Parents, if you've recently had a son become bar mitzvah, don't panic; his second one won't come around for 70 years. At age 83, a man may come to the Torah again as a "new" bar mitzvah. How did this lovely custom come to be?
In Psalm 90, Moses describes a lifespan as "three score and 10," at which time a life symbolically begins again; the meter is reset, so to speak. So, 13 years later, the man is again a bar mitzvah. I have personally attended two such services and am happy to report that one of them was 10 years ago and that bar mitzvah (the term describes the person rather than an event) is still happily attending services.
What about the girls? In most of the streams of Judaism, girls become "bat mitzvah," a daughter of the commandments, by reading from the Torah and leading the congregation in prayer, just as the boys do. The first bat mitzvah is believed to be that of Judith Kaplan in 1922, but 70 years ago today, the practice had not fully taken hold even in Reform Judaism. In fact, the confirmation process took precedence over bar/bat mitzvah for decades. Therefore, there aren't many 83-year-old women today who are prepared to become a "second bat mitzvah." Soon, there will be.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a "second bar mitzvah" service, don't miss it. It is a moving tribute to the power of Torah and the strength of commitment to it.
Hebrew Name Yitzchak Ben Yosef Hacohen
Jewish papercut art by Kim Phillips
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Kim Phillips is a Jewish artist, teacher and pararabbinic who frequently gives workshops and artist-in-residence programs using Jewish papercut art to illuminate sacred Jewish texts.