In the extract of David Rosenberg's book An Educated Man that I've looked at out of curiosity, he makes mention of Jesus of Nazareth presumably undertaking bar mitzvah studies and chanting the haftarah on the day of the ceremony.

This struck me as somewhat odd, since the impression I've gotten from other sources (for instance, a popular Christian Bible site, at least upon a quick Google search) has indicated that the current bar mitzvah practice wasn't in place during the first century CE. Other sources suggest some form of the bar mitzvah was already in practice at the time, although they seem very vague on the details. Finally, Wikipedia isn't entirely clear to me.

As such: when did the bar mitzvah in its current form arise, and before that, were there any similar ceremonies with a religious component?

  • 4
    From Princeton website: "Rosenberg is a lecturer in creative writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University." You can't spell "creative writing" without "creative".
    – Loewian
    Feb 9, 2015 at 15:52
  • @loewian: True, and at that, the rest of his book was too unacademic in style for my taste.
    – user8555
    Feb 9, 2015 at 21:02
  • 2
    I was considering posting an answer based on the anachronism of Jesus reading the haftorah, but (per Wikipedia) it appears that it is, indeed, possible for Jesus to have read the haftorah according to most (or all) histories of the haftorah. You learn something new every day :)
    – MTL
    Feb 10, 2015 at 2:57
  • Personally, I cannot see any reason to doubt that Jesus would have followed the customary Bar Mitzvah studies of his time. He was a Jew and his family Jewish; there is no question about that. Obviously Jewish all his life, as even according to the Christian writings, his last meal with his followers was the evening of the 1st Seder. Jul 30, 2018 at 9:09

1 Answer 1


from: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/484213/jewish/What-is-the-Origin-of-the-Bar-Mitzvah-Celebration.htm#footnote1a484213

According to some, the first documented Bar Mitzvah celebration is referred to in the Torah: "And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned" (Genesis 21:8). According to one opinion expressed in the Midrash, this was the day that Isaac turned thirteen; the day when he was "weaned" from his childish nature, and assumed the responsibilities of a Jewish adult. In Jewish literature, this verse is often used as a source for the celebration made in honor of a boy's acceptance of the mitzvot at age thirteen.

Also, see: http://www.ajrsem.org/teachings/journal/5765journal/krieger5765/

The Zohar1 relates how on the day of his son's Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai made a feast which was akin to a wedding celebration.

My research suggests that the celebratory Bar Mitzvah feast became a unanimously accepted Jewish custom some four hundred years ago.

As for the cause of the celebration, this is the day when a Jewish person is given the obligation and resulting privilege of observing G‑d's commandments. One would be hard-pressed to think of a more joyous occasion to celebrate together with friends and family!

Rabbi Shlomo Luria, noted 16th century Polish scholar, rules that the Bar Mitzvah feast is a seudat mitzvah, a "mitzvah repast," which means that participating in this meal is actually a mitzvah. FOOTNOTES 1.

Zohar Chadash, Genesis 10c; 15d.

and from the wikipedia page you link:

Many sources indicate that the ceremonial observation of a bar mitzvah developed in the Middle Ages,[30][32]


from: http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2473-bar-mizwah

Simon Ẓemaḥ Duran, in his "Magen Abot" to the Baraita, quotes a Midrash interpreting the Hebrew word (= "this") in Isa. xliii. 21—"This people have I formed for myself, they shall pronounce [A. V. "set forth"] my praise"—as referring by its numerical value to those that have reached the age of thirteen. This seems to imply that at the time the Midrash was composed the Bar Miẓwah publicly pronounced a benediction on the occasion of his entrance upon maturity. This is confirmed by the Midrash Hashkem (see Grünhut's "Sefer ha-Liḳḳuṭim," i. 3a): "The heathen when he begets a son consecrates him to idolatrous practises; the Israelite has his son circumcised and the rite of 'pidyon ha-ben' performed; and as soon as he becomes of age he brings him into the synagogue and school ('bet ha-keneset' and 'bet ha-midrash'),in order that henceforth he may praise the name of God, reciting the 'Bareku' (Benediction) preceding the reading from the Law." Masseket Soferim xviii. 5 is even more explicit: "In Jerusalem they are accustomed to initiate their children to fast on the Atonement Day, a year or two before their maturity; and then, when the age has arrived, to bring the Bar Miẓwah before the priest or elder for blessing, encouragement, and prayer, that he may be granted a portion in the Law and in the doing of good works. Whosoever is of superiority in the town is expected to pray for him as he bows down to him to receive his blessing."

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