Has the Bat Mitzvah become Orthodox?
I recently received a call from a woman who was converted more than two decades ago as an infant. Yes, the conversion was 100% halachic in a ceremony performed with the rabbinical court approval. In traditional society, someone who underwent conversion as a child was called back to the rabbinical court upon maturing to confirm their status. Unfortunately for this young woman – who lives a fully Jewish life – she was never called back to the rabbinical court.
You can probably guess what happened next.
When the woman went to open her marriage file, here in Israel, she was subjected to a barrage of questions related to her orthodox lifestyle. “Well,” she said, “are they trying to annul my conversion?” and she called me.
Somehow, my office at ITIM has become the “Go to” center for conversion annulments…
At first I explained to her that Jewish tradition doesn’t allow for this kind of thing. One is not allowed to remind a convert about their past, or persecute them for being a convert.
But then I decided to do something else.
I called one of the rabbis who was questioning her, and asked him what exactly he wanted to know.
“Oh. No problem,” said the rabbi. “I want to make sure she had a Bat Mitzvah.”
I thought this was fascinating, and here’s my point. From a historical perspective, the Bat Mitzvah was first celebrated by Mordechai Kaplan’s daughter. At the time, Kaplan was developing his theories which would ultimately turn him from a Conservative Jew to a Reconstructionist Jew. Ironically, the Bat Mitzvah, which was the subject of a series of disparaging responsa in the 1950s and 1960s, has now become the marker by which a young girl leads an orthodox life. Half a century ago, rabbis were down on Bat Mitzvahs. Now, they can’t live without them.
Well, all’s well that ends well. The woman is now getting married through the rabbinate, thanks to the fact that the Orthodox now own Bat Mitzvahs. How times have changed.