Approximately one hundred generations separate you from the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. Now your child will take his or her place in that line of tradition, about to receive Torah and mitzvot as s/he enters the age of responsibility. What a privilege!
Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the status of a person, not an event in time or a religious sacrament. It does not mean "the son/daughter of commandment". It simply means "one who is responsible for mitzvot". Responsibility for the commandments is traditionally assumed at age 12 for girls and at 13 years for boys, whether one is called to the Torah or not. At Beth Tzedec we celebrate reaching this new status at age 13 for both boys and girls.
The public and ceremonial reading from the Torah for the first time is an occasion for a young person to affirm a commitment to Jewish life and a moment for parents to feel “we have been truly blessed”. It is an opportunity for celebration and gratitude. Standing by your child when s/he steps up to his/her place within our congregation and the Jewish people also is a joyful way to affirm your commitment to your family and to Jewish life.
This ceremony developed over time. By the Middle Ages, the Bar Mitzvah celebration involved being called up to the Torah, sharing something that had been learned (a D’var Torah, speech about the Torah selection), and a special sacred meal (Seudah Mitzvah). The first public celebration of a girl becoming Bat Mitzvah took place on Saturday morning, March 18, 1922 when twelve-year old Judith Kaplan stepped to the bimah of her father’s synagogue, recited the preliminary blessing, chanted a portion of the Torah in Hebrew and then read the closing blessing. "That was enough to shock a lot of people," she later recalled, "including my own grandparents and aunts and uncles."
The essentials remain the same today. Our community invites the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to receive the highest honour– reading from the Torah on behalf of the congregation. As s/he demonstrates engagement in this mitzvah, the congregation hopes that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah will maintain involvement in Jewish life, gradually assume more religious responsibilities, and continue to bring honour to Torah, him/herself and family.