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America's First Bat Mitzvah and its Legacy for American Jewish Life


Many Jews have heard that the first bat mitzvah celebration took place in 1922 in a Reconstructionist congregation — and that the first girl to become a bat mitzvah was Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.  Much less familiar are the historical factors leading to that moment, or why it took several more decades before the bat mitzvah as we know it to take root. 

All this and more are explored in “America’s First Bat Mitzvah”, the latest podcast episode of Adventures in Jewish Studies.  Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president of Reconstructing Judaism, is a featured guest. She and fellow guests, Rabbi Carole Balin, Ph.D., and Melissa Klapper, Ph.D., explore how the bat mitzvah helped pave the way for greater inclusion of women in public Jewish ritual and practice and helped shape American Jewish life. 

As the centennial of the first bat mitzvah approaches, the episode explores how that event reverberates today, as rabbis and Jewish communities seek to make rituals and Jewish life more inclusive. They make a compelling case that, had Judith Kaplan not read from her own chumash — she wasn’t allowed to read from a Torah scroll — just two years after the passage of women’s suffrage, we would not be discussing gender neutral ceremonies today. 

Adventures in Jewish Studies is a project of the Association for Jewish Studies; this episode is co-sponsored by Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations, an initiative of Reconstructing Judaism. 

Do yourself a favor and listen and subscribe in on the Evolve podcast page.

Assistant Director of Media and Development Communications, Reconstructing Judaism

Related Resources

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Family Education Series

This three-part family education series addresses issues related to bar/bat mitzvah. It is designed for a large group of parents and students and uses active learning exercises. It covers issues around Jewish identity, the meaning of bar/bat mitzvah, and common concerns that parents and students have about the process.