Cash Educates and Celebrates Coming of Age

May 19, 2023

Cash serves many functions in societies worldwide, underpinning economies and permitting people of all ages to purchase goods and services. Beyond that, it has deep cultural significance in celebrations such as Chinese New Year, Christmas and Eid, and offers opportunities for early financial education. Today, we look at the role of cash in the Jewish coming of age ceremonies: Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are key milestones in Jewish tradition, marking a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. In addition to the religious significance of the occasion, these celebrations are often accompanied by present-giving, with cash being particularly common and prized.

As with Chinese New Year, there are preferred amounts of cash to give. In the case of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, multiples of 18 are favoured since the word chai in Hebrew (meaning ‘life’) is linked to the number. Also in common with Chinese traditions, the amount given typically varies depending on the closeness of the giver’s relationship with the receiver, with the current norm in America for an acquaintance’s child being either $90 or $126 (with higher amounts often viewed as being excessive), and a classmate offering $36 or $72 at most.

The practice of giving cash at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs is rooted in Jewish culture, reflecting both the historical and contemporary values of the community. Historically, cash gifts were a way of supporting young people as they moved into adulthood, providing them with financial resources they could use to pursue education, establish businesses, or start families.

In modern times, cash gifts have taken on new significance, reflecting the importance that Jewish culture places on learning and achievement. The tangible nature of banknotes and coins contributes to money management education—similar to cash given for Chinese New Year and Eid—offering the receiver choices between spending the money immediately, or saving it towards something larger. Donating a portion of the cash to charities is also encouraged in some communities, underscoring the importance of supporting others as one prospers oneself.

Last Updated: May 19, 2023