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Important Rituals of the Life Cycle

Birth

On the eighth day after the birth of a boy, the male child is circumcised and formally named.

The circumcision symbolizes the covenant between the Jewish people and G-d. This ceremony is called a brit milah, the word brit meaning covenant. Usually a mohel, an experienced professional, performs the circumcision.

Upon the birth of a girl, there is a formal naming ceremony in the synagogue within the first weeks of life.

Marriage

The first of God’s commandments to man is ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ Jews are therefore obligated to marry to fulfil this commandment.

The bride and groom wear white, symbolizing purity. The bride is veiled, a tradition which recalls the occasion when Rebecca covered herself with a veil as Isaac approached her for the first time.

The Jewish marriage contract, ketubah, is written in Aramaic and dates from the first century CE. The marriage ceremony takes place under a huppah, a canopy supported by four poles., which symbolizes the tents of the ancient Hebrews and the home which the bride and groom will establish.

The end of the wedding is marked by the breaking of glass, a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the losses suffered by the Jewish people, and the need for repair of the whole world. Although the broken glass is a reminder of sorrow, it also symbolizes hope for a future free of all violence.

Marriage continues to be a social, moral, and religious ideal.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Bar or Bat Mitzvah means son or daughter of the commandment; a boy becomes a bar mitzvah at age thirteen, and a girl becomes a bat mitzvah at age twelve.

A bar/bat mitzvah ceremony marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence or adulthood and the taking on of the obligations of an adult Jew. The ceremony includes preparation and study, public recognition, and celebration.

Death

When a Jewish person dies, the burial must take place within one to three days, after which the mourning period begins. The bereaved person remains in the home for seven days of mourning called shiva, meaning seven, during which he/she may dress in special clothing and reads Scripture. No work may be done during these days. It is the duty of friends and relatives to visit the mourner during this period. Parents are mourned intensively for thirty days and then a lesser state of mourning continues until twelve months after the burial. Mourners may also take on the tradition of reciting the kaddish, a special mourner’s prayer, for eleven months after the burial.

In order to fulfil this obligation, a student or employee would attend synagogue in the mornings and evenings and therefore might require some alteration to their work/attendance schedule.

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