A Judaism for G+ News Brief: What is a Bar Mitzvah?
Usual disclaimers apply. I'm not a Rabbi, I'm more of a student. I'm also a parent to three boys and a girl, and I know a little about this subject from experience. For more details, please CYLOR (consult your local Orthodox Rabbi). Nothing here is meant to proselytize, but only to enlighten and dispel misconceptions and myths, as appropriate.
So tomorrow, 13 solar years ago, our youngest son was born. Happy Birthday, youngest son!
His birth was very special, as they all are - but this was extra special. We thought we were done having kids. But then we became observant of Torah, and decided we would have one more. (It's a lot longer story than that, but this will do for now). Our next youngest, the twins, were already seven when YS (Youngest Son) was born. He is our only FFB (Frum from Birth) child - "frum" means "observant." All of our other kids and us were baalei teshuvah - that is, we returned to Jewish observance after having been non-observant.
YS has never had non-kosher food, other than special baby formula that was questionable. (He needed it to stay alive, so of course it is permissible.) He has kept the Sabbath all his life. He has studied Hebrew since age 3, Torah since age 5, and Talmud since age 10.
Now, tomorrow is his "English" birthday - he turns 13 on the Gregorian calendar. But the more important date is the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul - which is a week from tomorrow - September 2 - this year. 18 Elul is YS's Hebrew birthday.
And on that day he will become a Bar Mitzvah.
Wait, isn't a Bar Mitzvah a big party?
Nope. A Bar Mitzvah (Aramaic for "Son of the Commandment") is a young man, aged 13 years and one day, and he's a bonafide adult according to Jewish law. That means he is obligated in all of the commandments, and entitled to all of the benefits of Jewish adulthood. He can enter contracts. He can get married. He can serve on an informal court and act as a witness. He counts toward the minimum requirement of 10 men needed for public prayer.
The origins of the Bar Mitzvah are rather obscure and found only in the Talmud.
(The party on his Hebrew birthday, and the birthday itself, is called a Bo Bayom. The party to celebrate his becoming a Bar Mitzvah is called a Simchas Bar Mitzvah - Hebrew for "Bar Mitzvah Party.")
On the Shabbos following his Bo Bayom he will be called up to the Torah at morning services. He will read the weekly Torah portion, he will read the complementary piece from the Prophets, and he will lead the Mussaf (additional) service. And he'll give a speech about the Torah portion.
Right after the morning service, the community will share with us in a big Kiddush - lots of food, herring, cholent, (a special stew for Shabbos), desserts, and beverages.
That night, there will be a big party at our house with his friends - a game truck, pizza, ice cream, and candy!
He's worked very hard preparing for his special day. We're very proud of him. And of course we love him very much - and even though Jewish law says he's an adult, he's still our YS.