Dear Miriam | What’s the Etiquette for B’nai Mitzvahs?

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Dear Miriam, 

My (non-Jewish) daughter has been invited to a number of upcoming bar and bat mitzvahs, and she is very excited. Since I’ve never attended one, I’m wondering about appropriate etiquette. She’s gotten a sense from friends about what other kids are wearing to the receptions, but what about the service? Is she even expected to attend the service, or are they reserved for family and close friends? I’m assuming the kids should dress more conservatively for services, or at least make sure their shoulders are covered? Also, what is an appropriate gift between peers? 


Bat Mitzvah Manners

Dear Manners,

Based on your description of your daughter talking to her friends, she won’t be the only one at these occasions who is unfamiliar with the proceedings or, if she is, she’ll be surrounded by friends who can talk her through it. I recommend that she talk to the same friends about any other questions she has. Even if they don’t know the answers, they’ll know they’re in this together to support their friends while venturing outside their own comfort zones.

I also recommend asking the bar/bat mitzvah kid themselves. They’ll know that by inviting non-Jewish friends, they’ll need to be a translator of sorts, and as long as the questions are coming from a place of respect, there’s no reason not to ask. Similarly, you could reach out to the parents or other Jewish parents in your community and social circle to ask some of these questions. Of course, I realize you’ve already reached out to me, but since many of these questions vary greatly from city to city and synagogue to synagogue within the same city, I can’t guarantee my answers will match up to what your daughter’s experience turns out to be.

Nonetheless, here are my best guesses: Most likely, she should wear something different to the service than to the party. Shoulders covered may very well be the norm in the synagogue in question, but more likely, the expectation is more simply that clothes are respectful and nicer than something they’d wear to school. Think about the kid version of business casual. You’ll likely want to avoid anything very short or very sparkly, and synagogues, like most places, can vary widely in their temperature control, so a cardigan or jacket is a good idea, not even for modesty, but just for comfort.

If your daughter was invited to both the service and the party, she should, if at all possible, attend both. The service reflects a year or more of study and preparation, and may include your daughter’s friend leading prayers in Hebrew, reading from the Torah and giving a speech in English about what they’ve learned. The 12- or 13-year-old will also be “called up” to the Torah, an honor received for the first time at the bar/bat mitzvah.

While none of this may mean anything to your child, knowing that her friend worked hard to reach this moment is, in itself, important, and attending the service is an opportunity to experience another culture in a brief but immersive way. Most synagogues will also provide a pamphlet giving some details on the parts of the service and what is going to happen.

It’s worth knowing a few other specifics: Very few people from the congregation are likely to arrive at the scheduled start time. If that’s what her friends are doing, your daughter should arrive then, too, but she should be prepared that there may not be very many people there at the beginning. Depending on the synagogue, services can last 2-3 hours. Some of it may be boring. Taking a break to go to the restroom or stretch her legs is fine, but don’t do it when the bar/bat mitzvah kid is leading anything, and don’t talk in services above a whisper. Again, this depends somewhat on the congregation, but your daughter should plan to keep her phone put away and on silent throughout the service.

As for gifts, people often give money in multiples of $18 to reflect the Hebrew word for life, which has a value of $18. Depending on how close they are, $36 is a perfectly nice gift. If they are better friends or if the rest of your family is also attending, $72 may be more appropriate. Or, if this numerology suggestion is all too weird, $50/$75/$100 is also just fine. If giving money doesn’t feel right, think about it like a really important birthday party, and have your child pick out a meaningful and personal gift with a similar value.

I hope this helps and that your daughter has a wonderful time celebrating this important milestone in her friends’ lives!

Be well,



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