My informant was raised as a reform Jew in a household with two Jewish parents. He described to me the ritual of his “Bar Mitzfah” when he was thirteen years old. He says that a Bar Mitzfah is an age-old Jewish ritual that all young men undergo (Bat Mitzfah for females), that signifies the transition from being a boy to a man. The tradition carries back to Israel and dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years. My informant said “it used to be easy for kids raised in Israel or that grew up knowing Hebrew, but the hardest part was having to learn to read Hebrew to be able to perform the chants and prayers”. “It was a bitch to learn”, he said.
The tradition, he said, is performed very differently in different levels of the religion. He said that he was thankful that he was a part of a reform synagogue, where the ceremonies last for only an hour and a half at most. On the other hand, ceremonies in conservative temples can run up to 4 or 5 hours, and orthodox temples even longer. My informant discussed how he remembered attending a conservative Bat Mitzfah for one of his friends from synagogue, and that he and his other friends “couldn’t stand it any longer after the first two hours”.
There are a few things that all Bar and Bat Mitzfah’s have in common, he says. Everybody has a Torah portion and a Haf-Torah portion assigned to them, depending on what time of year that the person performs this ritual. That is, for the rest of their life, their Torah and Haf-Torah portion.
“The thing I was most excited about was the party that night, and all of the gifts” said my informant. He stated that it was a tradition, probably American, that the new man or woman celebrate with a party that night, inviting all of his or her friends, Jewish or not.
My interpretation of this ritual is one as an insider as well, because I am also Jewish and have gone through my own Bar Mitzfah. I believe that this has been a long-standing tradition since the time when men would be considered adults and marry as teenagers, and start their families as young as 16 or 17. Both my informant and I distinctly remember feeling too young to be passing through the gates between boyhood and manhood. My informant stated that he hadn’t even hit puberty yet! I believe that this tradition carried on so young from the old days because Jewish people saw it as a tradition and meaningful in their lives and their community. Changing it would go against old tradition.