So you have been invited to a bat mitzvah Now what.
Many religious and ethnic groups have a "rite of passage" for their young adults. These rites represent maturing into some form of adulthood or responsibility. For the Jewish faith, this rite of passage is called a bar/bat Mitzvah. The bar/bat Mitzvah is considered a time of religious celebration within the Jewish community.
What Is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
In Hebrew, the literal translation is son (bar)/daughter (bat) of commandment (Mitzvah). According to Jewish law, boys (age 13) and girls (age 12) become responsible for their own actions has they relate to the religious community. They are required to participate as adults in all religious matters and ceremonies. The passing of the religious responsibility of the father to the children is a critical landmark within the Jewish community.
The Bat Mitzvah Ceremony
While the traditions may vary slightly from one synagogue to the next, the religious ceremony is held the first Sabbath following a girl's twelfth birthday. For boys, they are permitted to begin participating in the weekly readings of the Torah and Haflarah. For girls, it wasn't until recently that they were allowed some level of participation in the weekly services within non-orthodox and modern orthodox synagogues. Guests should make every effort to be on time to witness this very important "speech" because the bat has most likely been studying and preparing for this opportunity for a long time.
The Bat Mitzvah Party
For people not previously exposed to Jewish laws and traditions, attending a bat Mitzvah party can be an interesting experience. It is important to note that the party is not common in many ultra-orthodox communities. For those who decide to throw a party in celebration, the party is normally considered an epic event. The parents consider the event a once-in-a-lifetime occasion and they typically pull out all the stops. For gentiles, here is a guide to proper bat mitzvah party etiquette.
Dress Code - The bat mitzvah is generally considered a formal event. For women, conservative dresses and business attire are most appropriate. For men, suits and sports coats are proper. If there is a "theme" to the party, the dress code may be altered to comply with the theme.
The Meal - The celebratory meal is called a "seudat mitzvah". At most parties, the meal is of the sit-down variety. If the event is held at a country club or hotel, it might be buffet style. It would highly unusual for the meal to consist exclusively of "finger" foods or hors d'oeuvres. Gentiles should remember the food will most likely be kosher.
Gifts - In orthodox communities, religious gifts such as books or symbols are typical. Otherwise, savings bonds and cash always make nice gifts for a young woman. Jewelry and candlesticks are also considered to be common gifts.
Entertainment - There will most likely be music and dancing. The Jewish community has some traditional dances that are fun a joyous. Also, be prepared for a variety of celebratory speeches.
With the exception of weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs are considered to be one of the most important events in a person's life. People without prior exposure to the event should be prepared for the strong family and religious overtones of the celebration.