home > from gifts to attire: proper bar/bat mitzvah etiquette

From Gifts to Attire: Proper Bar/Bat Mitzvah Etiquette

For Jewish children, there is nothing more exciting than planning for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Each is a type of religious ceremony that is essentially a coming of age celebration in the Jewish religion. With "Bar" meaning son in Aramaic and "Bat" meaning daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic, Bar Mitzvahs refer to male celebrations, while Bat Mitzvahs refer to female ones. The term "Mitzvah", however, simply means commandment. The coming of age celebration occurs at the age of thirteen for males and generally at the age of twelve for females. In some Jewish branches, however, both sexes celebrate at the age of thirteen.

The Bar or Bat Mitzvah signifies the child's obligation to observe all of the Jewish commandments. Before the appointed age, a child is not required to follow these commandments although they are generally aware of them beforehand. To celebrate becoming an active member of the Jewish community, the child will typically recite a blessing, chant or read the Haftarah portion of the Torah during Shabbat religious services. A religious ceremony or celebration is not required for a child of the Jewish community to become Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, however it is common. In modern communities, the celebration that occurs after the religious ritual is comparable to a wedding reception, 16th birthday party, or Quinceanera celebration.

Attending a Bar or Bat Mitzvah Service

As a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is tied to a religious ritual, generally it is a formal event. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah will begin at the usual weekly time for Shabbat services, where regular religious services will first occur. Later in the service, Bar/Bat Mitzvah activities will take place.

Upon arrival, individuals will notice that many people are adorned in a traditional prayer shawl. This prayer shawl is reserved for those that observe Judaism, however, when entering the synagogue a shawl may be offered to everyone that enters. For those that are not Jewish, wearing the shawl is not a requirement. When arriving, guests may also be offered a kippah, which is a traditional Jewish head covering. While it is worn by men more so than women in most Jewish communities, men of all religions are generally encouraged to wear the kippah to show respect for the religious space.

Much like wearing the kippah, following the lead of Jewish members during prayers and services also shows a sign of respect for the religion, rather than signifying a personal religious belief. Portions of the Torah will be read, the community will pray, and the child that is the subject of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah will partake in the religious service. The services are comparable to Catholic Church services, only the child will also participate. Men attending Bar or Bat Mitzvahs often wear suits and ties, while women generally wear formal dresses. It is acceptable in most cases to simply wear slacks and a dress shirt for members of either sex. As with most religious ceremonies, it is considered to be impolite to talk or take photographs during the Shabbat services. Talking and taking photographs, however, are generally encouraged after religious services have ended and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration has officially begun.

Attending a Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration

A Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration occurs after the religious service has ended. This portion of the celebration will be similar to that of a typical birthday party with more of a focus placed on religion than in most traditional birthday parties. In modern celebrations, there will often be kosher and traditional Jewish food, cake, music, and dancing. Likewise, it is also common practice to bring gifts for the child. While any gift that is typically suitable for a child around the age of thirteen will make an excellent Bar/Bat Mitzvah gift, there are traditional gifts that are given. Some of the most common gifts include pen sets, Jewish biographies or other books of religious significance, college bonds, Jewish jewelry, or cash in increments of $18 (a significant number symbolizing luck and life in the Jewish religion). These gifts are aimed towards the child's new responsibility and their journey into adulthood as a Jewish member of the community. It is also perfectly acceptable to give a gift based on the child's personality or interests. Any gift will be greatly appreciated and in a traditional Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the child will make a speech thanking the attendants for the greatest gift of all; their presence.