Jewish Life Cycle Rituals
Ceremonies in Judaism
In the Jewish religion, there are particular occasions in a person's life that are marked and celebrated because they are especially significant. While many times the individual is the focus of the festivities, the family, and in many cases the entire community, participate in the commemoration. These special events are some of the most important practices of Judaism.
According to Jewish beliefs, life is marked by numerous special days in which adherents take time out of their everyday lives to stop work and focus on God and his mitzvot (commandments), including daily prayer, Sabbath services and holidays. These special days not only include weekly or yearly festivities, but also once-in-a-lifetime celebrations, which often signify the completing of one chapter of life and the beginning of another.
This section explores the special ceremonies and celebrations that mark important stages in a Jewish person's life as he or she journeys from birth to death.
Celebrations of Life
On the first Sabbath after a Jewish child is born, the infant's father is called forward at the synagogue to recite the aliyah and ask blessings for the health of mother and child. If the child is a girl, she is named at this time. Boys will be named on the eighth day after birth, as part of the rite of circumcision.
The rite of circumcision (brit milah) is performed on the eighth day of a boy's life. (There is no parallel practice for girls, and "female circumcision" has nothing to do with Judaism.) It usually takes place in the morning at the family's home.
The ritual of Pidyon Ha-Ben ("Redemption of the Son") is grounded in the Jewish concept that first and best things belong to God. In Numbers 8:17, God declares: "Every firstborn among the Israelites, man as well as beast, is mine."
Under Jewish law, children are not required to observe the commandments, though they are certainly encouraged and taught to do so. But upon turning 13, a boy is considered an adult under the law and is expected to obey all the commandments from then on. He has become a Bar Mitzvah, or "Son of the Commandments." Similarly, a girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, "daughter of the commandment," upon turning 12.
Marriage is highly revered and strongly encouraged in Judaism. The celibate life has never been considered more holy than the married life, and one must be married in order to become a rabbi. Judaism's high view of marriage is a direct result of its view of the home and family as the center of religious life.
In Judaism, divorce is viewed as a great tragedy, but a sometimes necessary one. In the Torah, the prophet Malachi declared, "I hate divorce, says Adonai, the God of Israel." According to the Talmud, "When a man puts aside the wife of his youth, even the very altar weeps." Yet allowances for divorce have always been a part of Jewish law.
While the preservation of life in Judaism is of paramount importance, taking precedence over nearly all other priorities and observances, death is not therefore abhorred or devalued. Instead, death is seen as a part of life and a part of God's plan. The extensive mourning rituals in Judaism do not indicate a rejection or protest of death, but demonstrate the great value Judaism places on life in general and the life of each individual person.
Mourning in Judaism is extensive, and has several purposes: it shows respect for the dead, comforts those left behind, discourages excessive mourning, and helps the bereaved to return to normal life. Mourning is observed for 30 days after burial, very intensely so in the first seven days. Regular remembrances are performed in the years following the death.
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