Our tradition teaches that a parent is responsible for the actions of a child until the child reaches the age of legal majority in the Jewish community and assumes full responsibility for observing the commandments and for all his/her deeds. At the age of 13 and a day, a boy becomes bar mitzvah (which means the "age of responsibility for the commandments") and a girl becomes bat mitzvah at the age of 12.
From this moment onward, these young, growing Jewish men will be counted as part of a minyan (the quorum required for public prayer), are eligible to read Torah publicly, and obligated to fulfill the dictates of Jewish life. These young, growing Jewish women are counted upon to light their Shabbat candles, and fulfill all of the commandments of Jewish life.
In truth, as many of us know, every Jew becomes a bar mitzvah automatically. It is merely a change of legal status, and it has nothing to do with how much an individual knows or has learned. No ceremony, certificate, or special service has ever been required. However, since now there is an additional member to count in the minyan, it has been customary to celebrate this milestone since the 1300's.
The foundation of what happens to the bar/bat mitzvah is the child's first aliyah: the first time the child is permitted to ascend the bimah
and recite the blessings over the Torah on behalf of the congregation. In our Shul, the child will also chant the Maftir
portion from the Torah and the Haftarah portion.
Traditionally, after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah assumes his/her place in the congregation, signified by reciting the blessings over the Torah, the parents recite a brief blessing thanking God for releasing them of the responsibility for their child's sins, since the child is now fully responsible before God for his/her own behaviour.
We welcome our boys to come to the Shul prior to their Shabbat morning ceremony to have a tefilin aliyah - where they come on either a Monday or Thursday morning (when the Torah is taken out) and while wearing their tefilin for the first time, are called for an Aliyah to the Torah. This is typically observed as close as possible to their actual Hebrew birthdate, as many Shabbat morning ceremonies take place months later to accommodate family and other concerns. The Synagogue Office, or the Rabbi, can help establish what your child's actual Hebrew birthdate is.
- Rabbi Flanzraich