Keyword:

From the Cradle to the Grave

CIRCUMCISION. Circumcision of a male child takes place on the eighth day after birth. If for medical reasons it cannot be carried out on the eighth day then the circumcision may be postponed.

REDEMPTION OF THE FIRSTBORN. A ceremony at which a male firstborn is redeemed on the thirty first day after his birth.

BAR MITZVAH. At the age of thirteen a boy reaches manhood and Jewish law recognises his religious responsibility from then onwards. To mark the occasion he is called to read a portion of the Law in the synagogue, after which he is a "Son of a Commandment".

PRAYER. Orthodox males wear the tallith (prayer shawl) with tzitzit (tassels) on its four corners. During the weekday morning services they wear tephillin, or phylacteries, small boxes containing Scripture portions, on the forehead and left arm. The Shema (hear) has become a standard confession of Jewish faith and observant Jews hope it will be their last utterance in this world. "Shema" is the first Hebrew word of Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one!".

SHABBAT. The Sabbath, or Shabbat, lasts from sunset on Friday till sunset on Saturday and begins with the lighting of candles to welcome the "Queen of Festivals". Men attend the Friday synagogue service while the women prepare a special Shabbat meal and the day is regarded as 24 hours of prayer, study and rest from daily toil. It is said: "More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel".

FESTIVALS. The principal festivals throughout the year are Purim, celebrating the deliverance of the nation in the time of Esther; Pesach (Passover); Shavuot (Pentecost); Rosh Hashanah (New Year); Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement); Sukkot (Tabernacles); and the festival of Chanukah which recalls the rededication of the temple by Judah Maccabee.

MARRIAGE. During the wedding ceremony the bride and groom stand together under the chuppah, or canopy. The chuppah is seen as either the symbol of God’s presence over the bridal couple or of the Temple, whose ideal purity and holiness should characterise the home about to be set up.

DEATH. The religious Jew hopes to be worthy to enter Paradise and to die with the words of the Shema on his lips. Seven days of mourning are observed after a burial during which the mourners remain in their homes. A tombstone is set up over the grave of a relative twelve months after their death and unveiled at a special ceremony.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 1997 issue

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