Bat Mitzvah Tallit – Girls Coming of Age
A bat mitzvah is a Jewish coming of age ceremony for a girl that symbolizes she is now responsible for her actions, good and bad, and for keeping the commandments of G-d. Like bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah actually describes the new status of the child in the Jewish community. Bat in Hebrew means “daughter” and Mitzvah means “commandments” therefore a girl who is bat mitzvah becomes a “Daughter of the Commandments”. Just like boys receive their tallit from their fathers, girls are given a bat mitzvah tallit to use for the ceremony as well.
Generally only non-Orthodox Jews participate in bat mitzvah celebrations that are styled after bar mitzvahs. Many Orthodox Jews do not agree with the notion that women should be allowed to do what is traditionally a man’s role. This includes reading publically from the Torah or leading a prayer service when there are a minimum of 10 men around who can do so. Instead, girls in these congregations may lecture on a topic of Jewish interest, recite verses from the Book of Esther or Psalms or say prayers from the siddur to mark their new status as bat mitzvah. Tallit, however, are still acceptable for girls to wear in both non-Orthodox and Orthodox systems.
Because women were not bound to mitzvoh like men were, they were not required to wear tallit. However, many early Jewish leaders did not object to them doing so. There was a movement initiated by Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg to ban the practice on the basis that a woman wearing a tallit could be construed as an act of arrogance. Others considered the tallit to be a men’s garment and that a woman was violating the law forbidding women from wearing men’s clothing. After some debate it was decided that women could receive a bat mitzvah tallit and wear it as long as they were willing to fulfill all the commandments of the Torah even those they were not obligated to do.
Today, most non-Orthodox congregations are egalitarian in their practice allowing any male or female to lead prayer services or read from the Torah. Therefore the receiving of a bat mitzvah tallit is a welcome gift representing equality in the participation of services that honor G-d. As a sign of the changing times, the tallit has changed also. In addition to the traditional white clothe with black horizontal lines, tallitot comes in a variety of colors and designs that appeal to both men and women.
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