In Judaism, the ceremonies that mark a Jew's passage through life, including brit milah
(the covenant of male circumcision), naming, bar mitzvah
(or bat mitzvah for girls), marriage, and funeral rites.
Jewish boys are given a family name during brit milah (the covenant of male circumcision), as well as a Jewish name that will be used for religious purposes, such as their bar mitzvah and marriage, and the inscription on their gravestone. Girls are not circumcised, but may be taken to the synagogue on the Sabbath after their birth to be blessed and given their name. Both events are followed by a family celebration.
Jews consider it important to select a Jewish partner for marriage. Children of Jewish mothers are considered Jewish, but they will not be Jewish if their mother is a non-Jew.
Before the wedding, the bride-to-be will bathe in a mikveh, a pool of natural water, symbolizing the transition from impurity to purity. Both partners may fast before the ceremony to reflect upon the solemnity of their forthcoming contract. The wedding, which is conducted by a rabbi, may take place in a synagogue or at home, but always under a chupah, an open canopy on four poles, decorated with flowers. The couple stand beneath the chupah, symbolizing their unity as a new family, with openness to the presence of God. After being blessed, the couple drink from the same cup of wine, symbolizing the sharing of sweetness and joy. The ketubah (marriage contract) is read, by which the groom promises to provide financially for his future wife. When the ring is placed on the bride's finger, the groom says, With this ring you are consecrated to me, by the Law of Moses and Israel. The rabbi then recites seven blessings, including thanks for the creation of the world, for joy and happiness for the couple, and for the future of the Jewish people. Finally, the bridegroom smashes a well-wrapped wine glass with his foot, as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple and loss even in the midst of joy. The couple retire to a private room for a while before joining the guests for celebration.
When approaching death a Jew will recite a prayer that ends with the first statement of the unity of God from the Shema
. The body is never left unattended, and the funeral must take place within 24 hours, but not on the Sabbath or other high holy days. Men are wrapped in their tallit
(prayer shawl), which has had one of the fringes cut to signify that they are no longer obliged to fulfil the commandments. The coffin must be the same plain design for all, symbolizing equality in death. Cremation is forbidden to Orthodox Jews (see Orthodox Judaism
), as they believe that the body must be left to decompose, awaiting resurrection on the return of the Messiah.
The chief mourners spouses, parents, or adult children have their clothes symbolically torn before the funeral to symbolize their grief. A brief service is held before the internment, and everyone helps to put earth on the coffin until it is covered. No flowers are taken to the grave. At the prayer hall, everyone washes their hands to symbolize leaving the world of death and their return to life, which is an obligation. Adult children of the deceased lead the congregation in the Kaddish
, a prayer of mourning that praises God. Family and friends take leave of the chief mourners by wishing them long life, confirming that life is a blessing from God and must continue.
Close family observe a seven-day mourning period at home, known as sitting shiva. Friends and relatives visit the bereaved, and bring them a hard-boiled egg for their first meal; the meaning of this custom varies, either symbolizing the continuation of life or an inability to express grief. The chief mourners must sit on hard, low chairs, must not cut their hair or shave, and must not look in mirrors, have sexual relations, or listen to music. The Kaddish is said each evening, and a candle kept burning. For 30 days after the funeral, the mourners will avoid celebrations and parties. These restrictions will continue for up to a year for someone who has lost a parent. A ceremony is held on the first anniversary of a death, when the tombstone is erected. On the annual anniversary of a death, a yahrzeit
(anniversary) candle is lit in remembrance and Kaddish said in synagogue. Visitors to the grave will leave pebbles, which in biblical times were used to mark graves. Today they act as a visual indication that the grave has been visited by family and friends.
© RM 2014. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.