Yesterday I wrote that I was on my way to Kingston, Ontario for a family ‘do’. It’s my cousin’s daughter’s bat mitzvah, which is this morning. I’ll be heading over to the synagogue, shortly. Which means I won’t be able to tell you how she did. I have no doubts that she’ll be terrific. She’s a great kid. A wonderful, loving, bright girl who works and studies hard. She’s always done well in school, and continues to. So no worries for her, for today.
While Jewish boys have to have a bar mitzvah when they turn thirteen, it’s not a ‘must for girls. Not a hard and fast rule. I never had one. They weren’t all that fashionable back then, not that I would have paid attention to that. If I’d wanted one, I would have said so. I didn’t. But it is much more common now. The other difference is, girls have their bat mitzvahs at twelve. I have no idea why.
That they have them at all is quite a break in tradition, actually. Jewish women have always been prohibited from participating directly in religious ceremonies. But I guess there must have been some militant females in the late 19th century (early feminists), because many Jewish communities began commemorating girls turning twelve, with a ceremony. A bat mitzvah.
The first in recorded history took place in the United States, in 1922, when Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan performed the ceremony for his daughter, Judith; and she was allowed to read from the Torah. And while this didn’t come close to the complexity of a bar mitzvah, it is significant none the less, because it triggered a movement, that continues to this day. Ninety years later.
In the more liberal Jewish communities, the ceremony has become virtually identical to that of a bar mitzvah; and girls have a ton of studying to do, in preparation. They get to participate in many, if not all, of the same duties as the boys: Leading prayers, leading the actual service, learning the chants, reading from the Torah (first five books of the Jewish bible) and Haftarah (selections from the books of Prophets of the Hebrew bible), giving a speech, and completing a charity project (tzedakah).
What’s a relatively recent addition, is the party that now follows the ceremony. In some families they’re now as lavish as bar mitzvahs. Not quite sure I really get that, to be honest. For bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. They’re milestones, I understand that. But it’s the religious ceremony that’s important. Nice to celebrate, of course. But inviting hundreds of people to gala parties, with four-course dinners, free-flowing booze and live music does seem a little over the top.
We won’t be doing that today.
As for the more Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities, women still can’t participate in religious ceremonies. It is still considered a special occasion, but the prayer services the girls lead are much simpler, and may be just for women, for example. They’re also allowed to lecture on a Jewish topic, learn a book of Tanakh (the canon of the Jewish bible), recite verses from the Book of Esther or the Book of Psalms, or say prayers from the siddur (a Jewish prayer book).
I am far too militant a personality to handle all these rules and regulations. Not that I’d be Orthodox, if I observed. But still, I cannot accept that a woman has her place; and it’s not the same place men have. It just goes against the grain.
But fear not. I won’t be burning my bra in protest, in front of the synagogue this morning. Arielle’s bat mitzvah will go off without a hitch. She will get to say all the prayers and chants and give her speech; and she’ll be brilliant. Then we’ll all have a lovely lunch to celebrate her day, and the fact that she has now reached the age of religious maturity. She’s come of age and is now responsible for her own actions, at least as far as Jewish law is concerned.
Mazel tov …