Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
November 15, 2004 – Number 5765-8
Bar and Bat Mitzvah Parties
There has been much written about Bar Mitzvah parties over the centuries. Some has been complimentary and some has been critical. Whole books are written on how to plan a Bar or Bat Mitzvah party and much ink has been spilled crying over the sometimes excesses of these parties.
The party after the ceremony of Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a crucial part of the celebration and has a time honored past. It falls into the category of “Seudat Mitzvah” the “meal in celebration of a Mitzvah.” Like any other Mitzvah, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah party is subject to the rule of “Hiddur Mitzvah”, that is we enhance the Mitzvah by making it more beautiful. The point of the party is to rejoice with the family when their child attains the age of responsibility for the Mtizvot.
There is no “Halacha” concerning the party other than one should celebrate the Mitzvah. This means that all the different parts of the party that are in use today are only custom. Customs relating to parties change according to the culture and times in which the party takes place. One is free to follow local customs or not unless the community has set limits on parties in general. For example some communities may forbid mixed dancing at the party, or may insist on a certain location. Usually these limits are explained when the date for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party is scheduled.
One of the most important customs is that the party should be Kosher, whether or not the family keeps Kosher in their home. Because of the connection between the party and the Mitzvah, one should keep the ritual part of the occasion strong by arranging for all food to be Kosher.
Throughout the medieval and modern periods, there has been literature about excesses at Seudot Mitzvah. That families were spending too much money on a party and were in danger of harming their financial situation. These have always proved hard to define and to enforce. It is however, important that the party be put into a proper perspective. The point of the celebration is to rejoice with the family and friends. This would be hard to do if the family is spending well beyond their means. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah party is not about being more extravagant than the neighbors, it is about doing something that will have meaning for the family and for the student who is the focus of the celebration. A small party at home can be as significant as a large party at a large catering hall. The size of the room, the number of guests, the theme of the party, the size of the band or the type of clothing required do not insure that the party will be a success. On the other hand, having guests that are important to the family, in a setting that is appropriate, with a theme that is in keeping with the interests of the student with good food and good music will provide everyone with a good time regardless of the exact cost.
Many students today also build their party around a Mitzvah project. Asking guests to bring items for the poor or handicapped, to have centerpieces on the tables that will provide food for the hungry or toys for sick children. Sometimes, in lieu of gifts, the family may request donations to a favorite charity. One should consult their Rabbi for project ideas.
There is no rules concerning candle lighting ceremonies or other ceremonies to honor special guests at the party. This is an opportunity to be very creative in finding a way to honor those who are an important part of the student’s life. It is appropriate for the student to choose who will be honored and to write the words that will honor that person. It is also appropriate, that at age 13, a student will need appropriate help from parents to do this properly. Many families also use this time for a “Bar/Bat Mitzvah speech” where the student thanks those who were his teachers and mentors in the course of his or her Jewish education. If the student did not do a D’var Torah at the service, this is another opportunity to gives some words of Torah. Parents may also use this event to offer a toast to their child for all that he or she has accomplished.
One can find many books about party “etiquette” to prevent major problems, but here are a few of my own:
Care should be taken that alcoholic beverages be served only to adults of legal age. Many people with drinking problems have told us that they got their start drinking by finishing the glasses of drinks people left on the table while dancing. Monitor adult drinking as well and make sure that those who drink too much do not drive.
All children should be appropriately supervised. Activities should keep all students in the room of the party at all times. Friends of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah who are known to cause trouble at parties should not be invited. I know this is hard, but it is the same children, at every party that ruin the event for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and for the family.
Children should know to thank those who serve them and who entertain them. There is nothing more enjoyable than courtesy in children and adults.
The party should reflect the values of the family. Party themes, music and entertainment should be directed at the children in attendance. Raunchy attire, music, themes or speeches should be reviewed in advance carefully.
Next week: Jewish Education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah