The Bas Mitzvah-Meaning, Celebration & customs

Celebrating a Bas Mitzvah:

The significance of 12 years of age:

When a girl turns 12 years of age she becomes Biblically obligated in Torah and Mitzvos.[1] Until that age she is considered a Ketana, and is Biblically exempt from keeping Mitzvos. This is similar to the

 

The completion of the entrance of the G-dly soul into the body:[2]

The start of the entrance of the G-dly soul into a child’s body is from the age that the Sages obligated the child to be educated in Torah and Mitzvos. However, the completion, and main entrance of the G-dly soul into a person is at 13 years of age for a boy, and 12 years of age for a girl. It is for this reason that they now become Biblically obligated to keep the commands, and are punished for transgression.

Making a celebratory meal and party:

The old tradition of celebrating a Bar Mitzvah but not a Bas Mitzvah: The Zohar[3] states that the day of a boys Bar Mitzvah is similar to a wedding in terms of joy, and one must similarly rejoice on this day, just as one rejoices by a wedding. Accordingly, we find that throughout history a great celebratory feast, a Seudas Mitzvah, was made in honor of a boys Bar Mitzvah. The Poskim[4] discuss the significance of this meal and rule that it has the status of a Seudas Mitzvah. The reason behind this great celebration is because the child has now joined the ranks of the Jewish people who are able to serve G-d and fulfill the Divine mission of creation.[5] This is the true day of birth of a Jew.[6] Likewise, it shows one’s excitement in serving Hashem. Some even write that making a celebratory meal on this day helps one merit a higher level of a Neshama.[7] We find precedent for this celebration in the Talmudic[8] statement regarding Rav Yosef, who was blind, that when he discovered that a blind person is obligated in Mitzvos, he made a celebratory meal in its honor. Certainly then, on the day that a person becomes obligated in Mitzvos, he should hold a celebration.[9] Based on this reason, it would appear that there is no reason to differentiate between the celebration of a girl’s Bas Mitzvah or a boys Bar Mitzvah, as in both cases the child has now entered the ranks of the Jewish people, and it should be celebrated similar to a wedding.[10] It thus should be a day of joy, not just for the girl and her parents, grandparents, and siblings, but for all the Jewish people.[11] Nonetheless, until recent generations, the idea of a Bas Mitzvah celebration was unheard of. We find no discussion of it in Poskim, and have not received any tradition of its celebration from our ancestors, throughout our history.[12] Thus, while the Bar Mitzvah celebration and feast was accustomed throughout the ages and talked about amongst the Poskim, a Bas Mitzvah was not celebrated in those times. Seemingly, this was avoided due to reasons of modesty, in keeping with the verse “Kol Kevuda Bas Melech Penima.”[13] This all changed in the last couple of generations.

The start of the Bas Mitzvah celebrations: In the early 1900’s, the conservative, and later reform, movements initiated the Bas Mitzvah celebration and spread it to the populace, in order to motivate equality between men and women.[14] Due to this, and other reasons, the Poskim[15] of that generation vehemently opposed this change of tradition to start celebrating Bas Mitzvas.[16] The Rebbe, and other Halachic authorities[17], took a unique approach to this subject, which today has become the accepted custom amongst orthodox Jewry. While a girl should make note, and have a celebratory occasion in honor of her Bas Mitzvah[18], it should not be performed in an over-extravagant manner, and is not to be done with the same publicity, as is done by Bar Mitzvas.[19] It should preferably be held in the school, with her class, and her mother in attendance, and in all cases should remain small and modest.[20] The day should be utilized to further strengthen the girl’s commitment to Torah and Mitzvos, and not for a vanity fair party. Obviously, one must take care that throughout the celebration, all the laws of modesty and Arayos discussed in Shulchan Aruch are abided by, such as not to have women singing in the presence of men.[21] Many elementary schools limit the celebration of the Bas Mitzvah with specified guidelines that are meant to keep it modest, affordable, and in line with tradition. 

 

Summary:

One should hold a celebratory gathering in honor of her Bas Mitzvah. However, it should not be performed in an over-extravagant manner, and is not to be done with the same publicity, as is done by Bar Mitzvas. It should preferably be held in the school, with her class, and her mother in attendance, and in all cases should remain small and modest. One must take care that throughout the celebration, all the laws of modesty and Arayos discussed in Shulchan Aruch are abided by, such as not to have women singing in the presence of men.

 

Q&A

Is a Bas Mitzvah celebratory meal considered a Seudas Mitzvah?[22]

A Bas Mitzvah celebratory meal is not considered a Seudas Mitzvah, and is similar to the status of a birthday party.

 

May a Bas Mitzvah celebratory meal or Kiddush take place in the sanctuary of a Shul?[23]

One may not hold a Bas Mitzvah celebratory meal in the sanctuary of a shul.[24]However, one may hold a celebratory Kiddush in the shul after Shabbos Davening, if it is common to do so in that Shul for other occasions.[25]

 

May one schedule a public Bas Mitzvah celebration for Friday night or Shabbos?[26]

As stated above, the Rebbe opposed public Bas Mitzvah celebrations. Nonetheless, if this has become the custom, it is best not to schedule the celebration of a Bas Mitzvah for Shabbos, in order to avoid desecration of Shabbos from occurring.

 

 

Customs associated with the day of the Bas Mitzvah:

Tzedaka:[27]

On the day of the Bas Mitzvah, the girl is to distribute money to charity prior to Davening Shacharis and also in the afternoon, prior to Davening Mincha. If the birthday falls on Shabbos or Yom-Tov, one is to give charity on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov, and it is proper to also give charity the day after.[28] The parents are to also distribute charity in merit of their daughter, and the same applies for the grandparents, relatives, friends, and anyone who desires the benefit of the Bas Mitzvah girl. Those who did not fulfil this custom on the day of the Bas Mitzvah, should do so on a later date, adding some money to the original amount.[29] The money should be distributed to a Chinuch institution.[30]

How much to give:[31] On several occasions the Rebbe instructed to give charity in numerals of 18. Some are accustomed to give in equivalent to the age that they have now reached, plus one more year. Thus, if one has turned 34 then he gives 35 to charity.

 

Davening with extra intent:[32]

On the day of the birthday one is to invest increased time and effort in one’s recitation of the prayers, and meditating on the greatness of the Creator.

 

Tehillim:[33]

Study: On the day of her Bas Mitzvah, the girl is to study Psalm 13 in Tehillim.

Reciting the new Tehillim: On the day of one’s birthday one is to begin reciting his new chapter of Tehillim after Davening that corresponds to his new age. Some have the custom to also recite their Tehillim of the previous year on the day of the birthday and they thus recite two chapters of Tehillim that day.[34] Nonetheless, the general directive is to only recite the Tehillim of the new year on the birthday.[35]

 

Learning Torah:[36]

On the day of the Bas Mitzvah, a girl should study more Torah than usual. It is proper to study Mishnayos on this day, as it corresponds to the words of Neshama.

 

Choosing a Mitzvah:[37]

On the day of the birthday one is to undertake a new act of piety that is within one’s grasp, or a more scrupulous observance in some particular area.[38] The resolutions are to be taken in a public setting, thus making it more affective. [It is a good idea for a Bas Mitzvah girl to choose a specific Mitzvah to study in depth and choose to abide scrupulously by. She can share this Mitzvah and its details with her friends and family during the celebration.]

 

Presents:

The parents are to purchase their daughter a nice present in honor of her Bas Mitzvah.

 

Shehechiyanu:[39]

When a girl reaches 12 years of age, she is to to recite Shehechiyanu on a new fruit or garment.

 

Baruch Shepatrani:[40]

The blessing of Baruch Shepatrani is not recited by the father on the day of his daughters Bas Mitzvah, even without Hashem’s name.[41]

 

Doing an act of Ahavas Yisrael:[42]

On the day of the birthday one is to reach out to his fellow Jews, teach them Torah in general and Chassidus in a spirit of true Ahavas Yisrael.

 

The Rebbe’s letter to a Bas Mitzvah girl:[43]

The following is a Free translation of a letter sent by the Rebbe to a Bas Mitzvah girl in the year 5722

Blessings and Greetings!

In response to your letter, in which you write that you have reached the age of twelve, which is the time of Bas mitzvah -May you accept upon yourself the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of the mitzvot with a whole heart. May Hashem grant you success in your studies and in your conduct, and may you grow up to be worthy of being called a “daughter of Chabad,” in keeping with the desire of our holy Rebbes, of blessed memory. May you influence your friends, too, in this direction, by speaking to them, and, even more so, by being a living example of a daughter of Israel who is educated in the ways of Chassidism. This will bring you happiness, both spiritual and material.

With blessing,

 

The Rebbe Rashba’s letter to his granddaughter Chayah Mushka:[44]

With joy and pleasure, we congratulate you on your 12th birthday, up until 120 years. We bless you from the depths of the heart that you should be healthy and content for 120 years, to the joy and gladness of your beloved parents and us all. Today, my beloved, you have become independent in your spiritual life. We give you as a present the Chamishei Chumshei Torah, and wish you from the depths of our hearts that all of your days you should fulfill with joy all the holy commands found in it, and then the beloved G-d will guard and protect you. The holy Torah will G-d willing protect you in your lengthy and great journey in your content world, for all good spiritually and physically to no end.

Congratulations from your beloved grandparents   

_____________________________________________________________

[1] Admur 616:8 regarding Yom Kippur; Michaber O.C. 616:2; E.H. 155:12; Rambam Shevisas Asur 2:11 regarding fasting on Yom Kippur; Ishus 2:1; Mishneh Nida 5:6 p. 45b “At age 12 her vows become valid”

The source and reason: Some learn that the age of Bar and Bas Mitzvah is a tradition of Moshe from Sinai, and is not sourced in the written Torah. [Teshuvos Harosh 16; Maharil 51; See Likkutei Sichos 10:70] Others learn that it is learned from the verse in Vayishlach regarding Shimon and Levi who are called “Ish”, which shows that when one turns 13 years old he is called an Ish, and a woman, being that she has greater maturity, she is Bas Mitzvah a year earlier, at age 12. [See Likkutei Sichos 10:70] Admur in Basra 4:2 explains the reason that a girl becomes obligated in Mitzvos in age 12 is because at this age her G-dly soul completes its entry into the body.

The reason a girl turns Bas Mitzvah a year before a boy: A girl becomes obligated in Mitzvos a year earlier than a boy is because Hashem granted extra understanding [Bina] to a woman. This means that her mental maturity is faster than a man, and she thus reach3es the age of obligation, one year earlier. [Nidda 45b; Likkutei Sichos 11:331; Igros Kodesh 6:199; Toras Menachem 27th Elul 5742 p. 2269; See Torah Temima on Bamidbar 30:4]

[2] Admur Basra 4/2; See Kaf Hachaim 225:11

[3] Brought in M”A 225:4 in name of Likkutim 29

[4] M”A 225:4; Rashal Bava Kama 7:37 based on Rav Yosef Keddushin 31; Degul Merivava Y.D. 391:2 in name of Rashal

[5] Yechidus 22nd Kisleiv 5746

[6] Yechidus 16th Tamuz 5747

[7] Kaf Hachaim 225:11

[8] Keddushin 31

[9] See Rashal ibid; Machatizs Hashekel 225:4

[10] Igros Moshe O.C. 2:97; Rebbe in Sefer Hasichos 5748 1:332 footnote 21; See P”M 225 A”A 5 regarding Birchas Shpotrani who asks why it is not also said by a Bas Mitzvah.

[11] Yechidus night of 15th of Tamuz 5745

[12] Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3; See Kaf Hachaim 225:11 that “even though we do not make a Seuda”

[13] See Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3; See Igros Moshe O.C. 2:97 who leaves this matter in question, although suggests that perhaps the purpose of the celebration is to publicize the child’s ability to join a Minyan, and is thus not relevant to woman.

[14] There were occasional attempts to recognize a girl’s coming of age in eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, the former in Warsaw (1843) and the latter in Lemberg (1902). [See Marcus, Ivan G. (2004). The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage from Biblical to Modern Times.] The American rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, held the first public celebration of a bat mitzvah in the United States, for his daughter Judith, on March 18, 1922, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, his synagogue in New York City. Change came gradually. As late as the 1930’s, despite Judith Kaplan’s pathbreaking example, only a handful of Conservative synagogues had adopted bat mitzvah. By 1948, however, one-third of Conservative congregations conducted them and, by the 1960s, the ceremony became the norm within Conservatism. The earliest American bat mitzvot were, ritually, not quite the same as bar mitzvot. They were usually held on Friday nights, when the Torah is not read or, if held on Saturday morning like Judith Kaplan’s, the bat mitzvah girl would read from a printed Chumash, or book containing the Bible, rather than from the Torah scroll itself. The first recorded bat mitzvah at a Reform congregation occurred in 1931 but, as with the Conservative movement, the ritual did not catch on right away. By the 1950’s, only one third of Reform congregations conducted them. Since the 1960s, as Reform has placed increasing emphasis on traditional rituals, bat mitzvah has grown to near universality in that movement’s congregations. A number of modern Orthodox congregations have now adopted some form of bat mitzvah as well. Bat mitzvah, an innovation in 1922, is now an American Jewish institution. [Sources: American Jewish Historical Society]

[15] Zekan Ahron 1:6 [vehemently opposed it and states it transgresses grave prohibitions]; Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3 opposed even a family gathering; Igros Moshe O.C. 1:104 [does not go as far as to say that it is forbidden, but states that it does not involve a Mitzvah and is better off not done]; O.C. 2:97; O.C. 4:36; Otzros Yerushalayim 129 p. 461-463

[16] The reason: First off, if our forefathers did not follow this custom, certainly there is a reason for it and we should not start a new custom. [Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3] Furthermore, some Poskim rule that it transgresses Bechukoseihem Lo Seileichu, as it was initiated by the reform movement who are heretics and deny the foundations of our faith. [Zekan Ahron ibid] Others say that it has no meaning and purpose in Kedusha, and hence cannot be considered a Seudas Mitzvah, and is simply like a birthday party. [Igros Moshe ibid] Likewise, many people use it today to perform parties in which Torah laws are transgressed, such as mixed singing, dancing, immodest dress and behavior, and hence even Bar Mitzvos should be nullified for this reason. [Igros Moshe O.C. 1:104; O.C. 4:36]

[17] Seridei Eish 3:93; Yechaveh Daas 2:69

[18] See Midrash Sechel Tov Vayeishev 20; Ginzei Yosef 4; Ben Ish Chaiy Rei 17; Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] that on the day of the birthday one is to celebrate with family and friends and have a festive Chassidic gathering, which is a Simcha Shel Mitzvah, giving praise and thanks to the Creator.

[19] See Igros Kodesh 17:237 “Regarding the custom of Bas Mitzvah celebrations which has lately spread also to the religious world, to the point that it is almost impossible to abolish it”;  Rav Hillel Pezner received from the Rebbe in Yechidus, printed in “Bas Yud Beis Lemitzvos” chapter 3 that it should not be done similar to a Bar Mitzvah, but rather as a small and modest celebration, such as in school; Yalkut Bar Mitzvah p. 129 brings that the Rebbe told the author that one is not to make a public celebration, unless this has become the norm, in which case he should do so in a diminished fashion; In a reply to Hanhalas Beis Rivka, the Rebbe stated that it should be done either as a Mesibas Shabbos or as a Melaveh Malka. [Reshimu Shel Shana 5754 p. 113, printed in Shulchan Menachem 3:345]

[20] Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3; Rebbe ibid

[21] See Igros Kodesh 17:237

[22] Igros Moshe O.C. 1:104; Seridei Eish 3:93

[23] Igros Moshe O.C. 1:104; O.C. 4:36; Seridei Eish 3:93

[24] The reason: As it is not a Seudas Mitzvah, but rather a Seudas Reshus, for which even a Tnaiy upon building the Shul does not suffice. [ibid]

[25] Igros Moshe O.C. 4:36

[26] Igros Kodesh 17:237

[27] Yechidus 17th Shvat 5742; Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146]; Igros Kodesh 11/355; Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 [English]

[28] So is added in Hisvadyus ibid

[29] Yechidus 25th Tishreiy 5750

[30] Yechidus 22nd Kiseliv 5743

[31] See Hiskashrus 766 footnote 13

[32] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 3

[33] Yechidus 17th Shvat 5742; Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 4; Igros Kodesh 3/451

[34] The Rebbeim would say a Derush also on the previous year’s Tehillim on the day of the birthday. The Rebbe says that from here it is proven that also the previous year’s Tehillim is relevant to the new birthday. [Mamar VeHashem Amar Hamechaseh 5737 letter 7 [Printed in Sefer Hamamrim Melukat 1 p. 210] based on Sefer Hamamrim 5680 p. 357]

[35] Answer of Rebbe to individual; See Hiskashrus 766

[36] Kaf Hachaim 225:11; Answer of Rebbe to individual; See Hiskashrus 766

[37] Minhagei Yom Huledes  in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 9

[38] Just as it is proper to undertake a new practice of this kind on Rosh HaShanah, so is it appropriate to undertake such a practice on one’s personal Rosh HaShanah – his birthday, when his individual new year begins. [Rebbe ibid]

[39] Ben Ish Chaiy Riei 17; Kaf Hachaim 225:11; Ginzei Yosef 4; Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 10

[40] See P”M 225 A”A 5 who raises the question; Kaf Hachaim 225:11; Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3;

[41] The reason: Perhaps the reason is because a father is not obligated in Chinuch of his daughter as much as a son. [P”M ibid] Alternatively, the reason is because she is still under her father’s jurisdiction for certain matters, such as for Hafaras Nedarim. [Kaf Hachaim ibid; Ketzos Hashulchan vol. 9 p. 3] Alternatively, the reason is because even prior to the age of Bas Mitzvah, a girl belongs to her future husband and is hence protected from punishment of her father in his merit. [Kaf Hachaim 225:11]

[42] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 7

[43] Igros Kodesh 17:310; 21:401; Likkutei Sichos 22:387

[44] Written some time before the 25th of Adar Sheini 5673

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