Mitzvah & Bat Mitzvah: Why at Age 13?
by Rivka C. Berman
exact moment does a child become an adult? Some people never reach
psychological adulthood. (Youve met them. The men who hoot and holler
at every skirt that passes, for example.) Physical maturity was chosen
as the mark of adulthood for all. Early teens years is the average age,
and thus the bar mitzvah age was set at thirteen years plus one day.
Since this doesnt fully explain why thirteen is the chosen year,
midrashic sources credit Moses with choosing age thirteen as the bar
mitzvah year. There are other instances that Moses is said to have
spoken the nature of Jewish practice at Sinai without jotting it down in
the Torah. For example, Moses described how tefillin should look as
their appearance is not described in the Torah. Jews have been wearing
uniform-looking leather boxes ever since.
Emotional maturity hastened the date, according to at least one halachic
opinion. Specifically, a boy who lost a parent would be eligible for his
bar mitzvah anytime after his twelfth birthday. (Girls traditionally
reached bat mitzvah at age twelve, anyway.) A child who loses a parent
reckons with adulthood early on.
Other cultures avoid the number thirteen. Witch covens, apparently, form
around the presence of twelve practitioners plus the devil. Black magic
thrives on this number. Skyscrapers would be built without a thirteenth
floor. Street numbers would be set to skip the address thirteen (the old
television "The Munsters" featured a monster family who lived at 1313
Mockingbird Lane at the fictional Muckingbird Heights.). Judaism sees
Judaism regards the number thirteen differently. Thirteen denotes
positive attributes in the age of a boy, in moral conduct, and in the
tenets of faith in God. For example:
A Jewish child transitions to adulthood at Thirteen.
God is said to have thirteen attributes of mercy. (Exodus 34:6-7)
Maimonides, a twelfth century Torah philosopher, scholar who was a
court physician on the side, ascribed thirteen principles to the Jewish
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