Under Jewish Law, children are not obligated to observe the commandments; although they are encouraged to do so as much as possible to learn the obligations they will have as adults. Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah is when a child reaches the age of legal maturity under Torah Law and becomes obligated to observe the mitzvot, commandments.
The word bar comes from the Aramaic word for ‘son’ and mitzvah comes from the Hebrew word for ‘commandment’. Bat mitzvah is the feminine form. Once someone has attained that age they are responsible to carry our God’s ordinances, mitzvot. For example, they are legally bound to put on phylacteries, tefillin, religious symbols worn on the left arm and forehead, at weekday morning prayers. He or she may be called up in synagogue to read from the Torah (Five Books of Moses), and on Shabbat, from the Haftarah, Prophets.
While a young man or woman does not have to do anything to become a bar mitzvah (remember it is a coming of age) we encourage our children to learn as much as they are able and demonstrate those abilities on the day of their celebration.
Thinking of gifts? Try items which relate to the meaning of the day. Religious items which they will use in coming years like menorahs for Hanukkah (electric ones are especially good for when they go to college), a tallit, a book about the Torah (Bible for the Clueless But Curious is a great one), or commentaries, mezuzah, tzedaka box, tefillin etc.
At Congregation Beth Shalom we strive to match each student with a tutor. That private tutor will work with the student for many months urging them to learn and absorb as much of the service and its meaning as possible. Every student is encouraged to work to their maximum potential. Coming to the Bima, raised platform in the Sanctuary, on both Friday night and Saturday morning the student uses their new knowledge to lead the congregation. When the day finally arrives, our congregation joins with the initiate and their family to celebrate this great milestone.
Call the synagogue office and ask to speak with the Rabbi for more information.