To Gift or Not To Gift, That is the Question


Q. My daughter’s bat mitzvah will occur next December, and she is currently in 6th grade. Parents are encouraged to invite the entire Hebrew School class, but because the synagogue office has been giving out addresses by calendar year and not by grade, she is already getting a number of invitations from 7th graders whom she doesn’t know.

She won’t be attending, but are we required to send a gift? And this brings up a more serious question as I begin to make my plans. Is it ethical to invite someone (to a bar mitzvah or to anything) who you know will not be able to come? And do I have to invite family members who have snubbed us in the past?

A. I’m a big believer in maintaining “Shalom Bayit” (peace in the home), even if it means inviting people you can’t stand, who happen to be, by a sad quirk of fate, relatives.

What better time to teach our kids the fine art of taking the high road than at the very moment when they are meeting all the family members that they too will find deeply annoying.

A famous midrash tells of how the second temple was destroyed because of a simple social snub.

So yes, invite people even if they probably won’t come, like Uncle Lou who lives in Seattle but who is too cheap even to send a birthday card. If you know that a person would be legitimately hard pressed, like Aunt Bessie who lives in a nursing home in Netanya, you might want to include a hand-written note expressing how much you would like to see her there, but also acknowledging that you understand that it may not be possible – and that a gift is not necessary.

As for the grade mix-up, your synagogue should take care of that by informing the parents in the 7th grade that your daughter should be taken off their list. Then, see to it that the office begins sending out lists by grade and not calendar year, otherwise your child will not be invited to any of the ones from her own class. No gift is required – but here’s another great chance to teach your daughter a priceless lesson. Have her make a donation to tzedakkah in honor of each non-classmate who invites her.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.