At twelve (or sometimes thirteen), a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. Bat Mitzvah means daughter of the commandments, which, for a religious girl, means taking on the obligations and traditions of the Jewish religion. The Bat Mitzvah celebration and ceremony is a relatively new invention, as compared to an equivalent ritual for boys, but it is important and beautiful nonetheless. After my Bat Mitzvah, I was eager to participate at my synagogue as much as I could.
Can a woman perform a bris? Jewish scholars, even the most Orthodox, answer with a tentative “why not?” for there is no halachic (Jewish law) prohibition against mohelot – female mohels. While Jewish law states that it’s preferable for a Jewish male to perform the brit milah (circumcision) if one is present, it is not mandatory. The symbolism of a woman circumcising a man is inherently provocative, touching on questions of spirituality, nurturing mothers, and emasculation. Many men, when polled on the subject, reflexively cross their legs.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about niddah, or the laws having to do with a women’s monthly immersion in the mikveh (this is what happens when you run a Jewish blog---you read a lot of random things). I am no expert on this issue---far from it---but I think it’s a really interesting topic, and something that more women should be aware of, especially in light of the battle over mikvaot that is going on in some communities in Israel right now.
When a people have been around as long as the Jews, they have to be pretty good at renewing and re-imagining traditions in ways that feel authentic and also relevant. How else can rituals, practices, and beliefs survive the changes of time and place? It's a fine balance that is nicely captured in the term "old-new"--used, for example, in Theodore Herzl's Zionist novel about the "Old-New Land."
Yesterday in Tablet magazine, Ruth Ellen Gruber* wrote about her trip to an old Jewish cemetery in Romania to look at the way images of shabbat candles are used on women's gravestones to convey meaning and memory. Gruber's project, (Candle)sticks on Stone, is time sensitive, as many of these gravestones are crumbling into obscurity, but, she writes, "those that remain comprise wonderful examples of vivid local stone-carving that fuse local folk art and Jewish iconography." Gruber is interested in presenting these carvings as works of art, but she does acknowledge the depth and complexity these carvings carry concerning the intersection of symbolism, Jewish tradition, and gender roles.
How do you measure commitment? That’s the question I was left pondering after reading Elana Sztokman’s post on the double standard for Orthodox women. Some women’s tardiness for services has become a justification for shutting out the entire gender from a whole host of responsibilities, as late arrival to shul apparently signifies a lack of spiritual commitment.
Lately, I've had a lot of trouble praying. There have been times in my life when I was committed to regular prayer, when I loved to put on my tefillin in the morning and feel the marks they had left on my arm as I went about my activities afterwards. I've had moving experiences of communal prayer, feeling buoyed by the voices rising around me, and of individual prayer, when the sight of something in the world has caught my breath and provoked a spontaneous blessing.
Yesterday,the Jewish Women's Archive sent out a Passover e-greeting with the subject line: "Who says there are only four questions?" One of several responses to ourgreeting was from Nina Amir who affirmed that, indeed, there are far more than four questions to explore on Passover.
Passover is next week. How did that happen?! I haven't even begun to prepare, but was reminded that I better get on the ball after reading the opinion piece "Raising Cups, Dropping Oranges" by Aurora Mendelsohn in the Forward. Mendelsohn discusses the ways in which her Seder's feminist rituals have changed over the past decade: Miriam's Cup has endured while the orange on the Seder plate has disappeared.
Judith Kaplan (Eisenstein) made history 87 years ago today when she became the first American to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah. As the daughter of an innovative rabbi - Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism- she benefited from his belief in egalitarianism and his willingness to challenge tradition.