What is the source of the blessing Baruch Shepetarani, which is recited at a bar mitzvah? What is the original reason for reciting this blessing and is there a point in reciting it today? And if there is a point, is the blessing recited at a bat mitzvah and may a mother recite the blessing?
This blessing is based on a passage in Genesis Rabbah (63:10) which compares Jacob to Esau at age thirteen – one went to the house of study and the other to the house of idol worship.
“Said Rabbi Elazar b’rebbe Shimon: a person must take care of his son for thirteen years. After that he must say: Baruch shepetarani mei-onsho shelazeh (= Blessed is he who has absolved me from the punishment of this one).”
It is not at all clear that Rabbi Elazar b’rebbe Shimon intended to decide halakhah; he may have simply been expressing himself poetically. In any case, the Ashkenazic sages understood that he was making a halakhic ruling.
An early halakhic work entitled “Hora’ot Rabbanei Zarefat” states:
“He who has a son who reached the age of thirteen, the first time that he stands up in public to read from the Torah, the father must recite ‘Baruch atah hashem asher peda’ani (who redeemed me) mei-onsho shel zeh’. And the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah b’rebbe Baruch (Ashkenaz, eleventh century) stood up in the synagogue and recited this blessing when his son stood up for the first time and read the Torah, and this blessing is required (hovah).”
Thus we see that the sages of Ashkenaz added God’s name and decided that this blessing was required. This blessing was also recited by Rabbi Jacob Moellin (d.1427) and by Rabbi Yisrael Isserlein (d.1460), although the latter omitted God’s name. Finally, Rabbi Moshe Isserles ruled (Orah Haim 225:2) that “baruch shepetarani” should be recited without God’s name.
Rabbi Byron Sherwin has explained that this blessing is part of the longstanding debate in Judaism as to whether a person is punished for the sins of others or not. This blessing seems to be a compromise. Until age 13, a father is punished for the sins of his son; after age 13, a person is responsible for his own sins. This is no doubt the reason that many modern Jews do not recite this blessing at a Bar Mitzvah. They do not identify with the idea that a father is punished for the sins that his son commits until age thirteen. However, many later authorities have emphasized an additional reason for reciting this blessing, which is very appropriate for our day. Rabbi Avraham Gumbiner (d. 1683) writes: “Until now the father was punished when the son sinned because he did not educate him properly”. In other words, the father declares at the Bar Mitzvah: until now I did the best I could to teach my son Torah and mitzvot; now he is responsible for his actions on the basis of the education which I gave him. In other words, the emphasis is shifted from punishment to education, an emphasis which any modern Jew can agree with.
As for reciting the blessing for a daughter, most later authorities forbid this since a father is not required to educate his daughter. But Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef have already permitted this practice. They prove that a father is required to educate his daughter and, in any case, this blessing is recited without God’s name so there is no fear of taking God’s name in vain.
As to whether a mother may recite this blessing, this depends on whether a mother is required to educate her children. This too is a matter of controversy, but there is no question that today we must prefer the approach of R. Avraham min Hahar (d. 1315) that the halakhah in Nazir 29b follows Rabbi Yohanan that both a father and a mother are required to educate both a son and a daughter.
In conclusion, a mother may recite “baruch shepetarani” at her daughter’s bat mitzvah. In addition, those who wish to do so may follow the Gaon of Vilna and others who rule that we should recite this blessing with God’s name. On the other hand, those who do not feel comfortable with the traditional blessing may recite “sheheheyanu” (on condition that they are wearing a new garment or will eat a new fruit) or they may recite a new blessing composed by Rabbi Michael Graetz, but without God’s name: ???? ????? ?? ???/??? ????? ??????.
Rabbi David Golinkin