Should and How Should a Bas Mitzvah be Celebrated?
Question: I’m an ‘old-school” parent, and I’m not one that feels that I need to follow and “live with the times.” My oldest daughter is turning twelve and she wants to make a large Bas-Mitzvah party, similar to the events that are made for a Bar-Mitzvah celebration. I don’t feel this is right, and am skeptical that the day of Bas-Mitzvah is supposed to be celebrated at all. Please clarify to me the Rebbe’s approach and outlook on a Bas-Mitzvah.
Answer: Firstly, Mazal Tov on the upcoming Bas-Mitzvah and may you and your wife merit to have much Chassidishe Nachas from her and your other children as well.
To best understand the Rebbe’s perspective on the topic of Bas-Mitzvah, it is best to divide it into two parts: (1) Being joyous and celebrating a Bas-Mitzvah, and (2) How one should express the joy and in what manner should the celebration be.
Celebrating the Bas-Mitzvah:
We all know that historically, many Jews would not celebrate their birthday. With a person’s productivity being the focus on, what difference does it make when one was born?
However, Chassidim for many generations did consider a birthday something to celebrate and after the passing of Rebbetzen Chaya Mushka Schneerson a”j, the wife of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, the Rebbe in fact initiated a dedicated campaign to celebrate birthdays.
When introducing the concept, on 25 Adar 5748 (1988), the Rebbe spoke about celebrating a Bar-Mitzvah and he quoted the Zohar that says that one should be joyous on the day of becoming Bar-Mitzvah as much as on the day of one’s wedding!
The Rebbe then added the following: “It would seem that according to the reasoning of the Zohar, the same should apply to a Bas-Mitzvah (that one should be joyous).” (Sefer Hasichos 5748 p. 332 fn 21).
The Rebbe’s Bas-Mitzvah Letter
The following is an English translation of that letter traditionally sent by the Rebbe to girls reaching the age Bas-Mitzvah:
“In response to your letter, in which you write that you have reached the age of twelve, which is the time of Bas-Mitzvah:
May it be G‑d’s will that you wholeheartedly accept upon yourself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of the mitzvos. May Hashem grant you success in your studies and in your conduct, and may you grow up to be worthy of being called a “Bas Chabad, a daughter of Chabad,” in keeping with the desire of our holy Rebbes, of blessed memory. May you influence your friends, too, in this direction, by speaking to them, and, even more so, by being a living example of a daughter of Israel who is educated in the ways of Chassidus. And this will bring you happiness, both spiritual and material.”
How Should a Bas-Mitzvah be Celebrated?
(1) Rabbi Hillel Pevsner a,”h (Chabad rav of Paris, France), wrote to the Rebbe asking how the Bas-Mitzvah of his daughter should be celebrated. The Rebbe responded thus: “Do not make the celebration of Bas-Mitzvah like the celebration that is made for a Bar-Mitzvah. Rather make a modest affair in the school — similar to a birthday party — and the parents should buy the girl a nice present”. (Shaarei Halacha U’minhag Vol. 2 p. 311-312)
(2) “It is a [good] idea to make the Bas-Mitzvah as a Mesibas Shabbis or Melava Malka” (Ibid).
(3) “You write in your letter about the fact that in recent years, it has become the prevalent custom — including of religious families — to make a Bas-Mitzvah celebration. You also feel that at this point, it is something that can’t be stopped and you ask about the proper way it should be done at this point…”
“I will not get into the whole idea of Bas-Mitzvah (as you were not asking if one should celebrate a Bas-Mitzva), rather you were asking about how they should be celebrated in your community…”
[After strongly pushing that the celebration should not be in shul on Shabbos, as many would then drive to Shul, and preferably not on Sunday either as it would give credence to the non-Jewish day of celebration, the Rebbe continues:
“I am writing the following as there is something important that needs to be addressed: In many of these big Bas-Mitzvah celebrations, there is singing and the Bas-Mitzvah girl and her friend sing out loud. [As there are men there], this is clearly against Halacha and should not be up for discussion or compromise.” (Igros, Vol. 17 p. 237-238; #6386)