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Revisiting Kaplan’s contributions to Judaism

January 31, 2010

What timing. We just started the section on Judaism in Journalism & Religion. And this WSJ column provides some wonderful insight into how Jews continue to reinterpret their ancient texts and traditions. This piece in particular deals with the life and work of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan who set the wheels in motion for women’s participation in the synagogue (he started doing bat mitzvahs and invited women to read from the Torah). Fascinating.

A believer in gender equality long before the term political correctness became a cliché, Kapan in 1922 “invented” the modern-day bat mitzvah—in which 12-year-old girls (like their male counterparts, 13-year-old boys, at their bar mitzvahs) symbolically accept the religious responsibilities of adulthood—when, at Sabbath services one Saturday morning, he called his oldest daughter to the pulpit and had her read from the Torah scroll. Since then, of course, this then-unheard-of custom has become an accepted, even expected rite-of-passage among Jews in all but the Orthodox branch of the faith.

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