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Kagan’s Bat Mitzvah Marked a Watershed Moment

I’ve been loving the coverage of Elena Kagan’s youthful challenge of her rabbi over her right to have a bat mitzvah. I love it because it confirms what I’ve always believed — that the chutzpah of young girls is not just pre-teen attitude but a sign of inner strength and a harbinger of great things to come (and I say this not only in a self-serving way as a former obnoxious girl-child or as the mother of a burgeoning one).

I also love it because it places Kagan in a long line of daring Jewish women who, early on in life, honed their sense of justice and right to protest in confrontation with religious leaders. I’m thinking of Bella Abzug, who at age 12, insisted on saying kaddish for her father despite the fact that it was customarily recited only by sons. Or Emma Goldman, who chafed openly against the authority of the teachers at her religious elementary school in Königsberg.

But one of the other things that has struck me in the coverage of Kagan’s bat mitzvah is that men in power often get the credit for changes sparked by a young woman’s chutzpah.

This post originally appeared on Jewesses With Attitude, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, which crossposts regularly with The Sisterhood.


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