We all celebrate bar mitzvahs - the source of which is Rav Yosef’s festive seudah in the gemarra Kiddushin 31a when he found out that he was fully obligated in mitzvos. However, what about a bat mitzvah? Does this source apply to bat mitzvahs too? is there any reason to celebrate bat mitzvahs? Is there any reason not to celebrate bat mitzvahs, and do they have the same status as bar mitzvahs? The two principal views on this subject are Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. 


In various responsa (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:104, 2:97 and 4:36), Rav Moshe writes that there is no source for a bat mitzvah; boys celebrate their bar mitzvahs for there is a recognisable change when a boy becomes obligated in mitzvos - he can now be called up to the Torah and form part of a minayn. But since there is no

recognisable change in her daily life when a woman becomes obligated in mitzvos, there is no real reason to celebrate a bat mitzvah, for the simcha and seudah are dependent on a public, noticeable change of behaviour, not merely a personal recognition that one is obligated in mitzvos. Certainly, there is no Talmudic source which obligates the celebration of a bat mitzvah, which is why a bat mitzvah celebration does not take on the status of a seudas mitzvah (which means that any festive bat mitzvah meal cannot take place in the place where they daven in Shul). Indeed, Rav Moshe writes that the whole idea of celebrating a bat mitzvah came from the reform and conservative movements.
However, Rav Moshe continues that whilst there may be no source for it, it is certainly not prohibited to celebrate a bat mitzvah, though Rav Moshe maintains that it is better not to make a big deal out of it. One can treat it like a birthday celebration with its requisite simcha, which means that it’s ok to make a kiddush in Shul and the bat mitzvah girl can even say a few words at the kiddush (but not on the bimah).
However, given that the whole thing is not obligatory, one has to carefully weigh up whether making such a celebration will cause or encourage any chillul Shabbos, via irreligious relatives driving to Shul, etc. Rav Moshe does point out that if the Shul already has picked up the ‘custom’ to celebrate bat mitzvahs then there’s certainly no need to kick up a fuss and change the Shul’s customs; this will only cause unwanted machlokes.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef, however, disagrees. In his detailed responsa (Yalkut Yosef Sove’a Semachot 2:6, Yabi’a Omer 6:29 and Yechave Da’at 2:29) he first quotes the Ben Ish Chai (Re’eh 17) that though (in his times) there was no widespread custom to celebrate a bat mitzvah, it is certainly appropriate for the girl to act be’simcha on the day of her coming of religious age - she should wear Shabbos clothes, and if possible she should wear new clothes so that she can recite the bracha of shehechiyanu.

Indeed, Rav Ovadiah maintains that there is no reason that the gemarra’s source for a bar mitzvah should not apply to women too (he does not hold of the ‘recognisable’ svara advanced by Rav Moshe). And though the Zekan Aharon holds that making a bat mitzvah come under the banner of the prohibition of chukas ha’goy (for in ancient times certain idolaters would make a party for a girl once she reached the age of twelve, for idolatrous purposes), we don’t go with his opinion le’halacha.

Thus, Rav Ovadiah maintains that a bat mitzvah is also a se’udas mitzvah, just like a bar mitzvah is.

 

 

 

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