Have you just been invited to your Jewish girlfriend’s bat mitzvah but are totally stumped about what etiquette will be expected?
You’re not alone. If you did not grow up Jewish, it is unlikely you would have been exposed to this specific cultural and religious tradition.
What a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah is, essentially, is a coming-of-age tradition for Jewish youth. Maybe but not really akin to a sweet sixteen.
Either way, since you’ve already been invited, the worst thing you want to do is commit a huge social gaffe on such an important day for your friend.
Read on to find out what happens at a bat mitzvah: what to wear and what gifts to bring.
Meaning of Bat Mitzvah
What is a bat mitzvah?
The first thing you need to get straight is the meaning of bat mitzvah. This term means “Daughter of the Commandment.”
What happens is that a boy becomes a “Son of the Commandment” or a girl becomes the “Daughter of the Commandment” following this ceremony, conducted when children turn 12 or 13 years old.
It is something they become, and the “bat mitzvah” refers to what they become rather than the celebration itself.
Following the bar/bat mitzvah, Jewish youth are said to begin to be held accountable for their actions by their community. It is, in essence, a coming-of-age ceremony.
What Happens At A Bat Mitzvah
During the ceremony, a girl may read from the Torah or read a prayer from the Siddur. These are Jewish religious texts.
It is okay if you don’t understand them or partake in the same religion, but this aspect of the ceremony should be treated with respect and reverence on your part.
But really, many bat mitzvahs take the form of parties, or a seudat mitzvah, to be specific.
These are joyous occasions held with important family members and friends. This can take the form of a special trip or special event held in the celebrant’s honor.
The ceremony itself usually takes place on the Shabbat morning, which is Saturday morning. It could also start Friday night or continue to Saturday night.
Dress and Gifts
Chances are, you are concerned about how to dress and what celebratory gifts to bring.
Here’s the frank answer for dress: different families and congregations have different traditions. Always ask the organizers of the bat mitzvah what the appropriate dress would be.
There are many bat mitzvah dresses you can look at online if you are unsure what style is suitable.
In terms of gifts, you can look at these common bat mitzvah gifts and choose the most popular one. And remember, you can always ask if you are not sure about the appropriateness of a gift.
In terms of what happens at a bat mitzvah?
The fact of the matter is that most synagogues and families have different ideas about what a bar/bat mitzvah should look like for their children and their communities.
Services vary widely depending on the synagogue and the religious denomination (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc.).
Your best bet is to always ask the family involved or leaders in the synagogue if you can reach them.
Learn more about these traditions in our lifestyle section!