In Judaism, a boy automatically comes of age at thirteen and a girl comes of age at 12. Coming of age is called bar mitzvah for boys and bat mitzvah for girls. A child who comes of age is obligated to perform the Jewish commandments known as mitzvot. A ceremony marking the first time a young person performs mitzvot is also known as a bar or bat mitzvah and is marked by aliyah or being called to the Torah to say the blessings.
Evidence of the bar/bat mitzvah is found in fifth century rabbinic text references, a blessing in which the father thanks God for freeing him or responsibility for the actions of his child. The child is henceforth accountable for his or her own actions. A text which dates from the 14th century makes mention of a father offering this blessing in a synagogue when his son was first called to say the Torah blessings.
In the 17th century, the ceremony evolved so that boys who were coming of age also read from the Torah, changed the weekly prophetic portion, led services and presented learned talks. In 19th century Europe, religious reformers became uncomfortable with the ritual focus of the bar mitzvah. Instead they developed the confirmation ceremony, celebrating the achievement of understanding the principles of Jewish faith by older teens. Soon the confirmation ceremony included both boys and girls. The practice of confirmation then spread to Reform and Conservative congregations in the United States.
The bat mitzvah celebration was first celebrated in the United States in 1922 when Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan made her bat mitzvah. The bat mitzvah has gained wide acceptance and practice in liberal congregations during the last half century. Because more traditional Jewish congregations do not impose a legal obligation for women to perform public mitzvot, the practice has grown more slowly in these communities.
The last thirty years have seen the development of an adult bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. The adult bar/bat mitzvah is not a ceremony for coming of age, but is an act of affirming Jewish identity for Jews who did not have this experience as children.