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What your grandfather did is actually a lovely minhag/custom, and allows another opportunity for celebration – there can never be too many causes for celebration!
I encourage as many people to take this on as possible, and I enjoy working with them to prepare. This practice celebrates their life, gives them a chance to engage in Torah study, encourages others in the congregation to see this as a meaningful way to mark a significant milestone in life, and brings the community together for a joyous celebration.
This custom is based on the reading of Psalm 90:10, which tells us that 70 years is the expected lifespan of most humans, though we may reach 80 if granted special vigor. This is not so far from what statistics tell us about life expectancy today.
Given this expectation, one can imagine that after they reach age 70 it is as if they had been granted a new start, so that when they arrive at the age of 83, it is equivalent to reaching the age of Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah in that ‘second life’ – a wonderful reason to celebrate by having a second Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah!
At the age of thirteen, a Jewish boy is legally obligated to observe all commandments (Avot 5:25,Yoma 82a) The ceremony manifesting this new status is called a Bar Mitzvah which literally means a son of a Mitzvah, indicating that the youngster has come of age and is required to follow all commandments as a full fledged adult. At the synagogue ceremony the young man is called to receive an Aliya to the Torah, which is denied to those under the age of thirteen, to publicly manifest his new elevated status. In addition, common practice is to host a festive meal (Kiddush) for family, friends and worshippers. The party is an ancient custom based on a statement of a Talmudic blind rabbi who contended that if the law was that blind people were obligated to observe commandments comparable to seeing people he would make a special party. In other words the obligation to perform Mitzvot was deemed a joy that mandated a party. Accordingly, a young boy now being obligated to perform Mitzvot was a joyful condition that merited a party.(See Kidushin 31a, also Yom Shel Shlomo, the Rashal, Rav Shlomo Luria)
There is no obligation, nor any viable tradition for grandparents to be involved in any form of a Bar Mitzvah celebration at any advanced age.
Yet, in the contemporary scene, a number of elder Jews have sought to celebrate a Bar mitzvah at advanced ages. Why? I believe there are a number of reasons for this phenomenon.
Numerous survivors of the Holocaust never had an opportunity to have a Bar Mitzvah when they were thirteen years of age. Such survivors feel that they missed out and wish to publicly demonstrate their joy at being able to observe Judaism without restraints. Accordingly, many schedule Bar Mitzvah celebrations at synagogues to demonstrate their involvement with the Jewish people and their traditions. Of course, these events are not obligatory.
The Talmud records that several rabbis made parties when they reached the ages of sixty, seventy and eighty. Each age level signified that they were past certain ages of punishment. For example, the Biblical punishment of Korait-cutting off or having children die during the lifetime of the parent, would not take place after the age of sixty. Accordingly, once a person attained the age of sixty, he was overjoyed at no longer meriting such a punishment. The other ages implied that other punishments were not to be meted out to him, and a party to manifest achievement of this new stage of life was in order..(Moed Katan 28a) Upon reaching these age levels in contemporary times one might seek to celebrate by being called to the Torah and making a party.
First, I would like to offer your grandfather a hearty mazal tov on celebrating this momentous occasion in his life. A second Bar Mitzvah is usually marked when a person reaches the age of 83. There are no specific rules or traditions about celebrating a ‘second Bar Mitzvah,’ just as there are no specific rules about becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah is not a ceremony (and it’s certainly not a verb as in ‘becoming Bar Mitzvahed’). Rather Bar Mitzvah is a statement of person status. One becomes a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah; one doesn’t have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In Pirke Avot, a second century collection of rabbinic aphorisms and wisdom, we learn about the various stages of life in a statement attributed to Rabbi Yehudah ben Tema: “Five is the age for the study of scripture, ten for the study of Mishnah and thirteen (l’mitzvot) for the fulfillment of the commandments…” (Avot 5:24) There is virtually no discussion in rabbinic literature about what one is supposed to do upon reaching the age of thirteen. One simply becomes responsible for the fulfillment of the commandments. In fact the only ritual of any sort is the responsibility of the parents and not the young person. They are supposed to recite a blessing the first time the new Bar Mitzvah is called to the Torah in which they say, “Blessed is the One who has exempted me from the sin of this (young) person.” Whether or not one is called to the Torah, however, one becomes a Bar Mitzvah by virtue of having reached one’s thirteenth birthday.
I would put the celebration of a second Bar Mitzvah in the realm of custom rather than Jewish law. In the Book of Psalms we learn that, ‘The days of our years are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore…” (Psalm 90) Based on the significance of seventy as the normal length of a human life, the custom arose of marking one’s second Bar Mitzvah thirteen years later at age 83. While it is not necessary or required to do so (any more than it is required to have a big party at age 13), it is certainly appropriate to mark special milestones in one’s life in spiritual ways. 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 abeloved octogenarian, and to mark this moment with gratitude and rejoicing. It is also a chance for a family elder to make a statement to children and grandchildren about the importance of Judaism in their lives.
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