Bar Bat Mitzvah Question: Is It Rude to Skip The Bar Bat Mitzvah Service?

Question: We are Christian couple invited to a Bat Mitzvah. Is it inappropriate not to attend the morning Torah service and attend only the celebration? If that is rude, how should we conduct ourselves at Temple?

Answer: If you have a good reason for not attending the morning Torah service, such as attending another event you already RSVP’d to, or being out of town on an important business meeting, then it seems acceptable to attend only the celebration – so long as you explain the circumstances to your hosts in advance and express your wish to be part of the celebration of their child’s and family’s important milestone. They’ll probably be touched and grateful that you are making the effort.

On the other hand, if you’re not attending the Torah service for a less-pressing reason, such as unfamiliarity with Jewish ceremonies or not wanting to skip your Saturday exercise class, know that the bat mitzvah represents a young girl’s coming of age into the Jewish religion. The celebration that follows is all about the joy in having witnessed her publicly participate in a centuries-old religous tradition. If you opt to skip it without a compelling reason, you’re signaling to your hosts that such an event, as well as the family and child, aren’t so important to you. It also seems somewhat illogical to attend the celebration of something you've implied you don't care about. And your hosts may feel slighted. Better to attend both the service and party or neither.

As for how to conduct yourselves at the Temple:

  • Wear conservative clothing such as a dark suit or dress.

  • It’s a sign of respect for any man, Jewish or not, to wear a yarmulke (aka kippah or round cloth headcovering) on his head when inside a synagogue. There’s usually a pile of them in a basket or bowl inside the lobby or the sanctuary room itself. Just put one on and you’re good to go!

  • You may see men (or women, depending on the kind of synagogue) wearing prayer shawls. You can skip that as it’s only for those who have had their own bar/bat mitzvahs.

  • During the service, it’s perfectly fine to simply look and listen. You can read along in the prayer book or not and you need not feel obligated to read aloud when the congregation does. When the rabbi tells the congregation to stand, you should get up, too, as that is usually when the Torah is being displayed and you want to remain respectful at all times.

  • If you want to follow the service, by all means do so. Just follow the rabbi's or cantor's directives. If you don't, the books at your seat all contain marvelous poetry and stories. No one will know if you’re reading along with the congregation or simply exploring the texts you’ve discovered on your own!

  • Afterward, congratulate the bat mitzvah girl, her parents, siblings and other relatives you encounter with the words “Mazel Tov.” It means good luck. You can congratulate yourself, as well, for having opened your eyes to the important tradition of another religion.

  • To learn more, see All About the Bar Bat Mitzvah Service, Ceremony and Party.