Bar/Bat Mitzvah
Son/Daughter of the Commandment

M y son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5).


One of the best known customs of the Jewish people is that of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Whether or not one is from a Jewish background, most people realize that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an important step in the life of a Jewish child. As the Hebrew/ Aramaic name implies (bar is Aramaic for "son"; bat is Hebrew for "daughter"; mitzvah is Hebrew for "commandment"), this is a milestone in the life of a Jewish child. It is a time when the child takes responsibility for his or her own religious life. It is considered the biblical age of accountability. The child crosses that precarious gap between childhood and adolescence, with its requisite duties.

The historical background of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah custom is somewhat more difficult to track than many other traditions. This is primarily because there is no specific reference to the ceremony in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, there are dozens of verses that support the idea that there is an age of accountability to the commandments of the Lord. Some would find it ironic that the most detailed account of a Bar Mitzvah in the Bible is actually in the New Testament, at the "Bar Mitzvah" ceremony for Messiah Yeshua.

However, much can be learned from the historical writings of the rabbis, through their various commentaries on the Scriptures. The ancient rabbis considered either age 12 or 13 to be both the age of accountability and the age of physical maturity. At this time, the child is responsible to start taking upon himself certain of the commandments and duties, such as celebrating the feasts of the Torah (see Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 16b). Up until that time, the parents take full responsibility for the child's actions, including vows, discipline problems and religious training (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 5:6). At age 12 (or some say 13), this relationship begins to change. Another talmudic quote states that this transitional time of life makes the child a Bar Mitzvah (Babylonian Talmud, Pirke Avot 5:24).

Although the exact time of this change in duties was debated, the Talmud makes the recommendation that the child start observing the feasts one year prior to becoming an official Bar Mitzvah (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 82a). The ancient commentaries note that, in the days of the Jerusalem Temple, the boy or girl would appear before the rabbis for a special blessing (Jerusalem Talmud, Sofrim 18:7).

It seems that the official ceremony, now called a Bar Mitzvah, did not become commonplace until the Middle Ages. At the age of 13, a Jewish boy would have completed his early Hebrew and religious studies, and would therefore begin to participate in the Sabbath synagogue service to fulfill this requirement. A more modern adaptation gives Jewish girls the same honor, usually at the age 12, since it is presumed that they mature more quickly than their male counterparts.

The main purpose of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is to bean official initiation into adolescence and Jewish religious duties.


Preparing for such a transition in life does not happen overnight. indeed, most Jewish children spend several years in synagogue and Hebrew school studies, gradually working toward the goal of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. This course of study includes the Hebrew language, but is often supplemented with studies in Jewish history, tradition and Bible. The years of preparation are culminated with the BarlBat Mitzvah ceremony at a special synagogue service on a Sabbath close to the child's 13th birthday (12th for the girl).

The actual ceremony is quite beautiful and significant. Symbolic of his or her new responsibilities, the boy or girl is prepared to actually lead a significant part of the synagogue service. Specifically, the child has mastered various parts of the liturgical service that, depending on the capabilities of the young student, may include such Hebrew prayers as the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 6:4), the Amidah (18 Benedictions) and various Psalms. in addition to leading part of the service, the BarlBat Mitzvah also chants the traditional weekly reading from the Torah and the Prophets.

Immediately before the Scripture readings, the child is given a very special honor. The cantor, or the father of the child, opens the ark containing the Torah scroll and places it in the arms of the BarlBat Mitzvah. After the appropriate blessings are chanted, a holy processional starts as the child walks the scroll down the aisles of the synagogue. It is common for people to show their reverence for the Word of God by reaching out and touching the mantle covering the Torah with their tallitot (prayer shawls) or siddurim (prayer books). The congregates face the direction of the scroll out of respect for God's Word, as the BarlBat Mitzvah marches up to the bimah (pulpit or platform). The Torah is opened and the BarlBat Mitzvah chants the opening blessings:

Barukh atah Adonai, eloheynu melekh ha'olam, asher bakhar banu mikal ha'amim, Vnatan lanu et torato. Barukh atah Adonai, noteyn ha'torah. Amen.

Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord our God, King of the universe, who has chosen us from all peoples and given us the Torah. Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord, giver of the Torah. Amen.

The weekly Torah portion is traditionally blessed by seven readers, each one blessing a section of the reading. This would be followed by the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, who does the blessings and then reads from the Torah. The child does not just read the passage in Hebrew (which is challenge enough), but also chants the musical notes that accompany the reading, called the cantillation. These melodies are believed to date back to the time of Moses (see Deuteronomy 31:19-22), and were codified in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures.

When the reading from the Torah scroll is finished, the BarlBat Mitzvah chants the following blessing:

Barukh atah Adonai, eloheynu melekh ha'olam, asher natan lanu torat emet, Vchayey olam nata b'tokheynu. Barukh atah Adonai, noteyn ho'torah. Amen.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our ,God King of the universe, who has given us the Torah of truth, and planted everlasting life in our midst. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, giver of the Torah. Amen.

The reading of the Haftarah (from the verb thaftir, "to dismiss") is called the maftir (from the same verb), because it occurs near the end of the synagogue service. The Haftarah is a selection from the prophetic writings that elucidates a theme found in the Torah portion. The reading begins with the last three verses from the Torah portion in order to avoid the impression that the Haftarah is equal in importance to the Torah and deserving of its own separate reader. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah child reads these maftir verses in the Torah, gives the closing blessing, and segues into the Haftarah. The child has a special challenge, as he or she must read the extra Hebrew plus chant a cantillation exclusively for the prophetic reading. Before the reader begins this last section, the following blessing is chanted:

Barukh atah Adonai, eloheynu melekh ha'olam, asher bakhar binvi'im tovim, Vratzah b'divreyhem ha'ne'emarim be'emet. Barukh atah Adonai, ha'bokheyr ba'torah uvmoshe avdo, uvyisraeyl amo, uvinvi'ey ha'emet va'tzedek. Amen.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has selected good prophets, taking delight in their words which were spoken in truth. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who has chosen the Torah, Thy servant Moses, Thy people Israel, and the prophets of truth and righteousness. Amen.

All eyes are on the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child as he or she chants the traditional reading from the Prophets. After this reading (which may be as short as a few verses or as long as two chapters) is finished, the child chants the closing blessing for the Haftarah portion

This is too lengthy to quote here (refer to Scherman, The Rabbinica I Council of America Edition of The Artscroll Siddur-see bibliography-or any other traditional siddur), but includes such thoughts as blessing God for his faithfulness, mercy to Zion and even a prayer that Elijah would come soon to announce the days of Messiah.

Having accomplished his or her primary task of chanting the Scriptures, the child presents the last part of the ceremony-the drashah ("sermon" or "teaching"). This is more commonly known as the BarlBat Mitzvah speech where the child gives a mini-sermon and thanks family and friends for participating in this joyous occasion. The child expounds upon the readings and how the passage is meaningful to his or her life. It can be quite inspiring to hear such comments from a teenager.

The ceremony usually closes with the customary greetings and best wishes from family and friends. The synagogue may make various presentations to the child (e.g., certificates, a prayer shawl (for a boy), or a Bible). Girls often receive their first pair of sabbath candlesticks. Quite often, the synagogue service is followed by a reception or party in honor of the new Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Gifts, food and Israeli folk-dancing usually abound to celebrate the joy of this occasion, of becoming a son or daughter of the commandment.


As mentioned previously, the BarlBat Mitzvah ceremony is not specifically found in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, the rabbinic commentaries contain many references to a ceremony that marks the age of accountability. Surprisingly, the clearest account of an ancient Bar Mitzvah ceremony is found in another Jewish book-the New Testament.

Every year Yeshua's parents went to Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] for the festival of Pesach (Passover). When he was twelve years old, they went up for the festival, as custom required. But after the festival was over, when his parents returned, Yeshua remained in Yerushalayim. They didn't realize this; supposing that he was somewhere in the caravan, they spent a whole day on the road before they began searching for him among their relatives and friends. Failing to find him, they returned to Yerushalayim to look for him. On the third day they found him-he was sitting in the Temple court among the rabbis, not only listening to them but questioning what they said; and everyone who heard him was astonished at his insight and his responses (Luke 2:41-47).

This Bar Mitzvah ceremony must have been very important for the New Testament writers, since this is the only recorded event of Yeshua's later childhood years. It is no coincidence that it occurred at the age of twelve when, according to tradition, a son became responsible for observing the Jewish feasts. Accordingly, Yosef and Miryam traveled to Jerusalem with their son to celebrate Passover and to prepare him for the duties of becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

However, this Bar Mitzvah turned out to be rather different from the average one. As the family returned by caravan to their home town of Natzeret, they did not at first realize that their son, Yeshua, had remained behind at the Temple. When they finally tracked him down, they found him where any good Bar Mitzvah boy would be-receiving the blessing of the rabbis, as was common in ancient tradition. It caught everyone's attention that this particular student was amazing even the rabbis with the wisdom of his drashah ("teaching"). Surely this Bar Mitzvah boy was something special, one who would later proclaim himself to be the Messiah.

While many of the elements of the traditional Bar Mitzvah are visible in this first-century account, this was a Bar Mitzvah to remember. Yeshua is the perfect example of what a Bar Mitzvah should be. As noted in the New Testament:

Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings. And after he had been brought to the goal, he became the source of eternal deliverance to all who obey him ([Messianic Jews] Hebrews 5:8-9).

How amazing it is to realize that Yeshua has been the only perfect BarMitzvah in the history of Israel. He has fulfilled all of the Torah on behalf of those who believe in him.


There are many reasons for a child to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The child who becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah publicly expresses a desire to embrace the Word of God, the ways of God as revealed in the Torah, and as understood and expressed by the Messiah Yeshua. The ceremony is also a means to identify with the Jewish culture and heritage that we claim as ours, either by birthright, or by being grafted in (Romans 11).


All those with a heart-felt love for God, a desire to follow his ways, and who want to adopt a Jewish life-style could have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.


First, there must be a desire to have one, and the commitment to complete the other prerequisites. Second, there is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah curriculum, which ideally begins one year prior to the anticipated time of the ceremony. During that year, there will be several meetings with the Rabbi or Congregational Leader. Third, the prospective Bar or Bat Mitzvah will be required, prior to the ceremony, to study the specific Torah portion, and prepare a speech, to be developed under the supervision of the Rabbi or Congregational Leader.


The curriculum is divided into several sections. The first section gives an overview of the Bible. The books of the Bible, the order of the books, and their Hebrew names will be covered. The second section is an overview of the history of the Jewish people. The third section is a brief history of Messianic Judaism. The fourth section will be an overview of various Jewish traditions, and how the Messiah interpreted them.

The last section will introduce the Hebrew language, in particular, pronunciation and reading skills designed to enable the student to read from the Sefer Torah, the Torah scroll. This final section will include one-on-one instruction on an individual basis.


The program is designed to begin one year before the anticipated date of the ceremony. At that time, a meeting is arranged between you, the Rabbi or Congregational Leader, and your child. At that time, the commitment to begin is established, and the child will begin the preparation


The following is a suggested order of service bases on the history of, and the New Covenant understanding of, the Bar/ Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Many of these elements are found in the traditional Jewish ceremony. The distinctive of a Messianic ceremony is that it should be reflective of the child's personal commitment to Yeshua. While this ceremony could take place in a home or other building, a Messianic congregation seems to be the most natural expression for this kind of service.

Frequently, Jewish believers wait until the last minute to call their congregational leader regarding their child's BarlBat Mitzvah. Although it is commendable that the family has a desire to follow in the tradition of BarlBat Mitzvah, such a ceremony is not something to be taken lightly. in addition to being a time of personal commitment, the BarlBat Mitzvah ceremony is also a time when a commitment is made to an entire religious community (in this case Messianic). The saying "it takes a whole village to raise a child" is apropos to the meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony does not reflect a one-day, or even a one-year, commitment, but is a statement of one's philosophy of life. Accordingly, the family needs to make a commitment, long before the ceremony, to a local congregation, Each family should consult with their local Messianic leader for advice.

The following worship service has worked well at this author's congregation, Kehilat Ariel:



(Fischer and Bronstein, Siddur for Messianic Jews is highly recommended; see Conclusion for information on how to obtain it)

Introductory Psalms Barkhu/Sh'ma
Messianic Reading or Reading from the New Covenant Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremony.
The child is called to the ark as the Torah service begins. After the appropriate prayers, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah leads the Torah processional through the congregation.
The Torah blessings are chanted.
The Torah portion is chanted. Seven aliyot ("goings up" to the bimah) are traditional, with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah as the eighth reader. However, it may be simpler if the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the only reader.
Haftarah blessings are chanted.
The Haftarah portion (in the Prophets) is chanted. The number of verses chanted from either the Torah or Haftarah should be contingent upon the ability of the child. it is much better to properly chant five verses in Hebrew than to do a sloppy job with fifty verses.
After the Haftarah section is chanted, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah delivers his or her drashah (short teaching/ speech). During the course of this speech, the child should give a personal testimony of his or her faith in Messiah. This is a great step in fulfilling new religious duties.

This may include a certificate and other religious gifts from the sabbath school or congregational family. Mazel tov and other greetings are expressed at this point.

It is often an ideal time, especially with the many visitors and guests, to follow up the ceremony with a more expansive message on the theme of the text.


The blessings over the wine and the challah (sabbath bread). This can be followed by a special oneg (joyful celebration) with refreshments at the congregation or reception hall.
May every believer have a blessed ceremony in the Messiah Yeshua. May all believers show their love for Yeshua by becoming better sons and daughters of his commandments (see John 14:15).

This article used by permission from:
God's Appointed Customs
By: Barney Kasdan
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