What Does it Mean to Become a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah?

November 18, 2021

Dear all,

Last Shabbat, our leadership at Temple Akiba presented me with this awesome certificate. I had been keeping records of all the B’nei Mitzvah during my tenure at Temple Akiba since 2006.

While classically this rite of passage occurs at 13 for boys and 12 for girls, Temple Akiba commemorates this life-moment at 13 for all gender identities. (We also affirm there there are additional ceremonial designations for those who identify as neither male nor female.) B’nei Mitzvah is the generics plural for both Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

I’ve been reflecting so much on the 300 B’nei Mitzvah and about their significance. A few thoughts came to mind.

  1. One doesn’t get “Bar Mitzvahed/“. One becomes a Bar Mtizvah. Think about it like citizenship. One doesn’t “Get citizened,” one “becomes a citizen.”
  2. Like becoming a citizen, once you become a Bat Mitzvah, you are always a Bat Mitzvah, whether you are 13, 18, 36, or 120.
  3. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah means you are responsible for your own actions. You can’t blame others when you make a mistake.
  4. Just about every Jewish adult I know who decided not to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony at 13 regrets it.
  5. Just about every Jewish adult I know who did have a Bar Mitzvah ceremony at 13 (even if they didn’t appreciate it then) appreciates it now.
  6. (Don’t tell this to your 11 year old…..). Whether of not you have a ceremony, your 13th birthday IS your Bat Mitzvah. Having a ceremony means you are sharing this milestone with your Jewish community, and showing them that you have taken responsibility in the leadership of a service.
  7. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah means that you can take an ancient text (the Torah) and add your voice to the thousands of years of commentary. You can agree with the passage. You can argue with it. You can share your struggle with it. But you can’t walk away from it. You are part of a conversation that has connected our people through time and space.

Becoming a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah takes years of preparation.

Being a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah takes a commitment to make decisions in each moment in time to live a life of responsibility.

Looking forward to my next Bat Mitzvah, number 301 this Shabbat!

With love and shalom,

Rabbi Zach Shapiro

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