For many Christians in the western hemisphere, including Roman Catholics, the Sacrament of Confirmation is a celebration of their coming of age. In many Protestant churches, the rite of Confirmation is seen as a mature statement of a person’s faith. This is why many western Christians are confirmed between the ages of 12 and 15, when they are on the cusp of adulthood and capable of fully realizing the importance of professing their faith.
But such a rite of passage is not exclusive to Christians. Within the Jewish faith, the bar and bat mitzvah symbolize a child’s coming of age. Jewish males become a bar mitzvah, or “son of the commandment,” at age 13, at which time they are accountable for their actions in the eyes of those who also subscribe to their faith. Girls become bat mitzvah (“daughter of the commandment”) a year earlier at the age of 12, and they, too, are held accountable for their actions after receiving bat mitzvah.
When a child receives bar or bat mitzvah, he or she is not only recognized as responsible for his or her actions but is also now obligated to observe the commandments. Though youngsters can observe the commandments prior to receiving bar or bat mitzvah, they are not obligated to do so. The ceremony of bar and bat mitzvah formally marks the assumption of this obligation.
Upon receiving their bar and bat mitzvahs, young people can now take part in religious services, including reading from the Torah at religious services. The bar and bat mitzvah marks the first time a young Jew reads from the Torah during services.
Though those who do not practice Judaism may think that the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies depicted in countless television shows and movies are obligated, such ceremonies are in fact entirely optional and not mentioned in the Talmud, a central text of Judaism that contains teachings on Jewish history and an interpretation of the Torah. Today’s elaborate bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies are a relatively recent phenomenon that were essentially unheard of until the 20th century.
But bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies have not only become more elaborate, but also many have even begun to ask more of bar and bat mitzvah celebrants. In the past, such celebrants would typically only recite a blessing at the service. But it’s not uncommon for today’s celebrants to lead their congregations in important prayers.
Another similarity between coming-of-age ceremonies within western Christian communities and Judaism is the celebratory atmosphere of such momentous occasions. Many Christian families host parties at home or celebrate at local restaurants in the hours after their relative is confirmed, and such a celebration often follows bar and bat mitzvahs as well.