Coming of Age
Religious communities have long played a role in defining the transition from girlhood to womanhood with rites of passage. Yet, girls take on these traditions and remake them in different ways.
In the synagogue, a 13-year-old boy becomes a man at his bar mitzvah. But no comparable ceremony sanctified girls' coming of age until 1922, when a New York rabbi invented bat mitzvah for his daughter.
By the late 1900s, Jewish girls had claimed the millenia-old ritual known as the bar mitzvah for themselves.
Sarah Leavitt grew up in Madison, where she celebrated her bat mitzvah at Temple Beth El. Both the boys and girls in her class took on the responsibilities of being a Jewish adult at age 13. However, the girls did not wear the traditional prayer shawl (tallit) or head covering (yarmulke) that were still, then, only worn by the boys.
See Girlhood in 3D! Explore a model of the bat mitzvah dress.