Question: Is there a religious obligation to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah? If so, is there the same obligation to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah.
Answer: The Talmud [BT Kiddushin 31a] tells a story about Rav Yossef, who was blind. There is a discussion amongst the rabbis whether blind people are obligated to observe the Mitzvot – and R. Judah declared that they are exempt. According to the story, Rav Yossef says that when he first heard that the Halacha followed R. Judah (and that he was exempt) he wanted to make a big celebration for the Rabbis. He observed the commandments – and was sure that his reward for observing them, in spite of being exempt, would be great. Then he heard the teaching of R. Haninah the Great, who stated that “One who is obligated and observes is greater than one who is exempt and observes”. Therefore, when he heard that the Halacha didn’t follow R. Judah (and he was obligated), he wanted to make a big celebration for the Rabbis.
We learn from this story that being obligated to observe God’s commandments is a worthy cause for celebration. Based on this, Rabbi Shlomo Luria [16th century, Lithuania] rules that a Bar Mitzvah meal counts as a Seudat Mitzvah. Logically, there should be no difference between boys and girls . Just as we celebrate when our sons reach the age of commandments, so we should celebrate when our daughters do so.
In spite of this, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading authority of 20th century Orthodoxy, (USA) wrote that there is no particular merit in celebrating a Bat Mitzvah. A Bat Mitzvah is no different from any other birthday. When questioned, he later explained that that there is a difference between a Bar Mitzvah and a Bat Mitzvah. The mitzvot that the boy observes are public in nature. From the time of Bar Mitzvah a boy is counted in the minyan, is called to the Torah and reads the haftarah. When a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah the differences are all private. Therefore, there is no obligation for a public celebration.
This opinion was rejected by most other authorities. Of particular note are the words of Rabbi Yechiel Weinberg (20th century, Lithuania / Switzerland) (Seredai Aish 3,93). After showing that it is proper to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah he adds: “The intention of those who celebrate a Bat Mitzvah is to celebrate that their daughters have reached the age of commandments. This is a worthy purpose .… Those who oppose this practice, on the grounds that it is a recent innovation … are mistaken. In previous generations we had no need to publicly educate our daughters – girls were educated in the home, where they learned the fear of the Lord and proper conduct. In our generation the world has changed. The surrounding environment poses a huge challenge to our daughters’ commitment … both common sense and pedagogical principles say we must also celebrate when a girl reaches the age of Mitzvot, and that any discrimination between girls and boys is deeply hurtful.”
In our days the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah is a custom widely practiced throughout the Jewish world. May we see many such celebrations, and may we merit seeing our children grow in their commitments and obligations.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at, 2, 29.
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