Kagan Had Synagogue’s First Bat Mitzvah
High Court nominee was at modern Orthodox shul
Couldn’t make it up. As a 13-year-old girl, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan demanded and received the first bat mitzvah at her Upper West Side modern Orthodox synagogue.
The notion of gender equality had been making great strides in most denominations by the time the early ‘70s rolled around, the New York Times notes. Though modern Orthodox and led by a modern Orthodox rabbi, Kagan’s shul—Lincoln Square Synagogue, still active on Amsterdam Avenue at around 69th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—had been started by Conservative Jews.
On May 18, 1973—a Friday night—Kagan read from the Book of Ruth (and gave a little midrash on it, too). So not a traditional bat mitzvah, but still the first one of its kind there.
The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Shuly Rubin Schwartz puts the whole thing in context:
In terms of timing, this was the period when young women coming of age, who had those kinds of expectations for equality and taking leadership positions in the secular world, began to question: Why can’t I do this in the Jewish world? What is unusual is that she asked it in an Orthodox institution where that was an unheard-of question at that point.