A Bar/Bat Mitzvah these days looks NOTHING like the old days.
Here’s how it used to look:
- … You attend the Bar Mitzvah’s Torah reading in the synagogue
- … You get together in the family’s house for an intimate Kiddush & light meal (a luncheon)
- … The Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the parents would give a speech (plus some not-so-funny jokes by the father)
- … You go home
- The End
- “Intimate” turned into a BIG & flashy Bar/Bat Mitzvah party…
- A “light meal” turned into a massive feast with lots of alcohol (for the real adults), music and dancing…
- And the speeches? Well, they still exist…including the not-so-funny jokes by the (drunk) uncle.
It’s kind of like Bar/Bat Mitzvah 2.0…
You know what that means: new Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration = new Bar/Bat Mitzvah etiquette.
What do you wear to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? What gift do you give? What do you say?
I’m about to give you the answers to all of those (and more) … sit tight!
Table of Contents
Bar Mitzvah Ceremony Etiquette & Behavior
If you’re attending a Bar Mitzvah service in a synagogue, then there are a few things to keep in mind:1. Dress Appropriately
The Bar Mitzvah service is a semi-formal event held in a synagogue, on Shabbat.
In other words: dress modestly & respectfully.
For men ??: Buttoned shirt and/or a suit is fine.
For women ??: Modest dresses or skirts (knee length or higher) + something to cover your shoulders (a cardigan is fine).
The last thing you want is everyone staring at you like you just landed from Mars. (and Elon Musk hasn’t sent anyone to Mars yet, so that must mean you’re an alien).
In most cases, the Bar Mitzvah invitation will mention the dress code for the synagogue – FOLLOW it.
If the invitation doesn’t mention the appropriate dress code, and you can’t find the parent’s contact information – then this is what you should wear (at a bare minimum):
Keep in Mind: The dress code varies significantly in Orthodox, traditional and reform communities. Find out what community the congregation belongs to beforehand and find out what the expected attire is to avoid unpleasant surprises.
2. Wear Jewish Prayer Accessories
Don’t worry, this isn’t a duplicate of the previous section. This time, I’m talking about specific Jewish prayer accessories men are expected to wear: Tallit (the Jewish prayer shawl), and Kippah (or yarmulke).
Note: A Bar Mitzvah ceremony can also be held on a Monday or Thursday (the days we publicly read from the Torah). And if that’s the case – then you’ll also need Tefillin.
A Tallit is a religious Jewish accessory Jewish men wear during the morning prayer.
Yes, that means the Bar Mitzvah boy now gets to wear his Tallit too.
Did You Know? In some Ashkenazi communities – Jewish men start to wear a Tallit after they get married, not after their Bar Mitzvah.
A Kippah is also worn during prayer and in the synagogue (some Jewish men wear it permanently)… But unlike a Tallit – a Kippah is NOT a religious Jewish accessory. It’s merely a way of showing respect to god, the prayer, and the synagogue.
Keep in Mind: If you’re not Jewish – you can skip the Tallit and just wear the Kippah.
Although most synagogues have a bunch of spare Kippot and Tallitot lying around, it’s best to bring your own just in case (if you own them).
Tip: You may need to ask one of the locals to get you a Kippah when you arrive, so dust off your shyness on your way there.
3. Respect the Occasion
That means no cell phones, no pictures/selfies/videos, no smoking… None of that is allowed on Shabbat.
Avoid speaking out loud to your friends during the prayers (even the ones you haven’t seen since primary school).
Note: Especially during the “Amidah” – the “holiest” prayer of the entire service.
A synagogue is a holy place for prayer, not for babbling. You’ll inevitably see some people ignore this and insist on striking conversations in the middle of the service (which invites the infamous “Shhh!” and “quiet please”) …
Wait till the service is over – then you’ll probably have a light Kiddush meal hosted by the family. NOW is the time to catch up with your friends!
4. Be patient & try to follow along (but don’t worry if you can’t)
In the Shabbat service, you don’t exactly sit down and listen to the Rabbi give a sermon for a half hour while you’re daydreaming about what you’ll have for dinner tonight.
Jewish prayers are pretty long and very dynamic: one minute you sit down, a second later you stand up, then you sit down again, put your hands on your eyes and do all sorts of (seemingly) weird gestures.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying you should get ready for the Olympics, but don’t expect to sit still and “chill” either.
If you’ve never attended a Jewish service, then Inevitably you’ll stumble across different questions and wonder what to do:
Should I sit? Should I stand? Should I bow? Should I read out loud? When should I read quietly?
The answer to all of those questions?
Keep it simple.
Just follow what everyone else is doing and you’ll be golden.
- … Yes, you’ll make mistakes.
- … Yes, you’ll find yourself “not in sync”
- … Yes, you’ll feel embarrassed and think “oh no, people are watching me”
That’s OK, no one is judging you! No one expects you to know everything by heart, so don’t sweat it.
Important: If you’re not Jewish, no need to stand or bow. Feel free to stay seated.
Remember: we all get distracted, lose track (even doze off) during the service… probably more than we like to admit. So, when that happens, take your time to figure out “where we are”, bounce back and join the prayer… it’s all good!
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask people around you “where are we?” Many people are ashamed to ask because they fear they’ll be judged… don’t be. Jewish people are very compassionate and willing to help if you just ask.
And if you’re really determined – you can always complete the prayers you “lost” privately afterward.
Overall – the Shabbat morning service can last for a couple of hours (usually around 2-3 hours).
If you’re having a hard time following the service – know that it’s completely normal… Just make sure you keep quiet and respect the other attendees.
5. Throw candy at the Bar Mitzvah
Yep, you read that right! When the Bar Mitzvah enters & leaves the Bimah for his Aliyah, he’s often bombarded (usually by the women) with candy on his head.
I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t we supposed to celebrate the boy’s adulthood? Throwing food on someone sounds like the opposite – the “descent into childhood”?
Don’t worry, there’s a reason for it (we’re not just a bunch of immature kids who like food fights).
Did you know? This tradition was borrowed from the Shabbat Chatan (or Aufruf) – a Jewish groom’s Aliyah before his wedding.
When we throw blast candy on the Bar Mitzvah, we essentially wish the Bar Mitzvah a sweet life. (hey, I didn’t say the reason made sense)
Remember: This is just a Bar Mitzvah custom that some families follow, not a requirement by any means. I suggest you figure out if and when it’s OK to start throwing candy before you start plummeting the poor boy with sweets. And of course – make sure the candy is Kosher.
You don’t want people to throw you out of the synagogue due to “candy terror”, now do you?
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Gift Etiquette: What to Give?
There are two things you can give a Bar/Bat Mitzvah:
Decided to go the money route?
Give the Bar Mitzvah money in multiples $18. The number 18 means “chai” (חי) or life in Jewish tradition. Essentially, you’re wishing the Bar Mitzvah with a long and successful life.
Traditional Jewish gifts like these are terrific:
How do you decide if you should gifts or money?
It depends on several factors. Before you decide what to give, ask yourself the following questions:
- How well do you know the Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
If you’re the Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s uncle/aunt or cousin – then chances are you know what they like and can get them a gift they’ll absolutely love.
On the other hand – if it’s your coworker’s son, odds are you have no idea what makes that child tick. In that case – you’re better off getting them money.
- How religious are they?
If you’re attending an Orthodox Bar/Bat Mitzvah, then any of the traditional Jewish gifts I listed above are a great choice.
- What kind of gifts do their parents appreciate (and approve of)?
But not every parent wants their 12-year-old owning an iPad… so you better make sure they approve of your awesome gift before you swipe your credit card (or hit that “Buy Now” button).
- What’s the etiquette in that country or community?
In some countries and communities – gifts are more common than money, while in others, it’s the exact opposite.
For example: in the US, Canada, and the UK there’s a strong preference towards gifts, while in Israel it’s ONLY money.
At the end of the day – both are great options. But always ask yourself the questions above to decide what you should get.
Important: Always bring your gift to the reception or the party, NEVER to the synagogue.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Attire & Dress Code: What to Wear?
What’s should you wear to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party (usually in the evening)?
Like every complicated question, the simple (and annoying) answer is: it depends.
Depends on what? Things like:
- Where is the party? Is it in the local restaurant with 50 people or in the Hilton with 500 people?
- Who’s invited? Adults, family members and the neighbors down the street? Or is it just an extended class party with the Bar/Bat Mitzvahs BFFs?
- Is the family Orthodox, traditional, reform?
As you can see – it’s hard to give a clear-cut answer when there so many variables are involved.
With that said – I will give you a couple of rules of thumb that are true for both teens and adults:1. Dress Formally
Think of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah party attire like a mini Jewish wedding.
Men usually wear suits (or at least a buttoned shirt), while women wear dresses.
2. Dress Modestly
Modestly (Tznius) is a key factor in Judaism. So obviously, you’d want to dress up properly without exposing a lot of “flesh”.
How modest? Depends on how religious the family or the event is.
For Orthodox Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties – stick to long evening dresses (sheath, lace, party…) with elbow-length sleeves or skirts that are knee length or higher.
Tip: The expected Bar/Bat Mitzvah dress code is usually mentioned in the invitation, so take a quick glance on it before you decide what to wear.
Don’t wear anything that will attract negative attention. You don’t want people to talk behind your back about how your daughter was dressed.
Let’s just say that letting a 12-year-old girl wear a 6-inch heel to an Orthodox Bar/Bat Mitzvah party isn’t a great idea.
Keep in Mind:
People blindly believe common misconceptions without figuring out if it’s a myth or a fact.
They wonder thing like:
- “Can you wear black to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?”
- “What about white? Can you wear white??”
The short answer is: Yes, you can wear black. And yes, white is fine too.
Before you put on your dress, follow the rules of thumb above and ask yourself:
- Is your black/white dress formal?
- Is your black/white dress modest?
- Is your black/white dress respectful?
If your answers to these questions is a big fat YES, then you’re golden.?
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Party Etiquette: When to Arrive & Where to Sit?
Some people like the idea of being “fashionably late”. Well, let me tell you – you’d better be on time for Jewish events, otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll miss the main event.
You think someone will wait for you if you arrive late for the Bar Mitzvah service? No sir.
For the Bar Mitzvah service – there is NO SUCH THING as fashionably late. Remember, you’re joining a congregation for their morning prayer. G-d doesn’t wait, and neither will they…
For the party – there might be a bit more flexibility. How flexible depends on the family’s arrangements and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah party schedule.
Just keep in mind that you’re risking missing the reception: food stands, drinks and other goodies.
Tip: I personally like to get there sooner rather than later (Yes, I like food).
As always – follow the invitation instructions – if they explicitly said to be there on time, then be there on time!
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Wishes & Blessings: What to Say (or Write)?
The common “one-phrase-blessing” for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is Mazel Tov (translates to “Good Luck”), as opposed to “Happy Birthday”.
Note: If the Bar/Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat, you can also say “Shabbat Shalom” to wish them a “Shabbat of peace”.
“Happy birthday” implies that it’s just another birthday, which it clearly is NOT. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a once in a lifetime event, so treat it as such.
For the Bar/Bat Mitzvah card – you can put more heart and soul into it. Write your dearest wishes and blessings and try to personalize it to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah as much as you can.
Tip: Granted, most of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah wishes end up sounding the same. If you’d like your blessing to stand out and be more personal – try adding stories from the Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s life, use examples from their past to highlight their positive traits and share personal anecdotes.
Here are a few examples of what to write in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah card (I dare you to try my Jewish Yoda’s blessing).
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Invitations: How to Respond? (and Who to Bring?)
Speaking of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah invitation – let’s clear up a few things about how you should respond and when.
You’ll usually receive the Bar/Bat Mitzvah invitation a few weeks (or months) in advance. Most invitations will include details about the event, how to RSVP and sometimes what the dress code is.
Make sure you respond quickly, especially if it’s a big event. A full-blown Bar/Bat Mitzvah party is no different than a wedding. The celebrant’s family needs to know whether or not you’re coming, and who you’re coming with so they can make proper arrangements.
Do NOT bring random people with you.
This isn’t a dance club. The family has made arrangements based on your RSVP, so please respect that.
Look at the recipients of the invitations and RSVP accordingly.
Note: Trust me, I’ve seen my fair share of awkward situations. It’s not nice to sit at a table far far away or sit at the kid’s table because there’s no more room to sit with the big boys.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is one of the most important & memorable days in a Jewish adult’s life.
So you better prepare yourself for one helluva celebration.
Now that you know the proper Bar/Bat Mitzvah etiquette, you should be good to go 🙂