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Bar and Bas Mitzva

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

Bar and Bas Mitzva

                At the age of 13 one becomes obligated in mitzvos, as the Mishna states בן שלש עשרה למצות.[1] The word איש is written by עונשין, punishments[2] and mitzvos. What classifies one as an איש? The age of 13,[3] as we see from Shimon and Levi, who were called איש at the age of 13.[4]


The Gemara[5] says גדול מצווה ועושה ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה, greater is the one who is commanded and fulfills than one who is not commanded and fulfills. In light of this, R’ Yosef, who was blind, remarked, “If someone told me the halacha is that a blind person is obligated to fulfill mitzvos, I would celebrate a festival day for the Rabbanan.” From this we learn, says the Kaf Hachaim,[6] that the day one becomes obligated in mitzvos is a festival. We therefore have a seuda on the day one becomes bar mitzva.


R’ Shimon Bar Yochai invited the Tanaaim to eat a big seuda that he made when his son, R’ Elazar, became bar mitzva. R’ Shimon explained why this day was so special as he said that a נשמתא קדישא עילאה, holy upper soul, descended through malachim (חיות הקודש) to my son R’ Elazar since he is now 13.[7]


The Yam Shel Shlomo[8] tells us to praise and thank Hashem when a boy reaches bar mitzva,[9] as he is now commanded in mitzvos. The father merited to raise him to this point.[10]


The Gemara[11] states אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר, the night of the 14th of Nissan we search for chametz by the light of a candle. It is said from R’ Chaim Vital that this is also a reference to a bar mitzva boy, who is beginning the 14th year of his life. This is when he fights the yetzer hara—chametz—with the Torah and mitzvos, as it says נר מצוה ותורה אור.[12] Additionally, this is when he gets the yetzer tov.


What about a bas mitzva? In a letter dated the second of Sivan תשי”ט (1959), R’ Moshe Feinstein[13] writes that it is not a seudas mitzva, but is rather like a regular birthday, for which a seuda is optional. Therefore, one must not make it in shul. However, one can make a kidush in shul for it.


Why is a bas mitzva different from a bar mitzva in that there is no seudas mitzva? She is now also obligated in mitzvos! R’ Moshe Feinstein[14] explains that it is because it is not as recognizable as it is with a boy, since a boy can now be part of a minyan as well as a מזומן, among other things.[15] Since it is not recognizable, there is no mitzva for a seuda when a girl becomes bas mitzva.


The Ben Ish Chai[16] (1832-1909) says that on the day a girl enters the obligation of mitzvos, even though we are not accustomed to make a seuda, nevertheless she should still be happy and wear Shabbos clothes. If possible she should wear a new garment and say שהחיינו and have in mind her entry into the yoke of mitzvos.


R’ Avraham Mosfia[17] writes that it seems that one who makes a seuda when his daughter becomes bas mitzva it is a seudas mitzva[18] just as a boy who becomes bar mitzva. R’ Amram Abourabia[19] (1892-1966) states that nowadays the widespread custom is to make a celebration when a girl reaches bas mitzva. In שו”ת ישכיל עבדי,[20] R’ Ovadia Hedaya (1889-1969) writes that in a place where they are accustomed to make a seuda and simcha for a girl who becomes bas mitzva it is surely fitting and proper.


In the opinion of the שרידי אש[21] (1884-1966), since the intent of those who make a bas mitzva is for chizuk and encouragement in educating their daughter for mitzvos, it is good to do it. Regarding the claim that girls in earlier generations didn’t have a bas mitzva, in those generations they didn’t need to educate girls, since each Jew was filled with Torah and yiras shamayim. The entire atmosphere was pure and filled with kedusha of Yiddishkeit. So a girl who was raised in a Jewish home naturally aspired to this. Nowadays we have the influence of the streets, which is the opposite of Yiddishkeit. It therefore is incumbent on us to focus on educating our girls.


R’ Ovadia Yosef[22] (1920-2013) is of the opinion that one should make a seuda of simcha and thanks to Hashem since she merited to reach the age of mitzvos. It is proper to say Torah as well as songs and praises to Hashem at a bas mitzva celebration. Then it is surely a seudas mitzva. One should just be careful that it is done within the parameters of tznius.


[1] Avos 5:21. The Rosh (תשובת הראשכלל טז) says that he is obligated because of הלכה למשה מסיני.

[2] See Bamidbar 5:6.

[3] The pasuk states ויגדל הילד ויגמל ויעש אברהם משתה גדול, the child grew and was weaned. Avraham made a great feast on this day (Breishis 21:8). The Midrash (Breishis Rabba 53:10) says that this refers to him being weaned from the yetzer hara, as at 13 one gets his yetzer tov (This is why he becomes responsible for adherence to the mitzvos at this age—Eitz Yosef, s.v. נגמל.). So  ויגדלmeans that Yitzchak became a גדול (bar mitzva). The feast Avraham made was in honor of that.

[4] Breishis 34:25. See the Gra and Bartenura to Avos, 5:21, s.v. בן שלש עשרה. See Nazir 29b, Rashi s.v. ור‘ יוסימדאורייתא.

[5] Kidushin 31a.

[6] 225:11.

[7] Zohar Chodosh, Breishis 14.

[8] Baba Kama 7:37, s.v. וסעודת.

[9] At 13 one becomes part of the unity of the Jewish people, as he can now be counted for a minyan. Indeed, אחד—one—has a numerical value of 13!

[10] In Judaism 13 is a holy number, as it is the numerical value ofאחד  (ה‘) as well as the number of attributes of mercy. There are also 13 אני מאמיןs.

[11] Pesachim 2a.

[12] Mishlei 6:23. See Kidushin 30b.

[13] Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:36. See also Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:104.

[14] Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 2:97.

[15] See Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 225:4.

[16] שנה א, Reeh, 17.

[17] Brought in Kovetz Noam 7, p. 4. He was the son of R’ Chaim Mosfia, author of שות חיים וחסד.

[18] The Yam Shel Shlomo (Baba Kamma, 7:37, s.v. רב) says that a seuda to give praise to Hashem, to publicize a mitzva, or a miracle is a seudas mitzva (see also Teshuvos Chavos Yair, 70).

[19] נתיבי עם, 225, p. 111. In 1906 R’ Amram Abourabia, who was born in Morocco, immigrated to Palestine with his paternal grandparents. The rest of the family followed them seven years later, settling in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim. This is where his father held a yeshiva in his home, called Ohr Zarua. At age 29 he received semicha from his rebbi, R’ Yosef Chaim Hakohen, president and Raavad (Chief Rabbinical Judge) of the Ma’araviim Congregation in Yerushalayim. He also became a certified shochet (ritual slaughter). In 1919, he married his rebbi’s daughter, Rivka, and the couple had five sons and one daughter. He co-owned a store which sold Hebrew religious books and Judaica to North African Jewry and other communities in the Diaspora. In addition to his occupation at the shop, he taught at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva and at Yeshivat Shaarey Zion. He was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Nachlaot neighborhood in Yerushalayim, where he served from 1925-1951. During the same time, R’ Abourabia was a dayan for the Ma’araviim Rabbinical Court in Yerushalayim. In 1951 he became the Rav of Petach Tikva. In 1920, he was among the founders of the new Yerushalayim neighborhood of Bayit Vegan.

[20] 5, Orach Chaim, 25.

[21] 3:93.

[22] Yechava Daas 2:29.

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