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Baruch she patarani and celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah

Author: Rav Duvdevani of Bet Shemesh, Kislev 5765/Nov 2004

When a boy reaches the age when he is allowed and obligated to fulfil the commandments of the Torah and he is called to the reading of the Torah, it is usual for the father to recite the blessing: baruch she patarni mei onesho shel ze, blessed be He who has freed me from the responsibility (lit. the punishment) of this one – this child.

A number of questions are raised by our sages concerning the recital of this blessing: 

  1. Perhaps it is the son who should be making the statement.
  2. What about the mother? Should she be saying it concerning her son, perhaps her daughter?
  3. Should the blessing be said with the full formula of shem u malchut, mention of the name and the kingdom of the Almighty (God, king of he universe)?

Rav Duvdevani examined these questions in the light of commentaries and Rabbinical responsa . An associated topic, the merit of bar mitzvah celebrations is discussed. Rav Duvdevani extended the subject to include the bat mitzvah.

Since the father is responsible for the education of his son, the child’s wrongdoings are the father’s responsibility and any punishment incurred devolves on the father. That is our general understanding of the practice. Several sources explain why this practice was reserved for sons:

  1. Girls remained in their parents’ house until they married, not specifically at the age of twelve (Kaf haChayim).
  2. There is uncertainty as to the father’s responsibility, since a girl could be promised in marriage while still a minor (Peri Megadim).
  3. Girls’ education was limited (Responsa of the ROSH), so it is much less of an issue.

Shem u malchut

Because there is no mention of the recital of this blessing in the Gemara, opinions are divided on the matter of the full version of the blessing. The 15th Century Ashkenazi MAHARIL noted that the custom was to recite the full version. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, 425) in the 17th Century states ‘it is good to say the blessing without shem u malchut’ In other words, it depends on how important the blessing is seen to be.

The blessing and its implications.

The earliest reference we have of the recital of baruch she patarani is the Midrash Bereshit Rabba (section 63). The Midrash is speaking of Esau and Jacob and tells us that, at the age of thirteen, one (Jacob) went to the house of (Torah) study and one (Esau) went to the house of idol worship. Rabbi Eliezer says that therefore a father should say baruch she patarani mei onesho shel zeonce his son is thirteen years old. This means that that the blessing releases him from being punished for Esau’s sins.

A modern responsa by HaRav Yitzhak Nissim comments that the Midrash does not mention girls here, since it was discussing Esau and Jacob. He believes that the blessing should also be recited for the bat mitzvah.

Who recites the blessing

This depends on who is being released from being punished for the wrongdoings of whom. Are the failings of the son the fault of the father? Is the son being freed from punishment due to the father because he ‘belongs to’ his father (Commentary on Decisions by the ROSH)?

And the mother? In the Book of Kings (1 Kings, ch.17) we read that the son of the widow whom Elijah has helped is dying and she says: ‘Have you come to me to call my sins to remembrance and to kill my son?’ (v.18). She clearly believes that her son is being punished for her sins.

The general practice is that the father recites the blessing.

Celebrations

Almost everyone approves of the festive meal of celebration: It is comparable to a wedding (Magen Avraham), to the inauguration of a house (Rabbi Shlomo Kluger). One responsa (Igeret Moshe) thinks it is somewhat frivolous, but accepts that it is the practice. He is firmly opposed to any bat mitzvah celebration in Synagogue at any time. Another responsa (Zaken Aharon) states that bat mitzvah celebrations entail Torah violations. HaRav Yitzhak Nissim quotes a decision that sees the festive meal as marking an acceptance of responsibility for mitzvot (commandments) and this applies to boys and girls; if one is invited, one should go. Rav Duvdevani mentioned that in one community in Altona, at an 18th century bat mitzvah, the bat mitzvah gave a speech. She may have been exceptional, but her community must have seen this as acceptable. As usual, it is the community that makes decisions. The sources show how varied Rabbinical views on this subject were.