Bar and Bat Mitzvah: Jewish youths step boldly, faithfully into adulthood

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 11:35 a.m. MDT

At Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, the celebrations tend to be much more traditional, although even within the tradition of the bar and bat mitzvah there is built-in variance.

“Boys,” the rabbi said, “traditionally read from the Torah and in some cases also give a talk about what it means to enter adulthood or what message they derived from their Torah reading. Some boys also lead part of the service.”

Girls, on the other hand, will focus on the significance of entering into womanhood. For Sarahle, that will mean preparing centerpieces and making a presentation based on the theme of the three women’s mitzvot.

Fathers also have a role in the bar mitzvah ceremony, one that most fathers anxiously embrace, Rabbi Zippel said.

“There is a prayer that is recited by the father,” he explained. “The father says, ‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, that you have redeemed me — or freed me — from the liability of this young man.’

“As long as the boy is ‘katan,’ or a minor, he is learning,” Rabbi Zippel continued. “If transgressions are committed, they are owned by the parent. If the boy sins, it is the parents’ fault. But at nightfall on the day before your birthday, the boy becomes bar mitzvah, and he becomes accountable for himself and his own obedience to the law.

“Parents like that,” he added, smiling.

While there is not a similar prayer in the bat mitzvah ceremony, Sharonne said they haven't had much to worry about in that respect with regards to Sarahle.

“Sarahle lives her life, on a daily basis, constantly imbued and enriched with the values of Judaism," Sharonne said. "So there won’t be so much of a noticeable physical change once she becomes bat mitzvah, but more of a personal, inner change."

And watching her daughter grow through this period of preparation makes her happy — and proud. “Watching her grow and mature into a lovely young woman,” she said, “is quite an emotional celebration for the whole family.”

For her part, Sarahle said she is excited for her bat mitzvah, “and not just for the party and family that's coming.”

“I’m excited because now I’ll be considered an adult, according to the Torah,” she said, “and I can do the same things in Jewish life as my mother and sister.”

And that’s just as it should be, Rabbi Zippel said.

“Just like the bond between parent and son or parent and daughter can never be removed, so too is the bond between God and his people,” he said. “Through this process, young people enter into a relationship with God, who is the commander of the mitzvah. This is a bond that can never be removed from them.

“It is not determined by a ceremony,” Rabbi Zippel continued. “It is not determined by knowledge. It is not determined by the level of religious observance. It is simply a state of being.”

The state of being a son or daughter of commandment.

Email: jwalker@desnews.com

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