Monday, August 30, 2004

The very notion of new minhagim is oxymoronic. In particular, encouraging women to ape minhagim previously performed only by men is a debasement both of yiddishkeit and of women. But still... when people of modern sensibility (and today that includes just about everybody) try to play-act at being fartzahtishter yidden (old-fashioned Jews), it looks just plain dumb. There really once were men who, quite unself-consciously, thought women ought to be kept borvis and shvangerdik (barefoot and pregnant). But anyone who tries to play that card these days is being disingenuous.

I mention this because My First Daughter (MFD) has just turned twelve. It never crossed my mind to a) ignore the occasion, b) make a goofy party for her friends or c) make a bar-mitzvah as if she were a boy. The event that evolved in a natural way (at least, natural for me, since my eishes chaver (MEC) worked it all out) turned out no less festive or significant than the boys' bar-mitzvahs, but was different in ways that set a distinct tone. We invited extended family to our home rather than friends. MFD learned sefer hachinukh with MEC rather than learning a masechta with me. We made a milchig brunch rather than a fleishig supper (MFD is vegetarian in a very not in-your-face way). MFD gave a brief speech relating to sefer hachinukh in her own thoughtful and intelligent voice rather than a pilpul. MEC and the grandmothers (none of whom I'd ever heard speak publicly before) spoke rather than the grandfathers and me. Their speeches were briefer, lighter, warmer and more personal than the usual male fare. It was wonderful.

The whole thing somehow flowed very naturally. I think MFD understood that this event marked her becoming neither a male impersonator nor an infantilized adolescent but rather a responsible young woman. She done us proud.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mazel Tov on your daughter's reaching the age of Torah and Mitzvot. It sounds like a very nice simcha. I do have to ask, however, if she was offered the opportunity to learn a masechta, invite a lot of friends......

As far as creating new minhagim, it is an oxymoronic term. However, Rav Kook did note that Halachic standards sometimes change because of facts on the ground that gradually become accepted. So what starts as a new or different action(minhag would be the wrong word) over time, becomes an accepted practice, whether as strict Halacha, or as minhag. After all, minhag had to start somewhere, sometime.


4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I could have been there. I've been silently wresting with the smae issues you addressed. My first and only daugher (MFAOD) is 10.

You'll have to give me a recap of the event (and the thinking leading up to the event) over a glass of bourbon some erev shabbos soon.

Mazal Tov!

David (

6:33 PM  
Blogger MoChassid said...

Let me give you the perspective of an american (almost) alter kakah. A number of years ago my older daughter had a big party that set her parents back a lot of gelt. We learned one of the meforshim on Megilas Rus together. She was very happy.

Last year My older daughter had a small party for her friends and close family that set her parents back a little bit of gelt. We learned a sefer by rav Pinkus on Tefilah. She was very happy. Her parents had a few dollars left in the bank.

By the way Ben, MOD is at Michlalah this year. Since they kick her out every Shabbos she is always looking for places to stay. She doesn't eat too much and she doesn't talk too much. Any interest in hosting her?

7:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Sure, MFD was involved the whole way. She couldn't have been happier.
Your point about minhagim developing is well taken. But such development must be gradual and reflect collectively internalized values. Ideologues who try to ram changes down everybody's throats make such shifts less natural and therefore more problematic. This is a big topic that I hope to blog about.

Sounds great. Let's do it soon.

We welcome eaters and talkers, too. Looking forward to meeting YOD.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Devorah said...

MoChassid—I object. Technically, Michlalah never kicks anyone out for Shabbos. Of course, if you want to have a real “chavaya,” then you can't just stay put.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a difference between positing that women have different, but valued roles in Judaism, and implicitly positing that sefer hachinuch vs gemara are separate but equal forms of education. If someone had suggested to me when I was bas mitzva age that I learn something special for the occasion, I'd have been happy. If someone had suggested a party revolving around this occasion of learning, I'd have felt insulted and condescended to.

Similarly, the notion of not celebrating makes perfect sense to me. Bar mitzva boys are not just celebrating their new status wrt shmiras mitzvos, they are celebrating their obligations in community-based practice, being counted to a minyan, kriyas hatorah etc. There's much less for a woman to celebrate.

Good job I'm not in the running to visit for shabbos;-) Sorry, but I find this much more condescending and silly than the meaningless parties (which are just birthday parties after all).

I think this is also a bad idea pedogogically. Sefer hachinuch is a fine thing to learn, but girls tend to emerge from school as it is with a distorted emphasis on particular texts and lack of appreciation for the texts they don't know. The girls speaking on chinuch and the boy saying his p'shetel gives a distorted message, it raises the chinuch to separate but equal status in the girl's mind. Just teaching chinuch, without making it this milestone event, doesn't have that impact.
If you are teaching girls more than halacha l'ma'aseh, but less than gemara, the first order of business is to have them understand what D. Rumsfeld calls the "known unknowns." The sort of practice you describe is bound to produce women who are oblivious to what they doesn't know, when they could be learning to define the material they don't learn well enough to have it inform their perspective on Judaism.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FWIW, I'd feel differently (I think) if the girl gave a talk about aggadata.

I know I am being a bit cranky , but the worst thing about women's education IMO is that the girls' walk out without sufficient respect for the relative value of different sources.

Learning aggadata is also a kiyum of u'ldovko bo, eylu dorshei agados (the chinuch brings that, IIRC!) and as such, learning aggadata is worth celebrating at a bas mitzva, because it involves something that women are directly metzuvah in. A bas mitzva girl learning aggadata is, IMO, making a statement about looking to agada to inform her worldview as a kiyum of u'l'dovko bo. .

You've escaped the trap of positing an equivalence between talmud torah for men and for women, but still, this isn't a sheva brochos etc. The bar mitzva boy is celebrating his entree into serious learning. There isn't anything parallel about chinuch. Your protests of not starting a ritual that mimics the boys' ritual notwithstanding, you're describing a ritual that elevates secondary sources to primary ones.

Agadata otoh, is first, a primary and not a secondary source, and you don't land up celebrating a "lesser" form of talmud torah, and second, involves a mitzva that women are metzuve in.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with those who see learning Sefer HaChinuch as a lesser form of Talmud Torah that is somehow condescending to the bat mitzvah. Learning just what the Taryag mitzvot are as one is approaching the age of mitzvot is about as appropriate a way to celebrate this event as any -- in fact, it strikes me as more appropriate than the various sidrei mishnayos that most bar mitzva boys learn, which are much less directly related to their assumption of "ol mitzvot", and generally less comprehensible to them.

Modern Orthodoxy's newfound recognition of the importance of bat mitvah is a very positive development that presents us with an opportunity to seek out rituals for girls that are simultaneously serious and yet not carbon copies of our rituals for boys.

As one of the comments pointed out, when it comes to reaching the age of bat mitzvah, we are not celebrating the fulfillment of a specific mitzvah such as aliyah la-Torah or the laying of tefillin, but a more generalized
"kiyum mitzvot". As such, recognizing just what those mitzvahs entail is very important -- and it is as halachically required as studying aggadata, if not more so. Learning the entire Chinuch is a real accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated.

For those concerned, Sefer HaChinuch is, of course, replete with references to earlier sources, from Chumash to Gemara, and learning it often requires one to investigate those sources. Depending upon how it's approached, it can be a much more comprehensive undertaking than, let's say, learning Masechet Megillah. And of course, it does not preclude the possibility of the young woman continuing to learn more primary sources as she grows. A bat mitzvah is just the beginning.

Kol hakavod for finding such an appropriate way to celebrate!

12:17 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I appreciate that making a big fuss about sefer hachinukh can be seen (probably unjustifiably, as the previous commenter notes) as patronizing. That's just the kind of overly-principled argument I might have made if I didn't have a flesh-and-blood twelve-year-old daughter to deal with. One has to walk a fine line. Yes, learning as a traditional act in which boys are initiated into a continuous conversation spanning generations is closed to girls. Women who try to join in are poachers and it's better that my daughter understand that sooner rather than later. On the other hand, learning to gain knowledge and to build Jewish character is necessary for women as well as men. How can we reconcile these elements? One way is to teach our daughters Torah (or better, have their mothers teach them)but to choose texts and tones which capture the essential message without the conventions or trappings of traditional male learning. Sefer hachinukh is a possible example but perhaps there are better ones. In this context, I think your distinction between agadata and sefer hachinukh sounds awfully formalistic.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Tara said...


male impersonator...

Tough choice!

6:23 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I am -really- disturbed by your use of the terms 'male impersonator' and 'poacher'. I came over from Treppenwitz and enjoyed your blog all the way down till I got here and... got out as soon as possible. He says that you have alot of integrity. What do you see as the connotations and consequences of those terms? To me, they are very disturbing.

What does it mean, poacher? Is there a limited amount of Torah out there, and it has to be protected against poaching so that there will be enough for all the men?

When you see girls who do have the bat mitvahs that you disapprove of, do they really seem to you like male impersonators? That they are trying to pass as male? Or that they are not happy as females? Or that they are somehow masculine? How are they masculine? In their brains? In their voices?

When you see women who try to participate in a life long conversation with Torah, do they seem like male impersonators to you? Could I be a male impersonator without knowing it? Would anyone ever confuse me with a man? What do you mean by impersonator?? It's not just women doing things that men exclusively used to do, because that would make all women who vote or hold office male impersonators. You mean it in a specifically Jewish sense, no? Of women doing things that are not required of them halachically. Or do you mean things that are forbidden to them halachically? But the lines seem kind of blurry in your article.

For women for whom its important to follow a traditional understanding of halacha, I think there are ways to study seriously - gemarra- in that framework. I'm thinking of Drisha or Brovender's. It's even possible to lein and pray in environments without men. Are they male impersonators by force of halacha or custom or some combination where you see custom becoming halacha? Anyway, what do you *mean*, male impersonator???

Do you mean it as offensively as it sounds? Do you think it's possible to use those words in a non-offensive way? I found your language hateful. I mean, I felt hated. Is that what you meant? Is that what you mean to communicate to your daughter, in case she ends up practicing Judaism differently than you do? Maybe you do, I don't know. I certainly have no right to demand not to be hated/treated hatefully by you.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Ben got slammed and ignored it. i am liking him less and less. Why doesn't the DOPE defend himself?

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second Tara's feeling of insult. I was even a little put off by abbreviations of the women in your life (MFD) (MEC)!!?

I agree that the bigger problem are bat mitzva's that resemble sweet sixteen parties. If young girls aren't held up to high standards at their bat mitzva (whatever a high standard is in her community) then she will not take Judaism seriously for the rest of her life.

If you honestly live in a community where mothers and grandmothers are the only ones with relationships with daughters, (and visa versa) then it is appropriate for women to teach their daughters. And I assume your daughter would not be aware of what doors were closed being closed to her. Then I think it is great to challange her with whaterver "soft torah" is on her level.

On the other hand in the world I live in, girls are quite aware that doors are being slammed in their face. This does not turn them into meek shina meidales it makes them seek satisfaction in other worlds other than torah.

Lastly in my personal expereince with women encroaching onto male dominated area I have noticed that there are a lot of emotional energy and irrational logic used to determine our communities futures. I personally think there are alot psychanlytic defense mechanisms being excited. (Lacanian (Post Freud) specifically.)

Could your mother the woman who fed you who dressed you had full power over your body as a child ever be allowed to have that power again? Could she be allowed to know more that you as an adult man? Could she have the power to give psak....maybe that is a scary possibility. I think it something very buried in the unconsious that leads men and authority figures to protect their turf so violently and insensitively.

P.S. I came apon this cite when doing a google search for articles concerning Women reading the Megilla, to supplment a class I am giving on Misecket Megilla to women.

12:46 AM  

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