When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13 years, which according to Judaism is the age of maturity, he becomes responsible for himself under Jewish law. At this point in the boys life he becomes Bar Mitzvah. The word Bar is the Aramaic word for "son", and the word "Mitzvah" in Hebrew means "commandment" (so Bar Mitzvah means "son of the commandment").
Before Bar Mitzvah, all responsibility lies with the parents. After Bar Mitzvah, the child is privileged to participate in all areas of Jewish community life and bear their own responsibility in the areas of Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics. After the Bar Mitzvah, a person is obligated to observe the commandments and traditions of Judaism.
The Bar Mitzvah is an important rite of passgage, and is one of the most significant landmarks in the Jewish life cycle.
Bar Mitzvah is not a ceremony. It is an age. One does not get "Bar-Mitzvahed". One becomes a Bar-Mitzvah by reaching a certain age. A boy automatically becomes a Bar-Mitzvah at the age of 13 years and one day, even if they have never set foot inside a synagogue.
Calling a Bar-Mitzvah to the Torah was a public way of announcing to the entire community that this child was now part of the adult Jewish world. Reciting the Haftorah, reading from the Torah, giving a Dvar Torah (a short sermon) and leading parts of the service, were ways of showing how much one had learned.
It is traditional for a boy to celebrate becoming Bar Mitzvah during the Sabbath after his Bar Mitzvah, he may read from the Torah and Haftara, give a d'var Torah (homily), and/or lead part of the prayer services.
Bar Mitzvah is a Simchah ("a happy occasion"). As such, it is appropriate that it be shared with family and friends; and in Jewish tradition, a Simchah is celebrated by a Seudat Mitzvah ("a meal of the Commandment" - a feast that celebrates the observance of the Commandments).
Jewish books and other ceremonial objects or ritual objects are the most traditional gifts to be given at a Bar Mitzvah, though money and other material gifts are gradually replacing them in this modern society.
Some traditional gifts include: