What to give for a bar or bat mitzvah.
When you have no clue.
Help. I’ve Been Invited to a Bar-Bat Mitzvah.
I Have No Idea What To Give!
We're here to help you figure out what to give for a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah gift.
So, you’ve been invited to this Jewish party. It's a good thing to learn about what the ceremony is and how it began. It helps to navigate and understand the "big deal" for this occasion.
First-- a Bar Mitzvah is for a boy and a Bat Mitzvah is for a girl.
And you really want to follow the proper etiquette of this event.
Mazel tov! (that means congratulations in Hebrew)
But, you’ve got questions:
Let’s give you a very short explanation of what a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is, which will aid you in your gift choice.
Trust us-- it will all come together in a moment.
It was first documented around the sixth century when Jewish boys, age 13 became a Bar Mitzvah. This meant that they were in a sense a leader in their community. For example, reading prayers in front of the congregation and assuming certain responsibilities.
But, it wasn’t until the 13th or 14th century that we learned about a boy reading Torah in front of the congregation. This changed up the game somewhat, upping the ante.
The girls? Well, they lagged behind a few (ok A LOT) centuries.
Just a few centuries passed, about 600 or 700 years until girls got their chance. Fast forward to America, the year 1922. Judith Kaplan first recited the blessings over the Torah, but was not allowed to read from it, according to MyJewishlearning.com.
Fast forward to today. Reform, reconstructionist, and conservative Jewish synagogues welcome both girls and boys to read from the Torah. As well, they also lead the congregation in worship.
As you can see, things have changed, or rather rapidly progressed in the last 100 years.
Yet, to lead the congregation in prayer only comes with lots of study and practice. One does not open a Torah scroll and chant and understand the ancient words. The words are in biblical Hebrew, an alphabet and language not spoken in America.
On average, a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah boy or girl studies for this day at a minimum of four years. The studies are known as Sunday and/or Hebrew school. This is the course that the child attends in preparation for this big event. Some may even meet with a private one-on-one tutor to get extra help.
So, it is a HUGE deal. A lot of time and commitment are invested in this day.
With the culmination of their learning (although, as adults, we know that learning truly never ends) the child is now considered a full-fledged adult in the Jewish community.
What actually does a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah mean?
Bar Mitzvah Means Son of the Commandments
Bat Mitzvah means Daughter of the Commandments
They are held responsible for fulfilling the commandments placed upon them in the eyes of Judaism.
Can they vote?
No, this is only a law that makes them an adult in the religious world.
So, Why Are Gifts are A Big Deal? And what to give for a bar or bat mitzvah?
You see, as you've just read-- this isn’t just a regular party that you’ve been invited to where the music is great, there is plenty of food and drinks, and the dancing out of control.
The party isn’t really “anything” but a celebration of what he/she has accomplished.
Pause for a second here and think back to that fancy invitation you received in the mail.
It most likely had two parts to it:
- The ceremony with time and location listed
The party with time and location listed
The ceremony was the Torah reading service that took part either in a synagogue or in a hall with a member of the clergy (a Rabbi) presiding over the service.
This is what the Bar Mitvzvah boy or the Bat Mtizvah girl has prepared for.
So, in essence, the gift is to congratulate them on their job well deserved.
Their completion of the ceremony is worthy of a gift-well-achieved.
You’re most likely asking, “How much do you give for a bat mitzvah gift?”
Here is where you need to think about things:
- How much do you want to spend
- How many people are invited in your family
- How close is the family to the person
- Is it just your child attending?
With all that taken into consideration, keep in mind that there will not be gift police coming after you. This is just what is recommended, and you and your family need to be comfortable with what you're able to give.
Remember though, this is NOT a birthday party.
So, being totally blunt here, don’t give a gift as if it is a birthday party.
When you arrive to the party, you’ll see the difference. Now, yes, some Bar Mitzvahs are very simple with just lunch. While others have Drake and Adam Levine being flown in to perform for the guests. (Side note, I have never been invited to one of these parties, let me know if you have been and how was it?)
Each family spends whatever they can afford on the celebration from a few thousand up to A LOT of cash.
So, your gift has to reflect that-- the time invested in the ceremony as well as the festivities afterward.
What is this Obsession in Judaism with the number 18?
Jewish people will often gift in multiples of 18.
The combination of the two Hebrew letters (chet and yud) equals eighteen. The letter yud has a value of 10 and the chet a value of 8 = 18. So chet-yud is Chai (not the tea) and it's value is 18.
Gematria is actually what it is called-- the numerical value of numbers.
So-- here's an example----If a child only is attending, you’re not close to the family and it’s a school friend you can gift $18.00
That is totally acceptable-- you have blessed him/her with a long and happy life according to the numerical value of 18 (chaim or Chai).
But, what if you’re a close friend and $18 is a bit (to say it nicely) cheap?
Or 3x$18= $54
You're catching where I’m going with that, right?
Multiples of 18.
A family friend of the bar/bat mitzvah, where you as an entire family are all attending would gift most likely 10 x $18 or $180.
You want to pay your “way” or rather, “your seat” at the party.
Think of what you’d pay if you took your entire family out to a fancy dinner with live entertainment-- it would be safe to say you wouldn’t spend $36 total.
What Message Do I Write on the Gift Card?
Remember at the beginning of this blog we wrote the word Mazel Tov?
It means Congratulations in Hebrew or Good Luck, but only for happy occasions.
You can easily write:
- Mazel Tov on your Bar (Bat) Mitzvah!
We are so glad that we were able to attend, thank you for inviting us!
- Mazel Tov on your big day!
May you be blessed with happiness and good fortune!
You did amazing!
- Thank you for including us on your special day, Mazel Tov!
And put your check or cash in the envelope with the card.
Note: many parties will have a gift table or a gift card box that is “guarded” so look for that area to place your gift.
What if I don't Want to Give Money for a Gift? Do I Have to?
No. It is totally fine, and trust us, you’re not the only one who thinks money is an impersonal gift.
Not to criticize money, but there are three thoughts to this gift-giving-madness:
Money all the way
No money, physical gifts only
Money and a gift
I have a brother-in-law who says only money and there is no room to discuss it at all, it’s money and that is the end. Nothing else is to be given as a gift.
No money, physical gifts only
I personally like gifts-- it’s something to that you're remembered. Cash/checks go to the bank and are very impersonal. It’s a thought-less gift, not a bad gift at all, but there is no thought that goes into it.
Money is a gift without any thought put into it, so thoughtless. Not meaningless, but thought-less. And yes, I have resorted to this on more than one occasion where I gave only money.
I mean, in my head I said, I didn’t know the child.
I was also being lazy---the list is endless.
A gift and a check. Sometimes a small gift, like a piece of jewelry, and an $18 check (for luck).
All in all, it is what you are comfortable gifting.
If you’re of the #2 and #3 thought process, you will need to prepare in advance. You have to know the recipient and what his/her likes and interests are. It takes time and a lot of thought.
One thing to remember when buying this “gift” is the actual occasion of the event.
It is a rite of passage into Judaism.
It’s safe to say an ideal gift is Judaica-themed.
Of course, your gut is to buy something they would use daily. But, don’t have your gut lead you all the time.
Buy something that will be cherished for the long road ahead.
I would love to say all boys should receive a Jewish Star necklace. But some boys won’t wear jewelry. You have to know what they will wear. If they do wear jewelry, here is a best-selling bracelet.
The girls though are the easiest to shop for and the hardest.
A Jewish Star of David necklace or bracelet. Perhaps a chai-- you know those two letters that mean life we spoke about earlier?
A prayer pendant with the Shema Israel (a prayer read in the service) would be a great choice. Different, unique, personal, and appropriate.
All in all, what to give for a bat mitzvah or a bar mitzvah should be first and foremost dependent on what you feel comfortable gifting.
Remember, these are guidelines to help you along the way in making your decision. It comes down to what you and your family are most comfortable in gifting. Nothing is written in stone. There are no laws, no faux pas.
And, of course, it is NOT mandatory you gift a present, it’s sort of a custom.
The real present is you being there attending and celebrating with the family. Witnessing the fulfillment of the commandment of Judaism which has continued for generations.
We'd love to learn from you as well. Let us know what you've done for gift-giving. Or, if this blog helped you plan for the next gift in your upcoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration.