Price: $24.00


    Edited by Ora Wiskind Elper

    Hardcover, 344 pages
    MaTaN - Women's Institute for Torah Studies (Jerusalem), Urim Publications, 2003
    ISBN: 965-7108-52-7

    Since the Bat-Mitzvah celebration is not founded in ancient tradition, much confusion surrounds it. In this volume, Rabbis and Rabbaniyot, male and female educators, come together to deal with the milestone of the Bat-Mitzvah from a halakhic, philosophical and educational perspective. Elements that are paid special attention are the staging of the event, halakhic questions, learning material for the girl who is entering Bat-Mitzvah, ideas for drashot, and a survey of preparatory programs for the upcoming celebration, and more.

    Jewish tradition includes no long-standing practices for celebrating the bat mitzvah event. In Traditions and Celebrations for the Bat Mitzvah, rabbis and experienced educators, learned women and men, consider the occasion of bat mitzvah from a variety of perspectives - halakhic, philosophical, pedagogical and personal. These essays offer reflections on the nature and form of the event itself, halakhic responsa, source materials for study in preparation for the acceptance of mitzvot, descriptions of existing bat mitzvah preparatory programs, and more.

    Rachel Adelman
    Rabbi Ya'akov Ariel
    Leora Bednarsh
    Rabbanit Malke Bina
    Erica Brown
    Gabriel H. Cohn
    Yardena Cope-Yossef
    Rabbi Seth Farber
    Ilana Fodimen-Silverman
    Sara Friedland Ben Arza
    Hannah Ross Friedman
    Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer
    Baruch Kahana
    Felice Kahn Zisken
    Tirza Kelman (Garber)
    Rabbanit Oshra Koren
    Rabbi Benny Lau
    Yael Levine
    Bryna Jocheved Levy
    Rabbanit Malka Puterkovsky
    Rabbanit Rivka Rappoport
    Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky
    Manuel Weill
    Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky

    About the Editor:
    Ora Wiskind Elper has an M.A. in Comparative Literature and Ph.D. in Hebrew Literature from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She teaches Jewish thought at Michlalah College and Touro College, Jerusalem. Her publications include Tradition and Fantasy in the Tales of Reb Nahman of Bratslav (State University of New York Press, 1998) and co-editor of Torah of the Mothers: Contemporary Jewish Women Read Classical Jewish Texts (Urim Publications, 2000).

    In MaTaN - Machon Torani Lenashim Beyerushalayim (Women's Institute of Torah Study) - women study intensively in their desire to grow and develop in their comprehension of the Torah. A balance is struck between the best of academic research and the profound and personally creative approach of traditional-yeshiva learning.MaTaN was created with the vision of providing all women with the opportunity to study the Jewish sources on the highest level. Its founders wanted to serve the community of women by offering them specially designed programs of intensive classroom studies combined with Beit Midrash learning. Today over 1,000 women study Torah at MaTaN. Its innovative programs include intensive Beit Midrash learning for full time scholars, a broad range of continuing education courses in six Israeli cities and college preparatory programs for young immigrants. An electric excitement is generated as women from all walks of life, of all ages and of varied backgrounds learn together. 

    Praise for Traditions and Celebrations for the Bat-Mitzvah:
    "This book offers new opportunities for Bnot Mitzvah and their mothers to engage each other in the learning of Torah. A great addition to the Jewish library."
    - Rabbi Herschel Billet, President of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi of Young Israel of Woodmere 

    "This wide-ranging anthology covers halachik and philosophical issues surrounding the Bat Mitzvah theme; it will provide information and stimulate discussion. The writers thoughtfully address women's aspirations, bringing scholarship to bear on their subjects. Traditional sources and modern perspectives are set in vivid relationship with one another. These effectively extend the common conception of women's religious and social roles in Jewish law and in the Rabbinic imagination."
    - Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, author of Genesis: The Beginning of Desire and Exodus: The Particulars of Rapture 

    "Ably compiled and expertly edited by Ora Wiskind Elper, Traditions And Celebrations For The Bat Mitzvah is a very highly recommended compilation of truly informative and memorable essays written by rabbis and experienced educators concerning the Jewish occasion of bat mitzvah from halakhic, philosophical, pragmatic, pedagogical, and personal perspectives. An excellent source for study in preparation for the acceptance of mitzvot, Traditions And Celebrations For The Bat Mitzvah also offering descriptions of existing bat mitzvah preparatory programs, discussion of common questions concerning the tradition, and much more."
    -Midwest Book Review 

    "Certain questions appear on the Lookjed list over and over again. One such question is what schools can do in preparation for their students' Bat Mitzvah. Somehow a Bar Mitzvah is easier. The 13-year-old boy who traditionally begins laying Tefillin, is now counted to the Minyan, can now be called to the Torah, knows that his status in the community has changed. In Orthodox settings, the changes for 12-year-old girls are not nearly as clear. Nevertheless, a school or community that offers and encourages access and responsibility for women with regard to Torah study and fulfillment of Mitzvot, needs to find a way to acknowledge this milestone in a young woman's life. 
    The Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem has been at the forefront in creating a Bat Mitzvah program that brings together mothers and their daughters in a Beit Midrash setting to learn together, making the Bat Mitzvah a Jewish life-cycle event. In 2002 Matan published a collection of suggestions, scholarly articles and responsa entitled Bat Mitzvah, edited by Sara Friedland Ben-Arza. Now an English collection has appeared, edited by Ora Wiskind Elper. 
    While several of the significant articles appear in both books in translation, the Hebrew and English editions differ in that they each recognize the cultural reality of the Israeli and English speaking communities. The names of the authors in each volume are leading voices in the Orthodox communities in Israel and the Diaspora, and they uniformly share the understanding that it is neither wise nor appropriate to have young women dancing at their brothers' Bar Mitzvah celebration while their own right-of-passage goes unmarked. 
    Not surprisingly, this work offers a platform to learned women who contribute more than half of the articles that appear, and whose erudition - in halakha, mahshava and text analysis - attests to the strides made by women in the Jewish community over the past generation. 
    The English volume is broken into two sections, the first focusing on the Bat Mitzvah itself, the second dealing with more general issues of women and Judaism. The section focusing on the Bat Mitzvah celebration includes suggestions of how and why the celebration should take place, responsa and sample derashot. The second section includes a broad spectrum of articles ranging from an analysis of Tefillat Hannah (Gabi Cohen), to a brief biography of Nechama Leibowitz (Aryeh Strikovsky) to a celebration by their teacher of women who study Torah (Bryna Levy). If you are interested in a sample, the article on women's megillah reading by Aryeh Frimer appears on the Lookstein Center website at
    -Shalom Berger, Lookstein Education Digest 

    "Right from the start, I found this book of essays to be both enlightening and informative. Keeping an open mind to halachic responsa helped me to understand this fairly new tradition of the Orthodox world. Containing essays by scholars and educators of MaTaN, the Women's Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem, this book showcases the opinions and rulings of many well-known Torah scholars and rabbis concerning the Israeli phenomenon of Bat Mitzvah. Many of the essays clearly disavow any similarities to Reform Bat Mitzvah. The emphasis, we read, is on study and commitment to the mitzvot, minus the usual male obligatory rituals of Bar Mitzvah. Customs vary from synagogue to synagogue and the ceremony usually consists of the Bat Mitzvah offereing a d'rasha during or after the service. Celebrations are permitted, but that also varies from place to place. Partying is discouraged and even forbidden. 
    I found the section containing four original d'rashot by b'not mitzvah and the section containing halachic women's issues to be of particular interest and importance. One essay, "Rosh Hodesh - The Women's Holiday," by Rabbanit Malka Puterkovsky, offers a wonderful background to this women's celebration, one that is shared by many Jewish women regardless of their approach to Judaism. Whether one is Orthodox or not one can derive growth from study of Torah. It is Torah that can be the starting place for discussion among Jewish women. 
    I would recommend this book for all Day School/Yeshivot libraries. Synagogue libraries may also find this book a welcomed addition to their collections." 
    -Tamra Gerson, AJL Newsletter 

    "As noted in the introduction, this collection of essays, with the Bat Mitzvah as the unifying theme, grew out of a need to provide parents "with readable and accessible material" that would enable them to create a positive Halachic experience "to mark" their daughters entry into Jewish adulthood. 
    This anthology contains 25 chapters of varying lengths. The fact that it is an anthology and each chapter is a self-contained unit makes it an excellent resource as one is not required to read it from beginning to end in order to gather the useful information contained herein. Perhaps because this is a unique publication there was a concern to ensure that everything that needed to be said about the Bat Mitzvah and about the place of women within Judaism was welcomed to be said within these pages. 
    The anthology opens with an introductory chapter by Baruch Kahana reminding the reader of the value of this rite of passage. The book is then divided into three major sections: Part I is "Marking the Day and Celebrating the Occasion", Part II is "And Above All, Study Torah", and Part III (not shown in the Table of Contents) is titled "Meaningful Preparation Through Active Participation." Kahana points out in his essay that the Bat Mitzvah has several components that stress different aspects of the individual's identity. Aside from marking the young girl's personal, and spiritual Jewish identity, it acknowledges and places her as an adult Jewish woman "able to take charge of her own destiny" (20) and able to confidently maintain her familial, social and communal obligations while making her "own unique contribution" (28). 
    Part I contains ten essays all directly related to the Bat Mitzvah. One only needs to turn to these pages both for insight and further sources regarding the halachic issues. Part II also contains ten papers: even though the essays are diverse - further perspectives on Eve, on Chana and prayer, on Nehama Leibowitz, and on Holidays rituals - the underlying theme is women and their place in Judaism, be it in Torah, in teaching and learning, or in communal participation. The material in this section, is enriching, and provides yet another perspective concerning women's roles. The inclusion of this more general material illustrates the difficulty in separating out one rite of passage from all other aspects of Jewish practice, especially where women are concerned. The book could have benefitted from a concluding essay to address and reconcile the main issues surrounding the celebration of the Bat Mitzvah, as well as an introductory essay to Part II to clarify (for the untutored layperson) how this section related to Part I as an extension and a continuation of issues relating to women's involvement in ritual and Torah study. Part III is a mix of five essays describing both personal experience in the preparation of a young woman for her Bat Mitzvah, and commentary on Torah study for women. This section "reads" like an afterthought and its essays could probably have been distributed amongst the first two sections without any loss of coherence. 
    I have chosen only to examine more closely the section on "Marking the Day." As already indicated the section "And Above All, Study Torah" covers readings and rituals that have been addressed and explored in any number of commentaries concerning women. The articles are thought-provoking in themselves and worthy of reading, but they did not add (for this reader) to the main intent of the book: the Bat Mitzvah. 
    It is possible that the main reason for their inclusion in a MaTaN publication is that, while the gist of these articles is "well-known" to the "reading Jewish feminist" in fact, this one book might be one of the few acceptable sources available to its readership to access essays that are "women-dedicated". 
    The first section "Marking the Day and Celebrating the Occasion" is further divided into three parts: "Celebrating the Bat Mitzvah", "Responsa on Ways to Mark the Bat Mitzvah Day," and "Derashot in Honor of the Bat Mitzvah". Rabbi Lau provides a very readable and balanced discussion concerning the halachic issues that surround Bat Mitzvah celebrations. The article is re-assuring to the reader who might be somewhat confused by the halachic issues raised concerning the Bat Mitzvah celebration and the attendant contradictory rabbinical commentaries. Rabbi Lau lays out the arguments for and against the notion of the Bat Mitzvah as a worthy halachic celebration quite clearly, while all the time emphasizing that most Orthodox communities today "do celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of their daughters in one form or another" (39), and that each community, in consultation with its rabbi needs to "work together in mutual understanding... for developing a... joyous event that will encourage the Bat Mitzvah girl" (54). 
    The next three contributors both build on and incorporate some of Rabbi Lau's commentary in their essays. Yardena Cope-Yossef further explores whether the Bat Mitzvah celebration qualifies as a seudah mitzvah, and if so, which form of preparation is most appropriate for a young woman: a derasha or a siyyum? Once it has been decided that the celebration is to be considered a seudah mitzvah, Cope-Yossef notes it must include a deroshah directed to the invited guests as a group, and the contents of that deroshah must be devoted to the event itself. (73). 
    She quotes Rabbi Nissim that even though a rabbi should be present and speak in honor of the event, the Bat Mitzvah herself should "prepare a short talk concerning the event and the importance of the day" (75). Cope-Yossef suggests that for the young woman, making a siyyum, completing a unit of Torah study, in preparation for the event "has the power to motivate and strengthen the girl to continue learning" (82). 
    Rabbi Wolowelsky revisits Rabbi Yehiel Y. Weinberg's Responsa Seridei Esh, concerning the issue of "establishing ceremonies that seem to imitate those of the non-Jewish world" (84). He notes how Bat Mitzvah observances "flow naturally from our everyday Torah assumptions and life-style" (87), and that opposition to these celebrations today based on the notion of "imitation of non-Jews", "have little resonance in our modern Orthodox world" (84). Rabbi Wolowelsky also takes issue with the notion that the Bat Mitzvah ceremony should be kept out of the synagogue. He comments that almost all synagogues today are now built with an explicit intention of using it for other purposes, thereby allowing them to be used for a whole range of reshut activities, including lectures (85). 
    Given this situation, he argues there is no real reason to prohibit a Bat Mitzvah girl from holding her event in the synagogue, as long as it is after services. In his essay, Rabbi Wolowelsky succinctly raises the issues, and then demonstrates how within the context of family and community, these concerns over halacha, propriety, and modesty, can be transformed in to a valuable learning experience for the young girl, her family and their community. 
    Erica Brown takes a different tact to the issues raised by Bat Mitzvah celebrations. Drawing on the Shulchan Arukh and Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, she first explores how Jewish law assesses maturity in both boys and girls, before addressing the issues already raised by the previous authors: blessing of the parents, deroshah, the seudah mitzvah, modesty, and imitation of the Gentiles. The main difference between Brown's commentary and those of Lau, Cope-Yossef and Wolowelsky, is that she draws on the writings of Carol Gilligan. Brown turns from what has been mainly a legalistic approach to the Bat Mitzvah to entertain concerns regarding a young woman's psychological response to her female status within her family and community. Brown challenges the Orthodox rabbinate not to ignore the spiritual and intellectual needs of today's young Jewish women to participate actively in their own rite of passage. Drawing on anecdotes of older women with whom she has spoken, Brown admonishes the rabbinate that they must not get drawn into issues of feminism and materialism, but must consider ... what will most enhance her chances of growing into an observant, spiritual, and humanitarian Jewish adult (118). 
    The section on Responsa contains four brief essays, each giving suggestions, with both personal, and anecdotal examples, on how the day can be made a memorable and joyous occasion. The third section of Part I provides the derashot given by four young women at their Bat Mitzvah celebrations. This section closes with a description written by the father of a Bat Mitzvah as to how he saw her learning and preparation in terms of her move towards her own independence and obligations. 
    I found much to learn from these chapters. The anthology is well-thought out, and makes me wish I had had access to such a book when my eldest was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah many moons ago."  
    -Susan Landau-Chark, Women in Judaism