This year marks a double simcha (celebration) for American Jewish women. It is the 45th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman rabbi and the 95th anniversary of the first girl to become a bat mitzvah during a worship service.
Ninety-five years ago, Judith Kaplan pioneered the bat mitzvah at her father Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s synagogue in 1922, two years after women got the right to vote. In a mere nine and a half decades, the bat mitzvah has become commonly celebrated across the Jewish spectrum, from secular to orthodox. During the last quarter century, the bat mitzvah has come to look identical to the bar mitzvah in all but traditional congregations, and even ultra-Orthodox Jews recognize a girl’s coming-of-age. With the emergence of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s, the practice of bat mitzvah was all but normalized. With these expanding opportunities, women broadened their Jewish knowledge and skills, culminating for some who didn’t have the opportunity earlier, in adult bat mitzvah.
Fifty years later, Sally Priesand was ordained as the first woman rabbi. Sally Priesand’s ordination in 1972 spawned a revolutionary change in Jewish life. Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her rabbinate in 1992, Priesand again voiced her long-standing critique that the institutions of Reform Judaism have still not fulfilled Reform’s historic commitment to equality of the sexes. On her twenty-fifth anniversary, she received an honorary doctorate from the HUC-JIR, and her congregants contributed toward the establishment of the Rabbi Sally J. Priesand Visiting Professorship in Jewish Women’s Studies at the College-Institute. The position in her name has helped enable the Reform movement to fulfill Preisand’s mandate of religious egalitarianism. As the first female rabbi, Priesand has always stood in the forefront of those who have struggled to carve a place for women and their perspectives in contemporary Judaism.
Jewish women, including Kaplan and Priesand, have empowered countless girls and women to seek leadership in their communities. Since these two simchas have changed the landscape for Jewish women, it has become the collective responsibility of girls, along with supportive parents and rabbis, to speak up and out.
Want to learn about women’s empowerment, self-confidence, and social entrepreneurship? On March 25, you are invited to a Women’s Conference — a transformative day of presentations, networking, empowerment, and more — for women of all ages and stages in the Washington, DC area! Learn from our presenters, five engaging women entrepreneurs who will share their knowledge and wisdom on their success and experiences. Their insight will enlighten your mind, empower you to dream of the possibilities, and motivate you to make them happen! The conference is perfect for women who are ready to catapult their life and career forward! Learn more here.