What makes a bat mitzvah special?
When a Jewish girl turns 12, she is considered to have matured in Jewish law and ritual. “Bat mitzvah” means “the daughter of a mitzvah (commandment)”. The milestone of a bat mitzvah is celebrated in a broad range of ways, depending on community customs and norms. Whichever way a girl chooses to celebrate her bat mitzvah, it is a time of reflection that formally marks her connection to her Jewish heritage and to the traditions and rituals that encapsulate Jewish life.
While not formally mentioned in the Torah, the concept of a Jewish young lady coming of age was recognized in Jewish communities in Rome over two thousand years ago, as well as in Egypt and Iraq, and more recently, in Eastern Europe. In most cases, a bat mitzvah was commemorated with a festive party or meal, elegant garb, and time spent learning about the mitzvot.
The first formalized bat mitzvah ceremony to be held at a synagogue took place in New York City for Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. Since that time, the ceremony has been widely adapted within the various streams of Judaism. In some communities, a bat mitzvah girl may be called up to the Torah for an aliyah, or may recite her Torah portion. For some, the celebration may include a festive meal, reciting the Shehecheyanu blessing (the blessing on new things), and a shared experience with the girl’s mother, grandmother, and other women, symbolizing becoming a link in the chain of Jewish destiny.
A bat mitzvah is often celebrated with a festive party together with family and friends. A girl will often prepare for the milestone by studying the mitzvot, particularly those relevant to her new status as a Jewish woman, such as lighting Shabbat candles and making a blessing over challah dough.
A mitzvah project, such as raising money for charity or volunteering with an organization she cares about, may also be included in the preparations for a bat mitzvah. At the bat mitzvah party, the girl may give a speech explaining her mitzvah project or speaking about a portion of the Torah corresponding to when she was born. Gifts are commonly given at bat mitzvah parties. If you’re looking for the perfect present to give a bat mitzvah, check out our bat mitzvah gift guide here!
A bat mitzvah marks the point at which a Jewish girl becomes a full-fledged member of the fold. Until now, the mitzvot were performed as practice. After becoming a bat mitzvah, a young lady is a bona fide participant in Jewish rite and ritual, responsible for her own actions. Her heritage becomes her own as she crosses the threshold from childhood to Jewish adulthood, and the mitzvot she does are forever infused with greater significance. Mazal tov!