Invitation vs. Invoice, Vol. 6, Issue 20


Dear Etiquetteer:

I am planning a Bat mitzvah, and I already know that some people are unable to attend due to other social obligations. Is it appropriate or inappropriate to send an invitation? I was told since I know that a person cannot come it obligates him/her to a gift. Yet, she already knows about the party and not to receive an invitation despite the fact that she cannot attend seems wrong. Please advise.

Dear Hostess:

Thank you for an excellent question! Etiquetteer tends to agree with you that those you've already told about the party (with the intention of inviting them) should get an invitation even if they've told you they can't come. You can always superscribe it (or enclose a note) saying, "In case your plans change we'd love to have you." Regarding your concern about the expectation of gift-giving: No matter how many people try, an invitation is not an invoice.

The mother of "Hostess" had her own response when she saw what Etiquetteer had to say:

I totally disagree with [Etiquetteer] regarding "an invitation is not an invoice." I don't think this person is very knowledgeable regarding Jewish people and Jewish affairs. In our world, an invitation is an invoice! Perfect example that just happened: [Insert Name of Friend here] was sent an invitation, couldn't come, knew she couldn't come, but sent a note and a check! That's how Jewish people were brought up. In fact, we were even given a second option: if you don't want to send money, make a donation to some organization, plant a tree in Israel, etc., etc., but we always do something if we receive an invitation and cannot attend.

Not, in fact, being Jewish, Etiquetteer certainly wasn’t going to try to pretend some insider status. Etiquetteer is privileged to know many Jews who are Paragons of Perfect Propriety, however, and turned to three of them for the Insider’s View to refute this woman’s claim that an Invitation is an Invoice:

First response: This is not a "Jewish" question. An invitation is not an invoice. However, it is true that some people, Jews and non-Jews, are rude enough essentially to demand gifts with their invitations. And many people, again Jews and non-Jews, send gifts (selectively) even when they can't attend. The flip side is that a gift is not being bartered for a meal and some drinks.

Second response: I'm so astonished (well, I suppose I shouldn't be) that I can barely formulate my reply. There is perversion and abomination in saying that the expectation of gifts in response to an invitation is something Jewish. Then again, there is perversion and abomination in the entire Bar/Bas Mitzvah/Wedding Industry. Proof of this was recently delivered to us when a young and fabulous colleague announced that he was planning a Bar Mitzvah for himself because he'd never had one -- because he isn't Jewish -- and he was still envious of all his friends who'd had these huge parties. I wish that I was making this up. On one level, these people seem to be confusing gifts in commemoration of a milestone event with the response to a charitable solicitation. In the case of the latter, I'd say that, yes, there is an understanding of obligation in Jewish law and custom. But that should not be conflated with some latter 20th-century notion of how some expect us to respond to a social invitation. As a final note, I'm deeply chagrined that these ladies would impugn Etiquetteer's sense of propriety based on his lack of Tribal Membership.

Third response: I think invitations to family and friends are appropriate even if you know they will not be able to attend. The decision about whether to send a gift and if so how generous a gift is up to them but presumably family and friends would want to send a gift anyway. I think it is inappropriate to send an invitation to people who are not family or friends, e.g. business associates of the parents, if you know that they will not be able to attend.

In rereading this correspondence, which was initiated about a month ago, Etiquetteer is inclined to rethink what the Mother in Question actually meant. It may be that, when this woman said "In our world, an invitation is an invoice!" she was not referring to the spirit in which the invitation was sent (the expectation of a gift, which would be greedy), but the impulse of the recipient to show support in spite of one’s absence from the celebration (which would be generous). Let us hope that this was the case, anyway, and that no one sending out invitations for anything, of whatever Religious Persuasion, expects any Material Return beyond a Lovely Note.


Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at>



Holiday Gift-Giving and Wardrobe, Vol. 4, Issue 46

Dear Etiquetteer:What is the proper monetary range for a gift to a 12-13 year old making either a Roman Catholic confirmation or a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah?Dear Villager:Etiquetteer really dislikes assigning a specific dollar amount to occasions such as these. It makes them seem so much more like a business transaction and so much less like a gesture of goodwill from the heart.Etiquetteer encourages you to consider a gift appropriate to a young man or woman, and NOT a boy or girl. That excludes toys and games of all types and technologies, and let’s be very clear about this. The Jewish rite of bar mitzvah is all about becoming a man. A gift of video games, to Etiquetteer, just isn’t the right message to send at that moment.So, what are good gifts? Etiquetteer always likes the idea of an Important Pen, the kind that can be an heirloom through daily use in one’s future career. If you’re feeling VERY extravagant, you could even have it engraved with the recipient’s name or initials. A briefcase would be overdoing it, however; and besides, when did you last see a young executive carrying a briefcase? You could also select a book of "inspirational literature;" Etiquetteer’s dear mother gave him a paperback copy of "The Pilgrim’s Progress" when he turned 13. For a young lady, a gift of grown-up jewelry might be well received.The point is, no matter the cost, your gift should reflect grown-up tastes.

Dear Etiquetteer:It looks as if I might be moving to another city at the end of the year -- contingent, of course, on selling my house. My problem is Christmas. With a move likely, the last thing I need is more stuff coming in. I plan to shop for friends and family as usual, but would prefer to receive no gifts, at least this year. Is there a proper way to let my traditional gift-list people know of my preference?Dear Holiday Elf:Etiquetteer’s answer, invariably in such situations, is that you can never tell people how to spend money on you, unless they ask. That said, Etiquetteer couldn’t possible stop you from the occasional "Oh, I just don’t know how I’m ever going to get everything packed. I have so much stuff!" in your conversations. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get all sorts of useful gifts for your move, like decorative storage boxes, trunks, or exotic foodstuffs for your new pantry. Etiquetteer also has to confess to some discomfort to the phrase "gift-list people." Wouldn’t "friends and family" be just as accurate and less businesslike?

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I have been invited to a Debutante Ball. The invitation does not specify a dress code. Will a black tuxedo be acceptable? Or is it assumed "white tie"? And is it acceptable for me a wear a simple floor length gown, or is black a reserved color?Dear Invited:What a delicious opportunity! Etiquetteer hopes that you and your husband will enjoy yourselves watching the young debutantes make their bow to Society. Still, Etiquetteer must admit surprise hearing that no dress code was specified on the invitation; that sounds awfully sloppy for a debutante organization . . .Never assume "white tie" for anything. Let’s face it, the only folks whom we see in white tie these days are magicians, conductors, and community theatre types who have just appeared in My Fair Lady. Without any clue from the inviting organization, Etiquetteer thinks black tie most appropriate. Thank you for specifying a BLACK tuxedo. This is not the occasion for one of those plaid dinner jackets, or a white dinner jacket (summer only), and definitely not one of those pastel numbers we used to see in the late 1970s. As for you, a simple floor length gown should be Perfectly Proper as long as it isn’t white – obviously that’s reserved for the debutantes – scarlet, or "Yale blue," according to the late Emily Post. Etiquetteer will also profess a preference for any color BUT black. Knowing you as Etiquetteer does, a wine red or lustrous deep grey would become you tremendously. Remember, Anna Karenina wore black to a ball and look what happened to her . . .Etiquetteer vigorously suggests you contact the debutante organization that invited you and find out exactly what they have in mind, especially for your husband.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to