Not sure what to expect at the bar mitzvah you were invited to? Do you not know what happens at a bar mitzvah? That’s alright; for many people who didn’t grow up in a Jewish household or have the opportunity to attend friends’ bar or bat mitzvahs, the event and the many rituals and traditions surrounding this life passage can feel quite foreign. Thankfully, as premier mitzvah organizers and special event planners in the Greater Boston Area, we are happy to provide a guide of what to expect at the next bar or bat mitzvah you attend!
In this blog, we’ll cover some mitzvah basics, what happens during the service, and the rules of etiquette. As special event planners who have organized dozens and dozens of mitzvah events, both as attendees and behind-the-scenes organizers, we’re confident that this guide will help clarify any questions you have.
What is a Standard or Bat Mitzvah?
A bar mitzvah is a celebration of a Jewish boy’s entry into adulthood when he is called to read from the Torah for the first time, usually at 13 years old (according to the Hebrew calendar). A bat mitzvah is the same type of celebration but focuses on a young girl’s journey into adulthood. Services are usually marked by traditional ceremonies and Torah readings, often at a synagogue, but sometimes at other venues (like a hotel) where we have created a sacred space for the ceremony.
What Happens During the Service?
Usually, the bar or bat mitzvah service occurs during Shabbat morning services or during the Havdalah service at sundown on Saturday. The young man or woman will chant a passage from the Torah, one they have practiced often for many months. After morning service, guests might enjoy a “Kiddush’ or festive reception in the social hall. After a sundown service, guests often go directly to a more formal reception.
If the service is on a weekday morning, the mitzvah boy or girl and their Jewish guests over 13 years of age will put on tefillin – two black boxes strapped on the head and arm for the prayer services. The Torah may be read as part of the service even if it’s not Shabbat.
As a religious ceremony, the attire for bar mitzvah ceremonies tends to be somewhat conservative; business attire and modest dresses are common for women, generally with shoulders covered. For more traditional communities, hats are customary.
Men typically wear slacks and a dress shirt, or a jacket and tie, if you want. Often, men are asked to wear “kippot” or small head coverings as a sign of respect. Married Jewish often wear a tallit (prayer shawl) over their shoulders and tefillin (if the celebration isn’t on Shabbat). In more liberal congregations, Jewish women wear a tallit as well. Kippot and prayer shawls can be found at the entrance to the ceremony space.
How formally should you dress for a bar or bat mitzvah? Depending on the ceremony venue and tone of the service, this may vary – guests can sometimes wear more relaxed attire. If you are uncertain, ask your host.
Gifts are customary at a bar mitzvah, but you should not bring them to the service if the celebration is on Saturday, as it is tradition that money is not exchanged on the Sabbath. You can send a check or gift card and your reply card before the celebration or give the gift at the reception. Any gift for the celebrant could work as a bar mitzvah gift, but it helps to remember that this is a celebration of the transition into adulthood. A meaningful gift will go farther than the latest fad.
Generally, a rabbi (and possibly a cantor) will lead the service, explain what is happening at each phase, note the prayers’ location within the prayer book, and ask guests to stand or be seated when appropriate.
What Happens After the Service?
Let the celebrations begin; this is where our mitzvah planning efforts are on full display! The reception will include food, dancing, and the mitzvah boy or girl’s commitment to applying all the lessons they’ve learned in life. At some point in the reception, the traditional “Hora” dance will occur when a seated mitzvah boy or girl is lifted in a chair and carried around the room.
Bar Mitzvah & Bat Mitzvah Ideas
Bar and bat mitzvah receptions can be designed to suit almost any theme imaginable. We encourage you to be original! Whether you are considering a bar or bat mitzvah theme focused on your child’s hobbies or a favorite book, it’s a subject we love exploring with our clients.
At JRE, we have had great success with past events; here are some ideas to get you started:
- Big entertainment
- Gaming – Virtual Reality
Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah Venues
No matter what theme you decide to go with, we know the perfect venue to suit your needs—our creative team scopes out the best locations with an eye for details. A bar or bat mitzvah is one of the most important days in a young man or woman’s life, and we know how to curate an experience that the whole family will cherish and enjoy.
Please book a consultation with us today to get started!