The young man or young woman being celebrated has been preparing for this day for years. The term bar/bat mitzvah literally translates to "son/daughter of the commandments," and signifies a transition to adulthood and a commitment to Judaism. Jewish girls typically celebrate bat mitzvah at 12, while boys celebrate bar mitzvah at 13. Needless to say, it's a big deal. Families spend months, even years, preparing. And as an honored guest, you probably have some questions. Here's everything you need to know:
What to Wear to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
Dress "tzunis!" That's Hebrew for modestly. The bar or bat mitzvah dress code depends on the synagogue and should be spelled out in the invitation. Men are typically expected to wear a suit or slacks and a tie. Women should wear a modest dress or formal pantsuit. Avoid anything that shows a lot cleavage or leg. Bare shoulders should be covered with a shawl or bolero jacket.
When Should I Arrive?
The term bar/bat mitzvah often refers to the ceremony and celebration, although the child being celebrated is also referred to as the bar or bat mitzvah. And as stated earlier he or she has spent years preparing for this day. Be respectful by arriving to the synagogue on time. The bar or bat mitzvah will likely lead the ceremony, and that's something you don't want to miss. If this will be your first time in a synagogue, it's a great opportunity to take in the Jewish culture.
Congratulate the Hosts
In Jewish culture, it's appropriate to congratulate the bar or bat mitzvah as well as his or her mother, father, siblings and friends. And the best way to say congratulations? Mazel tov! Want to learn even more? Click here for a list of Hebrew phrases you'll likely overhear.
Do I Need to Bring a Yarmulke?
Bring a yarmulke? No. But the family will likely provide you with a new yarmulke or kippah as you walk in the door. Head coverings are traditionally worn by men, although they are also worn by women in some synagogues. The head covering is non-denominational, which means all men should wear one. The prayer shawl, however, is reserved only for Jews. This shawl is known as a tallit. It's perfectly fine to decline the tallit on the basis that you are not Jewish or do not feel comfortable wearing one.
How Much Should I Participate?
When the congregation stands, you should stand. When they sit, you should sit. It's respectful to participate in the service as much as you feel comfortable doing so. This includes humming along during congregational melodies.
Can I Bring a Guest?
No. Unless it says so on the invitation, do not bring an uninvited guest. Much like a wedding, a bar or bat mitzvah is a large celebration planned well in advance and the host will need to know the number of guests to expect tp provide adequate food, drink and seating. This why it's also good etiquette to RSVP as soon as possible.
Bar Mitzvah Gifts
Gifts are expected at bar and bat mitzvahs. The most common is giving money toward college or studies abroad in Israel. Many families end up donating a portion of cash to a charity. This custom is known as "tzedekah." You may also choose to make a direct donation to a charity in honor of the bar or bat mitzvah. If you decide to give money, consider giving in multiples of 18. The number 18 is significant because it's a numerical value for "chai," which is Hebrew for "life."
- Books with religious or educational value
- Personalized stationery
- Money for college or studies abroad
- Gift certificates
- Donate to charity
- Jewish baked goods
- Religious items like Sabbath candlesticks or a menorah
The most important rule to remember when attending a bar or bat mitzvah is to have fun and make friends! You were invited because the family genuinely wanted you to be there for this very important moment in the child's life. So cut loose and dance the night away!