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Jewesses with Attitude

Quinceaneras = Bat Mitzvahs?

One might not expect to hear “Bat Mitzvah” mentioned in a news report about a rural town with Mexican immigrants whose largest employer is a pork processing plant. But this morning I did. I was listening to a story on NPR about immigration issues in Beardstown, Illinois, a historically white rural community. In part of the story describing racial tensions between the white and Mexican immigrant populations of Beardstown, I was taken by surprise when the reporter explained that a Quinceanera—the traditional 15th birthday celebration in the Hispanic community (which, in Beardstown, had been halted by local police officers, resulting in a major lawsuit)—was “culturally akin to a Bat Mitzvah.”

Before even wondering if such a comparison is accurate, I was amused by the reporter’s assumption that Bat Mitzvah did not require further explanation. Is Bat Mitzvah so comfortably embedded in American cultural knowledge to be exempt from a description? Perhaps for NPR listeners on the East Coast, but I can’t believe that the Jewish rite of passage has become so widely understood by the majority of American radio listeners that it would be a first-choice comparison to Quinceanera over the far more logical “Sweet 16.”

Just for fun, I decided to check out the Wikipedia definitions for Quinceanera and Bat Mitzvah to see how culturally akin they really are.

Quinceanera: “... This celebration marks the transition from childhood to womanhood. It serves as a way to acknowledge that a young woman has reached maturity...” It goes on to detail the traditional color of a Quinceanera dress (pink), the giving of a quince doll (the young woman’s last doll as a child), and a special ceremony in which the birthday girl sits in a chair in the center of the dance floor and removes her flats to put on high heels, signifying her new maturity as a young woman.

Bat Mitzvah (which is included under the general B’nai Mitzvah Wikipedia listing):

“The time when Jewish children reach the age of maturity (12 years for girls, 13 years for boys) and become responsible for their actions. Once a person is Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he or she has the responsibilities of an adult under Jewish law:

- He or she is not innocent anymore, and is responsible for his or her own actions (good or bad). Traditionally, the parents of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah give thanks to God that they no longer have to carry the burden of their child's sins.

- He or she is eligible to be called to read from the Torah, and to participate in a Minyan (In Orthodox denominations, only males read from the Torah or participate in a Minyan).

- He or she is, in theory, legally old enough to be married according to Jewish law.

- He or she must follow the 613 laws of the Torah.”

So there you have it. Quinceaneras and Bat Mitzvahs. Both involve maturity. Both involve sitting in chairs. Part of me thinks that the reporter's choice to use Bat Mitzvah as the comparison to Quinceanera was intentional, as the story focuses upon the struggles of a minority group. But I’m left wondering just how many people—especially those in Beardstown, Illinois—would even know what a Bat Mitzvah is, let alone pronounce it correctly.

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Quinceaneras = Bat Mitzvahs?." 3 July 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/Quinceanera>.

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