What to Gift for a Bar Mitzvah 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've got your back.
So, you’ve been invited to this Jewish party.
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:
- what is a good bat mitzvah gift
- what to give for a bat mitzvah gift
- Can we give cash for a bar mitzvah gift
- Is there anything besides money that we can gift?
Let’s first 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 around the sixth century when it was first documented that Jewish boys, of the age 13, were called upon to recite Hebrew prayers, lead the congregation and assume responsibilities of an adult. However, it wasn’t until the 13th or 14th century that we first learned about a boy being called up to read from the Torah AND do all of the above.
The girls? Well, they lagged behind a few (ok A LOT) centuries.
Fast forward to today and you’ll realize now that in most reform, reconstructionist and conservative Jewish synagogues both girls and boys now partake in the reading from the Torah and leading the congregation in worship.
As you can see, things have changed, or rather rapidly progressed in the last 100 years.
However, to lead the congregation in prayer only comes with lots study and practice.
One does not open a Torah scroll and just chant and understand the ancient words.
On average, a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah boy or girl studies for this day at a minimum of four years. The studies are often called Sunday and/or Hebrew school 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 really is a HUGE deal and there is a lot of time and commitment invested in this day.
With the culmination of their learning (although, as adults, we know that learning truly never culminates) 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?
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 10x$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!
- Mazel Tov!
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?
Totally fine, and trust us, you’re not the only one who thinks money is sort of an impersonal gift for a celebration and party of this caliber.
There are three thoughts to this gift-giving-madness:
- Money all the way
- No money, physical gifts only
- Money and a gift
We’ve discussed the money all the way.
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.
#2 is only a gift
I personally like gifts-- it’s something to be remembered by. 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.
It really is a gift without any thought put into it, so thoughtless. 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.
Can you relate?
#3 is the combo gift.
A gift and a check. Sometimes a small gift, like a piece of jewelry is given 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 and really know the child and what his/her likes and interests are.
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 be gifted a Jewish Star necklace for their bar mitzvah, but some boys just won’t wear jewelry.
If they do may we recommend this bracelet as an option?
The girls though, they are the easiest to shop for, and the hardest.
Jewelry is always a great bat mitzvah gift.
A Jewish Star of David necklace or bracelet. Perhaps a chai-- you know those two letters that mean life we spoke about earlier?
Even a prayer pendant that says the Shema Israel (a prayer read in the service) would be a great choice if you’re looking for something a bit different.
All in all, what to give for a bat mitzvah or a bar mitzvah should be first and foremost dependant on what you feel comfortable gifting.
These are just guidelines to help you along the way in making your decision.
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 as they fulfill the commandment of Judaism that started (and has continued unbroken) for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Let us know what you've done for gift-giving or are planning on doing for gifts to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah you'll be attending!