27 Jun 2016 283 views
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Bar Mitzvah|

Bar Mitzvah


According to Jewish law, at the age of thirteen a boy is no longer considered a minor and is responsible to fulfill all the Torah’s commandments. The term “bar mitzvah” literally means “son of the mitzvah,” or one who is obligated in mitzvah observance. "Mitzvah" then is the law and the "Torah" is the first five books of the Bible as Christians will know it. These 5 books contains all the laws handed down to the tribe of Israel.


The occasion has two main parts. The ceremony in the synagogue and the celebrations afterwards. Public reading of the Torah in the synagogue happens on Shabbat, Monday and Thursday mornings, holidays and fast days. Congregants are called up for an aliyah: the honor of reciting one of the blessings over the Torah. The bar mitzvah's honour is to recite his first aliyah on a public reading day; if it falls on his birthday, or the first reading day after his birthday. Then follows the celebrations.


Just to get it straight. The boy becomes a bar mitzvah by fact of his 13th birthday, whether or not a celebration or special ceremony is held. On the first possible opportunity, the bar mitvah has the honour of reciting an aliyah. The celebrations follow, in public or in a rented hall. At some time, in the synagogue or during the party, the boy will be required to make a speech and announce his mitzvah project (he'll choose one of the many laws and study it, to become an expert).


In the picture you see a bar mitzvah, carrying a copy of the Torah, with a block tightly strapped to his arm. He also has such a block tied to his forehead (unfortunately, his head is behind that big container). The block is a little box, containing parts of the law. These attributes are called tefillin and are worn mostly on weekday morning prayers, according to Deut 6: 8 "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they should be for a reminder between your eyes". The "them" refers to the commandments and laws. This picture was taken on the square, in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall. This square is considered to be a synagogue, so the young man is on his way to read from the Torah and recite blessings.


The Jewih religion has many variations on how to do what. This also applies to bar mitzvah. I have provided the bare essentials and hinted at a variation. Jewery in the Sephardi custom includes reading from the Torah, alongside the blessings. I will not try to cover all these variations.


Girls become bat mitzvah at the age of 12. The bat mitzvah is not allowed into the reading part of the synagogue (men only) in the Orthodox variations, although there are some of the Jewish variations that have no problem with bat mitzvah's reading from the Torah (and being in what the Orthodox variations consider to be "men only").


I include a video that I have taken of the public part of the party, in one of the town squares of the old city. It is a different bar mitzvah event from the one in the picture.



In this video it is difficult to spot the bar mitzvah. He is the one with the green jacket walking under the canopy. At one stage I point the camera at the flagstones. That is when one of the aunts insisted that I take a celebratory sweet.



comments (19)

  • Ray
  • United States
  • 27 Jun 2016, 03:09
Fascinating stuff, Louis.

I am suspicious of anything that is "Men Only".

I can see where Go Pro got its design inspiration.
Louis: smile Thank you Ray. You may remain suspicious. There is no such law in the Torah - it was made up by some rabbi from yesteryear and written into the Talmud. The Talmud is huge set of interpretations, compiled over maybe 3,000 years - also referred to as the rabbinic laws. In other words, made by men for men.
Amazing tradition... I'm pleased you were able to observe and record this!
Louis: Thank you Elizabeth. When I visit a place like this, I love to mingle.
  • Martine
  • France
  • 27 Jun 2016, 04:47
Magnifique n&b. Tu as bien capté les émotions des gens.
Louis: Je vous remercie, Martine.
Men only... Great capture Louis!
Louis: Orthodox Jews still reserve the public reading of the Torah for men. Thank you Richard.
  • Chris
  • England
  • 27 Jun 2016, 06:40
You have explained the mysteries of something I knew about but never remembered Louis, for which many thanks
Louis: My pleasure Chris. The one thing that can mix the memory, is the various streams in the Jewish belief, where there will be variations in their approaches. There are even synagogues that allow girls becoming bat mitzvah, to read from the Torah.
Somehow the B&W conversion seems most appropriate, Louis, for so grand an occasion.
Louis: smile Thank you Ginnie. I saved this one for a Monday.
  • Lisl
  • Bath, England
  • 27 Jun 2016, 08:20
How good you were able to witness this during your stay, Louis
Louis: Thank you Lisl. I found opportunities, to speak to locals and did a lot of reading.
Men only eh?
Louis: Orthodox Jews still reserve the public reading of the Torah for men. Women can look on from the sidelines.
  • Philine
  • Germany
  • 27 Jun 2016, 08:48
I watched a Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem - a very good photo!
Louis: Thank you Philine. The one day I was there, there was a number of bar mitzvah doing their first aliyah and readings.
The fellow looks like he is carrying the Stanley Cup.
Louis: At the age of 13, a boy can still be dwarfed by that container.
Thanks for the info' Louis, I've often wondered the explanation for these things. A good b/w shot too.
Louis: I have learned a lot, just before and during the visit. Thank you Frank.
Thanks so much Louis, you've answered a question to which I've never had the answer in all my years as to what a bar mitzvah is, sadly I don't go along with this 'men only' attitude in any religion!
Louis: There is no such law (men only) in the Torah - it was made up by some rabbi from yesteryear and written into the Talmud. The Talmud is huge set of interpretations, compiled over maybe 3,000 years - also referred to as the rabbinic laws. In other words, made by men for men. They easily forget that God will choose, who He will use for whatever purpose.
nice post, Louis. i had only heard of this traditional vaguely in passing. i think the shot looks better in this light and in b/w
Louis: Hah, I think there are not many Jews in your part of the world smile Thank you Ayush.
Beautiful b/w photo... love the bright tones...
Louis: Thank you Larry. I thought the white clothing in sunlight, was a bit too bright in the colour version.
What strange practices religions get up to!
Louis: At least, this lot don't believe you will earn a number of virgins, by blowing yourself and some of the 'others' up. There are some strange practices, you could swear they are busy with politics sometimes.
  • Astrid
  • Netherlands
  • 28 Jun 2016, 04:42
This is so fascinating that you could come in that close and join. Absolute fabulous picture. Great video too... However it is still a men's world... I know it is tradition, but still....
Louis: Yes, but still ... Thank you Astrid.
  • blackdog
  • United Kingdom
  • 28 Jun 2016, 12:08
I too am suspicious of rules made by men that exclude women - so while I respect their views I could never be party to them. Fine B&W photo and never noticed the wooden blocks before.
Louis: Thank you, blackdog. Those exclusions are what I refer to as the 'step on them' approach. Gender, age, race, nations - because what I am, I believe I am better than the others. Strange business.
  • Beth
  • United States
  • 30 Jun 2016, 02:18
Wonderful picture and thank you for the explanation. Where was this taken? Was it an Orthodox service? I'm not used to seeing the tefillin at a service.
Louis: Thank you, Beth. Bar Mitzvah means to the day that a Jewish boy becomes independent as far as living the laws are concerned. BY becoming 13, on that day, the boy is a bar mitzvah. On that day, or the first day following when it is possible, he will read from the Torah in front of a congregation. This confirms his status. In front of the Western Wall, there is a square that is considered to be an open air synagogue. On one of the reading days, many bar mitzvah's may turn up to read, to whoever will be listening. It is not a service per sè, but an action that must be completed to show that the boy has accepted his new status. About the tefillin - there are hundreds of variations of Jewish religion - they don't all wear the tefillin and those who do, not necessary at the same occasions.
  • Bonnie
  • United States
  • 30 Jun 2016, 04:11
So touching. Love the b/w take on this.
Louis: Thank you Bonnie.

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