Modern Etiquette Series: Barring Bad Manners at a Bar Mitzvah

By September 5, 2017blog

In the Jewish community, younger members of the congregation celebrate their coming of age with a Bar Mitzvah (for males) or a Bat Mitzvah (for females). Most occur around the age of thirteen once the young woman or man has thoroughly studied the Torah. After the religious ritual and ceremony has taken place, she or he will be an active, fully-fledged member of the Jewish faith.
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Then comes the celebration. Essentially, a Bat Mitzvah is not dissimilar to a wedding reception, sweet 16th birthday party or Quinceanera celebration.

Whether you’re attending a Bar Mitzvah or in the process of planning one, these etiquette Q&As will help ensure you bar any bad manners.

Q: Is traditional dress required at a Bar Mitzvah?

A: For non-Jewish members, a traditional prayer shawl is not required while inside the synagogue although one will likely be offered upon arrival. However, it is strongly advisable for men to wear a traditional kippah or yarmulkes, even for those that do not observe Judaism as their religion. It is a show of respect while inside the religious space. Depending on how conservative the synagogue is, females may be asked to cover their hair with a hat or scarf. Ask your host or honoree for confirmation. All traditional clothing may be removed for the Bat Mitzvah reception celebration.

Otherwise, men generally wear suits and women don formal dresses to both the ceremony and reception.

Q: Can we take pictures during the religious ceremony?

During the Shabbat services, photographs are discouraged. They can be distracting as a student attempts to recite prayers or Torah readings.

Q: When and where does a Bat Mitzvah usually take place?

A: They can occur at any time of year depending on the birthday of the honoree and how soon he or she is ready to go in front of their congregation. Most are planned on the Sabbath, which is Saturday. The religious portion of the evening will likely occur in a synagogue. The celebration is often held at a larger Bar Mitzvah event venue, or a family member’s home.

Q: Do I bring a date to a Bar Mitzvah?

A: No, invites to these celebrations are typically only extended to the individual and do not generally include a plus one unless expressly specified on the invitation.

Q: What kind of gift do I take to a Bar Mitzvah?

A: Since these celebrations often fall around a birthday, gifts are expected. While any age-appropriate present will be graciously accepted, you may want to consider bringing something a bit more traditional. Practitioners of the Jewish faith commonly give pen sets, books with Jewish authors or those with religious significance, bonds to help pay for college or jewelry embossed with the Star of David. When in doubt, simply offer cash in increments of $18. It’s a number that holds great significance in Judaism, symbolizing both luck and life.  

Ultimately, religious coming of age celebrations have always held very special meaning for our families. However today, as our social circles expand beyond our religious communities, a bit of context can be helpful for those unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. Follow these tactful etiquette tidbits and you’ll have Bat Mitzvah memories for the ages. Mazel!

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