This is the rejoicing time for planting trees and eating flavorful fruit. As we say before each reading of the Torah, "Blessed are Lord our God, King of the Universe / Who has given us the Torah of truth (Torat Emet\תורת אמת) and planted eternal life within us (vechayei olam nat'a betochenuוחיי עולם נטע בתוכינו)".
In some previous blogs, I discussed our flowing capacity to bear children in this country and in general in the Jewish tradition that is on a baby-booming mood. Little children are so sweet here and so essential because they are the next generation and will provide another next generation; this makes us always forward, ahead of any coming of the Messiah. "Yeled melech\ילד מלך" can be bleach, pale, reddish, fat-cheeked. They are generally spoiled, tremendously spoiled. Even when we have naught, they can get something out of it. The chutzpah (sort of very local and typical arrogant way of living) went too far at the present - children have been pampered to get on their own that they need real guidance, serious talks. Some others prefer to pamper their parents. All the segments of the society show, incl. among the pious Jews, that there is a strong need for paternal guiding presence and dialogue combined with motherly tenderness and munchies.
"Nat'a betochenu\נטע בתוכינו - planted among us" = 613 in Hebrew consonants that correspond to the number of all the Mitzvot. This is normal because the blessing is read on the Shabbat after the reading of the week portion. 13 years for boys (bar-bney mitzvah\בר-בני מצוה) 12 years for girls (bat-bnot mitzvah\בת-בנות מצוה) plus 1 (one) full day is the usual age when teens leave adolescence and their pimple spleeny or nice faces to take the yoke of the Mitzvot/Commandments.
There is also another option that is not always very sure: wait till your child is 83 years-old +1 full day since 70 is a traditional computation for many things in Judaism, also a normal life duration... so, 70 plus 13 years, you can offer a bar mitzvah gift to your parents or grandparents. They might be wiser than present-day 13-12 years-old teens, maybe not...
Thirteen is a mazel-מזל/fortune number. The 13 Middot HaAhavah\מידות האהבה are the 13 measures of Love. Real, full love: "HaShem, HaShem, El rachum vechanun\ה' ה' אל רחום וחנון - Lord, Lord, God of loving-kindness and merciful... (Ex. 36:6). Basically, it is said that Abraham became a monotheist at that age (Pirkey deRabbi Eliezer 26): he firstly saw the sun and worshiped it; then, he got a nap; at night, he saw the moon and decided to worship it instead; over the night, he realized that sun and moon alternate and understood that only the One God could manage that. So, he destroyed his father's idols. In the Second Temple, the Chachamim-חכמים/Sages seemingly used to bless the children who, at 12-13 years old could endure one full day of fast (Tractate Yoma 85). This might explain the presence of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:52), discussing with the Sages, which is quite frequent in the Jewish biographies of famous rabbis.
There were different writings that indicated to begin to study the Torah at 5 years-old, but the age of adulthood or the observance of the Commandments is not evident in the Talmudic tradition. "By ten utterances (ma'amarot\מאמרות) the world was created… to call the account of the lawless (resha'im\רשעים) who destroy the world and to give good "sachar tov\סכר טוב-salary/reward"to the righteous who invigorate (shemekaymin\שמקימין) the world and preserve it" (Avot 5:1). This verse is quite similar to the very first verse of Tehillim/Psalm 1:1. The combat is led between a righteous (tzaddik-צדיק) and a unfaithful (resha'-רשע).
This is why Tractate Yoma 82a insists on accomplishing the Mitzvot. On the other hand, a Tzaddik is on a move, that needs to be justified. No one was born a stiff righteous. There is no age nor specific celebration for becoming a bar mitzvah before the 15th century, except the acceptance to assume the Commandments and behave as a full adult. Traditionally, a bar mitzvah is, first of all, a subject of the Law (Talmud Bava Metzia 96a; cf. Galatians 4:4). This explains the releasing blessing pronounced by the father on that day: "Barukh She-patarani\ברוך שפטרני – Who released me from this day of any responsibility upon this one". On the contrary, since early times, a thirteen year-old Jewish son used to become responsible inside of the society, legally observing and eventually judged (Talmud Nedarim 5,6) according to the Law and marry (Tractate Kiddushin 16b) and be a member of a Beyt Din\בית דין (a court of justice) as shown when a "very young judge Daniel" saved the poor Susanna from death penalty, only in the Greek version of the Septuagint-Bible (Daniel 13:64).
This legal aspect is also accompanied by the requirement to don the tefillin\תפילין- phylacteries, the first commandment prescribed by the time of Exodus. They perfectly show that acts of loving-kindness (shel yad\של יד = tefillin put on the left arm/hand and close to the heart) are as important as the Love to God (shel rosh\של ראש = tefillin worn on the forehead). Some boys would be trained to don them some time before their 13th anniversary, but the Orthodox and Chassidic movements prefer to wait till the exact day is over. This also means that the young boy has overcome the trials he has experienced without yielding to the Yetzer HaRa\יצר הרע (Bad Impulse) and definitely chose to follow the Yetzer HaTov\יצר הטוב (Good Impulse).Teens and adolescents can be tempted by very strong undecided, hesitant and screwing impulses. They would tend to be good and may turn either foolish or basic instinct, blind lawlessness.
As regards "bat mitzvah\בת מצוה – daughter of the Commandment", the expression is only mentioned in Talmud Bava Kamma 15a about female obligations toward the respect of the Law. At twelve years plus one day, a girl is fully adult and responsible for her acts. Until very recently – it started in the United States – the celebration was really minor for a woman. She was considered as totally independent and normally did not depend on any parental or fraternal care. This has shown to be rather a dream throughout the Jewish history. On the other hand, married, divorced or widowed women have played a very important role in the Jewish society everywhere, in all rites. It may be considered as trendy if not "prophetic" that some Orthodox movements (Modern Orthodox, Chabad/Lubavitch, haredi to some extent) have accepted to develop the "bat mitzvah" celebration for women (they are precisely no more "girls").
Both Kiddushin 16b and Niddah 6,5 determine this age as the woman move from "childhood" to "civil responsibility", i.e. to the puberty life cycle that definitely modifies their mental and physical capacities and behaviors as b'not mitzvah/daughters of the mitzvah. The same applies to boys that become men, but the process can be slower and not show the same fulfillment of significant life changes. It is very important for Israeli young girls and women to feel and spiritually assume their own life. Interestingly, the modern "bat mitzvah" celebration was introduced at a time when women took more responsibilities in Jewish society. The example of Hannah Rachel Werbemacher (1815-92), woman talmudist buried at the Mount of Olives positively interrogates – beyond her specificity – the dynamics of Jewishness with regards to women status of being "fully subject to the Law".
Indeed, "bar mitzvah" means a clear understanding that innocence is not possible without God's reinforcing assistance. Judaism has known famous characters like the Besht (Baal Shem Tov), initiator of the chassidic movement whose soul and intentions were reputed as always "innocent". This corresponds to the morning prayers that states that "nishmati… taharah – my soul… is pure". The time of becoming responsible should imply that each boy read one full part of the weekly portion; i.e. to truly assume his aliyahעליה/to ascent to the bema-בימה/lectern, read the text and deliver a personal "drashah\דרשה" or comment of the text. This is definitely not the case in the present where the baaley keriah-בעלי קריאה/readers mostly function in place of the bney mitzvot. Since women often read the haftarah (weekly reading of the Prophets), this should allow to underscore the basic and essential call to be a woman at all levels, in the Jewish society, with all the moral involvements.
It would be very difficult to compare "Bar mitzvah adulthood" to any similar Christian celebration. It is important, on the other hand, to underscore that Jesus of Nazareth was fully a "subject of the Law" (Galatians 4:4). He was circumcised and underwent some "pedyion haben\פדיון הבן -redemption of the firstborn" (Luke 2:21-32) through the offerings made by his parents in the Temple. Then, he went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them… advancing in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51-52). When he was twelve years-old, he went up to Jerusalem with his parents and was found in the Temple "sitting among the teachers listening and asking them questions" (Luke 2:41-50).
These similarities are important in order to avoid cutting Christianity from the Jewish way of being "subject of the Law". But the development of the Christian way to be a God believer mainly showed through various rituals: baptism and pouring of oils (oil of strength and faith then Holy Spirit). The Eastern Orthodox Church proceeds to these rituals in one time, never repeated. Say that an Orthodox Christian is born and "imprinted" (Gr. "sphragis", mark, seal) to behave consistently. The Western Churches have developed a more rational path with the "Receiving of the Communion in the shape of Bread and Wine") around 7-10 years-old and the confirmation (seal of the Holy Spirit) about 12 to 15 years-old. This depends on local customs.
Rites, times of our lives, passing-over dates create strong socializing ties. Everywhere they may untie souls and also show synchronic and diachronic impediments. All these times and delays curiously witness for our faith and requirement for God's assistance: "God delivered all humans to disobedience so that He may have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32).
av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 9/January 27, 2009 – 15 deShvat 5769 - ט"ו בשבט תשס"ט