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How did Kaplan create the Bat Mitzvah?

Q: How did Kaplan create the Bat Mitzvah?

A: The ceremony was created in 1924. At the time there was no ceremony or ritual for a girl to be accepted as an adult member of the Jewish community. For boys, the ritual is/was Bar Mitzvah. Mordecai Kaplan, the first/founder Reconstructionist, wanted to have some ritual marking his daughter's entry into the community. The process of reconstruction he went through was first and foremost, to return to the Jewish sources and to study them to determine what the meaning, value, purpose and intent was for the ritual of Bar Mitzvah, and what/why/how girls were excluded or prohibited from such a ritual. To look at what was done, and why.

He found that there was no specific prohibition, and that the meaning, value, purpose and intent of the ceremony were not a limitation. He then looked at the reason for wanting to make a change/addition to the practice, and found that there were many women who felt left out or ignored in Judaism, and that there was a modern sensibility that women should be allowed to participate fully in the life of the community and be welcomed into it. He "reconstructed" the practice, the implementation, of the ritual to include women, and titled the additional piece "Bat Mitzvah." In this way he did not abrogate or undermine the practice or the beliefs that go into it, but he did make it applicable to a more modern sensibility that there is a need to mark the entrance of a woman into the community in the same way as a man is welcomed. He overrode the objections that could be raised about having a woman approach the Torah due to Niddah (ritual impurity due to menstruation) for several reasons: there is no Temple so that the concern about ritual purity for service in the Temple is not applicable; the ritual of the red heifer is not available and therefore no one can be ritually pure; and there is a higher value to be placed on recognizing and valuing women in our community than on a possible ritual issue that is dormant (at best, at this time).

Thus, he did not eliminate the practice, he did not significantly change it, but he did "reconstruct" it to include women. Another way to describe this is to say that he acted like a watchmaker. He took the practice apart, examined its components and how it worked, then put it back together again slightly differently to make it work better, but not to change what it was or what it did.



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