American Reform Responsa

31. Bat Mitzvah

(Vol. XXIII, 1913, pp. 183-185)

The lesser part of women in religious life is not Orientalism. As far as Israel is concerned (to say nothing of our other Semitic peoples, such as Babylonians, Assyrians, etc.), the women maintained a leading role in religious life as far down as the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The women were considered of equal standing not only as worshippers but also as functionaries in the religious life. It was on account of the Istar-worship which the women in Israel, as well as elsewhere, favored, that they were excluded from the religious functions in post-exilic Judaism, and later, in Talmudic times, from certain religious duties which depend on fixed times and seasons. But by this the Jewess was by no means relegated from the religious life in which, on the contrary, she had at least as high a standing as women in any of the Occidental Churches ever had. If we do not consider the nuns as religious functionaries, we have to admit that no Occidental Church ever entrusted women with priestly functions. If the women in the synagogue were separated in galleries not accessible to men, while the church did not care for separation, we cannot designate this as Orientalism, since--on the contrary--the Church, returning back to the Oriental Istar-motif in religion, did not care, as she was not entitled, to go in demands of purity as far as Judaism went. We may think differently today as to the advisability of separation of sexes, but separation is by no means a lessening of the woman's standing in the synagogue. And in the home woman had exclusive religious functions, such as challah, Sabbath candles, etc., unknown to the Occidental Church. The only real case in point is the debarment of women from religious functions, but as to this, Conservative Judaism is on a par not only with all Occidental Churches but also with Reform Judaism. As yet we have no woman rabbi, no woman cantor, even no woman shamash in the synagogue, nor do we find her in the councils of the kehila (see, however, the new attempt with the sisterhoods).

True, Judaism in the Talmudic period and in past ages in general did not care as much for the religious training of the girl as it did for that of the boy. But the fact of the matter is that the average girl in past ages in some respects knew more of Judaism than does the modern girl of today after finishing all courses in Sunday school. Women lomedot in old-fashioned Judaism are not rare; I personally know quite a number of them. As to the practical question involved, I am perfectly in accord with the suggestion to abolish Bar Mitzvah ceremony in favor of the Confirmation on Shavuot for boys and girls alike. But in synagogues where the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for boys is still in practice, I would be in favor of letting the boy come to the Torah, whether to read himself from the Torah--as is the custom in some synagogues--or only to say the Benediction and to read from the Prophets. In the synagogues where this is practiced, it is considered as a religious function (which it really is, historically considered), and as such the boy is called upon to perform it, while the girl is deprived of that privilege, even within Reform Judaism. And this appears strongly justified by the fact that a boy of thirteen may be called upon soon to decide to enter the Hebrew Union College, where he is admitted after completing his fourteenth year; this possibility is practically out of the question in the case of a girl.

D. Neumark

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.