Bat Mitzvah
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Thursday 2nd January 2014

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Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah


A girl becomes ‘Bat Mitzvah’ (‘a daughter of the commandements’) when she reaches her 12th hebrew birthday. In terms of Jewish law, girls become adults at this age in respect of being obligated to live a Jewish life and thereby accept an additional set of responsibilities.   

In US communities, girls can chose either to have a batmitzvah in the synagogue, at home or elsewhere, or to be part of Bat Chayil ceremony with other girls. A Bat Mitzvah ceremony is the most common of these and general information about this is set out below. To plan your own ceremony, please speak to your rabbi.

Bat Mitzvah Ceremony

Girls prepare for their Bat Mitzvah by studying about some of the obligations they will take on once they reach twelve, such as Shabbat, Kashrut (laws of kosher food) and laws about showing kindness to others.

To celebrate this next stage of her life, it is customary for a girl to research and prepare a ‘Devar Torah’, a short speech in which she presents ideas about Jewish life and study.  This is a gateway to the advanced Jewish studies options now available to her and the opportunities she has to be involved in Jewish experiences and social networks after her Bat Mitzvah.

A Bat Mitzvah provides a great opportunity for a family and community to celebrate together, with fantastic community spirit.  It also provide a gateway for girls into the youth programming that many communities offer for teens to continue to grow their Jewish experiences and social circle. Tribe provides these specific teenage programmes in many synagogues. Please click here to contact your local Tribe worker for more information.

The Special Needs Child at Bat Mitzvah 

By Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler


The celebration of a Bat Mitzvah is a time at which every Jewish child should feel connected to her spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. This is perhaps especially so for the child with special needs, for whom day-to-day living presents extraordinary challenges. But in working to achieve this goal, there are several concerns to be taken into consideration:

i) The range of possibilities available that are appropriate to the girl’s abilities.

ii) To be mindful of any halachic requirements that needs to be satisfied.

iii) To give careful thought to the emotional and psychological impact on a sensitive girl who may be asked to ‘perform’ in public.

Clearly, this process is best facilitated by means of close co-operation between the parents and their local rabbi, who should be contacted at an early stage, preferably at least one year beforehand. Where necessary, he will be able to refer specific issues to a reputable Beth Din or other halachic authority for guidance.


Are Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies Obligatory?

The age of Bat Mitzvah defines the moment at which the young girl becomes responsible for her actions and is regarded as a Jewish adult. Occurring at or around puberty, where intellectual development and physical growth are linked, becoming Bat Mitzvah signifies the capacity of the young adult to distinguish between right and wrong and to make moral judgements. From that moment on, the young person is credited for the mitzvot she performs and is likewise held accountable for any wrong-doing.

According to Jewish tradition, a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah at twelve years and a day. This occurs automatically upon reaching the prescribed chronological age. It is totally independent of the means by which this is celebrated. While there are clearly good reasons for encouraging ways of giving communal recognition to this important moment in the life of a young Jewess, it should be borne in mind that this is not absolutely essential.

It follows that if girl has special needs to the extent thatshe cannot celebrate her Bat Mitzvah in the conventional way, while this is understandably disappointing, it does not affect her Jewish status, neither does it violate any Jewish law.


Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies

Bat Mitzvah ceremonies have become a normative part of communal life in recent years and they have diversified into various formats. Commonly, they take place on a Sunday afternoon, structured around a more elaborate mincha service, though a growing number of communities also offer the possibility of celebrating the Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat. This usually takes the form of an add-on to the service before Adon Olam or perhaps at the communal kiddush following the service.

In these ceremonies, the part played by the girl involves the recitation of certain prayers or readings with, perhaps, a short dvar Torah. Since this activity does not involve her acting on behalf of the community, most of the halachic concerns discussed earlier do not apply and do not, therefore, pose a problem. It should thus be possible to devise something appropriate for her abilities and understanding. This could include, for example, designing and producing an item of Jewish art/craft.



Both rabbis and parents can work together to make it possible for something special to happen at this important rite of passage which will be enjoyable for the child, appreciated by the family and meaningful for the community. Indeed, the poignancy of the Batmitzvah of a ‘special’ child can make a great impact on everyone who is present, not only the immediate family of the girl concerned.

Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler is Director of the Marriage Authorisation Office at the Office of the Chief Rabbi and is Executive Director of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue (RCUS). The above article has been abstracted from an RCUS publication entitled Becoming Bar/Batmitzvah: The Child with Special Needs.