Thoughts on a Bat Mitzvah

A few months ago, my family was invited to a bat mitzvah. I had gone to a friend’s bar mizvah when I was 14, so I had some idea of how it would go: reading and expounding from the torah, party later. My friend’s bar mitzah’s service was 3 hours long (I was well-prepared as a Mormon kid to sit through 3 hours of a religious service!) and fairly traditional for Reform Judaism. This recent bat mitzvah was a different experience: this synagogue community is neither Orthodox nor Reform, but instead Jewish Renewal.

A couple of years ago we went to temple (this is how our friends refer to their synagogue experience- I don’t know if that’s a general Jewish term, Jewish Renewal term, or a family term) while church-hopping to expose our kids to different faith communities. Our friends described Jewish Renewal as “Hippie Jews” and there was lots of dancing and singing. It was fun. They invited us again for their daughter’s bat mitzvah.

The bat mitzvah was similar- lots of singing and dancing to traditional Jewish songs and less traditional songs. Some of the songs were in Hebrew, other songs were in English. The family was definitely the highlight of the service. The bat mitzvah’s younger siblings fetched the synagogue’s large Torah from the cabinet for their sister to read from. Her older sister dyed her new prayer shawl as a gift and presented it to her. She read from the Torah and expounded on a passage of her choosing. She chose to speak about the Jewish laws about food, eating, and food preparation and added that she thought if God was giving rules today about food, the rule would be veganism. I overheard a couple of older people tsk at that, but in general it was well-received. The bat mitzvah very much cares for animals and talked about how all creatures come from God.

Near the end of the ceremony, there is a part where the bat mitzvah is supposed to be granted accountability for her actions and her parents are relieved of that responsibility. That felt like it was similar to our Mormon idea of the age of accountability at 8. However, when it was time for that, her parents stood at the front and spoke, saying that, as with their older daughter for her bat mitzvah, they had a conversation with this daughter and decided that they were willing to still be held accountable for her actions until she is older. Plot twist!

And in the evening- there was a party! And all my years of youth dances prepared me well. We also lifted the parents and siblings and bat mitzvah on chairs. It was really a fabulous party.

 

I came away with a lot of thoughts: Can you imagine Mormon parents choosing to continue being accountable for their child’s actions and sharing that in a baptism talk? I loved that the bat mitzvah (and all bat/bar mitzvahs) was given a chance to expound on the scriptures to her community. I think church would be better with more drums. When the congregation chanted/read together, I really loved the words we were saying. There was looking forward to Zion, but also some Mother Earth imagery and I love religions that include the feminine divine.

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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3 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    What a beautiful experience and example of keeping what resonates with you from your religious tradition and inventing new rituals to improve them. Love this!

  2. Liz says:

    I keep thinking that I want to do some sort of ritual for my kids when they turn 12-15ish. We don’t really have much of a ‘coming of age’ ritual in Mormonism (other than boys being ordained to priesthood, but that doesn’t come with much of a party), and baptism feels too young to welcome kids to agency/adulthood. I love that you and your kids experienced this – I’ve never been to a bat mitzvah and I’m kinda sad about it, haha.

  3. Caroline says:

    This is so awesome. I’ve never been to a bat mitzvah but I imagine I would have found it very moving to see a girl included like this, reading these sacred words and expounding on them in such a ceremonial context. So neat that your kids saw this. As some other Mormon feminists have said, what we have in Mormonism is a failure of the imagination. I think going to other services like this can really ignite the imagination and help people imagine other ways of doing things.

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