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A bar/bat mitzvah s considered legally responsible to fulfill the mitzvos. A boy becomes bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen and one day. Girls become bat mitzvah at age 12. This is usually celebrated by the child being called to read from the torah at the shabbat closest to their bar/bat mitzvah. As is common in Judaism, there is often a party afterwards, which can vary from the simple home reception to an overly ornate "theme" celebration.
Until the child reaches bar/bat mitzvah age, they are responsible only as part of chinuch (training). After the bar/bat mitzvah, the child is legally an adult in the eyes of Judaism. This means the following:
They are now counted for a minyon (prayer quorum of ten).
They are responsible for wearing tefillin.
They are eligible for aliyot (being called up to read the Torah).
They are responsible to fast on fast days.
They are responsible for observing the mitzvot.
With respect to Bat Mitzvah. The event itself has been recognized for many generations:
Rabbi Yosef Chaim in his book "Ben Ish Chai" [1883-1909, a rabbi from Bagdad] talks about the day of a girls Bat Mitzvah as a day of celebration on which she should wear a new outfit and say "She'he'chiyanu" and include her entrance to the "burden of Mitzvot" (Ol Mitzvot).
Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim Z"l quotes from Rabbi Mussafya (1606-1675, born in spain a rabbi and personal doctor of King Critian the IV of Denmark. later he moved to amsterdam) that the day of the Bat Mitzvah is a day of celebration and the dinner is a "Se'udat Mitzvah" (mitzvah dinner).
In Italy (Torrino and Milan) it was customary to gather the Bat Mitzvah girls and the community during a weekday, the girls stood in front of the open Aron Kodesh and recited (dividing the prayers among them) a special prayer written for them which included a blessing of Shehechiyanu and ended "Baruch Ata Hashem Lamdeynee Chukecha" (bless ..teach me your laws). [note, the prayer was also said by bar mitzvah boys]. Then the rabbi speaks and blesses the girls and their families. Afterwards, there is a Se'udat Mitzva at the girls' home
However, none of these ceremonies involved the girl reading from the Torah. The first public bat mitzvah ceremony in which a girl read from the Torah is believed to have been for Judith Kaplan Eisenstein z"l, the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement. The ceremony has since been adopted by almost all movements in Judaism.
Note that the focus of the bar/bat mitzvah should be the actual ceremony, not the party afterwards.
More information on Bar and Bat Mitzvah may be found at http://www.barmitzva.org/
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