A Bar Mitzvah is a Jewish coming of age ceremony. In the United States, the religious part is often followed by a big party (that includes a bar). The joke that the modern Bar Mitzvah is “more ‘bar’ than ‘mitzvah’” has been cited in print by 1958 (when this appeared in the nationally syndicated “Dear Abby” advice column), and one citation (below) claims that this had been said in 1935.
Wikipedia: Bar and Bat Mitzvah
Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בר מצוה) (plural: B’nai Mitzvah) and Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew: בת מצוה) (plural: B’not Mitzvah) are Jewish coming of age rituals. Bar (בר) is a Jewish Babylonian Aramaic word literally meaning son (ben (בן) in Hebrew), bat (בת) is Hebrew for daughter, and mitzvah (מצוה) is a commandment and a law. While this literally translates to “son of commandment” or “daughter of commandment”, the rabbinical phrase “bar” means “under the category of” or “subject to”. “Bar mitzvah” therefore translates to “an [agent] who is subject to the law”.
According to Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13 years old, they become accountable for their actions and become a bar mitzvah. A girl becomes a bat mizvah at the age of 12.
11 August 1958, Springfield (MA) Union, “Dear Abby” by Abigail Van Buren, pg. 10, col. 5:
CONFIDENTIAL TO DEBATING PARENTS: Let the boy invite his own friends. Your plans sound like more BAR than MITZVAH.
By Noah Gordon
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
There’s more bar than mitzvah. Your temple congregation is mostly a cocktail crowd.
22 September 1968, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), Sunday Magazine, pg. 54, col. 2:
ShM LEVINSON, HUMORIST
“There’s a problem today of leakage of money that should be spent helping kids learn and is spent instead on booze and the like. I’ve attended many Bar Mitzvahs that were more ‘bar’ than ‘mitzvah.’”
The Real Jewish World:
A Rabbi’s Second Thoughts
By Stuart E. Rosenberg
Toronto, ON: Clarke Irwin
As early as 1935, Bar Mitzvah in middle-class America, as some wag had put it, had already become more “Bar” than “Mitzvah.”
From Central Park to Sinai:
How I Found My Jewish Soul
By Roy S. Neuberger
Middle Village, NY: J. David Publishers
She had attended “Sunday School,” was “confirmed,” and attended her friends’ bar mitzvahs (as the saying goes: more “bar” than “mitzvah").
The Jewish Cultural Tapestry:
International Jewish Folk Traditions
By Steven M. Lowenstein
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Someone once described these modern bar mitzvahs as “more bar than mitzvah.”
Inviting God In:
Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days
By David Aaron
Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books
Unfortunately, because I was not aware of its real meaning, my bar mitzvah was more bar than mitzvah. It was just a big drinking party with my friends, not an event celebrating the acceptance of my responsibilities as a Jew.