Bat Mitzvah girls reading from the Torah

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Dear Rabbi Simon,

What is your take on this whole new feminism drive sweeping across Modern-Orthodox Judaism? It has become popular in my community for Bat Mitzvahs (there’s been a few I know of recently) for the girl to Lein from the Torah at Shabbat Mincha, with the condition of less than 10 men present. They claim that halakhically this is fine, I just don’t like it as it a) feels as if women believe they are inferior and are striving to be like men (along with many other feminist campaigns) but also b) it is very dangerous in that some of the girls are not shomerei Shabbat etc and once they have had their Bat Mitzvah and done the leining, where can they now find the opportunity to do some more leining on a regular basis – well only at a conservative/reform service which would therefore encourage them to join these congregations.

I know in London as well there are some frum women very much into this – would love to hear your opinion.

All the best!

Jessica

Dear Jessica

I believe it is important to mark and indeed celebrate a Jewish girl’s reaching the age of mitzvah observance and personal responsibility, which is just as important for her (and her parents) as it is for a boy. Nevertheless, you will probably not be surprised to learn that I am not a fan of Bat Mitzvah girls reading from the Torah.

I believe that both your objections are valid: The whole enterprise derives from a “me-too” impulse. (I liken it to the lyrics from the famous Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun: “Anything you can do, I can do better.”) Among other things, this is a denial of femininity in favour of a unisex version of Judaism, in which the distinctions between male and female are blurred or eliminated AMAP. This may be a contemporary vogue, but it is not the perspective of the Torah.

Your second, strategic observation is also valid: does the Bat Mitzvah thrill promote Torah study and observance, or have the effect of making Reform services (and laxity) both more familiar and more attractive?

Ultimately, to riff on the old cliché, is this about the bat or about the mitzvah? There are better, more positive and more authentic ways to mark and indeed to celebrate a girl’s reaching the age of mitzvot and personal responsibility.

Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Tzippy
***
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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