Dear TEE community,
When my grandmother was 13, it would be three years before Judith Kaplan Eisendrath became the first girl in Jewish history to celebrate reaching the age of bat mitzvah in synagogue. When my mother was 13, her Reform temple did not offer girls the option of bat mitzvah ceremonies, although high school girls did join their male peers in Confirmation. When I was 13, I attended numerous bar mitzvahs for my boy cousins and classmates but didn’t even consider a ceremony for myself and didn’t know of a single girl who had one. By the time my daughters turned 13, it wasn’t even a question that they would observe their coming of age in exactly the same way as the boys in our family did. I am sure many of you could tell similar stories of the changes through the generations.
On March 18, it will be exactly one hundred years since the first bat mitzvah ceremony. One hundred years is such a short span of time in the course of Jewish history and yet it has been a period of incredible transformation in our understanding and practice of the relationship between gender and Judaism. It seems particularly apt that this anniversary occurs during Women’s History Month and the Jewish Women’s Archive is acknowledging the historic nature of all the bat mitzvahs that have occurred since that time by collecting individuals’ stories of their experiences. I hope that you will consider adding your voice to the record. (More information is available on their website: .)
This Shabbat we will have an opportunity to reflect on how Jewish coming of age ceremonies have changed and are continuing to change as we discuss the first bat mitzvah and the role of gender and ritual in Judaism. I hope you will join us.
Rabbi Drorah Setel