Reading the Torah at a Bat MitzvahThe presence of social media at social events such as weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs has added another layer of complexity when it comes to etiquette. Within the last decade, experts have set down guidelines for the proper use of mobile devices, the internet and social media platforms for these occasions. The next time you’re invited to a bar or bat mitzvah, be sure to observe these etiquette essentials in both standard decorum and digital sharing. 

Basic Etiquette Practices

Of course, it’s vital to already know general social norms for bar or bat mitzvahs. My Jewish Learning has published an excellent guide with some basic pointers for new guests. Dress codes for these occasions tend to lean towards a slightly conservative interpretation of semiformal, as detailed in this Emily Post online guide. If you were raised in a Christian family, you might recognize this as “Sunday best,” which usually calls for a suit and tie, dresses or formal pantsuits. Much of this depends on whether the synagogue you’re attending observes Orthodox, Conservative or Reform types of Judaism, so check with the family if you’re not certain. Additionally, remember that the time printed on the invitation is when that evening’s Shabbat will start, and that the bar or bat mitzvah will take place during these services.

Moreover, you’ll need to understand some customs regarding prayer shawls, also known as tallits, and head covering, usually referred to as kippahs or yarmulkes. Typically worn by Jewish men and some Jewish women in more liberal synagogues, tallits are prayer shawls that bear fringes at each of the four corners. Because this is a practice reserved for Jewish people, it’s a good idea to politely decline if you are offered a tallit by an usher. On the other hand, you may want to accept a kippah if it is presented to you and you identify as male. Traditionally, men wear these small, round head coverings inside synagogues. However, women in some temples may also wear kippahs, a hat or a small lace head covering.

As you prepare to join your friends for a bar or bat mitzvah, remember that you’ll be in a house of worship. Be mindful of the sanctity of this event, and keep your mobile devices on “vibrate” or turn them off before worship begins. Feel free to stand up or sit down with the congregants, as these are simply gestures of respect, and you may wish to follow along in the prayer books provided at the synagogue. Finally, avoid talking during services, as this is considered disruptive and disrespectful. 

Use Social Media Wisely

One basic principle to observe for your social media usage at special occasions is to ensure that it doesn’t distract or detract from the event. After the Shabbat and bar or bat mitzvah, you’ll probably be invited to join in a light meal afterwards or even a special reception. It will probably be fine to snap a few photos occasionally, but pay attention to your invitation so that you don’t run afoul of any specific instructions regarding photography or social media usage. If the family specifies an “unplugged” celebration, that means they desire their guests to be entirely present and you’ll want to refrain from using smartphones or tablets entirely. Also, you’ll have to leave any picture taking to professionals they’ve hired for the festivities.

The bar or bat mitzvah is a momentous occasion in a young Jewish person’s life. If you’ve been invited to attend, consider it an honor and be ready to respectfully observe, participate and celebrate. Following standard etiquette protocols and specific tips for these events, as well as using social media wisely, will ensure that you and your hosts enjoy the evening.

Category: Ceremonies Society

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