Have you seen the promo for the new movie, “The Intern” starring Robert Deniro as a 70-year-old man who takes a positon as an intern at an online fashion site? “When you turn 70 you can say, `Oh, my G-d, the warranty is over and I’m on borrowed time,’ or it can (be seen as) a whole new lease on life,” said Rabbi Mark Gross of Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs.
Seventy years after Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, had her first Bat Mitzvah in 1922, she had a commemorative one at the age of 83. And when the actor Kirk Douglas turned 83, he celebrated with a second Bar Mitzvah.
Since the 1970’s the concept of an adult bar/bat mitzvah has grown. For those who didn’t have this ceremony when they were the appointed age, many adults, who want to connect further with their Judaism, choose to study and become a bar/bat mitzvah in their adults years—a number of them at 83.
This tradition is based on the reading of Psalm 90:10, which tells us that 70 years is the expected lifespan of most humans. Similarly, Moses, poetically spoke of a person’s life as being on average 70 years. King David lived to age 70 and in the ancient book of Jewish wisdom, “Ethics of Our Fathers” (5:25), Rabbi Yehuda Ben Tema states that the age of 70 is considered a “ripe old age.” So, in biblical times, the age of 71 and older was considered as starting over.
The math is simple: 70 + 13 = 83. So 83 is the perfect age to become Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah all over again. Many Jewish seniors are calling age 70 the beginning of a new life and adding 13 years to rededicate themselves to Judaism. There are other reasons as well.
Numerous survivors of the Holocaust never had an opportunity to have a Bar Mitzvah when they were thirteen. They feel that they missed out and wish to publicly demonstrate their joy at being able to observe Judaism without restraints. Of course, doing so is not obligatory.
The celebration of a second Bar Mitzvah is more a custom rather than Jewish law. A second Bar Mitzvah is an opportunity to give thanks for having reached a significant age in relative health and wellbeing. It can be celebrated in many ways but it usually involves being called to the Torah for an Aliyah and reciting the Haftorah, or the prophetic portion, for that day. It is also an opportunity for family to come together around a beloved octogenarian, and to mark this moment with gratitude and rejoicing.
Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, whether it is the first or second time, is a wonderful way to celebrate a full life. And what an impression it will make on the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! They will learn that it is never too late for something so important and special.
Florence L. Dann, a fourth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.