What Exactly is a Bark Mitzvah?

Coming of age ceremonies have existed for a very long time. For example, ancient Roman boys were expected to set aside the special amulet called the bulla so that they could put on the toga of manhood, while ancient Roman girls were expected to dedicate their dolls to either Artemis or Aphrodite depending on the context. Similarly, the ancient Chinese received their style names at their coming of age ceremonies, which was very important because style names were the names that people of the same generation were supposed to use in polite interaction with one another.

In the modern west, coming of age ceremonies are still very much in existence. Some examples are not named so but are nonetheless so, with an excellent example being a person’s first car throughout much of Canada and the United States. However, there are still coming of age ceremonies that are very formal in nature, as shown by the continuing holding of the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah by Jewish people.

What Are Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah?

For those who are curious, the bar and the bat mean “son” in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and “daughter” in Hebrew respectively. As such, both bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah mean something along the lines of “someone who is subject to the law.” That can seem rather strange for terms that refer to coming of age ceremonies for boys and girls. However, this is an excellent example of terms that started out referring to one thing before coming to refer to another thing over time.

In any case, these coming of age ceremonies are old but not quite as old as what interested individuals might guess. In short, they didn’t exist in the time of the Tanakh, the Mishnah, and the Talmud. However, there are mentions of the Jewish people performing these coming of age ceremonies in the Middle Ages, which can be found in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Still, there are clear connections between these periods, as shown by how the idea that boys should be considered adults at the age of 13 can be found in early rabbinic sources.

Significance-wise, the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah are pretty much what interested individuals might expect. Simply put, they show that a Jewish person has become a full-fledged member of the Jewish community, which is something that comes with a lot of responsibilities. For example, they become responsible for their actions in a moral sense. Similarly, they become obligated to follow the rules laid out in the Torah. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah are also occasions for celebration, so much so that the latter is often considered to be outright necessary rather than just something to be expected. Amusingly, some of these celebrations can be rather over-the-top, which is something that has been commented quite a bit in Jewish humor.

What Is a Bark Mitzvah?

Based on the name, it should come as no surprise to learn that a bark mitzvah is a coming of age ceremony for a dog. In some cases, it is held when a dog turns 13 months old; in other cases, it is held when a dog turns 13 years old. However, it is very much possible for interested individuals to hold a bark mitzvah for their canine companion at a different age, which makes sense because the expectations for it are so much more nebulous in nature.

Still, it is interesting to note that the bark mitzvah isn’t quite as new as what a lot of interested individuals would guess. Apparently, the first known bark mitzvah was held for a black cocker spaniel named Duke of Windsor by a Beverly Hills, CA couple named Max and Janet Salter in 1958. It is unclear to what extent this couple inspired others to hold the bark mitzvah. However, they continued holding these coming of age ceremonies for their dogs over the course of five decades. Later, the first bark mitzvah to receive widespread attention happened in 1997, which actually prompted a fair amount of criticism from certain rabbis who perceived it as a desecration of their religious tradition. However, plenty of other Jewish people have rolled with it, with the result that the bark mitzvah is now popular on both the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States. Thanks to this, there are now plenty of pet stores and other pet-oriented businesses that offer special products and services for those who are seeking to hold their own. For instance, some interested individuals choose to provide their dog with the ritual shawl called the tallit as well as the brimless skullcap called the yarmulke, which can be purchased instead of forcing them to either make these items or find someone to make these items.

Besides this, it is also worth mentioning that the bark mitzvah is sometimes held as an adjunct to Purim, which might be more familiar to some English speakers under the name of the Festival of Lots. In short, Purim is meant to celebrate the rescue of the Jewish people from a high-ranking official of the Achaemenid Empire named Haman, who decided to kill all of the Jewish people after a Jewish man named Mordechai refused to bow to him. Fortunately, the Achaemenid king’s Jewish wife Esther convinced him that this was a terrible idea, which is how Haman winded up being hanged from the gallows that he had built for the Jewish people. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount of historical interest in the story. There are some who continue to hold to the traditional account. However, there are also scholars who suggest that Purim has no historical basis. For instance, some of them have claimed that the Book of Esther was likely to have been written in Hellenistic times because its view of the Achaemenid court mirrors that of the Classical Greeks. Likewise, some of them have cast doubt on the association of the Achaemenid king in the story with any of the proposed candidates.

In any case, Purim is still celebrated in the present time. It is very common for the celebrants to exchange gifts of food and drink on said occasion. Furthermore, other common events range from charitable donations and celebratory meals to public recitations of the Scroll of Esther.

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