Glueckel and the significance of the Bar Mitzvah celebration #general


In a message dated 9/9/2006 9:46:16 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
jrw@... writes:

<<To me, one of the most interesting things about Glueckel's memoirs
is that whereas the author goes into great detail describing births,
marriages and deaths, she never (so far as i recall) so much as
mentions a boy becoming a bar mitzvah. This would seem to indicate
that in her time (at least in Hameln) there was as yet no customary
celebration of this event. Of course there is no halakhic
requirement of such a celebration; but I don't think Glueckel ever
comments on one of her sons being called to the Torah for the first
time or even on their having reached the age of obligation to observe
the mitzvot. I am wondering whether anyone can point us to firm
documentary evidence of bar mitzvah celebrations taking place
anywhere else in Glueckel's time.

==My father's barmitzva was on 11.11.[19]11 in the Orthodox synagogue in
Nurnberg, Germany, and I know he received a number of gifts >from relatives,
including a silver pocket watch that I now own. I recall a barmitzvah in our
congregation around 1937, when the boy (son of my mohel, a well-to-do-merchant)
read one aliyah, and after the service we went to his home where the gifts
were displayed on a table and we were offered cake, wine and juices. (Our
neighbor's 13-y-o Bar Mitzvah son, returned home >from his non-Orthodox synagogue,
eager to attain his great joy -- take out the family car for a brief spin.)

==In England where I lived in the 1940s, it was customary for a boy to read
the maftir and recite the haftarah, with a kiddush in the synagogue's social
hall (scotch, juice, wine, herring, crackers [saltines], cake), an intimate
friends & family dinner at home, reception on Sunday for those who couldn't
attend the synagogue.

==In America, of course, it has become a major investment and major
industry, a cross between American Idol, Super Bowl and the Oscars

==The EncycJud states that the usage of the term Bar Mitzvah to denote the
occasion of assuming religious and legal obligations does not appear before
the 15th century; until then it referred only to the status of the youth who
was now considered a full participant in Jewish law and ritual. Many Sefardim
celebrated the occasion when the youth first donned tefillin, rather than the
Ashkenasi celebration of his first "public" presentation of his
social/religious maturity by being called to the Torah reading.

==In many Ashkenasi Orthodox communities, especially in Eastern Europe, the
Bar Mitzvah was celebrated when the boy was first called to the Torah at the
first weekday Torah reading after the boy attained his 13th birthday, i.e.
Monday, Thursday, New Moon, Hanukkah or Chol Hamoed. (I celebrated mine in the
Monday morning Minyan before the Big day on Saturday.) In many communities in
former years, only the weekday celebration mattered, followed by a symbolic

==The custom of a Tamudic discourse for the Bar Mitzvah boy to recite at his
celebration was introduced in the 16th century among Ashkenasim; Sfardim
also have or had a ceremonial discourse.

==I cite the above to put Dr. Wegner's question in perspective. In
Glueckel's society, everyone was a member of the synagogue, most men prayed there
daily at least once, the entire family attended every Sabbath and festival.
Barmitzvah axiomatically happened to every male and was no great deal. I am sure
Glueckel had visits >from relatives on frequent occasions, then there were
circumcisions, Holegrachs, engagements, weddings. Another Bar Mitzvah was no
great change in the rhythm of life and was not significant enough to be
mentioned, any more than the daughter's becoming a Bat Mitzvah when, at age 12 or at
appropriate physical maturity she became obliged to light shabbat candles and
observe the major fasts.

==In short, a Bar Mitzvah in her culture, was a customary event, rarely
worthy of special notice--but worthy of quiet celebration, nevertheless

==five weeks ago I celebrated my Israel-born grandson's Bar Mitzvah near
London, at a small Orthodox synagogue. Grandparents and Aunt attended >from
Israel and USA, with some cousins and step-cousins. His grandfather (who has
extensive cantorial experience) recited the psalms and hymns welcoming the Sabbath
on Friday evening, next morning the Bar Mitzvah was called to the Torah and
chanted the Haftorah, a step-cousin chanted Anim Zmirot, with a simple
kiddush following. The expanded family and a few friends gathered for a joyful
family meal on Friday evening, and on Sunday evening, family and friends >from far
and near gathered on a chartered cruise up and down the Thames. I don't know
whether my son will ever write his memoirs; if he does, this particular
celebration will doubtlessly still be memorable but I would not be surprised if
he failed to mention it.

Michael Bernet, New York

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