What Is a Bat Mitzvah?

Bat mitzvah is Hebrew for “daughter of commandment.” When a Jewish girl turns 12, she has all the rights and obligations of a Jewish adult, including the commandments of the Torah. From that date, she takes her place in the Jewish community. This milestone—called a bat mitzvah—is often celebrated with creative projects, meaningful gatherings and joyous parties.

You’re probably most familiar with the term “Bat Mitzvah” when it’s used to refer to the celebration, but it actually refers to you, the Bat Mitzvah girl. Although in the secular world you are not yet even a teenager, according to Jewish law, a girl is considered an adult from the age of twelve. On your twelfth birthday, you officially become a “Bat Mitzvah,” a “daughter of the mitzvahs,” one who is obligated in mitzvah observance. All the mitzvahs you’ve done until now were just preparation; this is the real deal.

How Is a Bat Mitzvah Celebrated?

As soon as you turn twelve, you become a Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish adult. Many choose to celebrate the occasion with family and friends, but even if a girl does nothing at all to mark the day, she still becomes a Bat Mitzvah.

Read: Your Big Day: How to Celebrate Your Bat Mitzvah.

Preparation and Study

You may have been to friends’ or siblings’ Bat Mitzvah celebrations and seen anything from at-home get-togethers to lavish, wedding-style events. It has become more and more common in the last few decades to throw big parties, but it’s important to remember that a Bat Mitzvah is much more than just a party.

The Bat Mitzvah is an important link in a continuous chain of religious and spiritual experiences, and the most crucial aspect of this milestone is the impact and long term effect the experience will have on the young woman’s Jewish identity. Your preparations should reflect this focus and not be dominated by less important matters.

The pre-Bat Mitzvah months are a good time to spend learning more about the mitzvahs, and the how’s and why’s of doing them. It’s a time to develop your own personal relationship with Judaism and G‑d.

Of course, it’s impossible to cover everything in a few months. The best preparation for a meaningful and fulfilling Jewish life is an education at a Jewish school, or an after-school program or Sunday Hebrew school.

But regardless of your previous knowledge, you can find a Chabad center near you that will offer pre-Bat Mitzvah classes. There is also a Bat Mitzvah Club with chapters in more than 200 cities across the United States, which offers exciting events, activities and trips, all centered around the theme of becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Joining a class or a club will help you prepare for the big day while connecting with other girls who are doing the same thing.

Read in-depth articles on bat mitzvah and its background.

Mitzvah Project

A Bat Mitzvah marks the time when a girl becomes responsible for the fulfillment of hundreds of mitzvahs. The thought can be quite overwhelming! Many young women find it meaningful to choose one mitzvah to focus on. Of course, this doesn’t preclude doing the rest of the mitzvahs. But choosing one for a “mitzvah project,” researching it in depth and developing a personal connection with it can be a wonderful way to prepare for a Bat Mitzvah.

The mitzvah project can be something to help others, such as a charity drive, which will encourage the Jewish tradition of chessed, (kindness), or it can be a more individual mitzvah, such as daily prayer. You could also combine two mitzvahs – such as charity and kosher cooking – and prepare and deliver meals for the less fortunate. Whatever mitzvah a young woman chooses, she will certainly gain tremendous satisfaction from her work.

Find a mitzvah project that’s right for you.

Women’s Mitzvahs

As you are learning about the mitzvahs, make sure to spend some extra time on the mitzvahs that are given specifically to women.

Two that you can do are lighting Shabbat candles and separating a piece of dough – called “challah” – when baking bread.

Girls can light Shabbat candles as young as three, but some wait until their Bat Mitzvah to start. If you have not been lighting Shabbat candles – or if you’ve chosen to wait – the Shabbat closest to your Bat Mitzvah is a good time to start. Visit our Shabbat Candle Site for all the how-tos, or check out the Do-It-Yourself Shabbat Candles video.

Even if you already light Shabbat candles, this is a great time to learn more about the significance of this beautiful mitzvah.

Some girls include challah baking as part of their Bat Mitzvah celebration so they can do the mitzvah of separating dough for the first time as a woman. Learn more about the mitzvah of challah here.

Finally, although prayer is not specifically a woman’s mitzvah, it does have a special connection to women. In fact, it was a woman who first taught us how to pray. As you prepare for your Bat Mitzvah, take some time to learn about the mitzvah of prayer, think about what prayer means to you, and make some time in your busy schedule to talk to G‑d.

Read: Women’s Special Mitzvot.

Make It Meaningful

It’s important to make sure the actual day of the Bat Mitzvah is meaningful to the Bat Mitzvah girl. Some make sure to dedicate an hour or two (or more) to helping others. This can involve a trip to a nearby nursing home to visit the residents or helping out in a soup kitchen or any other volunteer organization. The Bat Mitzvah girl can invite some friends along, and it will help set the tone and remind her of the significance of the day.

The Party

Bat Mitzvah celebrations vary, and there are no hard-and-fast rules. Some prefer a small intimate gathering, others plan a large affair. But whatever your budget, make sure the guests know that this isn’t just a glorified birthday bash. Make the party more meaningful by emphasizing the importance of the Bat Mitzvah speech, telling the guests about the “mitzvah project” and inviting them to do a mitzvah, such as giving tzedakah (charity), themselves.

The Bat Mitzvah Speech

When a young woman celebrates her Bat Mitzvah with a party, it is customary for her to prepare a speech.

The speech can be a thought from the weekly Torah portion, or any Torah idea that resonates particularly with her. Many girls choose to research an important woman from Jewish history and share some of the lessons from her life. The speech encourages the Bat Mitzvah girl in the Jewish tradition of sharing the Torah one has learned with others.

The speech is also the perfect opportunity to announce her “mitzvah project” and thank parents, family and friends.

Need help with your Bat Mitzvah speech? Look no further than our comprehensive speech section!

Bat Mitzvah Gifts

Traditional gifts for the Bat Mitzvah girl include books with religious or educational value, religious items, gift certificates, or money. Monetary gifts in multiples of 18 are considered to be particularly auspicious and have become very common for Bat Mitzvahs.

If a young woman is to begin lighting Shabbat candles after her Bat Mitzvah, her parents or grandparents will often buy her a pretty candlestick.

Read: Choosing a Bat Mitzvah Gift

Post Bat Mitzvah

While the Bat Mitzvah itself is a tremendous milestone in the life of a Jewish girl, and obviously requires study and preparation, it should never be viewed as a “graduation” from Judaism, but rather as the bright beginning of a vibrant and fulfilling Jewish life. She hasn’t finished observing the mitzvahs, she is just starting!