Jewish tradition has established an age when young people become eligible to participate in certain aspects of Jewish religious life, and obligated to fulfill mitzvoth (sacred obligations) that are incumbent upon Jewish adults. This age is traditionally 13 years old for a boy and 12 ½ for a girl - though Reform Judaism has generally been consistent at 13 as the age of religious maturity.
Upon reaching the age of 13, for example, the young person becomes eligible to read from the Torah, or be called to the Torah to recite the blessings when the Torah is read. An example of obligation, for those who follow this tradition, would be fasting on Yom Kippur, which becomes obligatory at the age of 13.
A bar mitzvah (male) or bat mitzvah (female) is therefore not an event, but a status: one becomes bar or bat mitzvah, which literally means subject to the system of mitzvoth, religious obligations.
At Temple Beth Or, candidates for bar/bat mitzvah begin their studies with the rabbi about one year prior to their bar/bat mitzvah service. Ideally, candidates should be relatively comfortable with reading basic Hebrew before meeting with the rabbi, though other arrangements can be made as necessary. During this year of private study, the students learn to read a passage from Torah and a passage from a prophetic reading [Haftarah], along with the accompanying blessings, and to lead prayers from the Siddur. Students also undertake a mitzvah project, and prepare a D'var Torah (Torah-based sermon).
There is no maximum age to celebrate a bar/bat mitzvah with a special service. Though one becomes eligible at 13, adults of any age who might not have had the experience of reading Torah and leading worship can have a bar/bat mitzvah service. Sometimes a group of adults will study together, and their group experience can lead to a very moving service as they finish their studies.
Temple Beth Or Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guidelines
B'nei Mitzvah Resources
The Art of Torah Cantillation - A Step-by-Step Guide to Chanting Torah,
by Cantor Marshall Portnoy and Cantor Josee Wolff
This unique, step-by-step book and compact disc package will lead the novice through each step of learning how to chant Torah. Divided into 13 lessons and additional useful appendices and bibliography, the book allows the reader to 'self-teach' the important principles of Torah cantillation. The only pre-requisite for this course of learning is a basic ability to read Hebrew and a willingness to learn! Includes CD of corresponding recordings.
Making it Count: Guidelines for Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah
This guide is designed to help you make the most of your Jewish journey. Focusing on the values that are most important in our tradition, you will explore together what commitments you can make to bring these principles to life. Judaism has a lot of special wisdom to offer, but only you can make it real.
Additional B'nei Mitzvah Resources
Navigating the Bible