Bat Mitzvah (1921, 1949); Kosher (1620); Mellah

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Jun 11 02:06:41 UTC 2002

In a message dated 06/10/2002 2:08:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
Bapopik at AOL.COM writes:

>     OED has 1950.  Perhaps the online New York Times has something.
>     A Google search shows that the first Bat Mitzvah was of Judith Kaplan,
>  daughter of Reconstructionist leader Mordechai Kaplan, in 1921.  Judith
>  Kaplan Eisenstein died in 1995.

Back in 1998 I chased down Judith Kaplan's bat mitzvah.  While she has been
cited in numerous books, not to mention Web sites, I was unable to determine
the date of her bat mitzvah.  Most written sources I have seen give 1922, as
do the majority of the Web sites I found on a Google search.  I have even
found two specific dates for the event, one in March 1922 and one in May

While her status as the first-ever bat mitzvah (then more likely called "bas
mitzvah") seems unassailable, a search through the local college library was
unable to turn up any contemporary written reference to it.  The earliest
citation I could find was

_The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia_ (1969 Ktav Publishing House reprint),
article "Bar Mitzvah" volume 2 page 75.  This volume carries a 1940 copyright

A possible 1933 citation is referenced in Joseph L. Blau _Modern Varieties of
Judaism_ New York: Columbia University Press, 1966, pp 114-116, which cites a
1933 survey (see footnote 39 on page 199) reporting on synagogues then
conducting "bat mitzvah" ceremonies.

(Note to Jesse: I am woefully behind on submitting my Judaica antedatings to
the OED, so you'll have to enter this one.  Someday I'll catch up.)

It is entirely possible that "bat mitzvah" antedates Judith Kaplan.  Perhaps
there exists a responsa written, in English, well before 1921-22 reading"Of
course there is no equivalent 'bas mitzvah' ceremony for girls because..."

By the way, Rabbi Kaplan did not become the "leader" of Reconstructionism
until the late 1930's.  In 1921-22 he was pulpit rabbi in a Conservative
congregation and Professor of Homilectics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

>     Merriam Webster says that "kosher" is a "Yiddish" term.  "Kosher" is
>  to 1851.  "Yiddish" is dated to 1886.  Maybe it just took a long while to
>  name the language?

This may surprise you, but until the 1880's the English-speaking world had
next to no knowledge of the existence of the Yiddish language.

Until 1848 the bulk of the Jews in the United States were Sephardim, whose
customary language was Ladino (also called "Judeo-Spanish").  Following the
Revolutions of 1848, there was an emigration of German-speaking Jews to the
US and other English-speaking countries.  These Jews were from Germany (not
yet then a country), Austria, or other German-speaking regions, and spoke
German, not Yiddish.

Yiddish-speakers did not show up in the US in large numbers until a wave of
pogroms starting in 1881-1882 created a mass emigration of Eastern European
Jews.  These people were largely from Slavic- or Hungarian-speaking areas in
which German was rare and in which the Jews spoke Yiddish as their daily

The Jews already in the US, particularly the German-speaking ones, looked
down on these newcomers.  In particular many of them sneered at Yiddish as a
language fit only for country bumpkins, and did not even refer to the
language as "Yiddish" but rather called it by the derogatory name of "Jargon".

Hence it is not surprising that the OED2 has its first citation for "Yiddish"
as late as 1875 and its second citation from 1886.

Yes, I am pretty sure the OED2 is correct in identifying "kosher" as a Hebrew
rather than a Yiddish word.  However, they fail to note that in Hebrew
"kosher" is strictlly an adjective, with the verb being "kasher" and the noun
"kashrut" (Ashkenasic "kashrus").

     - Jim Landau

"How do Reconstructionists spell the name of the Deity?   Pr-cess."  (Rachel

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