A 12-Year-Old’s Birthday Party: Source of Much Angst and Lost Sleep

This story (the one that isn’t mine) comes from D. 

Bas mitzvahs are an issue for bais Yaakovs. Something not all aidel bais Yaakov maidels know: bas mitzvah celebrations are a creation of the Conservative Jewish movement. Conservative young women get to lein at their bat mitzvahs*, which obviously isn’t going to happen in an Orthodox setting. But somehow, the celebration of reaching the age of maturity and responsibility has leaked through, and bais Yaakov has ceased to fight this modern (and possibly feminist?!) concept.

They still have to deal with the question of: how much of a celebration is acceptable? Should a girl be allowed a hall and caterer and extensive guest list like her brothers? Or, is something smaller and more modest befitting the role of a bas Yisroel?

Most bais Yaakovs take the latter route, and exert varying levels of control over their 6th-graders’ birthday parties. In my school, the rule was that all bas mitzvah parties had to occur in the school lunch room, there had to be a dvar Torah, and the entire class had to be invited.

There was a little bit of grumbling, mostly about the first rule. The lunchroom was awkwardly shaped and ugly, the kitchen wasn’t allowed to be used, and by dint of being our school lunchroom, it was a bit of a damper on festivities. (Possibly, that was the point.) But ultimately, most people brought their relatives to school, served lukewarm lasagna over sterno, and were satisfied.

Other schools had different rules, often born out of different stimuli. After one party included a guest belly dancer and, allegedly, mixed dancing (???), one school simply forbade inviting anyone from school to a bas mitzvah celebration. (I guess that was easier than trying to control the celebration itself.)

One student of that establishment, D, recalls her friend emerging from the principal’s office in tears, after the administration found out that she had invited her school friends to her birthday party. D had been one of the invitees; she went to the party; for this sin she had to write an apology letter to the principal and administrators.

One student, anticipating being the center of attention at a big event, had gone and bought herself a bas mitzvah gown. (This was before they announced the rules.) She was very disappointed to find its use relegated to a small affair mostly populated by aunts.

To assuage the natural disappointment of the students, the school decided to replace the individual coming-of-age celebrations with a trip to Kids n’ Action (an indoor play space) and a bas mitzvah gala celebration.

The gala included a play about the founding of bais Yaakov (with the usual excursions for tznius). The girl with the dress got to wear it after all — for her part as Sarah Schnierer. Other students approached her asking the famous seamstress to shorten their skirts to match the latest fashion. In her (fashionable but tznius) dress, she informed them about the importance of interior, the transience of materialism, and the scam that is fashion.

What rules did your school have around bas mitzvah celebrations? (And for the guys: bar mitzvah rules?)

*For further info on the women leining situation, I have this page with sources.

A 12-Year-Old’s Birthday Party: Source of Much Angst and Lost Sleep

6 thoughts on “A 12-Year-Old’s Birthday Party: Source of Much Angst and Lost Sleep

  1. KTG says:

    In my school, all bar mitzvahs had to end at 9pm, so that we’d be able to function the next day (I heard that one party ended very late and everyone failed the next day’s gemara test). The whole class has to be invited (but I don’t remember if it was an actual rule, or just that the rabbi said that to only invite part of the class was highly unethical). And last but not least, the principal would show up and make sure everyone was dressed in suits, and ties; if you were bm you had to wear a hat, and have the brim down. I don’t know if there were consequences for violating rule #3, but a friend of mine said he was kicked out of a bm party (I don’t remember what he wasn’t wearing) and I personally saw a guy get called over to speak with the principal outside the ballroom for not wearing a tie. After my bm party, my rebbi have the whole class a HARSH musser shmooze about how we acted like a bunch of animals. Something about how we made a human pyramid, and that guy who gave me the microphone do I could lead the mezuman. While listening to him rant, I remember thinking “what in the world is he talking about?” Years later, I still have no clue what we did wrong that night.
    Great blog, by the way. Big fan. Always entertaining and well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Nedarim 37b states quite clearly that girls should be taught Torah with the trop.”

    I’m not sure that the Gemara can be taken that far. In order to explain the case in the Mishnah in which teaching מקרא is forbidden, the Gemara needs a case in which מקרא normally involves payment which the taker of the vow would be saving by the teacher teaching for free. To that end the Gemara suggests that the Mishnah is referring to a child for which payment can be taken. The problem is that if the reason why payment is permitted is due to שימור (babysitting), then payment would be forbidden for teaching a girl since girls don’t need שימור. Yet the Mishnah does not differentiate between boys and girls which indicates that even girls cannot be taught since money will be saved. This must mean that it is permissible in general to take payment for teaching girls which must mean that payment can be accepted for teaching פיסוק טעמים. It follows then that the standard practice was to teach girls פיסוק טעמים, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that it was obligatory.

    An interesting side point is that the reason why girls don’t require שימור is explained by Rashi as
    לאו אורחייהו למיפק אבראי דכתיב כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה. This would seem to indicate that (at least in Rashi’s view) כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה is not a mandate to stay inside; rather, it is simply the nature of girls to stay inside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bad4Shidduchim says:

      It’s more the assumption that they go together, no? In order to understand the pasuk properly, the ta’amim are useful to necessary. Ta’amim would have been part of basic education.

      But agreed, my phrasing might have been wrong there. I would rephrase it “that it was a matter of course to teach girls the trop.”


      1. I certainly agree that the Gemara seems to be assuming “that it was a matter of course” to teach girls פיסוק טעמים (which might be more than just trop). I also agree that it contributes to a a better understanding of the verses (and perhaps without it there will be misunderstandings). I would also add that it is very helpful for memorization.


  3. Esther Bernstein says:

    My grade was the first in my school to have this but I hear it’s still going strong: I’m cheshvan of sixth grade, the whole grade gathers in the lunchroom for a challah baking session and a lecture/speech about what being a bas mitzvah means. My year we had this famous rabbi whose name I’m blanking on – like a big big name. I think from Israel and he happened to be in America then? Anyway. We got benchers like you get at a bar mitzvah or wedding etc but they obviously didn’t have our individual names. I think they had the year. And cheshvan was significant, I forget why. Maybe something with Sara Schenirer?

    Liked by 1 person

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