Thursday, 7 September 2017

CELEBRATING THE HEBREW TRADITION OF "COMING TO AGE" (BAR AND BAT MITZVAH) BY THE IGBO JEWS IN NIGERIA


A book by Professor William Miles
At the age of thirteen (for boys) and twelve (for girls), Jewish children become recognized as full-fledged members of the Jewish community. This milestone is celebrated as bar mitzvah for males, and on the other hand bat mitzvah for female children. They are usually held on the first Sabbath after the thirteenth and twelfth birthday of boys and girls respectively, or even during the week days in some cases. 

Prior to reaching the age of bar mitzvah, the parents are responsible for any sinful actions committed by the child, in the sight of God. So, the focus of this ceremony is to mark the transition into Jewish full maturity. From this point in time the boys and girls become morally accountable for their own actions. There are several significance of attaining this age in the lives of Jewish children most especially for the boys. 

Celebrating Bar Mitzvah in Tikvat Israel Synagogue, Abuja
The synagogue is the most preferred venue for the celebration of bar and bat mitzvah. On that day the parents of the celebrant invite members in their circles, friends, and other guests to join in this occasion of "coming of age." The peak of the event is the reading from the Torah by the boy as he is called upon to be part of the Aliyah. The notion of this tradition is that a boy will be called up to read from the weekly Torah on a Shabbath early in his thirteenth year.

Before getting to this age, there are quite a number of restrictions in the lives of young Jewish children. The full permission to use the "Tefillin" to say prayers is limited until a boy reaches bar mitzvah age. This supposed age of maturity signals the beginning of a boy's eligibility to be called to read from the Torah and participate in a "Minyan." Other notable features of reaching the age of maturity include:
  • The right to own personal property 
  • The obligation to follow the 613 laws
  • To observe and keep the "Halakha"
  • Become fit to testify as a witness in the Rabbinical court. 

Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja

William Miles, Sar Habakkuk & Hezekiah
The first bar mitzvah held here was that of Hezekiah, who is currently the chief chazan of the synagogue. Till date, the memories of that great even is still fresh in our minds. Guests in attendance included families and friends, as well as members of some synagogues in eastern Nigeria who honoured the invitation. Professor Williams Miles came all the way from the United States for this great occasion, and brought gifts from Rabbi Gorin and Rabbi Wayne Franklin, which included tefillin, tallite, etc. 

The coming of the Sefer Torah to Abuja in 2014 was a ground-breaking ceremony on its own. The bar/bat mitzvah of Debora Nwafor, Emma, and Gabriel Ogbonna coincided with the arrival of the Torah.  Dignitaries present in the occasion included Rabbi Dolinger, his wife Naomi, and  Shai Afsai from the united States. The former Israel ambassador  to Nigeria, Uriel Palti, was also part of the invited guests. These set of celebrants became the first to use the Sefer Torah to celebrate their "coming to age ceremony." 

Azariah, during his Bar Mitzvah
The next celebration involved a boy and his sister. This bar and bat mitzvah was held on the same day at the synagogue. Azariah and Abdel are the children of elder Yirmiyahu, a renown member of the synagogue. It was a colorful occasion with quite a number of invited quests including some neighbors living around the synagogue. As usual, part of the even included a celebratory meal, and music to keep guests happy and entertained.

At the end of the celebration, the celebrants received gifts which included books and other religious items. They thank the guest at the end of the day, for finding time to come around to be part of the Mitzvah ceremony.



Avishai Synagogue Nkpor, Anambra

The invitation to attend this occasion marked the start of the "Keruv" recently embarked by Sar Habakkuk to the eastern part of Nigeria. The event was the bar/bar mitzvah of Benyamin Okonkwo, Maya Ihencheta, and Emet Ugochukwu. For this celebration, the Sefer Torah traveled the long road from Abuja (northern Nigeria), and the members of the Avishai synagogue couldn't hide their enthusiasm for the presence of the Torah in their congregation. 

Related Post: "THE TRAVELING" TORAH: STRENGTHENING THE JUDAISM NETWORK IN EASTERN NIGERIA

This occasion was held in the month of June, 2017. It was attended by leaders of several synagogues in Igbo land, families, members of the synagogues, and other invited guests. Sar Habakkkuk presented a Teffilin, Tallit, and Tarnack to the synagogue, and also gave gifts to the celebrants. 

Rock of Ages Restoration Synagogue

The next stop for the "Travelling Torah" was the Rock of Ages Restoration Synagogue. It was a remarkable achievement to extend the "Keruv" across the river Niger into Delta state. The venue of the bar mitzvah was in the synagogue located in Asaba, the capital of the state. The leader of the synagogue, elder Yonathan, heard about the Sefer Torah from Abuja synagogue, and requested Her presence to grace the bar mitzvah celebration. Sar Habakkuk traveled with a number of people to attend the occasion. There was plenty to eat and drink, and guests were entertained with music, and song presentation by a group of children. It was a memorable occasion, one that helped to strengthen the bonds within the synagogue in eastern Nigeria, to promote unity and peace among the Jewish brothers.


The celebration of bar/bat mitzvah will continue to play a significant role to strengthen the faith of Judaism in Nigeria. It's very important to make these occasions colourful and attractive, in ways that will create amazing pictures in the mindset of younger Jewish children before reaching the age of maturity. Undoubtedly, children are the hope and future of the survival of Judaism in Igbo land. Hence, it is worthwhile to prepare the children for this age of transition, and ensure they grow up to become respectable members in the Jewish community at large.  

Shalom!


Other Posts: 
SIGHTS AND SOUND OF THE SHAVUOT CELEBRATION FROM ABUJA, NIGERIA.

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