today’s society, and that the ritual marking of a girl’s Jewish adulthood has an important effect in strengthening her dedication towards living a Torah life and mitzvos. He encourages such ceremonies but they should not be held in a the synagogue sanctuary itself, but rather in the hall of some other room of the synagogue. (Seridei Aish)
5. Many authorities agree that parents should hold a seudah mitzvah to mark their daughter’s Bas Mitzvah. (Aseh Lecha Rav) Others note that the prevailing custom is not to hold such a feast in honor of a bas mitzvah, but consider it appropriate to mark the day in some special way. (Ben Ish Chai)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is of the opinion that any celebration associated with a Bas Mitzvah is of a voluntary nature, therefore a meal held in honor the the occasion is not a seudas mitzvah, and there is no halachic imperative to hold a special event of any type to mark this occasion. (Iggeres Moshe)
6. Halachic authorities are virtually unanimous in agreeing that the beracha ‘Baruch Shepatrani’ should not be made when a girl reaches Bas Mitzvah, due to the following reasons:
a) Since there are fewer mitzvos that parents must train a girl to observe, there is no need to make this beracha when the girl becomes an adult (Peri Megadim)
b) Baruch Shepatrani is only called for when there is an obligation to teach a child Torah. Since women are exempt from this requirement, this beracha is not made when a girl becomes Bas Mitzvah. (Aseh Lecha Rav)
1. Parents are still obligated to influence and teach their children in regard to mitzvah observance long after they have reached Bar/Bas Mitzvah age because they still retain this as a SECONDAY obligation.
2. A Parent is required to observe the actions of his grown children and to try to stop them from doing wrong. If he is capable of doing so and does not attempt to, he is considered to be a sinner in his own right. (Shulchan Aruch)
3. The parental obligation of Chinuch, at least in its broader sense, is one which continues throughout the lifetime of every parent and every child.
May HKB”H continue to guide us in our path to a proper and successful chinuch for ourselves and our children. Amen.
 A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children Mitzvot by Rabbi Shmuel Singer