If you're a Jewish boy approaching your 13th birthday, there's probably one thing you're looking forward to: your bar mitzvah. More than just a party or a ceremony, it's a time in your life that marks a significant milestone for those who follow the commandments of Judaism.

Many people associate the term "bar mitzvah" with a party, and that's true to an extent. But it's much more. Translated from the original Aramaic and Hebrew, "bar mitzvah" means "son of the commandment."

A Jewish boy becomes a bar mitzvah automatically upon turning 13 years old. Rather than a mere boy, he is now considered a man who is obligated to observe the commandments of Jewish law.

Likewise, a Jewish girl becomes a bat mitzvah ("daughter of the commandment") when she turns 12 years old. These changes are usually celebrated with a special religious ceremony, also known as a bar or bat mitzvah.

After the religious ceremony, a grand party — also called a bar or bat mitzvah — is held to celebrate the coming-of-age milestone. Although they correspond to a birthday, bar or bat mitzvah parties are often much more elaborate, like a wedding reception.

The bar or bat mitzvah religious ceremony marks the first time a young man or woman can take part in leading religious services. He or she usually does so by leading special blessings, reading from the Torah, and giving a speech.

Learning and memorizing the blessings and readings in Hebrew can be challenging. Many children begin preparation for their bar or bat mitzvah a year or more in advance.

Although modern bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies and celebrations are commonplace, they're actually a relatively recent part of Jewish tradition. They're not a part of Jewish writings and didn't exist as recently as a century ago.

It's only natural, though, to want to celebrate such a momentous milestone with religious significance. If you get invited to a bar or bat mitzvah, be sure to celebrate along with your friends as they mark the start of a lifetime of participation in the Jewish community.

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