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The Laws of Bar Mitzvah

The Laws of Bar Mitzvah

Parshat Vayishlach

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From the age of thirteen and onwards, a boy is considered a man and is thus obligated in all mitzvot.1 On his thirteenth birthday, the young man is called a "Bar Mitzvah," which literally translates as: the Son of the Mitzvah.2

This is derived from the biblical verse3 that says that Shimon and Levi took their swords to kill the inhabitants of the city of Shechem (as punishment for the abduction and violation of their sister Dinah). When describing this, the Torah says ish charbo, "each man took his sword," implying that they were considered men4 at that point5; and at that point in time, Levi had just turned thirteen.6

Some say that the age of bar and bat mitzvah is a tradition handed down from Moses at Sinai.7

Calculating the Bar Mitzvah Date

One becomes bar mitzvah at the onset (at nightfall8) of their thirteenth (Jewish) birthday, regardless of the time of day he was born.9

If a child is born during bein hashmashot (the time between sunset and the emergence of three stars), at which time we don’t know whether it’s still considered the day beforehand or the following night, he becomes obligated to observe all of the mitzvot on the earlier day,10 and that is when he celebrates his bar mitzvah.11

Calendar Issues:

  • A boy born in the month of Adar of a non-leap year celebrates his bar mitzvah in the second Adar, if his bar mitzvah year is a leap year.12 Nevertheless, there are some halachic authorities that maintain that the bar mitzvah should be celebrated in the first Adar. In order to satisfy this opinion, the boy should put on tefillin starting from the date of his birthday in the first Adar.13
  • If a boy was born in Adar of a leap year, and the bar mitzvah is also on a leap year, the bar mitzvah is celebrated on the date as he was actually born on.
  • If a boy was born on the thirtieth of Cheshvan or Kislev, and on the year of his bar mitzvah, no such day exists (see here for the explanation for this phenomenon), he becomes bar mitzvah on the first day of Kislev or Tevet respectively.14

The New Rights of the Bar Mitzvah Boy

As a result of being considered an adult, the bar mitzvah boy is enabled to perform and/or participate in the following rituals:

  • Lead prayer services (as chazzan).15
  • Be counted as a member of a minyan.16
  • To bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing if he is a kohen.17
  • To serve as reader from the Torah at public Torah readings.18
  • To receive an aliyah.19
  • To lead the Grace after Meals (known as zimun) and count as one of the three people required in order to do a zimun.20

The Bar Mitzvah Boy's Responsibilities

From the day of the bar mitzvah and on, the young man is obliged to do all of the mitzvot of the Torah. These include: donning tefillin21 and fasting on communal fast days.22

In addition, as an adult, a young man becomes responsible not only for his own actions but also for the actions of all of his fellow Jews.23 This concept is called arvut, or shared responsibility. Click here for more information on this topic.

The Aliyah

The bar mitzvah boy is honored with an aliyah at the first opportunity, indicating that he's reached adulthood.24 It is Chabad custom that this aliyah should not be on Shabbat morning.25

After this aliyah, the father recites a blessing thanking G‑d for now exempting him from punishment as a result of his son's negative actions.26 He's no longer obligated to educate the boy to do the mitzvot, rather the boy is now responsible for himself.27 In most communities (including Chabad) this blessing is recited without explicit mention of G‑d's name, as this blessing is not mentioned in the Talmud.28 The text of the blessing is ברוך שפטרני מענש הלזה. Ba-rooch she-pi-tuh-ra-nee mai-o-nesh ha-la-zeh. ("Blessed is He who has released me from being punishable for this [boy]").

In many communities it is customary for the bar mitzvah boy to publicly read from the Torah. I heard in the name of Rabbi Nevenzohl, rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, that this is to train the young man in the mitzvah of reading from the Torah. Some say that this custom has no source and is not necessary to follow.29 The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes30 that in preparation for accepting "the yoke of mitzvot," the bar mitzvah boy should spend time studying the fundamentals of Judaism, including the laws regulating daily life. Studying to read from the Torah is time consuming and not nearly as important as the above studies. It's therefore preferable not to spend the time preparing the Torah reading, but rather on the more important studies.

The Bar Mitzvah Celebration

It is a mitzvah to arrange a feast on the day of the bar mitzvah, to celebrate the boy's new obligation to fulfill all of the mitzvot.31 In Talmudic times we already find that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai made a feast for his son, Rabbi Elazar, on the day of his bar mitzvah.32 Although it is best to make the feast on the bar mitzvah day (or night33), if the feast is not on the actual bar mitzvah day, but the boy recites a Torah thought, it is still considered a mitzvah feast.34

One who is unable to make a full celebration on the day of the bar mitzvah, and is therefore celebrating it some days later, should at least make a small celebration on the bar mitzvah day itself.35

It is customary for the bar mitzvah boy to share a Torah thought at this celebration.36 I heard from my teacher Rabbi Chaim Shalom Deitch, dean of the Tzemach Tzedek Kolel in Jerusalem, that the speech's purpose is to educate the new bar mitzvah boy in the important mitzvah of teaching Torah to the public. The bar mitzvah boy often speaks in the synagogue after the Torah reading.37

It is Chabad custom for the bar mitzvah boy to recite a maamar (Chassidic discourse) that relates to the mitzvah of putting on tefillin. The maamar that is customarily recited starts with the words "Ita b'Midrash Tillim," and was first recited by the fifth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. Click here for the text of the mammar.

The origins and customs of the bat mitzvah will, G‑d willing, be discussed in a future article.


Ethics 5:21 (22 as counted in the Alter Rebbe's Siddur).


According to Torah law, a child only becomes an adult when he reaches the age of bar and show signs of physical maturity (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 55:12; see Maimonides, Laws of Ishut ch. 2 as to what these signs are). For matters of rabbinic nature (being a chazzan, etc., as enumerated below), we consider a thirteen year old an adult—on the presumption that most boys that age have physically matured (Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid. 55:6). In matters of Torah obligation, however, it's necessary to ensure that the boy has reached puberty.
Some of these Torah obligations are: a) Serving as a witness for a wedding, divorce or monetary transaction (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 35:1); b) ritually slaughtering without a supervising adult (ibid., Yoreh Deah 1, Pitchei Teshuvah 11 [but see Rama, ibid. 5, that according to some opinions a child shouldn't be appointed as a ritual slaughterer until the age of 18]); c) serving as a sofer (scribe) (Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid. 39:1); d) making kiddush for another adult (ibid., 271:7); e) reading the haftorah of Shabbat Zachor (Mikraei Kodesh Purim s. 1 final note; some say the same applies to the haftorah of Parshat Parah, based on Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 685:7—but see Halichot Shlomo 12, note 100).


The word "ish" connotes that one is no longer a child. See Exodus 2:14 and Rashi ad loc.


The fact that we derive the age of bar mitzvah from this act teaches us that once a child becomes bar mitzvah he must devote himself to G‑d and his fellows with complete self sacrifice—as did Shimon and Levi to protect their sister (Likutei Sichot vol. 10 pg. 70. Click here for elaboration of this concept).


Rashi (d.h. Verabi Yossi, Nazir 29b); and see Tosafot Yom Tov and Rabbi Akiva Eiger on Ethics ibid.


Responsa of the Rosh, beginning of Klal 16; Responsa of Maharil no. 51. See there for several other allusions in the Torah for the significance of this age.
This argument – whether we learn the age of maturity from Shimon and Levi or it is a Mosaic tradition – has strong relevance with regards to the age of responsibility for non Jews (the age when they are held responsible for observing the Seven Laws of Noah). If the age of bar mitzvah is learned from Shimon and Levi, we can derive that thirteen is the universal age of maturation—even before the Torah was given, i.e., even before the concept of a Jew existed.
But if this is simply tradition from Sinai, then we accept it as a law that is beyond comprehension, and we cannot extrapolate the law of gentiles based on it. Rather, they are considered adults whenever they become emotionally mature—regardless of the age. (See Responsa of Chatam Sofer Y.D. 317, Sha'arei Halacha Uminhag vol. 3 pg. 51, Likutei Sichos vol. 5 pg. 421, vol. 10 pg. 70.)


On the Jewish calendar, the calendar date begins at nightfall.


Although the common expression (e.g., Talmud, Niddah 45b) concerning bar mitzvah is: "thirteen years and one day," this only means that the boy must have completed thirteen years and have entered into the first day of his fourteenth—as opposed to if he's in his thirteenth year, when he's still twelve years old (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 53:13; Mishnah Berurah 53:33).
See Ba'er Heitev 53:13 in the name of Mahari Bruna and Responsa of Rabbi Akiva Eiger Mahadurah Tinyanah no. 22 that a boy only reaches bar mitzvah at the same hour of day they were born thirteen years earlier. But this is not the accepted halachah.


This follows the rule of safek de'orayta lechumara—when in doubt regarding a Torah obligation, one must err on the side of caution (Mishnah Berurah 55:42).


Responsa of Shevet Halevi vol. 4 no. 26.
He can also be counted as part of a minyan on the earlier day (Piskei Teshuvos 55:16); some, however, say that he should not lead the Grace after Meals on that day (Shevet Halevi ibid.).


Rama on Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 55:10


Shevet Halevi 6:9.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 55:13.


Ibid., 53:9, 55:6. But see ibid. 53:9 that he shouldn't be appointed as a permanent chazzan until he has a beard or has reached the age of twenty.


Ibid., 55:6.


Ibid., 128:49. A child may participate in the blessing, if together with an adult; a bar mitzvah boy may do it alone as well.


Ibid., 288:5.


Ibid., 282:7.
By the letter of the law, even a child may receive certain aliyot (ibid., 5), but in most communities it is customary that children are not called to the Torah. The exception to this is the maftir aliyah, which is still given to children in some communities.
This might be an additional reason for the Chabad custom, which originates from the Baal Shem Tov, to give a bar mitzvah boy his first aliyah on Monday, Thursday or the Shabbat afternoon reading—but not on Shabbat morning (Shevach Yakar pg. 104 from Sefer Haminhagim Chabad). The former Torah readings are ones at which a child may not receive an aliyah (Mishnah Berurah 288:11), whereas on Shabbat morning a child may receive an aliyah by the letter of the law. So we honor the bar mitzvah boy with an aliyah that he could not have received beforehand. (But see Shevach Yaker, ibid., that the primary reason for this custom is because these are auspicious times on high.)


Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid. 199:9.


Ibid., 37:3. In many communities a child starts putting on tefillin – for practice purposes – several months before his bar mitzvah. In Chabad, the custom is to start two months beforehand.


Ibid., 616.


See Magen Avraham 199:7.


Sha'arei Efrayim 4:25.


See footnote 18 for the reason.


Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 225:2 in the Rama.


Mishnah Berurah, ibid. 7.




Halichot Shlomo, ibid. 34.


Sha'arei Halachah Uminhag, vol. 2 pg. 311.


Mishnah Berurah 225:6 from the Magen Avraham.


Zohar Chadash, Parshat Bereishit.


Responsa Maharam Brisk vol. 2 no. 68.


Mishnah Berurah, ibid.


Sha'arei Halachah Uminhag, ibid. pg. 310.


See Responsa of Chavot Ya'ir, s. 124 (123 in some prints).


Some say he may speak in between aliyot (Responsa Yechaveh Da'at 5:17), others question the permissibility of this (Igrot Moshe vol. 6 O.C. 40:21).

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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