reading the Torah

B’not vs. B’nai Mitzvah & Bar vs. Bat Mitzvah: Which Is It?

That’s a Lot of Names for One Mitzvah Ceremony!

Bar Mitzvah. Bat Mitzvah. B’nai Mitzvah. B’not Mitzvah. There are a lot of terms used to describe the ceremony in which a child comes of age and observes the 613 mitzvot or commandments in the Torah. While you would be considered a preteen or teenager in the secular world, according to Jewish law, a girl or boy is now viewed as an adult and must take on responsibilities in the community.

If you don’t speak Hebrew, the various terms used to describe this important Jewish lifecycle event might be a tad confusing. So, I’ll quickly define Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, B’nai Mitzvah, and B’not Mitzvah before we delve deeper into what each term means.

B’not vs. B’nai Mitzvah & Bar vs. Bat Mitzvah: The Short Answer

Bar Mitzvah refers to a Jewish coming of age ritual for boys at age 13. A Bat Mitzvah is the equivalent for girls; however, their Bat Mitzvah will occur at either 12 or 13 years old, depending on the religious movement the family belongs to. Traditionally, a girl becomes at Bat Mitzvah at age 12 in Conservative and Orthodox communities and at age 13 in Reform synagogues. B’nai Mitzvah is the plural form of Bar and Bat Mitzvah. While it’s technically the plural masculine form in Hebrew, you could be referring to either two boys or a boy and a girl coming of age when using the term B’nai Mitzvah. B’nai Mitzvah or B Mitzvah can also be used for someone who prefers a gender neutral service. B’not is also a plural form — the feminine form — so B’not Mitzvah strictly refers to two girls, both of whom are becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and perhaps sharing a mitzvah ceremony.

B’nai Mitzvah vs. B’nei Mitzvah: Is there a difference?

There is no difference between these two words. The Hebrew vowel underneath the NUN or the “n” sound in B’nai/B’nei (בְּנֵי) is called a tzerei. This vowel can be spelled phonetically in multiple ways. You will often see it transliterated as ei or ai or ay, although nobody spells it B’nay Mitzvah. Neither the “ei” nor the “ai” spelling is more correct than the other. 


You’ll find numerous examples of both B’nai and B’nei Mitzvah being used, but if you are still unsure of which spelling you would like to go with, I encourage you to see how your synagogue website chooses to spell it. Both versions are so common that I actually purchased both website domains — bnaimitzvahacademy.com and bneimitzvahacademy.com — so that there wouldn’t be any confusion for people who were trying to find my website online.

bar mitzvah

What is a Bar Mitzvah?

Bar (בַּר) = Son in Aramaic

Mitzvah (מִצְוָה) = Commandment

בַּר מִצְוָה

The word Bar (בַּר) means son in the semitic language, Aramaic, because that was the spoken language when Bar Mitzvah ceremonies were first performed. So, we stick with Bar Mitzvah even if the word son in Hebrew is Ben (בֵּן).

While Bar Mitzvah literally translates to son of commandment, the true significance is that the boy (son) becomes subject to the Torah’s commandments when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah. The ceremony is usually held on the first Shabbat after a boy’s 13th birthday. According to Jewish law, the boy is technically required to follow all 613 commandments whether he has a ceremony or not. In other words, you can’t get out of it!

What is a Bat Mitzvah?

Bat (בַּת) = Daughter

Mitzvah (מִצְוָה) = Commandment

בַּת מִצְוָה

Bat directly translates to daughter in Hebrew. Bat Mitzvah ceremonies were not performed back in the days when the semitic language, Aramaic, was spoken, so the Hebrew word for daughter is used instead.

It took quite a while for girls to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah. The first-known Bat Mitzvah in North America was that of Judith Kaplan, the daughter of renowned rabbi, Mordecai Kaplan, in 1921. But, Bat Mitzvah ceremonies didn’t become commonplace after that. It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that Bat Mitzvahs became popular.

Bat Mitzvah

What is a B’nai Mitzvah?

B’nai (בְּנֵי) = Children

Mitzvah (מִצְוָה) = Commandment

בְּנֵי מִצְוָה

What does B’nai Mitzvah mean? There are a few different scenarios in which you would attend a B’nai Mitzvah ceremony. You might go to a service where twins — a boy and a girl or two boys — are having their B’nai Mitzvahs together. Family members who are twins wouldn’t have separate ceremonies. But, it’s also possible for two people who are not related to share a service. This is common at larger synagogues who have over 50 students becoming a B’nai Mitzvah each year. 

How to Pronounce B’nai Mitzvah:

Say “b” like you are explaining the sound the English letter “B” makes. “Nai” should sound like the first syllable of the word neighbor or the sound a horse makes.

What is a B’not Mitzvah?

B’not (בְּנוֹת) = Daughters

Mitzvah (מִצְוָה) = Commandment

בְּנוֹת מִצְוָה

You would attend a B’not Mitzvah service if there were twins from the same family becoming B’not Mitzvah. However, it’s not a given that these girls would be twins, because girls can have their Bat Mitzvah at age 12 or 13. These two sisters might just be very close in age. You could also attend a B’not Mitzvah if two girls from different families share a service. These two girls don’t have to be related; they could simply belong to the same synagogue.

How to Pronounce B’not Mitzvah:

Say “b” like you are explaining the sound the English letter “B” makes. “Not” should actually sound like note, the small pieces of paper you might get in trouble for passing around in class.

What happens at a B’nai Mitzvah?

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah typically helps leads parts of a Saturday Shabbat service. He or she will lead the congregation in certain blessings and will read a portion from the Torah and Haftarah with the traditional trope or chant. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah also gives a brief speech explaining what their portion is about and what it means to them. This is known in Hebrew as the D’var Torah. There are also honors during the service for close friends and family to take part in. These may include an aliyot for family and friends, opening of the ark, undressing and dressing the Torah, and a blessing by the parents of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

After the service, there is usually a Kiddush luncheon and/or an evening party hosted by the family to celebrate this momentous occasion.

Do you have a better understanding of the different types of mitzvah ceremonies? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you are looking for more B’nai Mitzvah content, make sure to check out these other BMA blog posts:

Best Bat Mitzvah Gift Ideas: Ultimate Gifts Guide

Buy Bat/Bar Mitzvah Cards on Amazon. Trust Me.

Best Bar Mitzvah Gift Ideas: Ultimate Gifts Guide

How To Make A Needlepoint Tallit Bag For Bar/Bat Mitzvah

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