How 'And Just Like That…' Reflects Bat Mitzvah History

HBO Max (via Kveller)

I’m always both excited and terrified when popular culture represents Jewish practice. As affirming as it can be to see aspects of one’s own experience on screen, it’s maddening to see it misrepresented, bungled, or bastardized, as it too often is.

Given the highs and lows of Charlotte York Goldenblatt’s Jewish encounters in the Sex and the City universe (from spontaneous sex with a supposed Hasid to the most beautiful mikveh never seen in NYC), many of us nervously anticipated what Jewish scenes the reboot And Just Like That… might bring.

From Shabbat dinner with homemade challah to a “They Mitzvah” with a trans rabbi, AJLT delivered. And whether or not it disappointed is a subject of much debate. Sure, the lavish candy bar (before the service?) was a bit much, and Charlotte and Harry seemed to move abruptly from concern over their daughter Rose’s decision to identify as the nonbinary Rock to securing a trans rabbi to preside over Rock’s “They Mitzvah.” Still, it was heartening to see them accept and support Rock’s new identity, and even more so to see this newer expression of Jewish coming-of-age depicted as normative practice, rainbow chai decorations and all!

Of course (spoiler alert), we now know that it’s Charlotte who becomes bat mitzvah in the season finale, not Rock, who refuses to go through with the ceremony because they’re not sure yet what they believe and who they want to be, other than themself. But while a pat resolution, it brought its own pleasure of seeing Charlotte claim her Jewishness in a deeper way than a  casually tossed “oy.”

What I appreciated most about this story arc is how it reflected some important elements of the history of bat mitzvah, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this March. In the years since Judith Kaplan had the first bat mitzvah in the US at The Society for the Advancement of Judaism synagogue in New York City, Jewish girls have led a revolution in Jewish practice, enabling a continual expansion of ritual life for girls, women, and beyond.

Bat mitzvah began as the innovation of a maverick rabbi—Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism—who wanted to create a simple coming-of-age ceremony for girls (especially his four daughters) but had no plan for feminist innovation beyond the ceremony itself. Nevertheless, it soon spurred girls to push for greater equality: opportunities to lead services beyond their bat mitzvah ceremonies and greater parity in how those ceremonies were celebrated. Furthermore, when adult women saw the confident leadership of girls from the bimah, they, too, began to advocate for greater access to ritual roles, adult bat mitzvah, and other synagogue leadership positions.

As is true of feminism more broadly, bat mitzvah—which began as a movement for women and girls—has continued to expand its conceptions of gender and inclusion. Today, Jewish communities are increasingly attentive to the ways bat and bar mitzvah can be reframed to include nonbinary kids, with options for non-gendered language and expectations.

We see much of this evolution in AJLT: Although it’s clear having a bat mitzvah wasn’t Rock’s idea, their emerging identity leads to a reframing of the ceremony as a “They Mitzvah.” Furthermore, Charlotte—by virtue of helping Rock prepare and practice their Torah portion—learns it herself, enabling her to take her rightful place in the Jewish community as a woman when Rock chooses to forego the ritual.

The final scene of Charlotte’s storyline captures 100 years of bat mitzvah’s revolution: a public ceremony that includes a Jew-by-choice, a multiracial family, a trans rabbi, and an adult bat mitzvah, brought together through the context of a bat mitzvah-turned-They Mitzvah. Surely not what Rabbi Kaplan had in mind, and yet what is more true to coming of age than evolution in unexpected directions. Am I eagerly anticipating a second season of AJLT? Maybe not. But I can’t wait to see how the bat mitzvah revolution continues to unfold.

Celebrate the bat mitzvah centennial with Rise Up/Bat Mitzvah at 100 National Shabbat—a project of the Jewish Women’s Archive and SAJ: Judaism That Stands For All—on March 18-19, 2022. Resources available at batmitzvah100.org

 

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This may be about fictional characters, but it's best-practice not to deadname even fictional people, as you did here. It's also best practice not to refer to gender identities as a choice. These are seemingly small things, but the whole point of fictional struggles like what is depicted in the show is to help people learn how to relate to very real people. That extends to your writing on the topic.

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "How 'And Just Like That…' Reflects Bat Mitzvah History." 7 February 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/how-and-just-reflects-bat-mitzvah-history-0>.

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