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Zegans, S. Zegans, L.S. (1979). Bar Mitzvah: A Rite for a Transitional Age. Psychoanal. Rev., 66(1):115-132.

(1979). Psychoanalytic Review, 66(1):115-132

Bar Mitzvah: A Rite for a Transitional Age

Susan Zegans, M.A., M.Ed. and Leonard S. Zegans

No other time in the life cycle produces such dramatic change as the coming of adolescence. Physical, sexual, and cognitive maturation brings new social expectations and transformations, and, most importantly, the adolescent must begin to acquire an integral sense of who he is and will become. In latency the child's values and standards are firmly rooted in parental authority, but the weakening of the instinctual basis for that authority during adolescence creates a crisis of identity. Attempting to resolve this problem by relocating his identifications in relationships and structures outside the family, the adolescent searches not only for new love objects, but also for stabilizing philosophical, political, and religious models.

It has been suggested by a variety of writers1,5,7,22 that traditional rites of passage have provided men with a means of comprehending and regulating their changing relationship to their bodies, their families, the social group, and nature. In our culture the bar mitzvah is one of the few surviving rites that continues to mark the entrance into adolescence for a segment of the population. Boys continue to prepare themselves for this traditional observance even in “modern” congregations where other vestigqs of ancient, sacraments have been abandoned. This suggests that in our increasingly secularized society there persists a need to celebrate and solemnize the changes that surround significant psychobiological transformations.

This study is an inquiry into the significance of the bar mitzvah ritual as experienced by a group of boys who have participated in this ceremony. Nine boys were interviewed, in their homes, from a Reformed congregation in a suburban Connecticut town; four of the subjects were interviewed both before and after the ceremony.

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