A Bar Mitzvah is a key event in any Jewish boy’s life and marks his first major step on the road to manhood. It signifies membership of the congregation, and acceptance of adult rights and responsibilities. It’s normal to celebrate a boy’s Bar Mitzvah with a special gift. We’ll take a closer look at the Bar Mitzvah ceremony and how to find the right Bar Mitzvah gift.
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What is a Bar Mitzvah?
Bar Mitzvah (בַּר מִצְוָה) literally means son of commandment and can be interpreted to mean one who is obligated or beholden to the commandment. A Bar Mitzvah is an automatic event that applies to every Jewish male when he reaches the age of thirteen. The Bar Mitzvah is not the ceremony itself, but is usually celebrated as a ceremonial event.
A boy who has reached the age of Bar Mitzvah is viewed as crossing the boundary between childhood and manhood. He’s not an adult, but he is expected to start trying to behave like a man. Bar Mitzvah is interpreted slightly differently by various Jewish communities and denominations, but there are key traditional principles.
- The boy is acknowledged as a full member of the Jewish community
- Is held morally responsible for his own actions
- May head or participate in a Minyan
- May read from the Torah and is obliged to follow its 613 laws
- Must keep Halakha
- May testify in a Beth Din court
- Accepts the Mitzvah of Tefillin.
Many of these rights and duties are not relevant to modern Reform Jews or secular Jews in the US and Europe. They do constitute a cultural heritage and can encourage a young man approaching Bar Mitzvah age to think deeply about his place in society and in the Jewish community. They can also encourage him to think carefully about what it means to be both a Jew and a man.
The best Bar Mitzvah gifts depend entirely on how the young man and his family view the concept of Bar Mitzvah. If they are religious, they may value traditional ritual items, or useful educational or spiritual items like books. It may also be a question of precedence when it comes to giving certain Bar Mitzvah gifts. For example, parents or grandparents may want to give their son or grandson his first tallit or tefillin.
It’s important to talk to other family members, friends and guests to any Bar Mitzvah ceremony or party. Much like a Jewish wedding, it’s important to coordinate gift giving. Parents may also have strong preferences about the type of gifts they want their son to receive for his Bar Mitzvah.
To see our full category of bar mitzvah gifts
Should I give Money as a Bar Mitzvah Gift?
Very few teenage boys will turn down a gift of money! Parents may also welcome money, but might prefer that it comes in the form of a donation to their son’s college fund. It’s certainly completely normal to offer gifts of money to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. E-giving is also very popular and you can exert at least some control over what the money is spent on when you give e-gift certificates.
It’s usually also completely acceptable to ask how much money it’s appropriate to give. If you’ve been invited to a function, with full catering and a free bar, your gift should cover the cost of the meals your party will eat, as well as the present for the Bar Mitzvah boy.
Why are Bar Mitzvah Gifts Multiples of 18?
When people give money as a Bar Mitzvah gift, its normal to give an amount that’s a multiple of the number 18 e.g. $180 or $360. In Jewish numerology or gematria, the number 18 symbolizes the Hebrew word Chai חי meaning living or life. 18 is considered an auspicious number for a gift.
If you are going to give money as a Bar Mitzvah gift, you can give any amount you like. You won’t cause offense by not giving a sum that’s a multiple of 18. It’s just a fashion that is becoming a tradition.
Gifts for Bar Mitzvah Boy
There’s been a trend over the last few decades for Bar Mitzvahs to become more like a special birthday celebration. In a sense, that’s what they are, particularly if you aren’t religious. Typical Bar Mitzvah celebrations in the US also grew to resemble Jewish weddings in size and importance. It’s perfectly normal for families to hire a function hall, bring in outside catering, DJs, entertainers, and to invite a huge guestlist.
How a family celebrates a Bar Mitzvah is purely a matter of personal choice. There is no right or wrong way of doing it. Some Bar Mitzvah boys are delighted to stack up a pile of birthday style gifts like skateboards, PlayStations, new Smartphones etc. They’re also happy to receive cash gifts that run into thousands of dollars.
A Bar Mitzvah is a milestone event in a boy’s life. In previous centuries, boys who’d undergone their Bar Mitzvah were expected to stand with the men in the event of a crisis. They might not have had the capability or experience of fully grown men, but they were expected to play their part. 21st century America is a far safer and gentler place for most people than the ancient Biblical land of Israel, but there is still a serious side to the obligations that come with a Bar Mitzvah.
Many people still feel that a serious event should be marked by serious, meaningful gifts and not a pile of consumer durables and trivial presents that will be discarded within a year or two. Jewish history is marked by tragedy and suffering. Even joyous events have a more serious undertone and deeper implications.
What Gifts do you Give for a Bar Mitzvah?
An excellent Bar Mitzvah gift is an item of handmade Judaica from Israel, it’s a present that will last a lifetime and take on a special significance as the boy grows older and has a family of his own. It’s usually a choice between a religious or a ritual item, a Jewish cultural item, or a personal item. Once you know what type of Judaica to buy as a Bar Mitzvah gift, you’ll need to decide between traditional and modern styles.
Most people think of Judaica as old fashioned silverware for synagogues or collectors. Modern Judaica covers a huge range of materials, styles and items. It can include handcrafted religious accessories, decorated with traditional Yementite silver filigree, colorful modern designer tableware made of anodized aluminum, ceramics, or even cast concrete, or stylish personal jewelry with Jewish motifs and symbols.
Religious and Ritual Bar Mitzvah Gifts
If your Bar Mitzvah boy comes from a religious family, or will be reading from the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, you may want to buy him an item of religious Judaica. It could also just be that you want him to have a traditional Bar Mitzvah keepsake that reflects his Jewish culture and heritage.
Popular religious Bar Mitzvah gifts include handmade silver Torah Pointers.
Traditional torah pointers are also known as a Yad יד Hebrew for hand. This is because the slender pen-like rod ends in a silver hand with a pointing index finger. The tiny hand is ideal for pointing at sections of text.
Grandparents often love to buy their grandson his first tallit or tefillin set. One of the fundamental traditional duties that comes with Bar Mitzvah is the obligation to wear tefillin. A family can easily get together and buy a complete set of a handmade Israeli tallit and handmade tallit clips, and a set of tefillin with a handmade silver tefillin box.
If the boy is religious, he will have his own personal items for regular prayer and observance. If he is secular, he will have a set of beautiful items for special days and events.
More Judaica Bar Mitzvah Gifts
A popular Judaica Bar Mitzvah gift is a silver ‘Yeled Tov’ or good boy cup. These are usually beaker style cups, handcrafted from 925 sterling silver. They are similar in design to traditional Kiddush cups and can be used for Kiddush.
Again, this is often a popular choice for grandparents who want their grandson to have a special lifelong memento of his Bar Mitzvah. If a boy is interested in history or tradition, he might also like an etrog box, havdalah set, or netilat yadayim cup, but these are less usual choices.
Buy a Star of David Chain as a Bar Mitzvah Gift
A modern gift that’s usually very popular is a stylish Star of David chain and pendant. They are a great item of men’s jewelry with a range of styles from small and discreet designs, to striking gold and silver jewelry. Boys approaching Bar Mitzvah age are already fashion conscious and value items of personal jewelry that give them a sense of individuality. A Star of David is also a direct personal connection to their Jewish faith, or cultural heritage. It’s a special reminder of their Bar Mitzvah ceremony and first step towards manhood.
What do Bar Mitzvah Boys want for Gifts?
Bar Mitzvah boys want a whole range of gifts. It comes down entirely to personal taste, current interests and family expectations. Plenty of modern teenagers simply want money. Cash is king, but they will settle for e-gifts or online vouchers as an acceptable second best. Others see a Bar Mitzvah as a bonus birthday and a chance to tax friends and relatives for a list of whatever they’re into that year. It could be electronics, video games, sports equipment etc. Some kids do still want religious items or a serious reminder of their special day.
It’s always a matter of choice what to buy for a Bar Mitzvah gift and it’s worth talking to the Bar Mitzvah boy a few months before the ceremony. It’s possible that he hasn’t even thought about whether he’d like a serious gift of fine Judaica or men’s jewelry from Jerusalem. If you want to encourage him to think seriously about a fitting gift, let him explore the ICOJ website and invest some time in finding an item of Judaica that genuinely commemorates his transition to manhood. Teenage boys will often step up and get serious when choices are presented in terms of being a man.
Buy a Personalized Bar Mitzvah Gift
If you decide to buy an item of handmade Judaica from Israel, it’s definitely worth getting it personalized. How you get your gift personalized will depend on the size of the item and its style. If you buy a slim silver Torah Pointer as a Bar Mitzvah gift, you’ll probably be limited to a small engraving. Most people just opt for the recipient’s initials, and perhaps the date of the ceremony.
If you’re buying a Yeled Tov cup, there are more options to personalize the gift. The sterling silver surface is ideal for a colored enamel inlay, raised silver solder lettering, stamping, or even the addition of gems or birthstones. There’s an abundance of options for names, dedications, blessings, Jewish symbolism, Jerusalem motifs, and anything else of personal significance.
Commission a Unique Bar Mitzvah Gift
Unless you make it to the age of 83 and opt for a fun second Bar Mitzvah (threescore and ten + thirteen) the ceremony is a once in a lifetime event. If you’re buying a Judaica gift, it’s worth spending a little extra and commissioning a unique work of art from Jerusalem. An English speaking Israeli designer will work closely with and turn your special idea into a viable design concept. You can choose any item and combination of materials, and any traditional or modern style. If you’re in the US, you’ll be able to closely follow the design process and production process via Zoom!