A bar mitzvah is a momentous occasion in a boy’s life marking the passage from childhood into adulthood. At age 13, a boy becomes responsible for his actions and is expected to keep the commandments of the Jewish faith. The term Bar Mitzvah is often mistakenly used to describe the ceremony and celebration surrounding the child’s coming of age. However, the term actually describes the child’s new standing in the community. In Hebrew, Bar means “Son” and Mitzvah means “Commandment”. Thus the boy is recognized as becoming a “Son of the Commandment”. A bar mitzvah tallit is usually given by the parents to the child as a remembrance of this sentiment.
Prior to this, the parents are responsible for their son’s adherence to the laws of the Jewish faith. A father gives his son a bar mitzvah tallit to start him on his journey. The tallit is a traditional Jewish prayer shawl worn during morning prayers on weekdays, Shabbat and the holidays. It is made in accordance with the instructions of the Torah which directs that fringe called tzitzit be added to the four corners of the garment. The tallit can be made out of any material except a combination of wool and linen but is most often made out of wool, cotton or silk.
A bar mitzvah tallit can be purchased new for the child. Alternatively a father can pass down his tallit to his son. As an extra special gift some fathers actually hand make a tallit for their son. This is acceptable as long as it is made in observance of the law regarding tallitot. The prayer shawl is given in conjunction with a teffilfin, a set of small leather boxes that contain verses of the Torah written on parchment paper. Traditionally the horizontal lines on the prayer shawl were black but in recent years they have been seen in a rainbow of colors including blue, maroon, silver, gold and pink.
The most important part of the shawl is the tzitzit which is placed at the four corners of the tallit as a reminder not to stray from the commandments of G-d. Customarily, the fringe will have 613 knots to symbolize the 613 commandments of Jewish law. Thus the bar mitzvah tallit sets the stage for the child’s advancement into adulthood and the responsibilities of all that entails. The tallit should be selected with the same love and care you wish your son to show in his service to G-d.
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