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Evolution of the Bat Mitzvah
Conservative Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

By the 1800’s in some French and Italian communities, a seudat mitzvah, a meal that is a mitzvah to consume, was prepared in honor of a girl’s twelfth birthday (Goldin, 67). But that was about it.

Girls passed silently into womanhood until May of 1922. That’s when Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, stepped up to the bima for her bat mitzvah.

Judith’s ceremony was slated for the Saturday morning service, but what she would actually say during services was undecided until the night before. On the big day, she sat with her father in the men’s section (her mother and other female relatives sat in the women’s section). Once the usual Torah reading was completed, Judith mounted the bima and read her portion from a book, a Chumash. She didn’t come near the scroll.

This ceremony broke new ground. Never before had a girl been given such an active role in the synagogue.Years after the service, Judith Kaplan was quoted: “No thunder sounded, no lightning struck. The institution of bat mitzvah had been born without incident and the rest of the day was all rejoicing.” (Goldin, 5)

Following the Kaplans’ lead took time. At first girls were usually allowed to read the haftarah at the Friday night service only and not the entire Torah service permitted to their male peers.

By 1955, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law, which decides matters of halacha for the Conservative Movement, decided to permit aliyot to the Torah for women.

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