Jewish Birthday Traditions & Fitting Ways to Celebrate

Published January 11, 2021
Jewish Birthday party Bouquet of flowers

There are Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, Cultural Jews, Secular Jews, etc. Hasidic and Orthodox Jews adhere the most strictly to Jewish birthday traditions. Birthdays have not always been special for those of the Jewish faith, but most do celebrate birthdays and believe the anniversary of your birth is an auspicious day.

Jewish Birthday Traditions

There are milestone birthdays in the Jewish Orthodox tradition, but most birthdays are not celebrated, at least not in a religious context. However, Jews believe that on their birthday, a person has mazel (good fortune or "influence dripping down from the stars"), and the birthday celebrant should use this mazel to bestow blessings on others.

Mavel Tov sign with stars

Your Jewish Birthday

Your Jewish birthday is based on the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew lunisolar calendar is different from the secular solar-based Georgian calendar. This means your Jewish birthday is likely to be different from your secular birthday. The Hebrew calendar is essential for Jews, particularly when calculating the correct date of birth, death, bar and bat mitzvahs. Of course, this means that Jews can and often do celebrate both their secular and Hebrew birthday.

Fitting Ways to Celebrate Your Jewish Birthday

In 1988 a "Jewish Birthday Campaign" was inaugurated. Jews were asked to utilize their birthday each year to recommit to the mission that God had entrusted to them by bettering and sanctifying themselves and the world around them. A happy and meaningful Jewish birthday celebration involves several things.

Retire to a Private Place to Contemplate

Find a private place for expressing gratitude for the life you have had and your God-given gifts. Contemplate which areas of your life require improvement and resolve to do so.

Make Birthday Resolutions

Gather with family to make your birthday resolutions for the coming year aloud. This will enable those close to you to give feedback on your progress.

Spend Time in Prayer

Spend more time praying and focusing, and meditating on the words of the prayers.

Study Your Birthday Psalm

Study the Psalm which corresponds to your new year. This is your age plus one. As an example: Psalm 30 if this is your 29th birthday. You should also repeat this Psalm daily until your next birthday.

Psalms from the Kabbalah

Commit to a Good Deed

Commit yourself to doing a particularly good deed, one that's practical and doable.

Give Blessings

According to the Kabbalah, each year, on the day a person was born, they have mystical benefits and powers of "ascending fortune." The practice of some Jewish communities is to ask for blessings from those celebrating birthdays.

Give to Charity

Some birthday celebrants ask friends and family to honer their birthday by giving tzedakah to their favorite charities rather than giving gifts.

Jewish Traditional Birthday Milestone Years

Jewish birthday traditions and rituals are primarily associated with marking special milestone birthdays.

Pirkei Avot

The Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and aphorisms from Rabbinic Jewish traditions, specifies several important milestone birthdays. Pirkei Avot 5:21 defines them as:

  • Five years is for the study of Scripture
  • Ten years is for the study of Mishnah
  • Thirteen is when the child has come of age and is subject to the Commandments
  • Fifteen is for the study of Talmud
  • Eighteen is for the bridal canopy
  • Twenty is for the pursuit of livelihood
  • Thirty is the peak of strength
  • Forty years brings wisdom
  • At fifty an individual can give counsel
  • Sixty years of age is considered old age
  • Seventy years is regarded as the fullness of years
  • Eighty is the age of "strength"
  • Ninety is the age of the bent body
  • At one hundred, as good as dead and gone completely out of the world

Most Important Jewish Milestone Birthdays

Some Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, don't celebrate every birthday. Most pass without ceremony, except for the third birthday when a male child receives his first haircut, the fifth birthday when he begins a formal study of Torah, and his bar mitzvah at age 13.

Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah

Perhaps the most well-known Jewish birthday celebration is the Bar (son) Mitzvahs and Bat (daughter) Mitzvahs (commandment.) A Bar/Bat Mitzvah marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. The bar mitzvah is a relatively recent ceremony in Jewish history. The bat mitzvah is a modern tradition initiated in 1922. All Jews recognize that when a son or daughter becomes 13, they have reached the age of moral and ethical accountability.

Jewish boy's Bar Mitzvah party

The Jewish Coming-of-Age Birthday Celebration

These coming-of-age celebrations are an established custom in ordinary Jewish families and perhaps the most important birthday in the religious life of a Jew. It's proceeded with torturing in Hebrew school, which includes studying the Torah, the old testament, learning about Judaism, speaking Hebrew, and practicing, practicing, and more practicing. Bar and Bat mitzvahs are traditionally celebrated with a ceremony in the synagogue. The celebrant will often wear a scarf called Tillit and be called to lead services, deliver a speech, or otherwise demonstrate their newfound adult status. This is usually followed by a fun and extravagant party for friends and family.

Fitting Bar and Bat Mitzvah Celebratory Gifts

Guests at a bar or bat mitzvah party typically give cash gifts to celebrate this significant milestone birthday. Cash gifts for bar mitzvahs are usually given in multiples of 18, such as $18, $36, or $54. Gifts in increments of 18 is an old tradition that expresses the gift-givers' hope that the recipient will enjoy a long and prosperous life. Of course, you don't have to give cash, but keep in mind that a bar or bat mitzvah is a spiritual event, not just a birthday party, and give a gift that has appropriate meaning.

One Hundred and Twenty Years of Age

The Yiddish phrase: 'Bis hundert und tzvantzig, meaning until 120, is a traditional birthday greeting that expresses the wish for a long righteous life and good health. The Book of Jewish Knowledge explains that God declared in Genesis 6:3 that humans will live only 120 years, and according to the Torah, Moses died at the age of 120. Jews view a long life as a reward for righteous behavior.

Happy Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is special to the Jewish people because it's the birthday of humankind. Some Jews consider an individual's birthday their personal one-day Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish culture believes every day is an opportunity for gratitude and renewal and that your birthday is an especially good time to rejoice, as you look back on your life, and reflect upon how you can give back to the world.

Jewish Birthday Traditions & Fitting Ways to Celebrate