Bat Mitzvah girl performing the mitzvah of hafrashat challah
The True Meaning 
Bat Mitzvah literally means "daughter of commandment." The word "bat" means "daughter." The word "mitzvah" is Hebrew for "commandment."

Traditionally, the term "bat mitzvah" refers to when a Jewish girl reaches the age of 12. She becomes a "bat mitzvah" and is recognized by Jewish tradition as now being morally and ethically responsible for her decisions and actions.

However, a bat mitzvah is not a full-fledged adult yet, Jewish tradition only recognizes this age as the point when a child can differentiate between right and wrong and hence can be held accountable for her actions. The training wheels are off and the journey into becoming a mature, responsible adult has begun.

She is also now responsible for performing Mitzvot (plural for mitzvah) just like any adult woman. These include, but are not limited to, lighting Shabbat candles, daily prayer, fasting on Yom Kippur, and performing acts of chesed (loving-kindness) and tzedakah (charity). 

American bat mitzvah girl gifts Tehillim (psalms) to Israeli bat mitzvah girl
The Modern Manifestation
Today, "bat mitzvah" also refers to a religious ceremony that accompanies a girl’s coming of age. Often a celebratory party will follow the ceremony. This popular bar/bat mitzvah custom is not required; in fact, it is a relatively modern innovation. The elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago. Therefore, the specifics of the ceremony and party vary widely, especially in the case of a bat mitzvah.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jewish communities began marking when a girl became a bat mitzvah with a special ceremony almost identical to the bar mitzvah ceremony for boys (tefillin, reading from the Torah, leading services, etc.). However, there is no uniform model unique for the bat mitzvah ceremony yet, so the tradition continues to evolve.

Back to the Roots
The bat mitzvah is a milestone that marks the beginning of a lifetime of Jewish learning, growth, and participation in the Jewish community. 

In recent years, it has become common practice to donate a portion of any monetary gift to a charity of the bat mitzvah girls choosing. Some are now even choosing to devote their entire bat mitzvah theme to doing a “chesed” project, a project to benefit others. Some synagogues and schools are following suit and are now requiring their students of bar and bat mitzvah age to perform acts of kindness-chesed, and tikun olam-healing the world, as part of their ceremony preparations.

The concept of leaving the world a better place, by utilizing your unique talents, is becoming the modern focus for Jewish adults, and a bat mitzvah is the perfect age to start focusing on humanity’s responsibility for one another.

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