Ruby's Corner

Becoming A Woman, Sort Of

On September 22, 2012, I will be doing this little thing called a “Bat Mitzvah”. And you know what? It’s not as simple as throwing a party for your 12th birthday. There’s a ritual involved. There’s a steep learning curve. And there’s family. And I really had to think long and hard as to whether I wanted to embrace this whole Bat Mitzvah thing. Because it’s complicated.

For instance, you can only become a Bat Mitzvah – which literally means “Daughter (that’s the Bat part) of Commandment (that’s the Mitzvah bit)”—only when/after you turn 12. And it comes with a lot of preparation, spiritually and learning-ly. Also, you can get Bat Mitzvah’ed: That’s the religious ceremony part. Or  you can have a Bat Mitzvah: That’s the party you throw after you’ve read your Haftorah. I know – it’s all very confusing, because Bat Mitzvah means the same thing in a few very different ways.

In doing some research, I learned that a Bat Mitzvah for a girl is a relatively recent thing: the first Bat Mitzvah was performed in 1922, like right about the time women got the right to vote here. Also, I learned that a Bat Mitzvah is when a girl comes of age, and in Judaism, that happens when she turns 12. And this kind of coming-of-age isn’t as cute as having your first crush; what it means is that you become responsible for observing the commandments. In other words, you are held accountable for your actions, from a Judaic perspective and that’s pretty heavy.

Now personally, I don’t think that turning 12 will mean that I am a woman. I mean, I’m still a kid. A female kid. I’m not ready to be a woman-woman. My mom is the Woman in our family, and I like it like that. Plus, according to Jewish Law, girls mature sooner than boys do, which is why girls get Bat Mitzvah’ed a year before boys do. And that conflicts with my feminist beliefs, that girls and boys are of equal value. Why should I have to grow up before a boy does? I don’t think that’s really fair. But while I can spend the rest of my life fighting for women’s rights in the real world, I don’t know what to do with this “Law”.

Still, I know that having a Bat Mitzvah would make my Safta so proud. My Safta is my Grandmother and the way she looks at the world is, how do I say this? Well, it’s unique. And while I was on the fence about the aforementioned, I was not conflicted about making my Safta happy. That is something I would be honored to do. So with my Mom’s support, I decided to put my personal (read: feminist) issues aside and go for it.

And even though I’m going to have a Bat Mitzvah (party), there’s a lot of other stuff that has to happen alongside all the party planning. Like studying for my Haftorah. Because to become a Bat Mitzvah, you need to learn a story—the Haftorah—that you sing at your ceremony, the ceremony which ushers you into your now-womanhood. And it’s such hard work!

For instance, imagine having to sing a song, in a different language, and said song is five pages long with a very complicated tune to it, and not complicated in a Jazz song kind of way, complicated in an old-world kind of way, like learning Latin but backwards. See what I mean? That’s what I have to do. So every week, I spend an hour with my teacher, Franny, and we learn. And learn. And it takes a lot of patience, because a Haftorah is sung in Hebrew, which is not a language I know. My Safta knows it, but I don’t. It’s okay, though. Because I love a challenge. That I get frustrated is okay; I know I’m going to get to where I need to be.

And I know when I see my Safta’s face as I’m singing my Haftorah  that making the commitment to being Bat Mitzvah-ed was a great decision.

So I am psyched. I have been studying since December, and I have only a few more months before I become/get/have this Bat Mitzvah thing. Stay tuned!

Torah image via ShutterStock