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You may be surprised to find that "becoming bar/bat mitzvah" happens automatically when a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13 and a girl, age 12. The ceremony that today occupies center stage is actually a historical afterthought, with evidence of observance starting only from sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Unlike boys, there isn't as long a history of coming-of-age rituals for girls* and young women are not bound by age-old traditions like young Jewish men. An early bat mitzvah usually followed the same format as a bar mitzvah, however, because women are not traditionally required to perform many of the more public mitzvot (commandments), an authoritarian ceremony made little sense. Therefore, as observant women have become more Judaically educated, they are eager to create meaningful rituals unique to a bat mitzvah.

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celebrating with a women only theatre perfomance
Since the bat mitzvah is still a relatively new idea that continues to evolve, the modern bat mitzvah varies depending on your congregation. Still, young Jewish women have more freedom to express themselves at a bat mitzvah. Without a binding centuries-old tradition to follow, you can be innovative and creative in shaping the ceremony and celebration.

Some girls choose to observe the occasion by giving talks either on the Torah portion or some personally meaningful aspect of their involvement in Judaism. Another influence on the development of a bat mitzvah within Orthodoxy is the women's prayer group.

Since some Jewish sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all the mitzvot, equal to them all combined, more and more bat mitzvah girls worldwide are now choosing to celebrate with a tzedakah project; something to benefit those less fortunate. Carrying on the tradition of chesed, loving-kindness displayed by the Jewish foremothers, who shaped the course of Jewish history; this new tradition has even had an impact on the modern bar mitzvah ceremony!

Your bat mitzvah experience is even more special when you enrich the lives of others! Jewish tradition teaches that we deepen our happiness when we share our joyous celebrations with people in need. This is especially important as you prepare for a bat mitzvah, when you become an adult and accept responsibility for fulfilling the important mitzvah of tzedakah.

There are so many options to select or create a project that matches your own personal skills and interests. One may elect to give a portion of gift money to a charity which reflects these interests. Another wonderful way to share the joy of your bat mitzvah is to donate the flowers, centerpieces, extra baked goods and food to a hospital, homeless and/or children's shelter, senior home, or other recipient. They will be delighted, and you will truly be performing a mitzvah.

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American bat mitzvah girls celebrate in Israel
Put the mitzvah in bat mitzvah…Lev LaLev joins hands with bat mitzvah girls, Just Like YOU! The Torah commands us to care for the orphan and to never forget our Holy Land…join hands with bat mitzvah girls from around the globe in planning your very own Mitzvah Project to support orphaned girls in Israel!

Together we can help you brainstorm ideas to start your journey as a Jewish adult with a meaningful contribution that fits your personality and favorite hobbies. Contact Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com or call 1-800-630-1106. Learn more about what we do: www.levlalev.com/batmitzvah

* By the 14th century, sources mention a boy being called up to the Torah for the first time on the Sabbath coinciding with or following his 13th birthday. By the 17th century, boys were also reading Torah and delivering talks, often on talmudic learning, at an afternoon seudat mitzvah (ritual meal). Today the speech, usually a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, generally takes place during the morning service.

Historians discovered evidence that families began honoring their daughters with a special meal for their 12th birthday in countries such as France, Italy, and Germany only about 200 years ago. Since girls physically mature at an earlier age than boys, twelve, not thirteen, was the age chosen for a Jewish girl's passage into adulthood. However, it wasn't until 1922 that the first bat mitzvah in North America was celebrated, but most Jewish girls did not have an opportunity to become a bat mitzvah in a synagogue ceremony until the 1950s, or later.




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