"He had a Ceremony - I had a Party": Bar Mitzvah Ceremonies vs. Bat Mitzvah Parties in Israeli Culture

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The bar mitzvah ceremony was instituted by European Jews in the late Middle Ages as a rite of initiation that introduced young boys into the world of ritual obligations and Jewish literacy. In modern times, it has been seen by many as the Jewish equivalent of the male initiation rites of many cultures all over the world, through which the child enters the adult community by performing some dramatic, extreme, and one-time version of a routine activity of the men of his community. Nonetheless, as Michael Hilton noted in his exhaustive historical account of the bar mitzvah, its popularity among Jewish parents has traced an inverse curve to their commitment to observe the precepts, reaching its peak in the late Modern Era. In the contemporary world, boys, girls, and families that want to feel Jewish conduct the ceremony before a large audience, devoting significant resources of time, money, and mental energy to it; but in the vast majority of cases the youngsters are not initiated into anything that will be meaningful to them later in life. In the two largest Jewish population centers today—North America and Israel—the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah have been transformed into an elaborate birthday celebration centered on a wasteful party in the spirit of the consumer culture; for most people, the initiatory element is quite marginal and has no real impact on daily life, which continues on the morrow exactly as it was before.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-356
Number of pages22
JournalModern Judaism
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2016


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