A bar mitzvah celebrates a Jewish boy’s entry into adulthood, and a bat mitzvah marks a Jewish girl’s entry into adulthood. Bar/bat mitzvah etiquette can vary greatly, but here are some etiquette tips that will work for most bar/bat mitzvahs you will attend. If you’ve never attended a bar mitzvah, start by reading What to Expect at a Bar Mitzvah.

Who Is Invited?

Sometimes young people are invited to the bar or bat mitzvahs of their classmates. At times, adults might be invited but not their children. And then there are times (particularly in the case of close family) when the whole clan is expected. Your best clue is to look at the envelope. If it is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Doe, assume that just the adults should show up. If it is addressed to the Doe family, you better start shopping for festive children’s clothing. And if you see the name of your seventh grader, start networking to find a carpool.

How to Dress for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

Unless you are told otherwise, assume that you are expected to dress up, wearing something like what you’d wear to a formal business meeting. For men, this means a suit, or at least a button-down shirt and slacks, and for women this means a modest dress. In addition, men should expect to wear a kippah (a small cap) on their heads. There is a good chance that there will be specially-made kippahs, personalized for the bar or bat mitzvah, available for you to put on as you enter. This leads us to our next tip.

Can I Keep the Kippah?

If there are personalized kippahs (most often with the name of the celebrant and the date of the bar/bat mitzvah), there’s no need to return it when the party ends. It’s yours to keep.

Do I Need to Bring a Gift?

It is customary to give a gift to the young celebrant. However, you do not need to bring the gift with you to the celebration. Indeed, you should not do so if the celebration is on Shabbat. Instead, include a check or gift card with your reply card, or just drop off your gift at a time that works for you.

You can pretty much give anything you think will bring joy to a 13-year-old boy or a 12-year-old girl, but bear in mind that meaningful gifts have the advantage of being, well, meaningful. So a good book on Judaism might not be that exciting now, but it might serve the bar/bat mitzvah much better down the line than the latest gizmo that’s going to be obsolete in a few months.

Where Do I Sit?

If you’ll be attending services in a synagogue, the first thing you need to know is that men and women traditionally sit separately for prayers, so make sure you’re in the right section. Once there, you may find a section reserved for bar mitzvah guests. If that’s the case, you’re in clover. If not, most synagogues are pretty informal, and you can pretty much sit where you wish, especially near a friend or fellow family member. However, if you’re still nervous, you can quietly ask someone to help you find an available seat. And if someone asks you to move over in the middle of the services, that’s just fine.

If you are attending a reception, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a seat assigned to you. It is likely that there will be a table with place cards on it. Just find your card, and check which table number you are expected at. If you do not like your table assignment, please don’t just sit somewhere else. You may very well be leaving someone else (who is perhaps less bold than you) without a place to sit.

Is It OK to Take Pictures?

If the celebration is on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, pictures (and the use of electronics) are not allowed, so resist the urge to use your phone to snap a selfie with the celebrant, record the Torah reading or even check in on social media.

What Do I Say?

A Bar Mitzvah boy giving a speech (Serraf Studio)
A Bar Mitzvah boy giving a speech (Serraf Studio)

The appropriate congratulatory wish to bestow upon the celebrant, their family and just about anyone else you meet at the bar/bat mitzvah is mazal tov, which literally means “good luck.” Learn more about the meaning of mazal tov, here.

Do I Need to Dance?

The Bar Mitzvah boy is commonly picked up in a chair (Maitri Shah Photography)
The Bar Mitzvah boy is commonly picked up in a chair (Maitri Shah Photography)

There is a good chance that there will be some dancing, traditionally in circles, sometimes holding the young celebrant aloft in a chair. You can join in the dancing if you wish, and there are precious few dance moves that you need to master to participate. So don’t be shy about joining in the fun!