The Jewish religion covers all aspects of life, from birth to death. For each event there are rituals and prayers that are prescribed and have evolved through tradition.
The Sacraments of the Jewish Life Cycle
Birth – On the first Saturday (Shabbat) after the birth of a Jewish child, the infant’s father is called at the synagogue to recite from the Torah, and to pray for blessings for the well being of the mother and child. Female children are named at this time. Boys are named at the Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony performed eight days after birth. Jews are never named after a living relative.
Brit Milah (Circumcision) – On the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life he is circumcised, symbolically admitting him into the ancient covenant between God and Abraham. If the child is ill, the ceremony may be postponed. Circumcision is performed by a trained Mohel and is said to have health benefits. Girls are not “circumcised.” This practice, otherwise known as “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is unrelated to Judaism.
Simchat Habat, Brit Habat or Zeved Habat – Ceremonies performed by Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish communities to celebrate the birth of a daughter.
Pidyon Haben (Redemption of the first born) – According to Jewish tradition, the first born son of all except Levites and Kohanim was to be redeemed from service in the temple. The redemption commemorates the saving of Jewish first born from the punishment meted out by God against Egyptian first born children and is first mentioned in the Torah in Exodus 13. The ceremony usually takes place on the thirtieth day of the child’s life. The child is redeemed for a payment of five coins.
Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah (coming of age or confirmation) – “Bar Mitzvah” means “beholden to commandment.” Jewish males are by tradition admitted to the burden of observing the commandments at age 13, when they become adults in Jewish law. A similar ceremony has been introduced for girls at age 12, the Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony includes reading a portion of the Torah and the Haftarah. In recent year, the religious celebration has been expanded into an elaborate social ritual and celebration as well.
Jewish Marriage Traditions – Marriage is a highly respected and important part of Judaism, usually a ceremony performed by a rabbi in front of many witnesses. Judaism does not value celibacy, and it is considered desirable and important for rabbis to be married. Jewish law protects the rights of women in marriage.
Divorce – Divorce is recognized as a necessary evil. It is permitted in exceptional circumstances. Rabbinical courts make extraordinary efforts to reconcile couples (Shlom Bayit) before granting a divorce.
Death and mourning – Judaism sees death as part of the life cycle and part of God’s plan, but nonetheless recognizes the pain and sorrow it causes. Jewish law decrees that the dead must ordinarily be buried within one day (except on the Sabbath). Jewish burial in modern times in Israel is generally in a shroud rather than a casket. A religious society, the Hevrah Kaddisha, handle the technical details of burial. Mourning consists of seven day intense period (the “Shiva”) during which all family members remain at home to callers and a longer 30 day period. The Kaddish prayer is recited daily for close relatives. A memorial service after one year is also customary.