Would you please tell me the true definition of bar mitzvah and the requirements, not just by custom, but necessity. My wife is questioning whether I was bar mitzvahed at a Reform synagogue. I did not read from the Torah and therefore she doesn't think that I was bar mitzvahed. This is quite important as to how we proceed with planning our children's bar mitzvahs.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First, let's understand what the words "Bar Mitzvah" actually mean. The phrase literally translates to being "son of obligation" – i.e. the person is now obligated to follow the mitzvot of the Torah.
Although we commonly refer to having a "Bar Mitzvah," technically speaking, this is impossible. The term "Bar Mitzvah" refers to a status, in the same way being a student or being a parent is a status. One is either Bar Mitzvah or not, but one cannot "have" a Bat Mitzvah.
A Jewish boy automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah when he turns 13 years old (and a girl at age 12). This is true whether there is a Bar Mitzvah celebration or not.
Colloquially speaking, when people say, "I had a Bar Mitzvah," it means that they had an aliyah to the Torah in synagogue. The reason why the Bar Mitzvah boy receives this privilege is simply to notify the congregation that he is now "obligated in mitzvot" and that he can be counted in a minyan. But the aliyah to the Torah does not constitute the Bar Mitzvah. It is merely a ceremony attached to this rite of passage. (The caterer and photographer are not essential, either!)
To learn more:
"The Bar Mitzvah Treasury" by Rabbi Yonah Weinrib and Rabbi Yaakov Salomon (ArtScroll.com)
"Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Beyond" by Rabbi Nachman Cohen (Feldheim.com)