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B'haalot'cha, Numbers 8:1−12:16
Of "Second Passover," Rabbi Akiva, and adult bat mitzvahs
One of the most compelling new rituals in the Conservative synagogue is the adult bat-mitzvah. The impulse is egalitarian, the result religious empowerment. The women who participate enjoyed no bat-mitzvah ceremony in their youth. Years later they seek to fill the void. Usually in small groups of up to a dozen, they study with their rabbi and cantor for a period of at least two years. The practice is so widespread today that the Women's League for Conservative Judaism has produced a carefully articulated curriculum to enhance the meaningfulness of the experience. Learning to read Hebrew is required. Biblically based yet religiously encompassing, the study period culminates in the preparation of a specific parashah and haftarah [prophetic reading] to be chanted in the synagogue on a Shabbat morning. There is definitely comfort in numbers. Doing the bat-mitzvah as a group lessens the tension of performing in public. Each participant must master only a part of the whole. A few years ago, a large Solomon Schechter elementary day school appointed its first rabbi-in-residence, a post vital to intensifying the religious atmosphere and programming of the school. A number of the women on the faculty approached her about preparing them for an adult bat-mitzvah. She readily agreed provided that the ceremony be held in the school. After two years of serious study, the teachers celebrated their bat-mitzvah in a service attended by all the students in the school. The event was role modeling at its best. To see their teacher and colleague reach for holiness transformed students and teachers alike. Continue reading.
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