Customs and Rituals

What are the principal Jewish rites of passage?

Circumcision, the naming ritual, and redemption of the firstborn son are important early rites. To welcome older youngsters into full membership in the community, the most prominent rites are puberty or coming-of-age rituals. At that time a young boy becomes a “Son of the Commandment” (bar mitzvah). In a similar ritual a young girl becomes a “Daughter of the Commandment” (bat mitzvah). “Confirmation” still often acknowledges an older teenager’s full maturity. Jewish boys of thirteen and girls of twelve are formally recognized as religiously mature. They become sons and daughters of the commandment (bar or bat mitzvah) in rituals that acknowledge that they are now responsible for fulfilling the prescriptions of the divine Law.

Most communities, other than the Orthodox, celebrate this coming-of-age for both genders, but only the bar mitzvah is performed in a synagogue. A central feature of the ritual involves the initiate’s reading from the Torah scroll in Hebrew. Other features can extend to a much broader participation in the service, including carrying the scroll to the reading table and reciting other prayers. In some communities, a joint confirmation ceremony for sixteen- or seventeen-year-old boys and girls occurs in conjunction with the Feast of Weeks, since that observance commemorates the original reception of the Torah at Sinai. Confirmation replaced the puberty rite in some European communities. Now some Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist congregations practice both confirmation and bar/bat mitzvah.


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