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Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah refer to the Jewish coming of age ritual (the word “bar” is used for a boy, and “bat” for a girl). The plural is b’nei mitzvah for both boys and mixed sex groups, or b’not mitzvah (Ashkenazi pronunciation: b’nos mitzvah) for girls.
According to Jewish law, before children reach a certain age, the parents are responsible for their child’s actions. Once Jewish children reach that age, they are said to “become” a bar or bat mitzvah, at which point they begin to be held accountable for their own actions. (Traditionally, the father of a bar or bat mitzvah offers thanks to God that he is no longer punished for his child’s sins.)
All Jewish boys, and Reform Jewish girls, become bar or bat mitzvahs at age 13, whereas Orthodox and Conservative Jewish girls become bat mitzvahs at age 12. After this point, children are also held responsible for knowing Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics, and are able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life to the same extent as adults. (In some Jewish communities, men’s and women’s roles differ in certain respects. For example, in Orthodox Judaism, once a boy turns 13, it is permitted to count him for the purpose of determining whether there is a prayer quorum, and he may lead prayer and other religious services in the family and the community.)
Some classic sources identify the age at which children must begin to participate in the ritual of fasting on Yom Kippur as 13 for boys and 12 for girls. The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is usually held on the first Shabbat after the birthday on which the child reaches the eligible age.