According to Jewish law, when Jewish children reach the age of
majority (generally thirteen years for boys and twelve for
girls) they become responsible for their actions, and "become a
Bar or Bat Mitzvah". In many Conservative, Reform,
Reconstructionist and Renewal synagogues, girls celebrate their
Bat Mitzvahs at age 13, along with boys. This also coincides
with puberty. Prior to this, the child's parents hold the
responsibility for the child's adherence to Jewish law and
tradition and, after this age, children bear their own
responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics and
are privileged to participate in all areas of Jewish community
What is the Eshet Chayil (A Woman of
Answer: A Woman of Valor, called Eshet Chayil in
Hebrew, is a hymn which is customarily recited on Friday evenings, after
returning from synagogue and singing "Shalom Aleichem" and before
sitting down to the Shabbat evening meal.
In modern Jewish observance, the occasion of becoming a Bar
Mitzvah or (in non-Orthodox congregations) a Bat Mitzvah usually
involves the young man or woman being called to read the Torah
and/or Haftarah portion at a Shabbat or other service and may
also involve giving a d'var Torah, a discussion of that week's
Torah portion. Precisely what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah may do during
the service varies in Judaism's different denominations and can
also depend on the specific practices of various congregations.
Regardless of the nature of the celebration, males become
entirely responsible for following Jewish law once they reach
the age of 13, and females once they reach the age of 12.
History of the Bar Mitzvah (from
The modern method of celebrating one's becoming a Bar Mitzvah
did not exist in the time of the Bible, Mishnah or Talmud.
Passages in the books of Exodus and Numbers note the age of
majority for army service as twenty The term "Bar Mitzvah"
appears first in the Talmud, the codification of the Jewish oral
Torah compiled in the early 1st millennium of the common era, to
connote "an [agent] who is subject to scriptural commands," and
the age of thirteen is also mentioned in the Mishnah as the time
one is obligated to observe the Torah's commandments: "At five
years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for
the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments..." The Talmud
gives thirteen as the age at which a boy's vows are legally
binding, and states that this is a result of his being a "man,"
as required in Numbers 6:2. The term "Bar Mitzvah," in the sense
it is now used, can not be clearly traced earlier than the
fourteenth century, the older rabbinical term being "gadol"
(adult) or "bar 'onshin" (son of punishment); that is, liable to
punishment for his own misdoings. Many sources indicate that the
ceremonial observation of a Bar Mitzvah developed in the Middle
Ages, however, there are extensive earlier references to
thirteen as the age of majority with respect to following the
commandments of the Torah, as well as Talmudic references to
observing this rite of passage with a religious ceremony.
History of the Bat Mitzvah
Except among Italian Jews, no ceremony parallel to a boy's Bar
Mitzvah ceremony developed for girls before the modern age:
"There were occasional attempts to recognize a girl's coming of
age in eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
the former in Warsaw (1843) and the latter in Lemberg (1902).
The occasion was marked by a party without any ritual in the
Documents record an Orthodox Jewish Italian rite for becoming
Bat Mitzvah (which involved an "entrance into the minyan"
ceremony, in which boys of thirteen and girls of twelve recited
a blessing) since the mid-nineteenth century and this may have
influenced the American Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, who held the
first public celebration of a Bat Mitzvah in America, for his
daughter Judith, on March 18, 1922 at the Society for the
Advancement of Judaism in New York City.
Kaplan, an Orthodox rabbi who joined Conservative Judaism and
then became the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, influenced
Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism, through his
position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. At the
time, most Orthodox rabbis strongly rejected the idea of a bat
As the ceremony became accepted for females as well as males,
many women chose to celebrate the ceremony even though they were
much older, as a way of formalizing and celebrating their place
in the adult Jewish community.
Eshet Chayil is a twenty-two verse poem with which King Solomon
concludes the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31). The poem has an acrostic
arrangement in which the verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew
alphabet in regular order. The poem describes the woman of valor as one
who are is energetic, righteous, and capable.
According to Aggadic Midrashim (interpretation of the non-legal portions
of the Hebrew Bible), the poem was originally composed by Abraham as a
eulogy for his wife Sarah.
According to Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, the poem is a reference to the
Shabbat Queen, the spiritual soul-mate of the Jewish nation.
According to commentators, the poem is allegorical. A Woman of Valor has
been interpreted as a reference to the Shechinah (Divine presence), the
Shabbat, the Torah, wisdom, and the soul. Using Jewish women as the
vehicle through which to describe these spiritual manifestations is a
tribute to her.
It has become a Jewish custom for men to recite this hymn at the end of
the week, and thus to think about and be thankful for all his wife has
done for him and their family throughout the past week.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza v'rachok mip'ninim michrah
An accomplished woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls.
Batach bah lev ba'lah v'shalal lo yechsar
Her husband's heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune.
G'malathu tov v'lo ra kol y'mei chayeiha
She does him good and not evil, all the days of her life.
Darshah tzemer ufishtim vata'as b'chefetz kapeiha
She seeks wool and flax, and works with her hands willingly.
Haitah ko'oniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachmah
She is like the merchant ships, she brings her bread from afar.
Vatakom b'od lailah vatiten teref l'vetah v'chok l'na'aroteiha
She arises while it is still night, and gives food to her household and
a portion to her maidservants.
Zam'mah sadeh vatikachehu mip'ri chapeiha nat'ah karem
She plans for a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands she
plants a vineyard.
Chagrah v'oz motneiha vat'ametz zro'oteiha
She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong.
Ta'amah ki tov sachrah lo yichbeh balailah nerah
She knows that her merchandise is good. Her candle does not go out at
Yadeha shilchah vakishor v'chapeiha tamchu felech
She sets her hands to the distaff, and holds the spindle in her hands.
Kapah parsah le'ani v'yadeiha shil'chah la'evyon
She extends her hands to the poor, and reaches out her hand to the
Lo tira l'vetah mishaleg ki chol betah lavush shanim
She fears not for her household because of snow, because her whole
household is warmly dressed.
Marvadim astah lah shesh v'argaman l'vushah
She makes covers for herself, her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Noda bash'arim ba'lah b'shivto im ziknei aretz
Her husband is known at the gates, when he sits among the elders of the
Sadin astah vatimkor vachagor natnah lak'na'ani
She makes a cloak and sells it, and she delivers aprons to the merchant.
Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon
Strength and honor are her clothing, she smiles at the future.
Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her
Tzofi'ah halichot betah v'lechem atzlut lo tochel
She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread
Kamu vaneha vay'ash'ruha ba'lah vay'hal'lah
Her children rise and praise her, her husband lauds her.
Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah
Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.