5 Gift Ideas for a Bar Mitzvah

Israel, Jerusalem, people celebrating at Bar Mitzvah
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When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13, he officially becomes a bar mitzvah, meaning a "son of the commandment." Despite common thought, a bar mitzvah isn't a party or celebration, but rather a transitional time in a Jewish boy's life in which he goes from being a child to being a Jewish adult, bound to all of the commandments of a Jewish adult male. 

Some of the basic commandments are being counted in a minyan, or quorum of ten men required for prayer, being called up to the Torah for an aliyah (to say the blessings before a Torah reading), and being held responsible for his actions both physically and ethically. 

The bar mitzvah is observed on the Sabbath, and the bar mitzvah typically spends months learning and preparing for the day he'll reach majority by studying and preparing his Torah portion, memorizing the prayers over the Torah, preparing to lead Shabbat services, and writing a speech on the Torah portion or tying his mitzvah project to the Torah portion. A mitzvah project is a chance for the bar mitzvah to raise money for charity (tzedakah) or work on another project to better understand his ethical role in the Jewish world. 

It is common practice in most Jewish communities, religious and otherwise, for there to be a celebratory party or celebration in honor of the bar mitzvah. If you're celebrating, chances are you're going to want to get a meaningful bar mitzvah gift. Here are some of our suggestions for gifts that will stay with the bar mitzvah for years to come. 

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Tallit used in a Bar Mitzvah

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In the Torah is the commandment of donning the tallit, a cloth garment almost like a shawl with four corners that have fringes. 

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:37-40).

Worn during prayer, in Ashkenazi communities, a Jew starts wearing a tallit when he becomes a bar mitzvah. In Sephardi communities, a Jew begins wearing the tallit after he's married. In both communities, whenever a Jew is called up to the Torah for an aliyah to say the blessings over the Torah, he wears a tallit.

The tallit is an extremely special item in a Jew's life because it follows him from bar mitzvah to his wedding to, in many cases, his death. In some cases, the tallit is passed down from generation to generation, too. 

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Yad Pointer

A yad pointer on a Torah

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When a boy becomes a bar mitzvah, he typically studies long and hard to learn his Torah portion so that the can read it before the congregation. One of the tools to help guide him in his reading of the Torah is the yad, or pointer, making it a great and meaningful gift that he can use throughout his life. 

The yad is a beautiful piece of Judaica for any collection, but it plays an important role, too. The Talmud says,

"He who holds a Sefer Torah naked will be buried naked" (Shab. 14a).

From this, the rabbis understood that a Torah scroll should never be ​touched by the bare hands, so to easily follow along while reading, or to point a passage out to someone, the yad, which literally means "arm" or "hand" is used. 

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Bar Mitzvah boy wrapping tefillin
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Probably the most important of gifts that a bar mitzvah can receive, tefillin represent a turning point. A set of tefillin isn't cheap, but the gift of tefillin will likely remain with a Jewish child for the rest of his life and will be used almost daily. 

Tefillin are two small boxes made of leather that contain verses from the Torah written by an expert sofer (scribe), which Jewish men above bar mitzvah age wear during morning prayers (except on Shabbat and many holidays). The boxes are attached to long leather straps that are used to attach the boxes to the head and arm. 

The mitzvah (commandment) of tefillin comes from Deuteronomy 6:5-9:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your might. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting at home and when you are out and about, when you lay down and when you rise up. Tie them as a sign upon your hand. They should be for you a symbol upon your forehead. Mark them as a sign upon the doorframe of your home and upon the gates of your city.”

There are also very specific verses, known as the shema, found within the tefillin.

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Hebrew man reading a Tanakh

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Tanakh is actually an acronym that stands for Torah, Nevi'im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). It's often used interchangeably with Torah, as it represents the whole of the written Jewish Bible.

Although Jewish children start learning Torah stories very early in life, having a really beautiful and personal Tanakh for Torah study is a great option for a bar mitzvah, as the commandments and lessons of the Torah are all the more important and applicable to his everyday life!

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Bar Mitzvah Necklace

Jewish boy wearing a star of david necklace

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Although not a traditional bar mitzvah gift, one meaningful option is a necklace celebrating the bar mitzvah's new responsibility. The word, in Hebrew, is achrayut (אחריות). 

When a Jewish boy becomes a bar mitzvah, he becomes bound to all 613 of the mitzvot of the Torah and/or the ethical responsibilities of being a Jewish man. Thus, responsibility is an important theme in this period of time. 

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Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "5 Gift Ideas for a Bar Mitzvah." Learn Religions, Sep. 9, 2021, learnreligions.com/gift-ideas-for-a-bar-mitzvah-2076858. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2021, September 9). 5 Gift Ideas for a Bar Mitzvah. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/gift-ideas-for-a-bar-mitzvah-2076858 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "5 Gift Ideas for a Bar Mitzvah." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/gift-ideas-for-a-bar-mitzvah-2076858 (accessed March 27, 2023).