The Bar Mitzvah is to the Jews as Confirmation is to several Christian denominations. It occurs when a Jewish boy turns thirteen, and it takes place on the first Saturday after that birthday. The Bar Mitzvah, meaning "son of the commandment," is used to denote both the ceremony itself as well as the celebrant. The Bat Mitzvah ("daughter of the commandment") is the counterpart for girls who have just turned twelve, and is a fairly recent development in Judaism; the first Bat Mitzvah was held in America in 1922.
This coming-of-age ceremony celebrates a child's acceptance as an adult member of his or her congregation. This means that he or she is now responsible for his or her own actions, and for following the Jewish commandments and rituals as detailed in the Torah. Prior to the ceremony, the boy or girl goes through a long period of religious instruction in preparation for the event.
As with weddings, guests may be invited to the ceremony, the after-party, or both. The formality of the invitation should match the formality of the event. When attending the ceremony, guests should dress as they would for a wedding or other religious service, and observe the same rules of etiquette. If the ceremony is in the morning and the party is in the evening, guests may change into evening clothes for the party.
The ceremony is usually held on the Sabbath, during the day on Saturday or in some congregations on Friday evening (some Orthodox ceremonies may take place during the week). The boy or girl celebrant usually begins the event by reading from the Torah in Hebrew. A rabbi conducts the ceremony, which varies in its customs among the different branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. A Reform Bar or Bat Mitzvah may be celebrated in an alternative, or non-traditional, fashion compared to Orthodox and Conservative ones.
Reception or Party
After the religious ceremony, a reception may be held at the synagogue where members of the congregation gather, or a party may be given elsewhere later in the day or the evening, in a private home, at a club, or in a restaurant. As for a wedding reception, a meal is usually served, and there may be music and dancing.
It is traditional for guests to give gifts to the celebrant, though of course it is not a requirement. Often, a gift of money is given for the celebrant's college fund. Any gift should be acknowledged by a handwritten thank-you note as soon after the event as possible.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.