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100 years of the bat mitzvah
Did you know that 2022 marked the 100th year of celebrating the first American bat mitzvah? While boys have been marking their 13th birthday and entrance into adult, Jewish life since approximately the 14th century, the first American bat mitzvah ceremony was not brought to life until 1922.
Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructing Judaism, created a spiritual space for his daughter Judith to formally become a bat mitzvah. The ceremony took place at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in NYC and looked quite different from the bat mitzvah ceremonies of today. Judith did not read from the weekly Torah portion which is common practice today.
In the 1950s bat mitzvah services were held in many reform and conservative synagogues often offering group learning for the 12 year old girls culminating in a religious ceremony in which the girls would participate. In the 1960s the feminist movement was strong and girls wanted more out of their bat mitzvah experiences. They wanted to read Torah and teach about the weekly portion. They wanted a ceremony that was equal to those of the boys in their grade. Fast forward to today and there is no difference between a bar and bat mitzvah service in liberal settings.
Jodi Cassiano 1973
Ellyn Schindler 1984
Beth Kunofsky Silverman 1977
While steeped in tradition, Judaism has always evolved so it makes sense that the ritual of becoming a b-mitzvah continues to grow and change to fit the needs of those who seek to mark their connection to Judaism in ways that are meaningful.
We have officiated b’nai mitzvah ceremonies for people aged 12 through 99. We have celebrated with non-binary and transgender folk, adapting gendered Hebrew terminology and texts so the words spoken and chanted make sense. Calling up a holocaust survivor to Torah as a bat mitzvah is something we will never forget.