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JEWISH EASTERN EUROPE


1830-1914
CI

Provincial

Capital

_ . _~ Border

Major City

Settlement

Provincial Border

acI<

I,

1",

s o

.:

ACHENAD

ebr.

D'rDIUN,

Ashkenazi (eng.); Ashkimazes

numele Germaniei i al regiunii aferente n perioada medieval).


(fr.); Aschkenasi

(ger.)

Termenul achenad denumete n mod tradiional comunitatea evreiasc din Europa Central i
de Est, n principiu cea care se gsea la nceput ntre Germania i nordul Frantei i care, mai
trziu, a emigrat ctre Polonia, Lituania i Rusia. Se gsete n contradistincie cu termenul
sef ard care definete comunitatea evreiasc originar din Spania i care a migrat n timp spre
nordul Africii; zona Europei de sud-est i Balcani.
n sens strict, termenul definea la nceput zona de aezare a comunitilor evreieti din nordvestul Europei, n special din jurul Rinului (Mainz, Worms i Speyer), identificndu-se astfel cu
Germania, cu evreii germani (akenazim), precum i cu generaiile ulterioare care migreaz din
aceast zon i care conserv cultura achenad cu felul ei de viaa, folclorul, sistemul juridic,
dar i cu instituiile sociale. La origine, termenul achenad reprezint un popor biblic i o ar n
vecintatea Armeniei; meniunile din Geneza l prezint ca fiu al lui Gomer (n timp identificat n
sursele talmudice cu Germania), nepot al lui Iafet i strnepot al lui Noe. O alt interpretare
apropie termenul de achenad cu "saxonii" care n perioada carolingian reprezentau mare parte
din populaia germanic din regat. n aceeai perioad, termenul achenad se impune n ebraic
n cele din urm ca echivalent pentru Germania, fiind utilizat n literatura rabinic.
Spre deosebire de comunitatea sefard care a fost deschis influenelor externe, evreii achenazi
au avut o atitudine mai conservatoare i riguroas, n spiritul fidel al obiceiurilor i scrierilor
religioase evreieti interne. lnvaaii erau preocupai de studiul Bibliei i Talmudului, de
comentarea textelor sacre i mai putin de analiz a sistemului juridic (ha/aha). Cu toate acestea,
centrele cultura le achenade i sefarde au exercitat influene reciproce, astfel scrieri despre
Ta/mud ale unor erudii achenazi au ptruns n cercurile cabaliste din Provena i Spania, iar unii
nvai sefarzi au fost influenai de ideile hasizilor achenazi. n timp, cele dou comuniti au
dezvoltat moduri diferite de organizare comunitar, instituii sociale, reguli diferite de existen,
norme juridice, valori etice i religioase specifice, obiceiuri, mentaliti, patrimoniu cultural, de
pronunie i scriere a limbii ebraice i a serviciului religios. Idiul, utilizat ca lingua franca pentru
ntreaga comunitate achenad din Est sau care a emigrat, a constituit un element de identificare
comunitar puternic ia cptat o ncrctur emoional i cultural special.
Conductorii locali din Europa de Est, precum i din alte pri ale continentului, invit deseori n
perioada medieval comuniti -evreieti care s se stabileasc in acele regiuni n scopul
dezvoltrii economice i demografice a regiunii; documente specia le care s stimuleze i
protejeze populaia nou-venit sunt emise, asigurnd slabjlirea unor relaii de bun nelegere n
zon ntre diversele confesiuni. Perioada cruciadelor (n special 1096) reprezint un moment de
persecuii mpotriva populaiei evreieti din Europa ~
tal, dar abia in-secolul 13 i 14
acuzatiile de omor ritual i izgonirea prin expulzate a unor comuniti din Anglia sau Frana din
-diverse motive contureaz o politic complex d~ pers~ytie a populaiei evreieti. Din secolul 15
i 16, evreii achenazi emigreaz din Euro->--
spre cea Oriental, cu precdere In
zonele slave, stabilind noi centre in Boemia. via, ~ipnia i Lituania. Limba utilizat (iudeagermana sau idi) devine caracteristic acestt(l:gl"tlp. fntTtnp, datorit marii arii de stabilire i a
diferenelor mari dintre culturile n care se gsesc, diferene semnificative se stabilesc ntre
diferitele comuniti.

enta~c'i

ncepnd cu secolul 17, rolul comunitii sefarde incepe s- s~


pe msur ce comunitatea
achenad ncepe s creasc numeric i ca importan. Ca urrri;ate ~ masacre lor lui Hmielnitki
din 1648 din Polonia, muli evrei achenazi se mprtie in Europa Occidental i traverseaz
uneori Atlanticul, ajungnd n scurt timp s infrea~ numeric comunittil!3 sefarde din aceste
zone. Sfritul secolului 19 accentueaz migratia achenazsor din Europa de Est datorit
persecuiilor din Impreriul arist inspre Statele Unite, Austrlia, Africa de Sud, Palestina i Europa
Occidental, iar comunitatea sefard ajunge s domine numeric doar zone precum Orientul
Mijlociu, zone din Asia, Italia i Africa de Nord. Inainte de al Doilea Rzboi Mondial, evreii
achenazi reprezentau 90% din comunifatea evreiasc mondiaf, ns Holocaustul a distrus cea

mai mare parte din aceast comunitate, determinnd astfel i scderea preponderenei sale. Cu
excepia comunitii din Rusia de astzi, n Statele Unite se gsete cea mai mare comunitate de
evrei achenaz! care reprezint majoritatea in aproximativ toate comunitile evreieti din Europa,
cu exceptia Frantei, de asemenea, in Africa de Sud i Australia; cu toate acestea, in Israel
sefarzii i evreii orientali alctuiesc majoritatea. Iniiatoare a diverselor curente de gndire iudaic
precum a hasidismului, Haskalei (curentul iluminist in comunitatea evreiasc), sionismului politic,
dar in mare parte i a diferitelor curente generate de Haskala in interiorul iudaismului (iudaismul
reformat, liberal, conservator i neoortodox), comunitatea achenad este creatoarea unui
patrimoniu cultural remarcabil care a avut un mare impact asupra culturii mondiale n general.
Achenad - evreu din Europa Centrala i de Est
Achenad - evreu german I Sefard - evreu spaniol
ISTORIE CUl TURAL - ISTORIE SOCIAL - TRADIII
Bibliografie:
Dicionar enciclopedic de iudaism, Bucureti, Editura Hasefer, 2000; Encyclopaedia Judaica,
Macmillan Reference USA, 2006; Atlias, Jean-Christophe, Esther Benbassa. Dicionar Larousse
de Civilizaie Iudaic. Traducere de erban Velescu, Bucureti, Editura Univers Enciclopedic,
1999; Baumgarten, J. Miile Ans de cultures ashkenazes, Paris, Liana levi, 1994; Ben-Sasson,
Hayim. A History of the Jewish Peopfe. Harvard University Press, 1976; Haumann, Heiko. A
History of East European Jews. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001; Hundert,
Gershon David, ed.

y/va

Encyc/opedia for Jews in Eastem Europe, Yale University Press, 2008;

Kriwaczek, Paul. Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fali of a Forgotten Nation. New York, Knopf,
2005; Solomon, Norman. HistoricaJ Dictionary of Judaism. Lanham, Md., and london,

The

Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998; Vital, David. A People Apari: A History of the Jews in Europe.
Oxford University Press, 1999.

Or. Camel ia Crciun


(n Dicionar de Termeni Culturali, editor Mircea Martin)

John Klier

108

mid-eighteenth century Polish attitudes had blended the tradition of toleran


militant Catholic intolerance of the Counter-Reformation,
and rhe corum
antagonisms of the nascent Polish urban middle-class. To these elemel).ts was
added the discourse of the European Enlightenmenr movernenr, which
ambivalent towards the Jews, but included elements of Jewish emancipation.
Polish Four- Year Sejm met almost simultaneously with the French Nati
Assembly, and the 'Jewish question' was debated in both. The Enlightenment
course on the Jews included the premiss that Jews were vicrirns of religious pr
dice who deserved humane treatment and basic human rights, and the fear
Jews had been corrupted by centuries of persecution into an intolerant, fa people, content to evade productive labour and to exploit their Christian n-'
bours. Both accepted the idea of a 'Jewish question', and both tended tow
emancipation as a resolution-though
through very different paths.28 T
debates were transposed from Poland ro Russia after 1795The pragmatically tolerant Catherine II was content ta use Enlighte
values as guidelines; the reforming ernperor Alexander I sought ta put them .
force through legislation; and the reactionary tsar Nicholas I pursued Enlight
ment through diktat. AlI accepted the basic Enlightenment assumption that
Jews were badly in need of reform, but thar they mere reformable. By erodingJe'
'fanaticism' through education, and preventing 'Jewish exploitation' through le
lation to protect the peasanrry and prog:rammes to make the Jews more produc
the Jewish question could be resolved. This was a far cry from the 'traditi
Russian religious antisemitism' that has often been seen as the chief motivat
Russian J ewish policy. 29
Where does the shtetl fit into al! of this? It was the Jewish worId of the shtetlj
was the ultimate target of Russian poliey (just as it would have been the targe
Polish statesmen had the partitions never happened). The naITOWworld ofJe
religious orthodoxy, be it exemplified by the hasidim or the mitnagedim, was_,
geted as the fortress of 'Jewish fanaticism'. The shtetl economy, with its feu.
relics, was the inevitable victim of modernization, for the Jews suffered its. e'
nomic consequences before rhey received its economic benefits. Whether
viewed these changes as poignant or long overdue, contemporaries of these '.'
formations ali recognized that the shtetl, and ali that it encompassed, was doome
28

For contemporary

debates

about

the Jewish

J. Woliriski, J. Mich.alski, et al. (eds.), Material)'


See also Eisenbach, Emanapation; 102-12.
29

For a brief overview of this problem,

semitism',]ewuh

Quarter/y,

'i4 (Surnrner

see

question

at the time of the Four-Year

do dziejo Sejmu Czteroletniego,

J. D.

1999), 29-34-

Klier,

'Traditional

Sejm,'

vi (Wroclaw,

Russian

Religious

19
-

-.
How jcwish Was the htetl?
BEN-CION

PINCHUK

'image of the shtetl, the quintessential small town of Jewish cultural and
.. discourse, is that of a small Jewish world imbued with ethnic culture and
--.Even today the shtetl remains one of the more prevalent and popular symJJewish life in the Diaspora.' Many people conceive ofthe shtetl as represenri-typical habitat and particular way of life of east European Jewry. Of the
fllctors that combined ta impart to the shtetl its prominence in Jewish dis-.:the rnost important is probably the fact that a significant part of the Jewish
--inthe last two centuries either had lived in a shterl or were descendants of
-ti':whohad. Nevertheless, there is no doubt rhat Jewish literature, both in
. h-and in Hebrew, played a central role in propagating the image of the small
fu-opeantown as a uniquely cohesive Jewish world. Mendele Mokher Seforim,
Peretz, and Sholem Aleichern, together with a long list ofless famous authors,
:-,~majorcontribution to the popular conception of the shtetl. The influence of
)iterary images was so pervasive that one could wonder whether discussions of
oet!were dealing with literary stereorypes and myths or with a real historical
ebgraphic entity. The question ofthe existence of a stereotypical shtetl could be
s early as the beginning of the twentieth century, when much ofits traditional
-, e had already disintegrated and many of its sons and daughters had gone
. By finally destroying the shtetl, the Russian Revolution, and subsequenrly
ilocaust, provided the added incentives of nostalgia and guilt to intensify what
etiescribed as the mythical elements in the image of the small town.
- notion thatthe shtetl was a Jewish town is widely accepted, to the point that
_ted as if this were common knowledge and needed no proof. However, to
'of my knowledge, there has been no seholarly treatment of what in reality
ted the'Jewishness'
of those small east European rowns. This chapter
: g proof of the persistent

vitaliry of the image of the shtetl in Jewish discourse could be found

in a review of a new translation

of Sholem

Aleichem.

The reviewer, E. Shai, maintains that

'-~eichem is relevant now more than he was in the past for the Israeli reader. He was read in the
ofnostalgia

for the shtetl. Today he reads like a posr-Zionist

:of the Jewish state at the end of the second miliennium

....

text, frighreningly

nary Zionist guise and appears as the politica! entiry of Kasrilevke's


gas an empire' (;lla'ariv,

28 Aug. 1998).

relevant ro the

[Israel] had lost its pioneering


offspring,

and

a shtetl mas-

1
Ben-Cion Pinchuk

IlO

How Jewish Was the Shtetl?

represents an attempt to define the historical reality and the coqsrete manifi
tions that would justify.the assertion that these numerous settlements were ind
J ewish towns, and .thereby to c1arify the role of the shtetls as the territoria] base
the culrure and history of east European Jewry.
In his study Der imazh [un shtetl ('The Image of the Shrerl'), the literary
and historian Dan Miron proposed an intriguing hypothesis about the classic'
of the small east European town as portrayed in Jewish Iiterarure. According
Miron, 'the image ofthe c1assical shtetl was determined [by the author's intentioll
to crea te an ideal Jewish world, an island of unadulterated Jewishness. There f"'
Kasrilevke], Sholem Aleichem consrructed a small Jewish state. Though tiny an
weak, this statelet was completely aurcnomous.f The idealized literary small to'
had few non-Jews and only a token presence of the Russian bureaucracy, Mir
maintained. In describing the structures associated with the Jewish religion
way of life, such as the central synagogue and the smaller prayer houses (bat
midrash, the ritual barh (mikveh), and the old cemetery, as the prominent sights
the shterl, the authors were not portraying reality but repeating a preconceiv
ideal construction. Miron viewed the use of the Jewish rather than the Slavo
names of the towns in jewish literature from Mendele in the first half of the .
teenth century to Shai Agnon in the second half of the twentierh as evidence of.
ideological approach. (It should be noted at the outset that in this multi-e
.
region, where Russian and Pole, Ukrainian and Lithuanian, German and B
rusian lived side by side with a large Jewish popularion, each group had its o .
name for its place of residence. One should not look for e1aborate ideologi
reasoning behind this quite ordinary occurrence.) Miron asserts that the shtetl ii
Jewish literature not only had a Jewish narne, but also represented an ideal jewis
kingdom-a metaphor for heavenly Jerusalem. This literary critic strongly objecte
to the identification of the historical with the literary shtetl. Such identification
pervasive frorn the start of the twentieth century and was reinforced after
Holocaust, as Miron correctly maintains. However, going beyond literary analy
and hypothesis, the thrust of Miron's argument is directed against the essence
the literary portrait of the shtetl, namely the idea that it is an autonornous, in
grated, and unique Jewish worId. Miron contends that this type of shtetl, which
strongly implanted in popular imagery and artitudes, is no more than a creation -:
ilie long tradition of'jewish literature-in
other words, a rnyth."
A similar approach is adopted by Benjarnin Harshav, the poet, literary expe .
and historian of Jewish culture. 'The shtetl was not the real background of'
Yiddish speakers', Harshav clairns, 'but it was their proverbial, mythologic
"space", a collective locus of a network of social and ideological relationshii
wrought in the phraseology of Yiddish folklore and lirerarure.'" In his study
2

D. Miron, Derimazhjimshtetl(Tel

B. Harshav,

Aviv, '981),23.

The Mealling of Yiddish (Berkeley, 1990),94.

Ibid.29.

j(

':::. g ofYidtJish Harshav notes the enonnous power of the shtetl as a syrnlol

in
ewish life. The relationship between the real shtetl and its literary andculentations is of no interest to these two critics. Both Miron and Har.;h.av
':cerned with the image of the small town as refracted through the prism of .
discourse, and they rnake no attempt to evaluate the extenr to which the
"was rernoved from the hard facts of history and geograph y. Qui te clearly, for
, tWO literary critics the shtetl is a myth of an ideal Jewish world, and as such
'reality-an
image that suffered the distortions of cultural mediation and tJ.id
erent reality. My purpose here is to try to unearth the hard facts that seerved as
'5 of the cultural constructs and assess their mutual relationship.
o this end, it would be worthwhile investigating the history of ilie term 'shtet:l "
, though ill defined, is both a part of the Jewish cultural and ideologi caldis.. e and a concrete geographical and historical entity. The shtetl evolved an.d
ed on the plains of eastern Europe roughly berween the sixteenth .and ilie
tieth centuries. Small towns of a similar nature could be found aII o ver the
Iddish-speak.ing regions of Europe. However, most were located on rhe territories
'';'hat until the last quarter of the eighteenth cen tury was the Polish-Lithuanian
,. onwealth, and were annexed to the Russian empire at the end of the
teenth cenrury." The term itself was derived from the Yiddish and mea:ns
ly'small town'. Since we are dealing here nor with a purely geograplticaJ
but with a cultural phenomenon as well, the shtetl should be studied in its
tural and historical context. No c1ear-cut criteria regarding the nurnber of resi. ts and the size of the shtetl were established; hence the difficulty in corn.piling a
le list that would include ali of the settlements in this category. H()wever, inthe
'ority of cases there is little doubt about the historic classification of the setl.eits,
serween 1772 and 1795 the Polish-Lithuanian state ceased to exist as an iadie. dent political entity. Its territories were divided among its neighbours, Frussiia,
tria, and Russia. 6 The rnajority of the Jewish population and most of the shterls
e former Commonwealth were located in the territories annexed by Catheime
~Great. The traditional tsarist policy of excluding the jews
RUiI1iian
atories had to be abandoned or at least redefined. The administrative sohatien ro
''Ulldesirable presence of Jews in the Russian empire was the formati on of a
~al territorial entity, the Pale of Jewish Settlernent, which consisted largely of
e.newly annexed area (though its boundaries changed over time).? Almost urril
end of the nineteenth century the majority of the Jews in this area res.ided in
: towns.

,)

rrom

1Qn the origin ofthe shtetl on private lands, see G. D. Hundert,


endelson and C. Shmeruk

'Jews in PoIish Private T'owrs',

(eds.), Studies on Polish Jervry (Jerusalem,

in

1987).

" Davies,God's Playground: A History oJPoland (Oxford, 11)81), i. SII-46.


I:Jl Pipes, 'Catherine II and the jews: The Origins of the Paie ofSettlement', Sotii" Y'1lJish .Afl.;,,., 5

91.5),3-20.

1i

112

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

In its dealings wirh this area, the bureaucracy of the Russian empire reco
the existence of a special urban category: the mestechko or small town.s W
census was conducted in 1897 (the only full-fledged modern census carried o
the empire), a separate listing was made for the mestechko. Although nor ali of
shtetls were included in this official category, those included do represenr the'
of the shtetls in the region; the census thus provides us with important sta .
data for the study ofthe shtet!.
The Paie ofSettiement during this period should rightfully be known as 'Sh
land'. It was here, primarily during the nineteenth century, that the ideas, im
stereorypes, and cliches that carne to be associated wirh the shtetl rook shape.
Paie gave rise to the novels, satires, and articles thar shaped and propagated
image ofrhe shtetl as the cultural and geographical entity with which we are f
iar today. This image of the shtetl played a prominent role in the Jewish eul
and political discourse of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In literatur.
the Yiddish Of Hebrew languages, as well as in the daily and periodical press,
shtetl frequentIy served ro designate Jewish life in eastern Europe in general.
novelists, journalists, ideologues, and political activists, the shtetl became a ca
word, a symbol-although
it represented different things ta"different grou
the end ofthe nineteenth century the shtetl carne ro represent east European]
as a whole among the modern ideologies and political movements that had evo
since the beginning of the Haskalah (Enlightenment). For Zionism, socialism;
their many permutations, the shtetl was a Jewish town; a whole and cohesive
mostly negative-Jewish
world. For the Zionist parties in particular, the
towns were identified with what they viewed as the generally negative life o.
Jews in the Diaspora. The image, or rather images, of the shtetl carne to be a
those most frequentIy associated with Jews and Jewish history in the minds of
and non-jews alike. Novelists, visual artists, and ideologues aII contributed
ro the image of the east European 'townlet'. However, those Jewish images:
fumly planted in the realities of the life of the Jewish people.
..
What were the main characteristics of the historical shtetl? Though the sh
often had residents who engaged in agriculture, it should nevertheless be
sidered an urban setrlement because the majority of the town's inhabitants de
their livelihood from non-agricultural pursuits. The small town served
economic centre for the immediate agricultural vicinity and engaged in pro
services and commodities ro the peasant population in the countryside.? Since
e~d of the eighteenth century this area had been part of the Paie of Settlemen
the Russian empire, and until the last quarter of the nineteenth century the s
towns constituted the main urban element in the territories between ilie Balti
the Black Sea. What made these numerous small towns shtetls was their Je .
8 Gorodskiya poseleniya v Rossiiskoi Imperii (St Petersburg, 1860), i. 7-11.
A. Ruppin, Hasotsiologiyah shel hayehudim (Berlin, 1931), i. 87-96; G. D. Hundert, TheJews
Polislz Priuate Toisn: The Case ojOpato11J in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1992), inrrod.
9

Hot Jewish Was the Shtetl?

113

'1'ons , which usually constituted not onlv. the largest ethnic group but often
':emajority. The significance ofthis demographic preponderance for ilie
"[ofme rowns of the region was manifold, as will be shown later. .
:knall rown of the Paie of Settlement, like any other urban entity, reflected
e of irs inhabitants. The demographic composirion of the shretl was of
...importance in derermining its urban character. In. the western provin~es
as) ofthe Russian empire there were hundreds. of small towns ~lthJewlsh
.es, According ro the r 897 census, the five provmces of the original Paie of
nt that were selected for this srudy had the following ethnic make-up: the
ce ofVolhynia had 60 small towns with an absolure Jewish majority: and of
' ..: had a Jewish majority of between 80 and roo per cent. In practice, ilie
'~uld be considered Jewish towns because of their ethnic composition.
.., 'a had ilie largest number of shtetls with a Jewish rnajority. The province of
YIll had '0 shtetls with an absolute Jewish rnajoriry, 9 of which had majorities
o pe: cent. The number of'towns with aJewish majority in the province of
was 28 5 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. Kovno had 59 shtetls
;]ewish'majority, ro ofwhich had majorities of over 80 per ~ent. The provi~ce
'. ev, ilie last in our sample, had 41 with an absolute majority, 10 of which
jorities of over 80 per cent. In sum, the five provinces had 238 shtetls with an
Jewish majority, and in 57 of these over 80 per cent of ilie population was
;10 The provinces included in rhe sample were among those with the highest
ion of towns with Jewish demographic preponderances. At the end of the
mth century, a rime when many were mourning the rapid decline and even
rarice of the shtetl as a distinctly Jewish settlernent, the r897 census found
cornbined provinces of ilie Paie and Poland 462 small towns with an absolute
-majoriry, and 1r6 with a Jewish population of over 80 per cent. Il Thus, of
ndreds of shtetls that existed in ilie western regions of the Russian empire
~. e nineteenth century, more than 100 had an almost exclusively Jewish
ion. The non-Jews in these towns, who lived mainly on the periphery and .;~
..1engaged in the urban economy, had a limited impact on the rowns' characshtetl or Jewish town was thus a significant and widespread phenomenon
-reaching implications for Jewish culrure and history.
eople who shaped the images and ideas of the Jewish masses through their
ind political writings, whether they lived in the Russian empire or abroad,
..are of the existence of many hundreds of shtetls. These small J ewish worlds
rt of their everyday knowledge and experience.

te

'e

lidata are taken from the respective entries in Eureiskaya entsiklopediya, 16vols. (St Petersburg,
.) for the provinces ofViJ.ria (v. 557-62), Volhynia (v. 736-7), Grodno (vi. 793), Kovno (ix.
rod Mogilev (xi. 153).
d on the results of the 1897 census as recorded for the different provinees of the Russian
in the Eureiskaya entsiklopediya.

.. _. -_'...._ .. _. __ ,..,M ..

'I~---''-T'---""'r'--

....-..,.",.

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

Hoto Jewish Was the Shtetl?

In addition to the census data, maps, and photographs attesting to the Je",'
of the shtetl, we have available to us the records and impressions of peo .
who were personaJly acquainted with the smal! east European town, The au:
biographies of shtetl residents frequently provide a vivid portrait oflife there thar
nor to be found in statistics.P To these rather subjective and highly partial SOlu-cei;
we can add the observations found in the diaries of foreign tra vellers ro the regio.{
These roo are of a subjective nature, often with pronounced anti-Jewish under:
tones. Altogether these sources provide the basis foran atternpt to understand the
nature of the shtetl and to outline its central features. The composite portrait that
emerges is, in its broad contours, one of a Jewish settlement. An analysis of several
hundred autobiographies and memoirs wrirten by people frorn various walks oflif~
from different regions and different times (from the nineteenth century unti aftit
the Holocaust), reveals that the Jewish character of the shtetl is one of the mo~
prevalent thernes. Whether it is dealt with specifically OI' as part of the gene~,i
description of the ph ysical landmarks and prevailing atmosphere, the predominant
and tangible Jewish presence is srriking. Non-Jews are present, physically and cui"
turally, on the periphery-if
at all. Such descriptions might be expected from thc :
who carne [rom srnall east European towns, and their tone could easily be attribui .'.'
to nostalgia for home even in the pre-Holocaust years. However, we encounttt
similar-though
less positive-s-views in travellers' descriptions of the region "."
its inhabitants, Many tra vellers to the western regions of the Russian empire notei!:
the prominent Jewish presence in the numerous small towns there. Even for
foreigners, these were 'Jewish towns' and were clearly distinguishable from th~
'Russian towns' nearby.P Hundreds of Jewish towns dotted the map of the P .:
and this was the reality that the Jewish novelists portrayed,
The presence of several millionJews living in the western regions of the Russi
empire during the nineteenth century thus bestowed a special urban characteri
the area and gave the shtetls their distinctively Jewish features.!" One may rigii'
wonder what is meant by such terms as 'Jewish character' or 'Jewish features';
characrer

12

1 drew the information

the memorial
raphies
archives
another

by shtetl

residents

ofrhe

shtetl from several hundred

in the area and of the period

who ernigrated

in New York and assembled

ro the United

as the Colleetion

souree of data. Sinee this is an interpretative

any particular
13

for this portrait

books of shretls

invesrigated

States

before

accounts contain .

here. About

160 autobi

1914, located in the

of Arnerican-jewish

Autobiographies,

essay, 1have refrained from drawing attenti

item.

See I. Lifshits,

.
'Englishe

un amerikaner

raizender

fun 18tn un ershter helft Igtn vh. vegn

...

poyln un rusland', YIVO bleter; 3: 313-29. Aiso F. H. E. Palmer, Russian Lift in Toron and C'
1901), 110-25; G. Reinbeck, Trauels from SI Petersburg to Gemrany in the Year 1805 [Lo

(London,

1807), '37-46;
Y",wS'
14

A. Sokolova,

'Shretl:

Evreiskie

ka istonya ta kul' tura v krayinakh

According

to Isaac Levitats,

akrsenry v organizatsii

tsentral' noi ta skhidnoyi

(]erusalem,

pro

pe15

ws of the shtetl, like their brethren in the villages and larger towns in t:his
on, were distinguishable in externa! appearance from the surrounding; popula:In his physical complexion and clothing the shtetl jew=-with earloc ks aud an
e similar to that worn today in hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communiries.ed different from his peasant neighbour. The language heard most: often. in
.streets of the shtetJ was Yiddish; the Jews knew Slavonic languag-es of the
ounding population at a level barely sufficient for economic dealings with the
]ews, but they did not use them in rheir internal communications. Ta thenon", theJews seemed ro be from another country-strange
and incomprebeIlSible,
gin a world of their own.
e shtetl resident was surrounded by public buildings associated withJewish
on and customs. The central synagogue, which was usually irnpres sivearid
ionally even fortified, served both as the main prayer house and as; thesite
portant general meetings. Many smaller houses of prayer (batti 1'71idra<>h),
pse numbers varied with the size of the 'town, served as centres for stll.dy
prayer for the members of various occupations and sects. In every sht:etl ther~
.' 'it Jewish cemetery, and often more than one. The eemetery was aJways
. ng the town's earliest Jewish sites, dating from the beginning of the Je\Vi~h
ce there. Surrounded by legend and myth, the cemetery occupied a special
:in Jewish literature, symbolizing the continuity of organized jew-ish Ii.fe.
ng the other Jewish communal buildings in any shtetl were the ritual ba.rh
eh); the hospice (hekdesh), which provided shelter and care for the sidand
tute; and the slaughterhouse, which provided kosher rneat. The heders wliich
.he shtetl with sounds of young people chanting, were also ubiquitotas inthe
;' AIl of these places imparted a tangible Jewish character to ilie tOWll. In
.towns there was a church serving the Christian population of the erwiioras
.- acted as a stark reminder of the wider realities surrounding this isslaod of
i.life.
-'vas not only the cornmunal Jewish structures that gave the shtetl a unique
ty; the urban landscape and the courtyards, shops, and streets reflected the
es and values ofits largest ethnic group. Photographs oflmildingsan<l streets
erous shtetls convey a certain rickety quality-an
absence of solid iry arad
.;' ess, The 'airiness' captured and popularized so vividly in Mare Chagall 's
gs reflected the basic attitudes of the shtetl Jews towards life in general
:owards the physica! urban environrnent in particular. Life was considered a

ar the end of the 19th cenrury over 33% of the Jewish populati

the Russian empire, or 1.61 million jews, lived in 'townlets'

Russia: I844-19Ii

arkhitektumogo

Yet'ropy {Kiev, '998),418-22.

.ied ta rowns. Dernographic preponderance should be the staning poim for the .
er. The hundreds of small towns with absoJute Jewish majorities represen ned,
ieral rerms, Jewish material and spiritual culture as it evolved in faSt:<ern

1981), 1-2).

{I. Levitats,

The Jewish Communi

. e idea that the rown is the reflection of the civilizarion that produced
de! in Capitalism and Maten'al Lift, 1400-1800 (London, 1973),68.

it is devel oped b:y

1~

'.

l' ~

q
1'

1\

'1'

II6

Hot Jewish Was the Shtetl?

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

rransient experience and external beauty was deemed oflow value. This ephe
qualiry ernphasized in particular ilie sojourn away from the historical homel
Combined .with the poverty and the poor building materials of the region, it
duced what has been called by Jew and non-Jew alike' the 'Jewish look' of the sh
Buildings were unadorned, fences unpainted, and gardens drab. This lack of
atternpt to decorate the Jewish surroundings was particularly conspicuous w'
contrasted with the elaborate efforts of the non-Jewish population. The s .
market square, and the streers leading to it-that
is, the economic centre of
community and the neighbouring villages-were lined with srores, workshops,
taverns run by Jews and bearing their imprint. To the outsider and local resi
alike, whether Jewish or nor, rhe small settlement looked disrinctly Jewish.
.
As 1have said, the Jews hurrying about their daily chores in the usually unpa"
and poorly drained streets, in the shops, taverns, and the market, looked diffi
from their non-Jewish neighbours. Moreover, they imbued the structur
rhythm of daily Iife with the spirit of custorns, norms, and values based on J
law, thus imparting to rhe smal! town a distinctly Jewish air. The traditionalJ
communiry Iived according to a strictly prescribed daily routine and lifestyle. E
the many Jews who lived in extreme poverty offered daily prayers, and on\
sabbath-shabat-srores
and workshops were e1osed; the shtetl rested from
work, and daily Iife took a different turn.
The entire weekly cyele of shtetl Iife centred on the sabbath. AII econ
activiry carne to a stand stil! on that day, and time was devoted ro prayer, study;
recreation. Numerous accounts describe the day of rest not just as an ideal but'
realiry in the Iife of the town. Preparations started early; by midweek people s
to buy provisions for the festive sabbath meals. Cooking, baking, and cleani
the following days were followed by a visit to the mikveh with bundles of ci
festive clothing on Friday. The walk to the synagogue and back, the candles
through the windows, aII were sights that dominated the shtetl, intensifyin
sense of its Jewishness.
The major Jewish holidays served as additional occasions for expressi
temporal dominance of Jewish culture in the small town. Rosh Hashanah,
Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover regulated the flow of the shtetl's economic Iife.
meant not only a pause in the regular commercial bustle but also a change .
sights and sounds of the town. The preparation of food, clothing, and decora
according to custom, could be observed many days in advance, and these
tangible expressions of the shterl's Jewishness. At Purim children and a
roamed the streets in fancy dress in celebration of a miraculous deIivery from
ship. Candles glowing on window sills for the eight days of Hanukkah co
orated ancient victories and served as yet another reminder of the J ewish ch
of the shtet!.
The intern al organization and autonomous structure of the Jewish comm
contributed to the shtetl residents' sense of separateness. The institutional stru .

117

tetl was similar to that of other Jewish centres of the Diaspora. 16 To main. rinct identiry on alien soil and in a hostile en vironment, the J ewish comhad created an elaborare systern for managing aII aspecrs of communal and
.iiallife. The relarively smal! size of the cornmunity, its cohesiveness, and
'the fact that the Jews constituted an absolute rnaiority imparted a unique"ilie auronomous shtetl organization. The community was headed by a single
--body, which was in charge of its internal affairs and represented the Jewish
~JitS to the outside world. This was the kahal, 17 which in the Polish period had
-responsible primarily for tax collection and other services on behalf of the
~ties, as well as for administering the overall functioning of the cornmunity.
tricate network of permanent and ad hoc organizations dealt with every conile aspect of the life of the cornmunity and the individual.
the age of 3, boys anended one of the many heders (literally, 'rooms' where
r, were conducted by a teacher). Each shtetl had some form of public educa,'System, a Talmud Torah, financed by the cornrnuniry, where children ofthe
{families and orphans were provided with an elementary Jewish education.
"Small number of the shtetls could afford a yeshiva, an institution ofhigher
en in Judaism. However, what might be called part-time yeshivas were
. rnany towns, where teenagers and even older members of the community
~ed their study of'jewish religious law supported by a network ofbenefactors
rovided food and shelter. Even poor families shared their meals with yeshiva
nts; it was considered an honour in the community ro support srudents. The
'Gfthe Torah and the rabbinical litera ture was not limited to the young. Ali
'ils of the shtetl Jewry studied: young and old, rich and poor, the learned and
~Qrant.Many groups, the so-called hauurot ; met regularly to study various
<#"theaccumulated Jewish religious literature. One of the more impressive
->, ,gvalues inherenr in the eul ture of the shtetl was the high esteem for learnor people who devored their lives ro its pursuit.
cradle to grave the individual was cared for by the communiry. The tenets
'sh religion and practice, translated into concrete actions and organizations
ed'for their implementation, formed the foundation of the system. Charity,
,,,..'kah; was a symbol ofhigh moral standards and served as the basis for mutual
:nd welfare. Since poverty was endemic, particularly in the nineteenth-century
.' many Jews needed one form or another of community assistance from rime
,...A deeply felt commitment ro the needy and destitute and a sense of mutual
;.nibility was central to the positive self-image of the shtetl community.
. ies were organized ro care for the sick and visit the ailing; to provide poor
with dowries and pay for their weddings; to provide aid and loans ro the
the interna! structure

of the shtetl community,

see M. Zborowski

and E. Herzog,

Lift Is With

~ Culture ofthe Shtetl (New York, 1963), 191-239.


-.the changing role of ilie kahal, see S. W. Baron, The Russian Jeros Under Tsars and Somets (New
119-25.

'...

Il8

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

impoverished; and to arrange for food and lodgings for the poor visitor. These are
just a few examples of the intricate network that bound the shtetl jews into a c10sely
knit community. As noted above, the basic structure of the community was similar
ro that of other Jewish population centres. However, the ini:imacy resulting from
rhe shtetl's small size imparted a particularly strong sense of Jewish solidarity aud
identiry ro itsresidents.
The shtetl was a reaIJewish town, not a mythicalJ ewish world. There was nothing mythical about its portrayal as such in literarure and in Jewish cultural and
political discourse. But life there was not idyllic, as it might have appeared to be in
popular and some literary presentations. The shtetl, when presented as a domain of
innocent religiositv, murual help, community care, social stabiliry, and devotion ta
learning and 'good deeds', becarne a powerful rnyth. These were demographically
Jewish islands, not enclaves of ideal jewishness, Life in the real east European
Jewish smal! towns was far more complex. The poverty of much of the population
engendered tension and strife with the few who were better off; c1ass and status
divisions abounded and frequently poisoned interpersonal relations, as did differences in education. The high esteem for learning was accompanied by a disrespect
for physicallabour; community care and neighbourly assistance also meant strong
social conrrols; and the intimacy of large families and caring neighbours could
easily become stifling intervention in the individual's freedom. Beneath the popular
images was the real shtetl, which was fraught with rension, discontenr, and frustrated energies. Only thus can the massive emigration from the shtetls ta ilie
farthest corners of rhe globe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries be explained.
The portrait presented here is a composite pic ture of the shtetl as it existed at its
peak-at the time when it entered as a symbol into Jewish discourse before becoming mythologized. Of course, not all east European smaII towns corresponded ta ilie
portrait drawn above, but rnany hundreds did possess the essential features outlined
here. What clearly emerges from the data, though, is nor a mythological Jewish
world but a small Jewish town with alI its cornplexities. In their sights and sounds, ~i,
in their daily pulse and economic rhythrn, in the internal organization and in the
way they were perceived by their inhabitants and contemporary outsiders, ilie
numerous shtetls of the Paie of Settlement constitured uniquely Jewish worlds,

'::;;riff"'"

,,,.

"

"

".

li

,;;

'ii

TheChanging Shtetl in the Kingdom


ofPoland During the First World vVar
KONRAD

ZIELINSKI

SAMUEL D.
KASSOW
has argued that the shtetl should not be srardiei in a
vacuum, but rather should be seen in its specific historical and legal cencexr.'
Indeed, in the case ofPolish jewry, the First World War and especially thethree
years of German and Austro-Hungarian occupation created a very specificen resr.
What did this turbulent period bring to the Jewish community in the sh.tetl' Catas,rropheor inspiration? This chapter represents an attempt ro answer this quest:ion.
At the beginning of the First World War, J ewish communities adopzed a waitand-see attitude. But soon it became clear that, despite the declara tions ofGrand
Duke Nikolay conceming the 'morning star of liberty' that was supposed ro shine
upon the Jews of the Russian ernpire, the tsarist army remained a pillar ofantisemitism." In reality, everything depended on the local army headquarters.je-wish

This chapter artempts

ta describe the impact of the war an the shtetl in the Kingdom of Polmd , It is

. based an material from Polish archives in Warsaw, Krakow, and Lublin.and


from a fe" collettionsin
~e Kriegsarchiv and the Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv in Vienna, the YIVO Institute
foi jewish

Research, and the Lea Baeck Institute in New York.


~ed

before the outbreak

r also

used memoirs,

diaries.and

newsp'pas

of the First World War. Last but not least, 1 used memorial

pulr

beols (sifra

;Jkaron, yizkor bikher). We must be cautious in relying 00 memorial books. Alth()ugh t:heyprovide
we must be aware of the fact that they may contain unCOOSciOIlSm:yth-aeanon

:. }Duch vital information,

:.r

;Wout the shtetl. Moreover,

since Dur focus here is an ilie years 1914-18,

,:~ 'llo0ks took place at least thirty years earlier. 1 have limited

..~~;,,'F
.Polnd.
.'

the events describedin c:hese

my study to the Je w s of the Kingd~rn

of

There were shtetls elsewhere, of course, above all in Galicia and the former PaIe Of Settlement,

." :..,. but their character and experience during the war were significantly

;.. Jr"A History ofHabsburgJews 167D-I918(Bloommgton,

different. See e.g. W. O.McCagg,

Ind., 1992).

S. D. Kassow, 'Communiry and Identiry in the Interwar Shtetl', in Y. Gutman, E. Mendelsohn


,e:}J Reinharz, a~d C. Shmeruk (eds.), The Jews o/Po/and Bettoeen Two World Wars (Hanover, NH, 1989):
.i{; ~99: The Polish term for shtetl, miasteczko ; is'used in Russian literarure 100. See e.g.W. E. Kelner
'i,?.(ed.), Rossiya IV memuarahh: Eimi v Rossii, XIX vek (Moscow, 2000). This book i, reviewed by
..';.:'.' M. Mogi1ner in rhe joumaJ Ab Imerio: teonya i istoriya natsional' nostei i natsioncliszma v POslSlR<tskom
:o::.'cy,:prostranstvt (Kazan, 2000), 2: 38-13. See also Irving Howe's classic work World ofOur Fa,Iun.- The
I:!X:;'J.oumey ofthe European Jews ta America and the Lift They Found and Made (New York, 1976),10,
';> 2 P. Wrobel, 'Przed odzyskaniern niepodlegtosci', in J. Tomaszewski (ed.), Najnotzszr rfzirjciydollJ
,;:wPolsce(Warsaw, '993), 111-15
.'l

.,'+:

;y; "

,j

l
1

THE JEWISH
LIFE CYCLE

Rites of Passage from


Biblical to Modern Times

)
1

IVAN

G. 11ARCUS

)
I

1
'1

UNIVERSITY

OF WASHINGTON

PRESS

Seattle and London

II

!"

U~/ll_'.

..J:'fjVin.",6

LJiIJ)

cain, paft of a rabbit, ar an inscription

rneanr ro prorecr against mis-

carriage. Others would wear a belt on which women had woven ar


wrirren phrases ro protect the rnother from miscarriage,

hang arnulets

an the walls of her room ro protect her from Lil ith, ar place a symbolic iron knife under her pillow, all cusrorns

Birth,

rhar persisred

modern times either i'n Europe ar in rhe MedirerraneanJewish

llB. rIS, n

into
com-

rnunities.

Chrisrian churches owned re. i,-s 'uch as belts for expectam

rnorhers,

ta prorecr rhern during pregnancy.3

Schooling

BIRTH

RITES

The birrh ieself is described brieBy and is porrrayecl in illuminacions


from larer tirnes as a form of sirring. The accounr of a woman in labor
in Egypt seems ro indicare rhar she sat an rwo srones placecl a small

In tbe Hebreio Bi~1e. fertilit)' is a blessillg, ilnd barrettttess a problem tb:

disrance apare: '''\XThen l'au deliver rhe Hebrew wornen, look ar rhe

requires divine assistance. In rhe Code of Hammurabi

birthsrool"

J udaism, barreriness was a justificarion


and take another.
arid Abraham,

and rabbinic

for a rnan ro divorce his wife

In narrarives such as rhc birrh of Isaac ro Sarah

rhe narraror srresses rhat C'Jd remembers

whom he promised

his blessing and covenanr.

in the Gospel of Luke, regarding


in rhe apocryphal

New Testament

rhose ro

The morif is adopred

the birth of John rhe Baptisr,

and

Gospel of James, abolit rhe birth

of Mar}', rnorher of J esus.


in biblical

narrarives

figures of ten following

ri ruals accompan y the act of birrhing.

initial

abolit rhe births


barrenness,

which might be comand

rhar were thought

srones, as in a magical inscription

fr,m an Egyptian

papyrus

includes the phrase, "frorn an rhe rwo br .ck stones of rhe birrh.
are suggesrive

"4

rhar
There

drawings of a god making hurnan forms an a porrers

wheel rhar may have developed inca the stones an which wornen, in
imirarion of the god,delivered

a baby.> Birrhing srools are well known

A baby could also be delivered while the rnorher sat on sorneone's


a child wirh her maid Bilhah, who eventually will '''beai an my knees'"

mea-

pregnant

meaning of rhe rerm "avnayirn" is nor clear but may refer ro birrhing

Perhaps this resrifies ro the

sures, Did everyday Israelires make use of arnulers, incanrarions,

ro make rhe experience safer? Mase likely chey clid,

In late anriquiry

The

knees.? This is rhe procedure when barren Rachel asks Jacob ro sire

promised were an)'one, as many larer would, resort ro prorecrive

but rhis is not memioned

practice.

few

biblical aurhors' strong fairh in God's prorection,

ocher techniques

(Exod, 1: 16), a local Egyptian

{'

even in modern Europe."

Despice rhe significance


of many important

(cl1'Izaym)

in the narrarives,

while giving birth (Gen, 30:3). We also see this when joseph's descendants are born: "the children of Machir son ofMenasseh

were . , . born

upon Joseph's knees" (Gen. 5:23). Using rhe knees as a plarform ar


table area will be rerained in Jewish rradi rions, nor for birrhing,

but

for holding

a baby ba)' sready during his circumcision.

and medieval tirnes, many cusroms are artested

the birrhing

posirion is described as kneeling.

ro prmect

rraughr rnorher in labor takes an oath nor ta have sex wirh her hus-

the rnorher and the unborn

child. A

wornan might wear around her neck special srones ar a gold

l'

l'

EIsewhere,

For example,

if a dis-

band again, an act of irnpiery for which she must make a sacrifice

!\

ni,

after her days of impuriry

OIIl,

JL!J(j(;llII:S

iun,

(lev. 12), rhe phrase used is, "when she

said ro greet rhe birrh-cerrainly


rernark

we do nor know if anyrhing

was

nor "Mazel tov!" From achance

by the prophet Jeremiah,

nor present

Hebrew women, look ar rhe birrhsrool (ha-avnayirn): if it is a boy,


kill him; if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, fearing God, did

kneels in bearing, she swears irnperuously.t"


Wrhatever the rnother's posirion,

Jc!JUUi;11:S

DUJ,

nor do as the king of Egypr had raid rhern; rhey ler rhe boys live. SA
rhe king of Egypr surnrnoned the rnidwives and said ro rhern, ':Why

we see rhat the farher was usually

have you dane chis rhing, lerring the boys live?" The midwives said

ar rhe birth itself. Sorneone else had ro bring him the

ro Pharaoh, "Because rhe Hebrew wornen are nor like rhe Egyprian

news: "Accursed be rhe man who brought

my farher the news and

said, 'A boy is born ro you" Uer. 20: 15). The preseoce of farhers in

wornen: :hey are vigorous. Before the midwife can carne ro thern, rhey
have given birrh" (Exod. I:15-I9).

delivery rooms, now common, was srill being resisred in the late 19605
in New York Ciry, And since men were nor present at birth, rhey did
not wrire down what usually happened.
In rhis all-female
rhe Hebrew

experience,

of birrhing,

role in

especially of a child to

woman. Called meyaledet (Iirerally, birrher) in biblica!

Hebrew-hakhamah

reBeers rhe divine assistance

thar rhe narrarive

wants ta ascribe ta rhe Israelite women. It also may mean that rhe bib-

rnidwives play an important

Bible's descriprions

an important

This observarion

(skilled wornan) ar ha_uah (life-bringer)

Talmudv=-a midwife appears in severa! biblical

in rhe

accounts of impor-

lical narrator thought rhat use of a midwife was more common among
Egyptian women and less frequent among Israelites. The presence of
a midwife was no guaramee rhar a birrh would be safe, and the dearhs
of the morher ar of rhe infam posed constant dangers unril very recent
times. It was because birrh was so dangerous

thar rhe rabbis of rhe

tant birrhs. For exarnple, during rhe difficult breach delivery of rwins

Mishnah, by early second-cemury Palestine, declared thar "one may help

ro Tamar, rhe duughrer-in-law

a woman ril'e birth an rhe Sabbarh and call a midwife (hakharnah) for

of J acob' s son J udah, we nnd: "\Vhile

she was in lal-or, one of rhern put Out his hand, and rhe midwife ried
a crimson

rhread an rhar hand, ta signify: This one carne out firsr"

(Gen. 38:28). A midwife


her youngest,
3): I7-I9)

Benjamin,

assisred Jacob's wife Rachel in delivering


a birrh rhar ended in Rachel's dearh (Gen.

Similarly, the unnamed

of Shiloh, died in childbirrh,


referred ta as "ha-riizzavor

daughrer-in-law

alrhough

of Eli, the priest

assisted by women who are

'alehah" (rhose standing

over her) (1 Sam.

4:I9-22).
Midwives

also played a central

role in rhe inrroduction

mornenrous

srory of Moses' birrh. They foiled Pharaoh's

all Israelite

male newborns

killed. The narrarive

use of a midwife was the usual practice for Egyptian

ro the

plan to have

suggests

thar rhe

women, bur rhat

some Israelite women were able ro give birth wirhour

one:

her even frorn far away, and one may desecrare rhe Sabbath over her."!?
Fear of facing rhis real danger generared

riruals, as we learn from

Jud ah

Ezekiel, rhe propher who was with the exiles from


cemury B.C.E. Babylonia. He comparesJerusalem

in sixrh-

ro a newborn: "As

for your birrh, when you were born your navel cord was nor cur, and
you were nor barhed in water ta smoorh you; you were nor rubbed
with salt, nor were you swaddled"

(Ezek. I6A)-all

of which pre-

sumably was dane for normal births. Some apparendy

abandoned their

newborns, for Ezekiel cominues: "an the day you were born, you were
Ieft lying, rejeered, in the open field" (Ezek. 16:).
Everyching

in chis passage seems familiar

II

excepr

infanr. This praerice has a history, often in combination


ing oil, nor memioned

salring

the

with apply-

in rhe Hebrew Bible, and ir is dane roday

among some Arabs, for example. Greek medical writers like Galen
The king of Egypt spoke ro the Hebrew midwives, one pf whom was

(130-200 C.E.) memion it as being medicinal, but salt is also rhoughr

named Shiphrah and the echer Puah, saying, "\Vhen

ta have rhe magical power of checking

}'OU

deliver rhe

evil.

12

We are familiar wirh

-e-: Scbooling

Birtb.

the relaeed cusrorn of rhrowing

der.'> Compare,

some spiUed salt over rhe lefe shoul-

rhe popular Talmudic expression

(00,

salt ta the God-given

that compares

scul: "Shake off the salt and case the Hesh ro

rhe dog."I4 Applying

salt ro the newborn,

of enhancing

of rhe newborn ac rhe dangerous

time of birrh .. Medic\~d Chrisrians

medieval

infam baprisrn.

or wrapping

iUuminaeed

,6

or preserving

'7

rhe baby's head in rhe cradle.

einguishing
Of

<-".-",. ~x--o \nl

~l?

'.'m;,

'lx?::o .,~

Q:

(7:

..,.." "''''', ,",,,,,

rhe life

'1

are represemed

In medieval

Ashkenaz,

is placed under

practices

as magical and

rhere is lirrle objecrive

what some call "magic" from "religion."

how ro control eirher psychologically


rhe firse rhrough rhe seventh cemuries,

C".it

by hurnans

forces rhar rhey seek sorne-

""

::"1'"

!'l:':;;l7JI

r:r:!:':::l T'ae'
::;::!:,: It'),

1 ~J:'I;)

t'toItl

t::r;,

1;-::=-:J

1;"')J'g

';11

1W:'~ 1"':11')
ne tr~~"'I:i\C::::1."'.r'\

-sc

'j)(

::-';;'f"')

It'

1::,c:J:J

li:t rt'rxn

11.11

1":1' n)1;'11 c':;;)(~::1 T'I"''';rC!l'J\


Ofll~)

C"'::;lCOJ

r.,::mm;'1\

!fi

rr.:.i1

l:::~:rn:;r
;"\':-'~)JI.)'

~;::

Ci\Tl

)(t".
:';l'J

'C 'iji
)1.'

ni

pY1"

i1'i'X
tl'1~1!'

1'!'1t ,'n':-::'l

'\,';;;,

neom O'e'VI j',\t\D

Iindings offer us a variery of incanrarions,

Ce'j m'clI,\
T,."J:"IO-':l

'l1.,~11

1"'l"D

..,

.,':~-:,

r.::'=~

f\:J

nO'17.J xi, e-r-ce

iI~":)l':

ATIlIt!et fVl'(hildbirrh.

Sefer Raziel, Amsterdam.

1701. foI. 43b. Courtesy of

tbe Librar)' of tbe J eu isb Tbeologrcal Semillal)'.


rhar rhe religious behav

Wfe sbou!d rernember

-f

of Jews was nor

idemical with the wishes of rhe rabbis. Aher rhe Muslim conquest
in rhe sevenrh cemury c.

E.,

the sway of rabbinic

norms increased,

infilrrared

liter-

rhe rabbinic

norrns and chaoged

thern. We should also

rernernber rhar rabbis, including those in the Talmud irself, were prac-

arnulets, and riruals, some

tirioners of what we caU magical acts and rhat part of the power rhe

Many praceices

were
orh-

by local J ews thernselves

and were bor-

pagaos living in rhe cieies of

Palestine. 10 some cases, these were popular pracrices that the rabbis

rabbis claimed derived from rheir charismaeic powers.??


This was true among later rabbis who were kabbalists
including

as well,

such figures as Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder

of Hasidism,:" and it is an error ro ascribe magical acts just ro the


world of either popular culcure or ourside inBuences, as rhough they

opposed; in others, the rabbis rhernselves prornoted the practices. Jews

were nor frequently

who did thern made rhern parc ofJewish

were. Several of these practices survived in Jewish communities

cuI ture, regardless

They are part and parcel of lived J udaism


rracts of Talmud or commentary.

34

]ews

and other archeological

or Mesopotamia;

rowed and adopred by Greek-speaking

I.

rhe sources of rabbinic

process.

mosr complicated

1'"

!m:t ~11nrv- ~,-

but ar rhe same rime, some popular praeeices of non-rabbinic

derived and adopred from rhe cultures ofEgypt

origin.

D~':::

where rnosr Je,vs lived from

inscripeions,

rhe birrhing

basis 'for dis-

or physically, or borh, (Fig. 1)

In ancienr Palestine and Babylonia,

ers may have been produced

,;";r.:!\

n:;:O::;l ';rJ

~i'i1 ~i11

The actual prac-

are al! acrs carried

who feel so helpless before overwhelrning

of which accompanied

~'T11t- .;:1 K:r:.i;'e'O"~J

,,,," lp'f." "1"


t:';'~';l

T;-;"r.'

acrions rhar are performed

arure, anciem pagan aurhors,

a special cer-

'i{

:l.:J ~~

~~~ :l~O ,~

,8

roday we may regard cenain

or as superstitions,

as

eimes ac least, a baby cculd

ernony is described afrer birrh in which a Penrareuch

eices

~-:;i~, "ir'm n'::ll~ ~K-::"'Tl iIC'w\]


pe-r.l ~1
:-rl:"O K':::il ~U'
r-re-ae :1-r.T t-,KJ'\ n,....:\ ~

,"",It'm.,

~lt:." ;""r)uj'

'5

newborns

By rabbinic

be placed in a cradle Carisab).

primieive

~IC":"

n-e-ee

rhe infanr also had a long hiscory, and in

manuscriprs

righrly wrapped cocoons,

Alrhollgh

""nn

rhis practice, and sale was also ir.serrcd into rhe

newborri's moueh during


Swaddling

} I;-)C.~- ~~"'IO

rhen, may have held boeh

symbolic arid mag ical meanings


and Jews conrinued

~~-~~~~~-~~I
~~~~~~~~-~~~
Birtb, "Bris." Scbooiing

of rheir

integral parts ofJewish culrure ar all levels. They


for

no less than the

hundreds of years, artesring ro the belief rhar they were effecrive pro-

19

tections againsr the terrifying

experience of childbirrh.

35

22

1)100,

DUJ,

j'/JlJlJlZlltj

A seven-day

Birth Day Party

cusrom aod may underlie

No festive meal or other rite ar rhe rime of birth is menrioned


Hebrew Bible, aod Josephus
festiviry.

"23

The Talmud

in Palestine,

ro be made occasions for

refers ro a cusrom

where parems

plamed

and a pine rree for a newborn

girl.

that marked

a cedar rree for a newvorn


24

Alrhough

The four-poled
Germany

huppah

wedding

(see Chapter

wed-

ro rhe Hebrew

chamber,

canopy was an innovation

nor canopy.

in earIy modern

3).

shel'tI'a

references ro a celebration

afrer

ba-ben (week of rhe sori) and yesbi: 'a

ha-ben (salvarion of rhe son), In northern


rhe former ro rnean rhe circumcision

France, Rashi inrerprered

aod rhe feasr rhar rhe farher made

at the eod of rhe week, as rhough rhe rerrn rneanr a rme rhar marked

rhe farher invi res his frjend~ over


of weeklong

feasting developed

Chaprer 3). Cooking

[Q

[Q

[Q

texrs, even rhough

by Talmudic

times.

Muslim

the morher and visir her, and

celebrare, too. Parallel cusroms

celebrare a Jewish

for Jewish mourners

w,~ddif1g (see

is menrione-;

in the Tal-

mud (see Chaprer 4), and rhere are custorns abour friends eating wirh
rhe mourners
including

for seven days of rhe shiva (lirerally, shj~,'ah=seven),

reciting a special Grace aher Meals. Weeklong

communal

eating is srill dane aher rhe marriage feasr arid for rhe severi days of
special meals afcer a dearh, but is nor done following a birrh. The numThe inrerpreration

rhan a weeklong celebrarion

observes rhat Abraharn

Jacob beo Meir (d.

did sa irnrnediarely:

northern France and known as Rabbeinu

cornmenraror

Tarn-disagreed.

26

from

He wrote

party, rarher

afrer a birrh, was insisted on in severa]

Teblllim. and i\lidrash Tanya Rabbat]. for example.


commanded

rhe grear Talmudic

of shevu'a ha-ben as acircumcision

early mediev~l Palestinian rexrs, such as Pirqei de-Rabb] Eliezer: ,lidrasb

Abraham

II] 1),

rhe rerrn in rabbinic

was forgorren

women cook aod bring rhings over

ro rhe redernprion of rhe firsrborn tpidyon ha-ben). His grandson, Rabbi

[Q

[Q

immediarely

do sornerhing.

The midrash

obeyed God wherever

\Vhen God specifically

he was

.ornrnanded

circumcise his son when eighr days old (Gen. 17: 12), he
"And Abraham circumcised

he was eight days old" (Gen,

his son Isaac when

21 A)'

but meaos

"Hence," rhe midrash

conrinues,

"you may learn rhat everyone

"salvation." The terrn refers ro a party made righr after a son is born,

who brings his son for circumcision

when he was "saved" from his rnorher's

meal offering and his drink offering upon the top of the altar. From

wornb.:"

is like a high priesr bringing

is second-

rhis, rhe rabbis said: Arnan

is proven by medieval

rexts rhat

quet on that day when he has rhe merit ofhaving

refer back ro early rabbinic tirnes ro a parallel celebration

called sbe-

like Abraham our farher, who circumcised

Thar a liok berween shevu'a ha-ben and circumcision


ary, and nor its origioal

practice

ooe week afrer rhe birrh of a son.:" Rashi rock rhe larrer rerr ro refer

rhar the word yeshu'a cannor stricrly refer ro redemprioo

rhe original

ber severi is a Jucky nurnber in maoy culrures.

There also are obscure Talmudic


rhe birth of a son called

j,

rneant wedding

boy

rhis source is ofren

ding canopy, the Aramaic genana being equivalenr

rhe event

read ro mean that rhe tree was larer used ro form rhe childs

hllppah, in amiquiry

in the

(firsr ceorury) observes rhat rhe Tarah

..does nor allow rhe birth of our 'children

feasr after rhe birch of a child is also an early Arab

meaniog,

is bound

(Q

his

make festivities and a banhis son circumcised,

his son, as it is said, 'And

uu'n ha-bat for rhe birrh of a daughrer.t'' As the re rin irself suggesrs,

Abraham made agreat feasr on rhe day he circumased Isaac" (Gen.

shevu'a ha-ben possibly referred ro a Jewish equivalent

of rhe Greco-

iralics added). And, in fact, we know that farhers in late anriquiry and

Romao feasr that rock place for seien days after the birrh of a son. Orig-

in rhe Middle Ages did make fesrive parties on the occasioo of a son's

inally, it rneanr "rhe son's birrh week" of continuai

brit mi/ah (ritual circumcision,

rhe circumcisioo
tice disappeared

feasting, nor just

feasr afrer rhe child was a week old, but chis praceven in late anriquity."?

knowo more commonly

21:8,

as a bris),30

The midrash, however, has invenred a proof text and rhe iralicized
words are not in rhe Bible. The verse actually says that Abraham made
37

"

r:

BJrtb, "Bris, ,. Schooling


a greae fease "be-higgamel

nor when he was circumcised.

By a clever rereading

bat (welcomiog!wishing

of the Hebrew,

rhis verse now became the scripeural basis of a differem religious cuscorn. The midrash

in Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer, as we have it, does nor

explain the linguiseic basis of the reinterpretatioo


RabbiJacob

of that phrase, but

ben Meir, Rabbeinu Tam, quotes a version

rhat does. The midrash


of eighc [h= 5 and

s= 3}, plus

Abraham

tWO letters that comain

[mi}. The resuleing

made a greae feasr at rhe circumcision

value

the root of rhe

inrerpreration

and it also rakes place

00

the firsr Sabbath, bur not necessarily Friday evening. For rhe Ashkenazic celebration,

frieods gaeher afrer Friday nighr Sabbarh dinner

at rhe home of the new parenrs.and

sorneone offers a deuar torab (Tarah

child. To be sure, rhere are huge gaps of cime:bec\>,c::ell menrion

readsche verse as ehough tb: \ ub for wean-

verb, "he circumcised'

well a daughrer)

lesson) that links rhe weekly Torah reading ro rhc arriv.il of the new

cE rhe passage

ing (biggc77ml) is reduced ro rwo lerters rhat have the numerical

for a girl is called shalom

evening afrer the boy is born. A celebrarion

ee yizhaq" (on the day Isaac was weaned),

is: "And

ofIsaac, like rhe sum

rhe Talmudic

cusrorn, rhe Iare medieval Ashkenazic

of

one, and more

recent practice, and we do nor know if chis cusrorn was pracriced continuously

ar reinvented

from rime ta time.

Sefardic Jews from various places of origio refer ro rhe party for a

of [the numerical values of rhe Hebrew Ierrers] b[eh} g(imel}, [which

newborn girl as zered ha-bat (the gift of a daughrer).

is eighel"}1

resemble rhe Ashkenazic one, but it is distinct in rhat the gir! is named

These early medieval Palestinian rnidrash rexrs were defending


cuswm

of celebraring

a boy's circumcisioo

rhe

ac this celebrarion,

if it takes place in rhe home, as is rhe case for

Moroccao and Judeo-Spanish

for a week as biblically

This party may

Jews, or in rhe synagogue,

as amoog

based , even ehough it was derived from a defe slighr of hand. Per-

Syrian and some Spanish arid PorrugueseJews.

haps rhis forced exegesis ro juseify undersranding

texts are recired as well as rhe wish that rhe gir! may grow up ro have

a circumcisioo

shevu'a ha-ben as

parry is aJewish response, followiog

r: 'e' Muslirn

con-

Some biblical arid orher

many sons..l3

quese of Palesrine in rhe sevenrh cenrury, ro rhe nev.Iy felr preseoce


of rhe cornpering

By fourreenthPerahiah

Arab practice of celebraring a birth for a whole week.


and fifteemh-cemury

Isserlein (I390-1460)

Gerrnany,

menrions

the custorn of holding

rnany, based on a phrase from Jeremiah's


birrh: "Accursed be the rnan who broughr

commem

in Ger-

abolit his own

my farher the news and

custorn there, ofhaviog

a parey on Shabbac afternoon,

cailed slialom zaebar, an allusion

ro a Talrnudic

boy (zakhar) is born, peace (shalom) comes


This fesrive garhering

cornmunities,

sign of

of birthdays in Jewish life is the omission

of the dare of birth on rornbstone inscriprions,

again, before modern

other hand, elegies for children often rnention rhe child's


he

saw killed ar ages thirreen arid six, and Asher ben Turiel, who died
ar fifceen JUSt aher being married.>

tOO."3

on the Sabbarh after rhe birrh of a boy or a

girl srill takes place today. In Ashkenazic


zakhar (welcorning/wishing

"Wheo

parties each year were also far less common

in medieval Europe rhan today, Anorher

the relative insignificance

an the

umil mod-

age, as in rhe case of Rabbi Eleazar of 'XTor;ns, whose daughrers

was sornetirnes

reaching,

amoog Christians

times.

said, .~'\ boy (ben zakhar) is born ro you" (Jer: 20:I5) A differem

a birth for severi days in

rhey hardly celebrared birrhdays annually

ern tirnes.>' Birrhday

Poland, though no name is given

for ir in either source. Perhaps the rerm ben zakhar developed

Nor only were Jews no longer celebrating


late anriquiry;

parry in the home on the Friday evening aher a birth, This custorn
was reioforced in sixreenrh-cenrury

AnJlual Birthday Parties

Rabbi Israel ben

a shalorn

well rhe boy) rakes place the first Friday

There are rare exceptions


in the Talmud

rhar prove rhe rule. One 1S a reference

ro a sage who celebrated

his sixrierh

birrhday,

The

reason affered is a special one. He was happy thar he had lived thar
39

U.I

,;,.

U,

_'.f.

.. ',

',.

..

Iona and not been taken by God earlier, which might have been imera

prered as being due ro his sinfulness,


of rhe rabbinic punishmenr

since the usual interprecacion


fifty-five.36 Rabbi Israel Isser-

die before rhe age of sixry, or araund


lein also marked

of O was ro

called karet (literally, curting

chis occasion of his sixrierh birrhday

iri fifceenrh-

rhe same rime Christians

Europe began ro

were doing rhe same rhing in Europe for

cal phrase rhat refers ro Pharaoh's

birthday

gloss on rhe biblihuledet er paro")

("yom

(Gen. 40:::W), on which a feasr was rnade. The rabbinic

in Chrisrian Europe, where Chrisrian

named after rhe sainr on whose "birthday"

This

children were ofren

they were born. The "dies

cornment

Roman cusrorn ro celebrare the "deus natalis,"

is probably

lical protagonist

who made a pany for Pharaoh,

and the Egyptians

rule and developed

referring

own rime and place.>? The bar/bat


only gradually

2,

is another

in Germany

ro the bib-

rnirzvah rite,

exception

ro rhe

in the Middle

and earIy modern tirnes umil it reached a recognizable

Ages

shape no ear-

rhe birthday

ple, for people ro celebrare rheir birrhday on rheir "Narne Day," thar
is, rhe date of rhe "birrhday"

of rhe sainr for which rhey were named.

I am rold rhar on Seprernber 8, rhe traditional


50

many Catholic

birrhday ofMary, aher

girls are narned, "half rhe popularion"

gods and Christian

sainrs rhar lie ar rhe heart of this custorn,

haps Jews were inhibired


no good Talmudic

from imitaring

precedent

ro do so, other than for celebrating

ing a birrhday

isPharaoh,

a traditional

enemy of the Jews (Gen.

There is even some evidence rhat Egypeians were the firsr

culrure ro celebrare annual birrhdays, and Israeliees apparenrly

reenrh century and was nor important


ern rimes. Jews

somerimes

annual celebrations

in easrern Europe inro mod-

did remember

were not commonplace

Recenrly, a Jewish
rhe Israeli kindergarren

variarion

rheir

of rhe birrhday

birrhday celebrarion.

and sing special songs ro rhe birrhday

birrh

unt il modern

date,

parry developed

Children

but

times.t?
in

form a circIe

boy or girI, who is seated in

the middle wearing a wrearh of flowers. Each child takes a turn going
up ro his or her cIassmare ro wish him or her a special blessing, such

ar

age sixry, Moreover, rhe only biblical reference ro an adult celebrar-

It apparently

umil rhe eigh-

per-

it, especially since rhere was

40:20-21).

communities

in

Given rhe negative religious associarions Jews attached ro the pagan

lier than the sixteenrh cenrury, and even rhen, only in central Europe.
did nor reach IralianJewish

of rhe

It is srill the custorn in Catholic counrries, such as Poland, for exarn-

Poland celebrares rheir birthdayY

reading suggests rhar the cornmenr

of rhe pagan

god on whose day someone was born.

birrhday celebrarions among Jews in rwelfth-cenrury

Iraly, but a closer

birrhdays ofJohn rhe Bap-

rist, Mary, and Jesus. This was a Chrisrian adaprarion

whom

which 1 discuss in derail in Chaprer

conrinued

rnighr be raken ro imply thar rhe wrirer himself was aware of annual

nor ro rhe aurhor's

Romans did sa, and rhe practice was associared wirh paganism.

ro heaven, exceprions being rhe traditional

when rhey turn sevenry, per-

rhe firsr rime.38 Before this, we have a medieval

for Jews ro celsince Greeks and

(t 638- 1702) rhar some have a party

note rhe dares of rheir childreri's birrhs in family Bibles. This is about

regularly in late anriquiry,

naralis" of a sainr, however, refers ro rhe day ehey died and wenr up

From rhe fifteemh cenrury on, Jews in norrhern

There rnighr have been a negative reinforcemenr


ebrare rheir birrhdays

century central Europe, and rhere is rnention by Rabbi Ya'ir Bacharach


haps a cusrom in one or more places where he lived in GermanyY

j ,

'v

resis-

red rhis practice already in very ancient times.r>


We have even less information abour privare birrhday anniversaries
rnentioned

in the rhousands

of documenrs

preserved

in rhe Cairo

Geniza abolit Jews who lived in Muslirn lands. The exact date was
nored and somerirnes a horoscope was prepared.

S. D. Goirein rhinks

that the date was nor celebrated because of "rhe belief rhat numbers
were ominous, artracting

rhe evil eye."44

Apart from rhe exceptions

neted, birrhday

parties were nor part

as "May you grow up ro be a srrong soldier," or "May you emer first

of a traditional

grade."!'

modern tirnes is srill unclear and worrh invesrigarion.

Jewish way of life. How and when this changed

in

41
_1

._--'-).'

."

Birtb, "Bris. Scbooling

Birtb. "Bris." Scbooling

J!

Caring for rhe rnorher arid cbild was the responsibility

of wornen

own, he lifced hirn up from che ground, a gescure especially associ-

for ar least a week after .ehe child was born. In eleventh-

through

ated with infam boYS.48 As the baptismal font became a second womb

rhirccenrh-cencury

Europe,

rhere are signs rhat the rnother gOt up

frorn het bed a week aher giving birrh, and in the fifreenrh cenrury,

1 will rerurn ro rhe rnothers

'only afrer a monrh of recuperarion.


ine out of seclusion
t

and rhe re-entry

in connecrion

of the parturient

corn-

wirh rhc Gami:1g of a baby girl

parem received rhe child afrer being immersed

in the warer or held

rhe child as rhe person in charge poured warer over the child's fore- .
head."? Srill larer in J udaism, rhe sandeq/t-a'at
ian godparem

society."

morher iuto jewish

frorn whose waters rhe child receives erernal Iife of rhe spirit, rhe god-

bri

t,

like rhe Chrisr-

in infam baptisrn, held rhe child during rhe iniriation

rire, though on the knees.


Despice the similariries,
BRIS

OR BRIT

(COVENANT
Circumcision

is ebe practice

MILAH

OF ClRCUlvfCISION)
of curring

gion and Judaism,


(Gen.

17

12,

sons someeimes ofhigher

and rernoving

and is praericed in rnany culrures, including

Islam.46

ehe foreskin

In Israelite reli-

ehe rire rakes place on ehe eigheh da)' afrer birth

Lev. I2:3), unless the baby is weak for some medical

reason such as being premature

or jaundiced.

a significam

difference

Then it is posrponed

umil ehe child is well. As rime went on, various participanrs,


tional rexrs, gescures, and ritual obiecrs were ,;Jded; imp!emems

addiused

srarus as a way of enhaocing

whom rhe godfaeher/moeher

Jewish parems selerred a relative as sandeq, ofren a graodparem,

and

rhe honor was lirnired ro rhe ceremony irself and had no social or
other ongoing consequences
Circumcision

for rhe family.>?

recalls rhe accoum in Genesis of God's command-

rnent ro Abraham rhat rhe family aod comrnuniry


physically re-membering

on words in Eoglish refleer rhe layersof meaoing

ta birth,

rhe rnorher

fram behind, and ehe female midwife crouches in front ta bring forrh
life from the moeher who sirs in berween thern, in rhe brie, it is usually a rnan, called either "sandeq
00

or "ba'al brir," who holds rhe baby

his lap, and rhe person performing

rhe operation,

male crouches faciog rhern and produces sornething


as is the case in many culrures,

agaio usually
new. Moreover,

East and West, the "second, or ini-

thar there is an authenric

basis for rhis interpreta-

rion as well.
Accounrs in Exodus 4:25 and Joshua S:2-3 refer ro use of a Hinr
knife, a sign of rhe custorn's anriquiry, prior ro the Bronze Age. In
rhe Hebrew Bible the farher is ro perform rhe rire, as wheo Abraham circumcised Isaac (Gen,

IA) when he was eight days oId. Some-

times rhe rnorher does it, as when Moses' wife Zipporah


(Exod. 4:25), By rhe rime of rhe Maccabees,

ically rransforrned

B.C.E., nonfarnily specialists apparendy

arid medieval

in the Jewish rite.

for borh "rnernory" and "rnale," suggesrs


JewishiHebrew

tiatorv birrh" is more ritualized than rhe "firsr, or biological," birth."?


.'
In a significam way, rhe act of a female giviog birth was syrnbolin pagan Rome, ancierit Chrisrianiry,

while

Ar that very

he also becomes a member of rhe Jewish people. The plays

The Hebrew root Z-KH-R,

when a female usually supporrs

remember,

ehe child's sexu.I "rnember."

ro bold chem and varied in material and design in accordance


local medical and artistic sryles and srandards.

rhe family wirh


The

moment,

wieh

per-

would have an ongoing relarionship.

ro eEfeer rhe medical operarion changed, and containers were designed

In contrast

exisrs berween

Chrisrian sponsors and che sandeg. Chrisrians selecred unrelated

rheir son Gershom,

who had been brought

circumcises

up in Egyptian

culrure

in the second cenrury

did it roo (I Mac. I :59). The

aod rebirrh. In Rome,

Hebrew term in rhe familiar Hebrew form mobel is pOSt-Talrnudic;>'

ar a ceremony presided over by rhe goddess Levana, the still-red new-

only rhe Aramaic form mahol a or the title ba-gozer (rhe surgeon)

born was placed ar rhe farher's feer. If he recogoized

appears in rhe TalmudY

Judaism

into a male act of cultural begetting

.+2

rhe child as his

In rhe early modern codes of Jewis.h law,


43

Birtb. "Bris, Scbooling

Birtb, "Bris." Sibooling

'1

rhe opinion is rnentioned that where a qualified man is net available,


an expert woman may perform the rite.53 U nless rhe farher himself

1 '

performed

according

rhe rite, as sometimes happened.>'


ro traditional

In many cultures,

rhe person does

]ewish law, as rhe farhers

the practice of circumcision

a rire of passage preceding

.is associared

wirh

culrures,

certain

rrres of passage

are

orhers, byacrs of additionY

In t~e case of rhe male Jew, circumcision

is an act of subrraction

views as an addirion,

a rnove from a natural and imperfect

stare ro rhe higher srarus of entering


Israel, becoming

that

the comrriuniry

Of

culrures

of

a civilized human being in GO<.LTeci::l! commu-

of rhe Arab peoples,

nit)' ofIsrael. Compare rhe first hairrut of a li(tl":_:":\\li~h boy ar which

at rhirreen years, around the age of puberty. This rra-

a father said ro his son, "Tn a few minures you will be a nice linie

dition may reflecr rhe widely arresred association

berween male cir-

cumcision and readiness for marriage. Various Muslim rradirions found

] ew; youll have your peyos (earlocks).'


The aer of circumcision

"59

may be interprered

as rhe infanr's passage

nor in the Qur'an but in Hadirh rraditions about rhe Propher, require

from a state of "narure" ro one of]ewish

circumcision

rhis point when ir says thar several biblica! figures were born already

of a boy anywhere from the seventh day ro the thirreenrh

Although]ewish
cumcision

rradition has followed rhe biblical practice of cir-

on rhe eighth

da)', rhere are hints in the Hebrew

that it rnighr once have had an associarion

with puberty

Israelite culrure as in Islam. Thus, in Hebrew


groom (hatem), son-in-law
derived from rhe rhree-lerter

Bible

in early

rhe rerrns for bride-

(also batem), and farl: r-in-law

well as the biblical rerm for wedding

"culture."

A midrash makes

circumcised, such as ]acob, who was called lam (perfect) (Gen. 25:27).

year, as with Ishmael (Gen. 17:25).55

as in other

achieved by symbolic acts of subrracrion;


]udaism

surrogate.

';.ie, nor infancy. In

marriage as a puberry

rhe Bible, Abraharri's son Ishmael, rhe prorotype


is circumcised

50

In ]udaism,

tboten), as

(batunahi Songs Y II), are all

Hebrew root H-T-N,

which has an Ara-

He got that rag because he was born circumcised60


The Greeks arid Romaos never undersrood ir. To them,]ewish
circumcision

was an act of rnurilarion

rhat bordered

on casrrarion;

rhe rnale form ar birrh was already perfect. Early Chrisrian


undersrood ]ewish circumcision

very well as a!gn

bur rejecred it. Today, heated disagreemems


male circumcision

male
writers

of rhe covenanr

take place nor only over

but also about a pracrice rhar never rook effect

bic cognate (batana) thar means borh "ro cut" or "ro circurncise" and

among ]ews, the excising of paft of a young girl's genirals.

"wedding."S6

this practice rakes place in parrs of Africa, for example, and in many

When

refers ro him with


groom ofblood

Zipporah

rhe obscure expression,

ta rne!" (Hebrew:

The text also includes


"So Zipporah

circumcises

her son Gershom,

she

'''You are rruly a bride-

"'hatan damim'''-Exod.

4:25).

a gesrure that seems ro be a sexual allusion:

took a flinr and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched

his legs wirh it" (Exod. 4:25). The text cominues

ro explain rhis odd-

Muslim communiries.

In rhe modern \XTest, rhis act is rhought

barbarie. Anciem Greeks and Romans thought

Today
of as

of ]ewish male cir-

cumcision in much rhe same way.6!


The associarion berween curring sornerhing and making a covenam
or an agreemem

has deep cultural roors in rhe ancienr Near Easr. In

ity ro the biblical reader as well as ro us: "And when He [God] let him

the biblical accoum of God's initial covenanr wirh Abram (Gen. 15),

alene, she added, 'A bridegroom

before he tells Abram ro circumcise

of blood because of rhe circumci-

himself (Gen. 17), God first tells

sion'" (Exod. 4:26). Is rhis ro say, Gershom is not a real bridegroom-

Abram, who still had no son, "'look

roward heaven and coum rhe

obviously, since he is Zipporah's

stars, if you arc able ro eoum them.'"

And he added, "'So shall your

son-but

the echo is still rhere from

anciem rimes when an Israelite was circumcised prior ro his marriage?

offspring be" (Gen. 15:5). Abram asks God how he can know thar

It appears rhat the Israelites

he and his future generations

did nor differ from rhe Canaanires

this regard.57

in

him ro get a heifer, a she-goat,

44

will possess rhe land ofIsraeJ. God tells


a ram, a rurrledove,
45

and a young bird.

00131"1s," ;)dJoo{mg

Hinh,

Abram "cut thern in two, placing each half opposire rhe orher" (Gen.

orher elernenrs in rhe traditional

1 5=ro),

in medieval and early modern tirnes in rabbinic or popular circles as

and "when rhe sun set and it was very dark, there appeared

a smoking

oven, and a flaming

pieces" (Gen. 1

s: 17) The

torch which passed between

those

practices that were taken into judaism.v'

nexr verse explains whar the srrange act

.rneans: "Ori that day the lord made a covenanr with Abram, saying,

The Night befol'ethe Brit-th~

'Ta your offspring 1 assign chis land'" (Gen. r y.r S).


An act of sacrifice involving
gain or covenant

rire of brie milah roday deveIoped

rhe cutting

was an ancient

of animals ta seal a bar-

Near Eastern practice.

When

rhe

F0l"

example, ]ewish cusrorns developed

was believed ro accompany

\Vaehnaeht

ro ward off the danger thar

the procedure. This dernarcarion

of the

narrarive says that God's presence in the form of fire pas sed berween

night before the brir resernbles and owes sorne of irs coloring ro Chris-

rhe tWO halves of rhe anirnals, it rneanr it was an oath in which God

rian cusroms rhar marked rhe nighr before a newborn

sap, as it were, "May rhis happen

ro me if 1 break my word." 'Y/e

risrn. From rhe Mahzor

stil! refer ro making

as "rurt ing a contract,"

we know of a festive meal rhar was arranged the night before rhe brit

an agreemenc

or "cut-

Vit1"]

in norrhern

child's bap-

France (twelfrh cenrury),

ring a deal," and the word "decision" comes from che latin "deridere."

and sponsored by rhe person who was ro be honored as rhe ba'al brit,

which means "ro cut off."

or godfather,

Syrnbolic of God's promise rhat Abram wiU have many offspring,


though

he has none at presenc, God changes his narne ro Abraham

and explains rhe new narne ro mean "father of a multi rude of nations"
.Gen. 1]:5), and "such shall be the covenanc berween
and your offspring

Me and you

ro follow which you shall keep: every male among

you shall be circumcised.

You shal! circumcise

the flesh of your fore-

skin, and that shali be the sign of rhe covenant

berween

you' (Gen. 17:10-11). Moreover, God continues,

"if any male who

is uncircumcised

fails ro circumcise

Me and

the flesh of his foreskin,

that

rhe nexr day. This meal was differem from the celebra-

tory one rhar rhe boy's farher made rhe evening aher rhe circumcision, and it served as prorecrion against perceived dangers thar lurked
around rhe baby and mother.63
In medieval Germany

rhe eve before rhe brir was known as rhe

"nighr warch," or u-acbnacbt. a terrn rhat appears only in.rhe sixreenth


cemury. It consisred of a meal thar rook place in the parenrs' house
in rhe presence of rhe rnother.P" This tradirion

was aJewish

adapra-

rion of rhe German Chrisrian cusrom, by the sarne name, the night
before baptism. A further sign of rhe derivation of aspecrs of this] ew-

person shall be Cut off from his kin; he has brokeri My covenanr"

ish cusrorn from the local environs is the prescription

(Gen. 17:14).

cakes be prepared. Christians baked similar cakes ro appease a demon

Very Iitrle of the now traditional

circumcision

ceremony is found

in the Bible or the Talmuds. One searches there in vain for the Hebrew
rerrn rnohel (circurnciser),

the presence of a sandeg or ba' al brit (god-

farber), rhe chair of Elijah; rhe cup of blessing and those who are ro

known as Frau Holle and thus prorecr the Christian

rhat special
child prior ro

his or her baprism.I"


Sorne rime after rhe custorn was adopted, ]ews tried ro anchor it
in ]ewish sources by poiming

back to a phrase in God's charge ro

taste from .ir (farher, child, morher, mohel); most of rhe texts of the

Abraham abolit the religious commandmem

blessings and prayers recired; the text in which rhe boy is named;

and your offspring ta corne rhroughout

rhe reguirement

My covenanr'" (Gen. 1T9). The verb "rishmor" can also be translated

of a male guorum

of ten; rhe reguirement

ta have a

of circumcision:

'''You

the ages shall keep (tishmor)

festive meal; and the custorn ro have a bowl of earrh or water pIaced

"You shall warch" and be harmonized

under rhe act irself Aside from a small paft of the lirurgy, all of rhe

aurhenric hinr of rhe larer custorn derived from non-jewish cusrom.66


47

wirh rhe German wachen as an

>--'.' ....

~'

.. "

-,., ...

Parr of rhe power of the Chrisrian


on rhe nighr before an important

1""0

and Jewish

practice

of earing

rhar food would placare any evil spirirs rhar lurked around ar a rime
of danger. Anorher rneasure taken ro do chis was ro hang signs rhar
appealed ro good supernatural

forces ro ward off the danger rhat mighr

did so many orhers, by prescribing


.

. ofblessings

as rhey

the recirarion of words in rhe form


.

rhar invaked God's cbmmanding

rhe perforrnance

of rhe

Near Easrern figure, originally

a Palestinian

ta pur a symbolic

imagined

as

.!

bird or owl, !urking

hangings

inscribed

legal collecrion from rhe rhird

wirh special invocarions

were designed

ro pra-

recires rhe firsr blessing: "Blessed are You, O Lord aur God, King of
rhe Universe

who has commanded

us abour circumcision

Gad ...

some of rhese Lilirh hangings

inro the covenanr of Abraham aur father (le-hakhniso

were made our of papereur

ro prorecr

might

rhe special supernatural


rhe baby:

AD.-\..'>I VE-HAVAH

SHADDAI

HUZ

on which were

names whose power was invoked

SANVI,

SANSi\NVI,

SAMANGELAF,

LILITH.6S

who has commanded

us ro iniriate him [lirerally, emer hirn]


bi-veriro shel

avraham avinu)."
On rhe passage in rhe Babylonian Talmud, a rwelfrh-cenrury

Tal-

mud glossaror, ar Tosafisr, observed rhar rhe farher's blessing, which


comes second in rhe Talmud, should come firsr, before rhe blessing

The firsr name, Shaddai (Alrnighry),

is also associared wirh rhe pro-

recrive power of rhe meznzab (Hebrew:


ual container

be knined

designs. In

C'al ha-

rnilah)." The farher of rhe boy rhen says: "Blessed are You, O lord aur

rect the baby and the morher from such forces. In early modern cirnes,

ernbroidered

C.E., and the

C:!1[:J1)'

Talmud. The person carrying out rhe operarion, jusr before doing ir,

knife around her neck or under her pillow. \X7all

more recent times, a baby bonnet

doorpcrr),

rhe arnuler or rir-

rhar encloses biblical passages. Jews have rradirionally

said by the person performing

rhe operarion.

He reasoned rhar rhe

language of rhe tarher's blessing, "who has corr.manded

us ro iniri-

are hirn," irnplies rhe furure rense, rhar rhe child is ro be emered inca

placed one on their doorposrs ourside and within their house. In mosr

rhe covenanr, in rhe furure. Since rhe person who performs

such mezuzot, the Ierrer "shin,"

che frsr lerrer of the Hebrew

word

cumcision recires his blessing and then immediarely performs the rire,

Shaddai, is visible or represented

in rhe shape of rhe container

irself

The nexr ro rhe lasr phrase invokes "Adam and Eve," the first parenrs ofhumankind.lilirh

is rhen rold ta be removed,

"HUZ

LILITH,"

the future language of rhe father's blessing seems out of place, since
The grear Talmudic authoriry,

Rabbi Jacob ben Meir, Rabbeinu

Tam, rejecred his colleague's reasoning and the Iiturgical

Sansanvi, Samangelaf,"

he had insrirured.

angelic beings whose narnes have no special

rhe cir-

he says it after rhe fire has already been performed.

from rhe roorn. But rhey are ro be aided by rhe orher narnes, "Sanvi,

innovation

Rabbeinu Tam reasoned rhat rhe order of rhe bless-

semantic meaning

but have become traditionally

associared with rhe

ings in rhe Talmud is artesred in aII the manuscriprs.

task of pratecring

rhe newborn.

in silver and orher

performs rhe rire sap his blessing firsr, compleres the circumcision,

Many amulers

marerials

contain

Hospiral

in New York Ciry, Ulrra-Orrhodox

who required

The rabbis oflare amiquiry sacralized rhe rire of circumcision,

acr in rhe Bible. The formulas 'of three rexrs are presenred in rhe Tosefta,

One way ta prevent Lilirh from doing any harm was for the morher

'::

come frorn less benign ones. Among the larrer was Lili th, an ancienr
and wairing ro harm a newborn child.67

j.

Cirtumcision Becomes a Sacred Rite

rire of passage was the shared belief

rhis phrase. Recently,

in Columbia
parents

Presbyrerian
of a baby boy

exrensive medical care prior ro his posrponed

cision hung phorocopied

circum-

paper "arnulers" on rhe four walls of rhe hos-

pi ral roorn ro ward off lili rh and orher agen rs of harm. 69

The one who

and then rhe farher recires his blessing, despire irs language. The
mularion

of rhe father's blessing did nor becher Rabbeinu

effecr, he decided rhar wrirten authoriries

[Of-

Tam. In

rrump innovarive cusrom,

and the sequence of rhe rwo blessings has rernained as it appears in


rhe Talmud ro rhe presenr.
49

Birtb. "BrtJ, " SciJooJmg


In rhe Talmud,

aher rhe rwo blessings,

week-cld chilci's firsr initiation

rhose assembled

link the

ro rhree Iarer stages in a ]ewish rnale's

life and say ro rhe farher: "As you have enrered him into rhe covenant,
50

may you emer him inro rhe Torah, rhe huppah and a life of good
ta the Tosefta, and this reading is

. deeds." Thar is rhe text according


in rhe manuscripts
eval rabbinical

of the BJt.r!r:li?n

authorities.

Talmud as well as in most medi-

R.Lhbi Amram

Gaon, in ninrh-century

Iraq, codified rhis version in rhe first ]ewish prayer book.


Alrhough

rhe formulation

addressed

rhe formula changed

in early modern

brir in medieval

and rhe Middle Ages,

rirnes from active ro passive

Chrisrian

wirh rhe Hebrew

Europe, unril the original

terrn ba'al
Greek rerrn

replaced the Hebrew one in early modern timesJ1


Two furrher addirions
ing of rhe circumcision

broadened

the social and symbolic

rnean-

ceremony and raised it ro a cosmic level. The

firsr was rhe associarion of rhe propher Elijah's presence at rhe ceremony. Adding rhe messiani. 6';:1r(' ofElijah, a biblical propher whose
appearance

ro rhe faeher ("as you bave

entered hirn") is widely arresred in late antiquity

AIidmsh Tebillim and is in cornperition

the rabbis and larer mysrics associared wirh the days of

the Messiah aud national redemption,

rneanr rhat rhe circumcision

of one child now had collecrive ]ewish meaning.


The biblical underpinnings

for the presence ofElijah

ar every ]ew-

and ro refer nor ro rhe farher's action but ro the baby's change of sta-

ish boy's brit was a verse, as inrerprered

tus. The reading

midrash Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer. in which chaprer 29 is devored ro Iare

in the late prinred

edirions

prayer books in use roday has rhe assembled


has emered

the covenam,

50

say: "As he [the baby]

may he emer rhe Torah, the wedding

charnber, and good deeds" (keshern she-nikhnas


la-terah,

la-huppah,

u-Ie-rna'asirn

change means. The emphavs

of rhe Talmud and in

la-brie, ken yikkanes

rovirn). It is nor clear what this

places rhe focus on rhe child and his

turme life cyele evenrs of "cnrering

the Torah," marriage,

of following

nor on rhe farher.??

Gcds

In addirion

commandmem,

and a life

abour circumcision.
custorn]

The rexr says rhat "rhe Rabbis institured

[the

rhar there should be a seat of honor for rhe 'rnessenger

the covenanr'
remembered

[also: angel of rhe covenanr];

for Elijah,

for good, is called rhe 'messenger

is said, 'And rhe messenger nf rhe covenanr,

of

may he be

of rhe covenanr,'

as it

whom vou delicht

in

;:;:.

of an exisring cusrorn probably

Palesrine ar sourhern Iraly. The association ofElijah

in

arid rhe Messiah

rhe occasion a sacred one and linked it ro a liferirne of rhe child's

is biblical, and in rhe New Testament ]ohn the Baprisr is inrerprered

future religious living, a parrner ro the parems was added in rhe form

as Elijah, rhe forereller of rhe Messiah. In]ewish

of a godfather,

jah is irrvoked when ]ews rhink of national deliverance,

a person honored

by holding

rhe infant during

ceremony. As with the newer language in the cornmunity's

rhe

response,

which shifrs arrenrion from rhe farher ro rhe baby, and the introduction

ofElijah,

rhen, may be viewed as an anri-Chrisrian

firms Elijah as a]ewish

rhe addirion

thar sought ta co-opt him as a Chrisrian

as the assisrant ta rhe mohel broadens

the occasion ro inelude anorher farnily or community

member.

The rerrn generalIy in use today of sandeg refiecrs the late Greek
rerrn for godfather
tening, "syndiknos,"

ar an Orrhodox

Christian

child's baptisrn or chris-

alrhough Hebrew sources especially in medieval

Europe also refer ro chis person as the "ba'al brir" (parrner


covenanr).

to the

The terrn sandeg is already found in rhe earIy medieval


5

inrerpretarion,

Eli-

as ar every

Seder meal on Passover and ar every ]ewish boy's brie. The imroduction

of rhe professional mohel, who also pms rhe father in rhe background,
of the godfarher

behold, he cornes'" (Mal. :: r).;2


The passage is a rarionalizarion

ro rhe rabbinic addicions of rhree formulas thar made

in rhe early medieval

polemic rhat reaf-

protector, despice the Chrisrian

associations

icon.

At the Seder meal, a special fifth cup of wine is poured

and left

full for rhe propher. It is known as the cup of Elijah, and the door is
opened for him. Ar the brie, a special chair carne ta be set aside for
rhe propher Elijah. In some cornmuniries,
cially for circumcision

ceremonies.

rwin chairs were built espe-

Before rhe child was placed on

rhe Iap of the godfather who sat an rhe sandeq's chair, someone else
51

olrtb, "om," Scbooling


had che honor of placing the baby for a momenr

an rhe cbair of Eli-

jab, which remained ernpry, ar occupied, as one believed it ro be, during the rest of rhe ceremony. In sorne Medirerranean
communicies

roday a rniniarure

wall of rhe synagogue;

and Asian]ewish

cbair for Elijah is elevaced onone

in ocher cornrnunities,

a double chair is cre-

ared, one for Elijah and rhe orher for rhe sandeq/ba'al
Anorher

rhe firsr rime and bas been pracciced from early medieval
ro rhe presem is che practice ofburying
In Babylonian

communiries,

Palesrine

the foreskin in a por of earrh.

and larer Sefardic ones thar follow the

and cacch drops ofblood

the ceremony, an Asbkenazic

in rhe warer.?! Today, afrer

rnohel may discreerly

.'

"1

medieval Iraqi rire, the practice was ro hold a bowl of warer under
rhe circumcision

Birtb, "Bris, " Scbooling

il!'

brir.'?

in Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer for

'-Lisrom rhat is memioned

--',
1

I
"'.

I
i

plant rhe fore-

skin in a flowerpot.
Unlike rhe birth ceremony, whicb is intirnate
rhe brit is male-cenrered,
as well as familial,
ian baprism

and mainly female,

with a few excepr ions."> le is communal

and it is noe surprising

rhar elernenrs of Chrisr-

were raken over inca rhe brir ceremony,

irself replaceJ

circumcision

in early Chrisrian

since baprism

practice.

In Yiddish-

speaking Europe, the rerms for godparenrs followed rhe rerrns ofChris-

rian godparenrs,
bapcized Chrisrian

called Gecatter and Geuatterin in German,

of newly

increasing considerably

rhe casr of characrers

facher, whose religious

obligarion

circumcised;

ar a brie the baby; rhe

is to circumcise

his own son; rhe


in

the ba'al brit or sandeq, on whose Iap che baby is

and rhe godparenrs,

called kefattel" and kefatterin in Yid-

dish, who are also bonored; and rhe rest of rhe assembled minyan and
members of the family and comrnuniry,
There was anorher important
carne ro resemble

rhe dramaris

tous les peuples du monde by Bernard Picart, Amsterdam, 1723. Courtesy of tbe

way the Jewish practice of the brie


practice

rhe number

52

two men and one woman served as sponsors; for a girl, rhe opposire
number. InJudaism,

where a ba'al brit was involved,

baptism.

in medieval

of godparents:

By

Europe,
for a boy,

rhe same rario

prevailed: in addirion ro a man generally serving as ba'al brir ar sandeq,


an addirional

two adulrs were added, the male kefatter

kefarterin, adding up, as in the Christian rite ofbaptism,

and female
ro two men

and one wornan for rhe boy's rerinue. (Fig. 2)


The presence of Christians at J ewish rires included

personae at a Christian

rhe rwelfrh cenrury, in rhe Christian


rhe sex of rhe child dererrnined

1 of Cerernonies ee coururnes religieuses de

Librar)' of tbejeu.isb Tbeological Semintl1)!. Pboto credit: Suzanne Kaufman

children.76

mohel as rhe father's agenr; perbaps a rabbi ar orher funcrionary

1'01.

Those terrns were added ro rhe ceremony in late medieval Europe,

the community;

2. Circumcision rerellloll)' in

circurncisions,

For example, in 1498, the ]ewish scholar and professional scribe Abraham Farissol of Ferrara performed
the home of a Chrisrian

a circumcision

acquaimance

on a Jewish boy in

whom he was instructing

Jewish lore.?? One of the rnost rhorough premodern

53

in

accoums of rhe

derailed

elernenrs

of a Jewish

essayist Michel de Montaigne,

circumcision

is preserved

by French

who was presenr ar a brir in sixreenrh-

century Iraly (r580) in a Jewish home:

thev do nor consider it inthe leasr dangerous and rhe woundinvariI

ably heals in faur or five days. The crying of the child is rhe same as
one of aur children held ar baptism. As the glans is rhus uncovered,
wine is quickly offered ro rhe minister, who rakes a lirtle in his mourh

The godfarher sirs an a table, plac ing a cushion an his knees: the god-

and rhen proceeds tO suck rhe bleeding glans of the child, then he

mocher brings him the child, and then wichdraws. The child is all

spirs out the blood, repeating che operarion as many as chree rimes.

swaddled, according ca our cusrorn; the godfacher holds him out wi rh

This cornplered, he is handed a serew of paper conraining a red pow-

his legs hanging down, and rhen the assiscanrs, and rhe ODewho is

der that rhey cal! dragon's blood, and wieh it he powders the wound.

ro perforrn rhe operation, begin ca chanr, and rhe chanr accompanies

Then he wraps rhe child's member wirh specially prepared bandages.

everyrhing chey do, chough rhe whole rhing lasrs less than a quarter

Having dane rhis, he is handed a glassful of wine, which, an accounr

of an hour. The minister may also be someone who is net a rabbi, any-

of certain prayers thar he recires, is said ro be of benedicrion. He rakes

one chere among rhern, anyone who wishes ro be called ca chis rask,

a sip, rhen he dips his !.nger in it and makes the child suck it three

since chey consider ir a greac blessing ro be frequendy involved in it;

tirnes. The same glass, exacdy as it is, is rhen sem ro rhe moeher and

chey even pay ro be invired, one offering an article of clorhing, anorher

rhe echer wornen '\vho are waiting in another room so rhey can drink

someching else useful for che child, and rhey believe thar a man who

what is lefr of the wine. Then a rhird personage rakes a round abject

has circurncised.up ca a cerrain number known ca thern , has the priv-

riddled wirh holes, like one of aur civet boxes, and bolds it firsr ro

ilege that when .he dies che parrs of his mouch wil! never be eaten by

rhe rninisrers oase, then ca rhe child's, and lasrly ro the godfarher's:

rhe worrns. On rhe table where rhe godfather sirs, ali rhe insrrumenrs

rhey believe in facr rhat scencs fortify and clear the mind making it

used in rhe perf6rmance of rhe operat ion are laid our in order, Besides

more suired ro devoeion..,8

chis, a man holds in his hands a carafe ful! of wine and a glass. There
is also a brazier an the ground, ar which rhe minister firsr warrns his

Alrhaugh

rhese elemems

have remaioed

hands, rhen, seeing the child safely held in place by rhe godfarher,

brir in masr communieies

wich his head rowards the latrer, he rakes hold of rhe child's member

in northern

and wirh one hand he pulls an rhe skin ac rhe tip, while wirh rhe

resembles rhe cusrorn of placing sornerhing

orher he pushes

in rhe glans and rhe member. Ac rhe inner extrem-

parr and parcel of rhe

raday, one cusram accompanying

rhe brir

France did nor survive. In some respects, this practice

born ro prorect it from harmful

iry of rhe skin which he holds srill away from the glans, he places a

is a northern European anticipation

silver instrument which holds rhe skin in place and ensures rhar in

ing ceremany:

under the head of a new-

spirits; in arher ways, rhe cusrom


of rhe boy's iniriarion inro school-

curring it no harm is done ca rhe glans or ro rhe member. After which,


wirh a knife he curs the skin, which is immediately buried in the earth

A cusrom after circumcision, soon thereafter, a quorum of ren [rnen]

garhered in a basin which is among the orher objects which form rhe

is gathered. A Penrateuch (humash) is raken. The baby is in the era-

panoply of chis rnystery, The minister then proceeds ca use his finger-

dle (ba-Iarisah) and is dressed up festively, as on rhe day of his cir-

nails ca take hold of a cerrain membrane which covers rhe glans and

cumcision. The book is placed an him and they say: "May rhis cine

ro cear ir off forcibly, pushing ir back behind rhe glans. It appears

fulfill thar which is wrirren in chis." And sorneone says, "May Gad

rhat chis involves a considerable effort and some pain. Nonetheless,

give you" (Gen. 2f:28) and alI che [orher] verses [that are} blessings

54

55

Birtb, "Bris, '.'Scbooling


[in the Bible} up

(Q

i ~

"only chen will you be successful" (]0sh. 1:8).

An inkwell and pen are placed in [che baby's] hand sa rhar he will
become "a skilled scribe in rhe Torah of rhe Lord" [based on Ezra 7 :6]. 79
AlrhoughJews
cumcision,

did nor practice any form offemale

ro male circurncision.

Writing

were unheard of. Today, it is becoming more and more accepeable even

for Orrhodox Jews ro have some kind of formal ceremony for new-

excision or cir-

,.

in

Response magazine in 1974, Mary Gendler proposed "a ritual rupeur-

wishes it) upon rhe occasion ofher firsr rnensrruarion."


rupruririg

of a newborn's

(if the gir!

Although

ehe

hymen has noe been accepred, lirurgies for

orher female infam rires of passage have followers roday. Such celebrarions are someeimes called "brir banor" (daughrers'
"sirnhar bar" (joy of a daughrer),
be held after the firse
One innovative
Orrhodox

covenanr) ar

among orher rerrns, and need nor

week.80

ritual is described

by rhe Israeli (American-born)

ferninisr Haviva Ner-David:

\Vhen our first daug hter, Michal, was born, Jacob and 1 wanred her

ro start her life as aJew who felr like an equal member of rheJewish
people ..... and we wanced

(Q

perforrn a ritual rhar would symbolize

her parriciparicn in rhis brie wirh Gad. \Ve wanted it

(Q

be sorne-

thing physical, sornething she would experience through her body,


somerhing akin

(Q

brit mi/ah, but nothing rhat would leave a mark

an her perfect rniniarure body ar make her experience pain.


an the sevenrh day after her birrh we held a carefully crafred cerernony we!coming Michal inro the brir, complete wirh songs, blessings, arid riruals garnered from traditional sources, a variety of birth
ceremonies orhers had done for rheir newborn daughcers, and some
of our own innovation and hearrfelt crearive outpouring ar chis emotional rime. Most of the ceremonies we drew from were from families who are noe Orthodox, alrhough we did base a parc of aur ceremony
on rhe Zered Habat. a traditional Sephardi ceremony for welcoming

r:

born girls. For Michal's brit ha-bat (covenant of rhe daughter), as we'
called ir,Jacob and 1chose rhe sevenrh day rather rhan the eighr, which
is when boys have rheir brit mila/;. ro foll..v. tii': exarnple ofbat rnirzvah, whieh occurs one year earlier for a gi,! than Joes bar mitzvah for
a boy....

ing of rhe hymen soon afrer birrh. The ritual should be performed
by a wornan. A special blessing and perhaps celebrarion

a baby gir!. \X'hen I was born, parties were cornrnon, but cerernonies

"

some J ewish feminisr writers have .idvocared a ceremony

thar would make a rire equivalem

Bi/tb, "Bris." Seboo!ing

I
I

I
I
f

I
I

.:.

II

One of rhe rituals we performed ar both of our daughrers'

ceremonies was dipping their hands inco mikveh water.81

A Modern CrtbodoxiTraditumal

A healrhy baby boy is born. Among the first ehings rhe new parems
wanr ro arrange is rhe eime and place of rhe brie and who will be the
mohel. Family and friends are consuleed.

1;

A mohel is comaered

and

booked. The place needs ro be decided upon. Ir could be in rhe horne.


This brir will be in rhe local synagogue.
morning

le rakes place righr aher the

services, an rhe bimah (dais) an .he large chairs where rhe

rabbi and cancer usually sir. As ie is custornary ro have a fesrive breakfase afeerwards, ehose arrangernenrs

need ca be made as well. One of

the parenrs will order rhe juice, bagels, fish, cakes, and coffee and
remember

ca bring rhe special prayer booklees so rhat the guesrs can

all reci ce the Grace after Meals in honor of a brir.


There is much ca do. Even before rhe brir, rhe parents will hosr a
Shalom Zakhar in eheir home the coming Friday evening. As rhe day
of the brie arrives, litrle else need be dane except ro rhink of rhe a11important

narne, An announcernenr

about when rhe brit will take

place is made locally and by phone ca relatives and friends, but no


invieaeions are sem out. Tradirionally,
is an obligarion

if one is invired ro a brir, rhere

ro carne. And sa, usuaily, one makes an announce-

rnenr and people are free ro come or nor.


The brit is an a weekday, The family and guests arrive ar rhe synagogue for morning services. Imrnediarely afeerwards, rhe various honorees are reminded of cheir assignrnenrs. There are usually a kefarcerin

il.

Brit i\fi/ab

57

Birtb, "Bris." Scbooting


(godmorher),

l'

who will help bring in rhe baby; rhe kefarrer (godfa-

ther); and rhe sandeq (special godfather),

who will hold the baby on

his knees. Perhaps anotner female relarive;a


grandrnorher,

grandrnorher

ing a kind of extra initial cerernony of rransrnission

or a great-

will be asked ro hand rhe baby ta rhe kefarrerin,

rnak-

from generarion

co geDcratlOn.

by his rnorher arid doeing grand-

rnorhers. The mohel rakes Out his medical insrrurnenrs


far rhe ceremony, dressing

and prepares

in a gown, gloves, arid a mask. A special

an operating

room wirh a fesrive celebrarion

in

home or synagogue.
The case of characters
entrance

ca rhe synagogue,

in rhe drama

is ready. J usr ourside

t~e wornen who are beirig honored

rhe

ff,'

rhe baby ca rhe kefarter, who hands him ro rhe rnohel. The baby is
.Iressed in a special gowo and cap and is somerimes
or silk-covered
\\fheo

carried on a satin-

pillow.

ehe baby arrives,

rhe mohel greers hirn with rhe phrase

"barukh ha-ba" (welcorne). It is rhe same greeting

the faeher

thar God has cornrnanded

reciees a blessing acknowledging

him ro

L,kd reply ca his words: "As he has e~cered rhe covenanr, sa may 'be

line

rhe rite. As he concludes,

up and rhe baby is passed from one ro rhe other, The last wornan hands

The rnohel [hen perforrns

!II.

I
f

cup of wine is prepared for the prarer in which rhe baby will be named.
The scene combioes

before he begins, he recites the blessing ro perform the circumcision.

"emer him inro the covenant of our farher Abraham."

II

Everyone awairs rhe arr ival of rhe baby, sorne-

ta rhe synagogue

the rire. The facher consenrs. The moheI undresses rhe infam and just

1
~

All is in readiness,
rirnes broughr

Birtb, "Bris." Sehoo!illg

~'

~~:rel'rhe Tarah; rhe wedding

Those assern-

chamber, arid a life of good deeds."

Thar is the fim parc of rhe ceremony. Irnmediarely

following,

over wine and rhe prayer thar iocludes rhe narning of rhe child. Ar
rhe conclusion of rhe ceremony, rhe baby is dressed and handed back
ro rhe wornen who are rhere. Everybody rhen goes inro rhe room where
rhe breakfase has been set up. Ar rhe meal, rhe parenrs or orhers may
make a brief devar Torah or ralk abour rhe significance
and rhe evenr, alludiog

of the narne

ca family members afrer whom rhe child has .

been narned and orher associarions rhar are considered important.

Fol-

lowiog rhe meal, rhe Grace afrer Meals is recired and a special set of
?rayers rhanking

God are read, each beginning

wirh rhe word "ha-

.!

raharnan" (rhe Merciful) and each recired by a differem

'ii

baby is rhen brought

ehe

mohel or rhe rabbi takes a fuU cup of wine and recites the blessing

guesr. The

bome and people rush off ca work.

ehe groom hears

when he arrives at rhe huppab. Some explain that the words refer nor
ro the baby but tO rhe propher

Elijah, wbo is presenr.

c.

Tbe mohel

rakes rhe child and places him an one of rhe special chairs that has
been designaeed
remembered

"This is the Chair of Elijah, may he be

for good."

He then lifts rhe child and places him an a special wrapped

pad

rhar the sandeq is holding securely an his knees. He is seated in a second special chair, feer placed on a box or srool under thern, so that his
knees are elevated. The sandeq is instructed

ro hold rhe baby's legs

and arms firmly so thar he cannor move during

rhe operarion.

The

moheI asks the boy's facher if he appoinrs him his agent ro perform

BOYS

AND

Alrhough naming a boy ar circumcision

the Chair for Elijah (kisei e/i)'ahil), arid he recites a

short passage rhat begins,

NAMING

in ancienr Judaism,

;1

after he ar she was bom.82 Either morher ar farher could name rhe
child, as when le ah and Rachel named Jacob's sons and his daughter Dinah (Gen. 29:31-3:24).

Jacob's

faeher, Jacab (Gen. 3):18). Hannah

I6:I5), and God tells Abraham

i
i

became a standard practice

in the Hebrew Bible, a child was narned right

Ii
"'.
~

GIRLS

youngesr

son, Benjamin,

receives one name from his morher, Rachel, and anorher from his
names her son Samuel (1 Sam.

1:20). an rhe orher hand, Abram named Hagar's son Ishmael (Gen.
rhar Abraham will name Sarah's son

Isaac (Gen. IT 19); Moses narnes his son Gershom

59

(Exod. 2:22).

UiUI),

In the biblical

DUJ,

narratives,

b irin, "bris,

J(f)UUiilig

the names parents

.,I,,:':
"

give rheir children

ofren seem ro be Hebrew puns or glosses that are rneanr ro express


, the special circurrisrance

of the persori's birrh. They are nor named

afrer relarives, such as parems ar grandparems.


are a kind of linguistic

The plays on words

midrash ar tag ro be attached

scnoottng

father, but this yielded ro rhe custorn, srill prevalent

among Ashke-

nazic J ews, ro name a child only afrer a relative who is deceased. SpanishJews still name newborns afrer living relarives.'' Some American
Jews name rheir sons afrer rhernselves, such as Samuel Goldwyn Jr.
An early exarnple of the assumprion

ro rhe essence

thar a Jewishboy

could be

"

of thar person for life. They emphasize

rhe unique imporrance

birrh. For example, when Pharaoh's daughrer


him, the text has ehe Egyptian
pun: "She named
warer'" (Exod.

2: ro).

ancient practice

making

of naming

a child aher circumsrances

and rhe shifr ro naming a boy during

from rhe Egyptian

indicares cirrurncisiori's

man," and other names of Israelires associared wirh rhe


Eli's sons.83 This should nor be surprising,

consider-

ing the biblical accounr ofMoses and his family in Egypr. Note that
rhe names wirh special derivarions

are noe found again ia rhe Bible.


,

There is only one Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael,Jacob,

Esau, Moses, Aaron,

and sa an.
are somerirnes

given names alluding

ro ele-

87

could be a sig-

rhar r ite, instead of ar birrh,

cultural significance inJudaism

uiry,88 Some Jews rried ro hide rheir circumcision

in late anriq-

by undergoing

cumcised.??

AH of this suggesrs

that rhe phenomer

on was a cul-

tural marker of significance.

'~,'

J!

In rhe narrarive in Luke about rhe birrh of John the Baptisr, we


of rhe Jewish practice from the Hebrew Bible of

either rhe farher or rnother naming rhe child but delayed from birrh

menrsof God's narne, like "ya" ar "yahu," ar names of anirnals, planrs,

ro eight days larer: "On rhe eighrh day they carne ro circumcise

ar trees. The earliest sign we have of rhe cusrorn of naming

child, and rhey were going ro name him Zechariah,

child aher a grandfather,

including

a Jewish

a living relarive, is Eram rhe Ara-

painful operarion ro undo it.89 Occasionally rhey had thernselves recir-

see a combinarion

In the Bible children

world, male circumcision

nificanr marker ofJews in contrast ro gemiIes, ar leasr in some places,

tribe of Levi are as wel1, such as Aaron, Moses' brother, and Hophni
and Phinehas,

practice in Judea

from rhe second half of rhe firsr cenrury, and perhaps earlier.

thar accom-

The sound of the Hebrew for "1 drew hirn" (meshitihu) sounds like
is derived

nor righr afrer he is born. This

but only that rhe account in Luke reflecrs aJewish

retierrs rhe

In the Greco-Roman

Moses (moshe), bur rhe name acrually

Gospel

does nor mean rhe cusrom was Chrisrian, and rhen raken over by Jews,

panied rhe birrh.

for "bornof

named afrer his living relative occurs in rhe New Testament


named at rhe rime of his circumcision,

a Hebrew

'1 drew him our of the

This kind of naming story probably

'

ofLuke, which is also the fir5r reference we have ro a je wish boy being

finds Mos.s and narnes

queen supposedly

him Moses, explaining,

"",:

of each

But his rnorher said, 'No; he is ro be called John.'

the

afrer his farher.


They said ro her,

maic papyri rhar have survived from rhe Jewish rnilirary garrison at

'None of your relarives has this narne.' Then rhey began morioning

Elephantine,

to his farher ro find out what narne he wanred ro give him. He asked

biblical

in upper Egypt, from the fifth cenrury

tirnes. This was a widespread

Easr, including among Egyptians,


sians, andJews
for example,

in late

in rhe ancienr Near


Babylonians,

and Per-

adopted it.84 In rabbinic times, it is rare but is found,


in rhe ruling parriarchal

This practice becomes very common


Christian

pracrice

Phoenicians,

B.C.E.,

family in ancient Palesrine.P>


in the medieval Muslirn and

worlds. In the case of European Jews, it was cusromary

in

rhe elevenrh cenrury in Germany ro name a child afrer a living grand-

60

for a wriring rabler and wrote, 'His name is John.'

And ali of rhem

were arnazed" (Luke 1:59-63).


The custorn of naming aJewish boy ar rhe circumcision
rnenrioned

rire is also

in Luke's account of rhe birrh of Jesus: "After eighr days

had passed, ir was rime ro circumcise

rhe child; and he was called

Jeslls, rhe name given by rhe angel before be was conceived in rhe
wornb" (Luke

2:21).

Naming

the boy during

the circumcision

rire

61
l'

oii

V.I.U.

in rhe Talrnud?' arid in the medieval midrash Pirqei

is al ) mencioned

de-J<.abbi Eliezer, which describes the naming


curncision.?"

of Moses ar his cir-

nor true ro rhe biblical cusrom of naming him ar birrh,

one more indicarion rhar rhe practice from ar Ieasr first-cemury


tine continued.

Pales-

It is also found in rhe earliest lirurgies for the brir in

the prayer books ofRabbi

'Amram Gaon (ninth cemury) and ofRabbi

Saadia Gaon (renrh cemury),93 and naming a J e-vish boy ar the rime
of circumcision

persisrs ro chis day.


rirnes, the main significance

of the boy's

.)tI.Juuiili,!;

rhe earlier cusrorn rhar the faeher makes a parry the nighr aher the
21 :8,

brir. The praof texr is adduced fram Gen.


feasr Abraham

which refers ro ehe

gave when Isaac was weaned.v' The early medieval

midrash now seems ta refer as well ro rhe newer cusrorn of rhe evening
before rhe feasr and shows how eager rhe aurhor was ro jusrify a newl~
borrowed cusrorn. linking
served

it ca an irrelevam biblical precedent

cumcision,

So-and-So,

ar ]ewish

public

name ar rhe cir-

the son of (narne of rhe farher). Even. this for-

mula has recently changed ro include rhe narne of the child's rnother

Hebrew name was especially for rhe occasions in rhe synagogue when

and farher. Before egalirarian forms of]udaism

boys were called ro read from che Tarah ar to recite rhe blessings.

tieth century, a person was referred to in the synagogue

In egalirarian

cirdes

roday, rhis applies ro girls and boys. In addi-

only

ca reveal his anxiery abolit rhe cusrorn's nou-jewish pedigree.

Boys are given their Hebrew

Hebrew orJewish names accompany a child rhrough rnosr life cycle


rires. In pre-egalirarian

Uld

rnorhers

narne, as roday in traditional

developed in rhe twenby his ar her

circles, only when a prayer was

rion, rhe Hebrew

names of a bride and groom appear an the mar-

said for rhe recovery of his ar her healrh. This practice was based on

riage documencs,

like the ketubbah. and chey also are inscribed

rhe anciem assumption

an

rhe gra\'eswne.
Although

In premodern
women have public uses for such a narne, the need for

men ro be called up ro read rhe Tarah in rhe 'i'oagogue


having Hebraic

names, Ta be sure, over rhe cenruries,

well as wornen had Greek, Latin, German,


as we find in rhousands of inscriprions,

led ro men
many men as

Arabic, and echer narnes

Still, because of rheir resrricted

ro rhe synagogue

Ages, a girl's name was announced

in rhe

a rnonth afrer she was born, rhe sarne rime when boys

is the biblical stipularion

rhat

afrer a rnother gives birrh to a boy she is rirually impure like a menpurihcation"

In rhe Middle

by going

for rhe naming ceremony. The basis of rhe period

of materna] seclusion and re-emergence

have only a vernacular


Aramaic.

tirnes, girls were given rheir narne, wherher a J ew-

ish one ar noe, an the fourth week aher rhe birrh, rhe same rime rhe

struant

synagogue

was cerrain.

rnother carne Out of seclusion and rejoined rhe cornmuniry

role in rhe synagogue, Jewish wornen were more likely rhan rnen ro
narne, not one also derived from Hebrew ar

rhar a persori's rnarerniry

(niddah) for severi days arid rernains "in a state of blood


for rhirry-rhree more days-forry

all rold; for a girl, how-

ever, a rnorher is unclean like a rnenstruanr

for fourreen days and is

"in a stare ofblood purificarion"

for sixry-six more days, ar a total of

received a vernacular name. More recenrly, a girI is named in rhe syn-

eighty. Sexual relarions could resume aher eirher seven ar fourreen

agogue an rhe firsr Sabbarh afrer she is born, the rime a son is named

days, but the rnorher was separared Eram rhe communiry

if, for medical reasons, he cannor have a brit on rhe eighrh day.

forcy Of eighry days. In Second Temple tirnes, rhe morher had a sacrifice

In the Bible, no parries are given when a child is born; nor is there
one on his circumcision.
Isaac was weaned (Gen.

Abraham and Sarah gave a pafty only when


21

:8), perhaps as much as rwo years afeer he

was born, a practice that has beeri revived only recendy

in some cir-

offered and was rhereby purined.95


tinued umil the destruction
In rhe Chrisrian

The sacrifice aher childbirrh

of the Temple in 70

West, the biblical requirement

as the pracrice of "churching,"

for eirher
con-

C.E.96

was interpreted

when a newly parrurienr

Chrisrian

des. The Afahzor Vit?')' rnentions a new cusrorn that the ba'al brie pro-

mo:her went ro church for rhe firsr rirne. Like it, the Je;ish

vides a meal in rhe horne rhe evening before the brit and then rnentions

rion varied from rime to rime and place ro place. In early Chrisrian-

tradi-

brrib,

"DUS,

Scoootmg

"

! ./
iry, Mary's presumed

ro Jesus, a boy, Chrisrian


synagogue

seven ro nine would lift rhe baby's crib three tirnes and cry out:

behavior became rhe norm. Since she gave birrh


wrirers assumed

rhar she returned

after forty days ..97 Jews from late antiquiry

Christian practice of sequesrering

rhe parturient

"Hollekreisch,

ro rhe

heissen?" (what
rhe Hollekreisch

an rhe same Sabbarh on wh-ich she received her Jewish

regardless of the sex of rhe child. The Talmucl gives as rhe reason for

synagogue; it rock place on rhe Sabbarh afrernoon

the separation

young girls lifred rhe cradle rhree tirnes.'?'

rhar during labor pains rhe rnother vows never ro have

sex again wiih her nusband.v'' In rhe fifteenth century, rhe cusrom is

An add.rional early modern German-Jewish

name in the

in rhe

home, and

cusrorn (sixreenrh cen-

tury an) conoeered the boy's religious oamiog ceremooy ac circurn-

on rhe fourth week

aher the birth of eirher a boy or a girl, when rhe farher received an

cision wirh rhe day his rnorher wem ro synagogue

'aliyah and the girl's name was publicly

four weeks afrer his birrh. Ar rhar rime, rhe farher received an 'aiiyah

also mentioned

in Italy (Modena)

announced.

This cusrorn is

in rhe sevenreenrh

cemury and in

and gave rhe synagogue the embroidered

easrern Europe.P?

four weeks, aJewish

gir! had a double naming

ish boy a second, secular naming


in fifteemh-century

Mainz,

the Tarah, rhe weddiog canopy, and a life of good deeds." Baprism
clorhs were likewise rerurned ro rhe church when a Chrisrian rnother

Rabbi Moses ben Isaac

was "churched," ar rerurned ro rhe religious cornmuniry.':"


The pr~_"cice ofHollekreisch

in which he deals with the

narne Hannah

answers rhat Hannah


lar naming

ceremony.

and rhe German

name Hanalein-he

is the way ro wrire it-he


He says his farher raughr

rnenrions

has basically disappeared

girls. Today, a gir! is usually named in rhe synagogue

of how ro wrire a bill of divorce (get) for a woman who has

the Hebrew

morifs echoing

the refrain ar the brir, "as he has emered rhe coveoaot, sa may he emer

ceremony and aJew-

already knew the term Holle-

kreisch from his farher, In a responsum


problem

clorh in which rhe boy was

narne was written an it, along with orher decorarive

rire. This occurred at home in the

peculiar cusrorn known as the Hollekreisch.


Minrz,

for rhe firsr rime,

swaddled during his brie, known as the "wirnpel." The child's Hebrew

In medieval Germany, when rhe mother carne Out of rhe house aher

wie soll das Kindschen

shall the Iirrle child be called?). A girl celebrared

followed the

mother for forry days,

arrested for rhe morher tO come to the synagogue

Hollekreisch

barh following her birrh. The farher (ar borh parems,

rhe secu-

him rhar "Holle-

for boys and

an rhe firsr Sab-I


in egalitarian

synagogues) is called ro rhe Tarah, the narne is announced,

and rhe ]

child is given a special blessing.

name ati

A ba)' is given a Hebrew

kreisch" comes Eram two Hebrew words: "qeriyas" (calling Out) and

the brie. No second ceremony exisrs ta besrow a secular name an boysl

"hol" (rhe secular [name]), and sa it means "calling out the secular

ar girls. In the United Srares, for example, rhe baby's legal name is \

narne," thar is, for the firsr tirne.'??

simply emered an rhe birth certificate and word spreads as ro rhe \

This etymology

is forced. The name of the rite contains one word,

child's "English" narne. Nor is rhere, in rhe vast majoriry of Jewish 1

nor rwo, and rhe Hebrew eryrnology reverses rhe syllables of the actual

cornmunities,

word: hol kreisch, nor qeriyas hol. As is ofren rhe case with second-

turienr rnother, rhough riruals continue

ary forced eryrnologies,

rhe effort indicates

rhat a non-jewish terrn

and custom have been taken over and made Jewish.


German

or central

European

cusrorn connecred

In rhis case, a

ro intimidating

demon known as Frau Holle has becotne part of aJewish naming cer-

The wimpel
~,

f1

emony for boys and girls.


It rook place afrer rhe Shabbar meal. If the child is a boy, boys age

a special rite today ro rnark the emergence


also disappeared

of a par- ,,

ta evolve.

as a general

practice,

it

rhough

remained a peculiarity of J ewish life in earIy modern and modern Germany. It became a record of a new male member
In some comrnuniries,

of the comrnuniry,

the wimpel was stored in the synagogue

and

used during rhe boy's bar mirzvah ceremony as a Tarah binder and
- -

',
!

again during his wedding.

tsm,

<br,s,

),))(JUlllli!,

/)1 ts,

itn).

JLlJVlJlilli,

"the firsr issue of the wornb" and nor the stornach. Finally, the rnorher
Pidyon
The

of rhe firsrborri

redemprion

Although

it has

(Redemption of tbe Pirstbom)

ha-Ben

a:

biblical mandate,

ta perform it. The commandment


of Exodus and Numbers:
'Consecrare

is nor a common

and farher may nor be descended from rhe rribe oflevi.


occurrence.

few ]ews .actually are required

is derived from verses in rhebooks

"The Lord spoke furrher ro Moses, saying:

ta Me every firsr-born; man and beasr, rhe first issue of

every womb among rhe Israelires is Mine" (Exod. 1J: 1-2); '''and you
must redeem

every first-born

male among

your children"

13: I3 and 34:20); '''You shall give Me the {irst-bom

(Exod.

among

your

The connection

farhers who are a Kohen ar levi te and morhers who are a firstborn of
rhose groups.
Consequently,

unlike. a brie, which depends only an a fifry-fifry

rhance of a child's being a male, a pidyon does nor occur in more


(han five ro rwenry percenr of firsr births, depending
]ews who live in a particular

of rhe rire wirh sparing the Israelires'

firsrborn in

eligible by definirion,

an how many

claim descenr from the tribe


births rhar are nor

rhe odds thar any birrh will require the ceredepending

on rhe family size of a parricu-

Iar comrnuniry. The biblical thirry days is observed, and the amounr
of the redeeming

Egypr is made explicit:

comrnuniry

of levi. If one takes into accounr all subseguenr


mony drops dramarically,

sens" (Exod. 22:28).

Thar excludes

was sripulated

in the Talmud as "hve coins'' that

are given ro rhe Kohen who officiares as the represenrative

priestly class.l'" As in most of rhe rires. the rabbis sancrified rhe act

The Lord spoke ro Moses, saying: 1 hereby take rhe Levires from among
rhe Israelires

of the

itself by stipulating

in place of al! the firsr-born, rhe first issue of rhe womb

blessings over rhe event. In this case, rhe farher

among che Israelires: the Levires shall be Mine. For every firsr-born

says tWOover the redemprion

of rhe firsrborn son: "Blessed are You,

is Mine: ar rhe rime rhar 1srnore every firsr-born in rhe land of Egypr.

O Lord our God, King of rhe Universe, Who has sanceified us by His

1 consecrated every frst-born in Israel, man and beasr, ro Myself, ro

commandments

be Mine, rhe Lords (Nurn. 3:11-13 and Num. 8:16-18).103

born (al pidyon ha-ben)."

and commanded

us on rhe redernpr ion of the firsr-

The second is the blessing that is recired the first rime one reaches
The rime of rhe cornrnandrnenr

is stipulared

as well as the arnount:

"And rhe Lord spoke furrher ta Aaron [ancesrors of the Kohanim]:


Take as their redemption

...

price for the age of one rnonrh up, rhe money

a particular

srage of life or season of rhe year. In ir one thanks Gad

for "having kepr us alive, preserved us, and enabled us ta reach this
season" (sheheh';yal1u).J05 In post-Talmudic

times, a dialague was corn-

eguivalent of five shekels'' (Num. 18:8, 16). The New Testament offers

posed berween the farher and the Kohen. One elaborare version is

early evidence thar it was done in rhe Temple wirh sacrifices for Iesus,

found in that grear cornpilation

according

Maharil. In recent years, a new rite has been crafted for firsrborn daugh-

ro luke

The srarisrical

2:22-24,
rari ry of the event is clear from rhe biblical

alone. First of all, rhe child must be male. Thar elirninates


cent of aU birrhs. In addirion,

rexts

fifty per-

rhe boy musr be the firsrborn, which

means ro rhe exclusion of any miscarriage

ar srillbirrh.

Moreover, the

of Ashkenazic rires artribured

ters, called "Pidyon ha-Bar" (Redernption

ta rhe

of a Daughterj.i'"

A ceremony that did nor outlive biblical rimes is rhe celebrarion


of a child's weaning, as rnenrioned earlier. From biblical rimes ta roday,
then, the only rires of infancy rhat have persisted

are circumcision

child must be bom naturally; caesarian birrh is excluded by rhe phrase,

and the redemption

"the first-born, rhe first issue of rhe womb among rhe Israelites" (Nurn.

the rabbis sanctified rhe ceremony and Jews internalized

comrnonly

3: 12). This is raken ta be restricted

pracriced

and made

66

ta rhose nrstborn

who are also

custorns

of the firstborn, boch male riruals, In each case,


from rhe non-Jewish

surroundings

btrtb, "Bris,'
rhern pan of rhe Jewish

Birth, ..Bris, ., Scbooling

Scboo/mg

rire. This pattern

of openness ro rhe larger

cuI ture is also clearly seen in rwo addirional rires of passage rhat developed for rhe firsr time in Christian
ish boy imo Hebrew

Europe: rhe initiarion

of the Jew-

learning and rhe firsr haircut.

srands a doorkeeper. To rhis doorkeeper rhere comes an ordinary man


and requesrs entrj into the Law. But the doorkeeper
. nor gram him enrry now."

17

The medieval derails of rhe small Jewish boy's school initiarion


ceremony into Torahlearning

A JEWISH

BOY'S

Because of rhe unlikelihood


redeemed

as a firsrborn,

INITIATION

INTO

early medieval

refrain at rhe end of rhe brit

rirnes under Islam. Ir appears for rhe firsr rime in

medieval Christian Europe as a special ceremony that takes place, ar


least in Germany, on rhe Iare spring festival of Shavuot (Penrecost),

rhe rime rabbinic J udaism raught that Gad gave the Tarah ro Moses

rhe Tarah," then "emer the huppa," and rhen live a life of"good deeds."

an Mount Sinai.

text can generare

midrash

commemary,

generare differem ritual inrerprerarions


is what happened

ro rhe enigmatic

Even as ambiguiry

sa ambiguity

in a

in a rire can

in the form of new rites. This

phrase, "ro emer rhe Tarah."

Ir first came ta mean ta emer ar ro be iniriared


the Tarah as a small child. Thar meaning

inro rhe srudy of

is ascribed

ro it when a

newly fashioned Tarah iniriarion ceremony emerges in rhe Rhineland


and northern

France somerime

rhe new rite combines variations of elernenrs found in

Talmudic

mnemonics

and early medieval

increasing

and reraining

whenJews

in medieval norrhern France and Germany rook these early

one's learning,

magical
chis

elernenrs and rheir awareness of comemporary

rraditions

ceremony
Chrisrian

for

emerged

images and

rituals all around rhern and fashioned rhis ritual as a polemical response
ro rhern. It drarnatically

denied rhe efficacy of Chrisrian

Iirurg ical

cen-

rites by insread affirming the rrurhs of Jewish learning of rhe Tarah,


expressed rhrough food symbols and rheir associarions wirh rhe Tarah

rhe sixreenth

cemury

as God's word. (Fig. 3)

ta disappear,

"ro emer rhe Terah" carne ta mean rhe rime when a

boy of rhirteen

in rhe Iare twelfrh and rhirreen

Alrhough

turies. \Yle do nor know whar rhe phrase meam before then, but by

perform

in Germany,

as rnost of rhe ceremony

years and a day performed

all rhe commandmems

began

a rire when he began to

of the Torah as an adulr male for

The special ritual iniriarion

ceremony is preserved

sive wrirren versions, in one illuminated


fragmemary manuscripr aIlusions.

108

manuscripr,

in six exrenand in a few

Early an the morning of rhe late

rhe tirsr rime. Thar rire of passage came ta be called "bar rnitzvah"

spring festival of Shavuot (Penrecosr), sorneone wraps rhe boy in a

(lirerally, obligared),

coat or taI/it (prayer shawl) and carries him Eram his house ta rhe

of cultural
medieval

initiarion

a newly elaborare ceremony of a differem


rhat developed

around

core but carne ta full expression

early modern

I r

or

omirs any memion of ir and goes an to wish rhar the child next "emer
The phrase "emer rhe Torah" is ambiguous.

have been revived recenrly among Ultra-

Orrhodox Iews, even though it did not exist in biblical, rabbinic,

TORAH

rhar any child might be eligible for being


the liturgical

says that he can-

central

Europe.

a slim anciem

kind
and

for rhe firsr time only in

It did nor become widely practiced

teacher, The boy is then seared on the reacher's lap, and rhe teacher
shows him a tablet an which rhe Hebrew alphabet has been written.
The teacher reads the lerrers first forwards, rhen backwards, and finally

umil modern rimes, and it is now universal among J ews around rhe

in symmetrically

world.

repear each sequence aloud. The reacher smears honey over the Iet-

By rhe time Fra~z Kafka used rhe phrase it meam neirher rire, but
had beeri rransformed

into a secularized lirerary rnetaphor, In his novel

paired combinations,

and he encourages

rhe boy ta

ters an rhe tabler and tells rhe child ta lick it off.


Cakes an which biblical verses have been wrirten are braught

in.

Tbe Triat, Kafka begins his parable "Before the Law": "Before the law

They must be baked by virgins frorn Bour, honey, oil, and milk. Next

68

.60

He said ta rne, "Mortal,

ear whar is offered you: ear chis scroll, and

go speak ro rhe House of Israel." Sa 1 opened my rnourh, and He gave


me chis seral! ro ear, as He said ro rne, "Mortal,

feed your stornach

and fii! your belly wirh rhis seroll rhar 1 give you." 1 are it, and it
tasted as sweet as honey ro me (Ezek. 3:1-3) .

. In rhe child's initiation ceremony, rhe Jewish bOJ acrually lic '.;~[-;(lr;cy'
off of rhe wrirren Hebrew alphaber and praceeds ro ear honey cakes
and hard-boiled

eggs on which Hebrew lerrers ofbiblical

orher rexrs have beeri wrirren. Honey is menrioned,

verses and

for exarnple, in

the firsr cenrury by Philo of Alexandria as a source of learning and


exemplifies rhe idea of rhe rirualization
In rhe rransirion

of rneraphor,

from adult Terah leaming

19

rites from anr iquiry

for young Jewish boys, some elemenrs

3. Tbe scbool iniriation gene. Leipzig Mahzor, Leipzig, Unioersirarsbioliorbee,

inro the medieval iniriarion

Hebreu: Ma7lllscript, Vollers Catalogne

were mixed rogerher, while orhers were omirred in rhe ceremony as

I02, l'o!. t . fo!. I3 Ia. Reirinted u.itb

we have it. Although

permission. Pboro credit: S,,::;alll7eKarl/mall

our ancesrors,"

rhar rhe ceremony was "a cusrorn of

claiming

rhe authors cite only biblical rexts, such as rhe pas-

sage from Ezekiel, but no Talmudic or post- Talmudic literar)' sources


come shelled
inscribed.

hard-boiled

eggs an which

more verses hav., been

The teacher reads rhe words wrirren on the cakes and eggs,

and the boy irnirares whar he hears and rhen ears rhem borh.
The reacher next asks the child ta recite an incantation
POTAH,

the prince of forgerfulness

(sar ha-shikhehah),

adjuring

ta go far away

and nor block rhe boy's hearr (Iei:: i.e., mind). The reacher also instructs

rhe boy ta sway back and forrh when srudying


sons our loud.

and ro sing his les-

of the rire, rhe reacher leads the boy down ro the

river bank and reils hirn rhat his furure srudy ofTorah,

Appearing

110

twelfrh- and early rhirreenrh-cenrury

like rhe rush-

for the first tim , in late

Germany and France, the ini-

tiarion rire places special ernphasis an earing symbolic foods at a rime


when Chrisrian culrure was newly focused an the central significance
of rhe eucharistic

sacrifice in rhe form of specially sweetened wafers

and wine.!"
jews cerrainly knew about rhe euehariseic sacrifice and irs requiremenrs, since rhey sold Chrisrians

As a reward, rhe child gers ta eat fruir, nurs, and orher delicacies.
At the conclusion

as proof rexts for rheir claim.

it, II2 We also have an imeresring

everything
complainr

around

they needed ro enaer


by Rigord, King Philip

Augusrus's

court biographer,

in northern

France rhar he regards as blasphemous

1200,

abour Jewish behavior


mocking of rhe

ing water in the river, wil! never end. Doing alI of these acrs, we are

Eucharist, and it overlaps ar Ieasr in part with elemenrs of rhe chil-

rcld, will "expand rhe [child's]

dren's initiat ion ceremony:

The child's schooling

heart."

initiarion

rire was a new way of concretely

acring out the biblical vision of rhe prophet

Ezekiel, who picrures

himself lirerally eating God's words in rhe form of a scroll:


70

Certain

ecclesiasrical

vessels consecrared

ro God-the

chalices and

crosses of gold and silver bearing the image of our Lord Jesus Chrisr

71

Birth.,
. crucified-had

been pledged

Il

-e-i,; Scbooling
[Q

'l

Birtb, "Bris," Sehooling

rhe Jews by way of securiry when the

of four-Ierrer

combinarions

-1

but is ro recite rwice as a word only rhe

need of rhe churches was pressing. These rhey used so vilely, in rheir

last four lerrers of rhe Hebrew alphabet. Doing sa resulrs in a sound

impiery and scorn of the Chrisrian religion, rhar from rhe cups in which

rhar resembles "Chrisre, Chrisre!" The medieval aurhorRabbi

the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Chrisr was consecrared rhey gave

rin says rhat rhe reason rhar only rhese four'lerrers

their children cakes soaked in wine.

pronounced

II

are doubled

is rhar rhey alene appear rwice in the biblical

"When Moses eharged us wirh rhe Tarah as rhe heritage


Alrbough

rhe Jewish

children's

make use of wine, Rigords

repon

iniriarion

cerernony

of the purposes

designed

memioned

ro interpret

Of re Iared inrerest

script references from early fourreenrh-cenrury


ish magical ceremony

gregation

from rhe same rime and place as

some of rhe Hebrew accoums rnakes it plausible


as paft of a mock Eucharisr.

does nor

Ashkenaz

ta enhance sorneone's

and
verse,

of rhe con-

of Jacob" (Deur. 33:.:j.). This is one of rhe verses wrirren

an rhe rabler during

rhe iniriation ceremony. Those lerrers are in


fact found twice in rhar verse, but sa are orher lerrers, such as lamed

the cakes

are Hebrew

Leon- .

rnanu-

and beb. It is a foreed inrerprerarion

ro a Jew-

designed

ta rarionalize

rom rhar was borrowed from Christian practice. Ir judaizes

memory, one

inro Jewish
itse lf. 116

for rhe cake ceremony. Jewish adulrs are

a cus-

rhe import

ritual of words rhar are derived frorn rhe narne Chrisr

ro ear small honey cakes inscribed wirh rhe Hebrew alphaber arid sorne
of the same verses used in rhe childreri's
rhe ceremony is ro be performed

cerernony, In rhis case, since

on che eve of a festival, rhe celebranr

is also ro drink a cup of wine over which special formulas

are ro be

recired. Here, chen, we have wir.e arid honey cakes rcgerher!":'


The overlap among che various references ta cake and wine ceremonies suggests

rhat rhe boy's initiarion

cerernony,

Rigords

accu-

sation, and rhe Jewish magical memory rire share a ritual vocabulary
that makes use of rhe syrnbols of rhe Chrisrian
are direcred roward Jewish purposes,

serve as a mock Eucharist

Mass. Those elernenrs

and some of rhe rime rhey also

in a polemical

confromarion

wirh Christ-

ian sanctiries.

Whar became of rhe medieval

iniriarion cerernony?

persisred in schools, but nor-in mosr localities.

Elernenrs

of it

If anyone conrinued

ro eat lerrers baked on cakes or wrirren on eggs on Shavuot,


adulrs, as reBected in magical fon:.mularies, nor children

ir was

beginning

sehooling. And yet, we occasionally carch a rrace of selecred elemenrs


of rhe complex medieval initiarion

rire rhat somehow survived inro

modern rirnes.
For example, in Hebrew alphaber wall charrs frorn sevenreenrhltaly, influenced by custorns from norrhern

Europe, we find quoted rhe phrase firsr found in rhe norrhern

French

rian Pentecosr cusrorn: "Before rhe vigil service srarrs , .. blessing is

liturgical

beseowed an a bowl of eooked wbeat cereai mixed wirh ground nurs,

it is rhe srrap an his back." On these charrs we also find a woodcur

spices, and honey, Cakes and breads of whear flour, which the people

ar engraving rhar illustrares the rwo parrs of rhis saying. Angels hover

bring are also blessed, These foods are called Kollyba (fine pasrry), a

over the sehoolboys and drop coins ar eandies ro illustrare

symbol of resurrecrion
the fai rhful.

"II

of rhe body (John

12:24), They are offered by

A shorr relared rire, preserved

and eighteenrh-cenrury

One might also compare rhe cakes ro be earen on Shavuor ro a Chris-

The Ceremony Breaks Up

compilarion

Mahzor Vitry: "firsr we enrice him, and then

rnenr part of rhe proverb,

rhe enrice-

and in a second scene, a teacher

raises a

whip ro a terrified child.


in

(WO

manuscriprs,

reporrs rhat a

child who learns the Hebrew alphabet is ro reci te rhe lerrers in groups

The illusrrarion

of rhe angel reealls nor only the Hebrew

but a ritual in Chrisrian practice. In wesrern Germany,


73

saying

on the feasr

131rtIJ. "ons,"

of the Annunciation,

JJ;rf/J,

:JebooLmg
,t

March 25, "a boy dressed as an angel and sus-

"

pended an a rope Eram the Holy Ghost Hale would slowIy descend
inside rhe church and hanging
rhe approaching
.moanion
C',
_.1.
.l

srared up ar

rheir lirtle ones believe that Gabriel's

The angels dropping

tO

America.

As porrrayed

zrant life on rhe Lower Easr Side in rhe early twenrieth

cemury, rhe

reacher srands behind


He dropscandies

the schoolboy who is poring over his studies.

ontorhe

book and says, in Yiddish,

"Look whar an

angel has dropped frorn heaven." The rire is a riruaiizarion


ian wall-chart

image of an angel dropping

somerhing

of rhe Italon rhe child

l.is memoir,
]ewish

and educator

Shmarya Levin (1867-I935)

relares in

Cbildhood in Exi!e, rhar when he began his elememary

educarion

,:
I

"

in the form of a blessing.


The Zionist

ft

in

film Hester Street. abour New York Jewish imrni-

rhe American]ewish

invccarion ro POTAH,

"7

in Poland a parry was held at rhe house ar which

rhe eeacher (melamed) and familyand

guests alI wenr to his house for

1
.,.

wirh honey, and 1 was rold ta lick the honey off. And when I bent

relared ro

it is the prayer book, nor

demon of forgerfulness.

eggs or cakes, no
Note,

roo, rhat rhe

school wirh rhe reacher.


The other element found in Levin's memoir that is also in the original rexrs from medieval Germany
farher wrapping

and France is the gesrure of rhe

che child in a rallir, ar prayer shawl, and raking him

that way ro rhe reacher, But the sequeoce is now reversed.

In ehe

medieval rexrs, rhe parem or a wise person wraps the child and takes
hirn ta rhe reacher, who presides over rhe alphaber cerernony. In Levin's
memory, rhe honey ceremony is a family cusrorn and is followed by
rhe trip ta rhe reacher, Norhing

else in the wrirren versions survived.

Apare Erom such fragmentary


]ewish children rended

tO

rraces of rhe medieval

ceremony,

emer school, as in ancienc rabbinic rimes,

whenever they were ready, nor just an Shavuor. Adults,


incantation

Ta me was handed a prayer-book. Two of rhe pages had been smeared

inro sornerhing

honey ceremony takes place in rhe home with rhe family, nor in rhe

children, continued

a big celebrarion:

ar elirninated.

versions. The core experience

an alphaber charr. There is no menrion o(ioscribed

rewards from heaven were also made inro a

ritual in eastern Europe and brought

cemury, elernents of rhe

medieval wrirren ceremony have become abbreviated

is licking honey from a Hebrew book.Here

invisible

an bcels had broughr thern these presents from Heaven."

In this passage from rhe late nineteenrh

but different from rhe earlier wrirten

"angel" their mothers put cookies and candy on the

cew benches making

:JJouilllg

Those thar remain have been transformed

in midair would address 'Mary' wirh

rhe words of Gabriel [Luke I:26ff.].' While rhe children

"Bns;

ta associate special foods wirh the holidays. The

againsr POTAH,

school initiarion,

rarher rhan

rhe prince of forgerfulness,

as parc of a

like its narnesake, was forgorren.

Another element from the medieval initiarion ceremony persisred

my head ro obey, a rain of cap per and silver coins descended abour

down ro modem rimes but migrared

ta a differenc rime of rhe year.

me. They had been thrown down,

The cusrorn of giving schoolchildren

honey cakes is no longer asso-

angels ....

50

my grandfarher rold me, by the

When rhe ceremany was over, my farher lifted rne up,

ciared with rhe Shavuot holiday in rhe spring but now comes ar Rosh

wrapped me fram head ro foot in a silken Talith, ar praying shawl,

Hashanah, rhe ]ewish New Year, in the fall. This custorn is a merg-

arid carried me in his arrns all rhe way ro rhe cheder. My morher cauld

ing of two separate sers of food symbols. Since in ]ewish

noe cerne alang-rhis

the New Year is rhoughr ta be the anniversary of rhe day the world

liS.

was rnan's business. Such was rhe cusrom among

The chiJd was carried in rhe arrns of ilie father all rhe way to rhe

was creared, marking it by earing honey was understood

rradition

ta represenr

cheder. It was as if some dark idea srirred in their minds that chis

thar rhe entire cosmos was a divine gift. But honey need nor be g iven

child was a sacrifice, delivered over ro rhe cheder-and

to children in the form of a sweetened cake. In northern Europe, adulrs

be carried all rhe way. Il8

a sacrifice must

customarily are red apples and honey and still do. The honey cake is
74

75

ol!"tb, "om,'
a faint [face of rhe medieval

school iniriarion

dren begin rheir srudies now in Septernber,


with school and with the]ewish
ternporary

equarion

Birtb. "Bris. ,. Scbooling

jcbool/l/g

spring Hebrew momh ofIyyar, Jews made pilgrimages

rire. Aud since chil-

rhe associarion

in the rown ofMeron

of honey

New Year have been merged-a

con-

in Galilee, especially rhose of the firsc-cenrury

Palestinian sages, Hillel and Shammai. Their graves were locared in


a cave whose.warers were rhoughr ro have healing powers.When

of honey cakes and Torah.

from Spain began ro arrive in Orrornan


i

A New C ombined Rite by U ltra-Ortbodox [eios and Others


Recenrly, part of rhe honeyed-alphabet
rhe unprecedenred

cusrom has beeri revived in

circles (haredi7ll) in Israel and America with

Ulua-OrrhodoxJewish

twisr of combining

it wirh rhe first curring

of a

boy's hair at age rhree. This practice never had any hisroric connection with the Hebrew
curring aJewish

iniriation

cerernony. The cusrom of

boy's hair for the firsr rime at a specific age or date

in rhe calendar
nor menrioned

alphabet

is unknown

ro biblical and Talmudic

in manyrnedieval

offer a sacrifice of rhanksgiving.

culrure.

sources eirher. It originated,

as an Arab custorn in which parents

cur a newborn

in faer,

II

boy's hair and

day afrer birrh.

These of ten

include rhree parts: sacrifice of a sheep, shaving rhe child's hair, and
a fesrive rneal.
Some viewed

removing

rhe hair as a way of elirninaring

Important

Iberian Jewish scholars, such as Rabbi ]oseph

moved ro Safed, in Palestine, and would

visit rhe grave of Rabbi Shirnon on rhe Jewisb festivals, because rhey
thoughr special spiritual powers remained from rhe days when Rabbi
Safed mysric Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as ha-

ARI (ha-Ashkenazi

Rabbi Isaac), srarred going ro rhe grave ofRabbi

Shimon bar Yohai especially on rhe eighreenrh

third day between rhe second day of Passover, when the firsr sheaf
('omer) of rhe barley harvest was first offered in rhe ancienr Temple,

and ShaVUOLJews count oEE chedays berween the festivals and refer

sands of Rabbi Akiva's srudenrs

ta express

]ews

second-cenrury

in J ewish ri mal is characrerized

boy ro fruit trees that may nor be earen umil


of weighing

rhe hair and giving

arnounr ro chariry was paft of rheJewish


and is srill practiced

ceremony in easrern Europe

elsewhere roday.""

It srarred in Palesrine.
the so-called

the fourth

an equivalent

For cenruries,

were perrnirted
According
1.,:,-

I
I

a rnonth after Passover, on

Second Passover (Pesah sheni), in rhe middle

of rhe late

[l = 30; g= 3]). According

ta medieval

rra-

of a plague thar killed thou-

between

Passover and Shavuot

Palestine. Acrivities orherwise forbidden during

in
the

counring of rhe Omer period, such as marriage and cutting one's hair,

"

by rnoving the ceremony ta age three, based on rhe analogy of a rhreeyear. 12:J The custam

of the rnonth of Iyyar.

This date is aIso known by rhe Hebrew name fag ba- 'omer: rhe t11irty-

partook of rhe sacrificial sheep. The meal was an opportuniry

year-old

rhere.

The important

dition, Lag ba-Omer was an interruprion

Haircurring

Karo and

Rabbi Solomon Ha-Levi Alkabetz, who lived in ciries of the Orrornan


Ernpire, such as Adrianopole,

the weight in metal and give it ro rhe peor, The poor and orhers also

it ro a] ewish context.

mystical classic Zahar.

aurhor of the Spanish-Jewish

acronym for thirry-three

I19

Palesrine, rhey shifred rhe

ro it as "councing rhe Omer" (sefil'at ha- 'omer), (The word fag is an

rhe

in Palesrine borrowed parc of rhis cusrom from rhe Arabs and adapred

rhe rradirional

influence of evil spirirs. It was rhe cusrom ro weigh rhe hair arid rake

joy ar rhe birth of a new member of rhe Muslim cornrnuniry,

] ews

focus of pilgrirnage ro rhe gravesjte rhere ofRabbi Shimon bar Yohai,

Shimon had taughe Zoharic rradirions

It is

In Islam, rhere are severa! rires asso-

ciared with rhe child on rhe seventh

ro holy graves

on Lag ba-Omer.':"
ta one of his srudenrs,

when he first visited the grave

ofRabbi Shimon bar Yohai, Rabbi Shlomo Luria cur his son Moshe's
hair for rhe firsr rime. The fesriviries on chis day were also linked ro
a phrase in rhe Zahar, the festival of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai ("hilula
de-rabbi shimon bar yohai"). Jews lir great bonfires, echoing rhe Arab
cusrorn ro make fires for the sacrifice of sheep afrer a child was born,

I
\

arid special songs were sung in the ancienr rabbi's honor, Even rhough
77

B irtb. 'SriJ.' Scbooling

Bi1~th, 'Bris," Scbooling


rhe boly graves in Meron had beeri visited as pilgrimage
ruries, Rabbi Shlorno Lurias
cuning

cusrorn ser in morion

sites for centhe practice

a sori's hairtor rhe firsr rime in Meron on Lag ba-Omer,

it has'ci)minued

of
and

I
i

through

practice conrinued in Palesrine and easrern Europe

rhe ninereenth

cemury and down ta rhe 1945 (in Europe)

and ta today in Palestine/Israel

withour

making

the nearly forgorren honeyed alphabet initiation

ro che presenr there.

In addi rion, rhe grear sancrity ] ews ascribed ta the myseical reachShlomo Luria led other ]-:\':s wi:o srudied rhe Zahar ca

incs ofRabbi

The haircutting

years ago.]231n

rhe I990S, books describing

any connection

ro

rire umil just a few

a combined

rire-a

haircut followed by the honeyed alphabcr ceremony-s-were

first

published

follow chis custom. SoonJews


ro creat Lag ba-Omer

who were not rnystical scbolars began

as rhe rime ta make a pilgrimage

ca Meron,

in Israel in Hebrew and in rhe United

Srares, in English and Yld-

dish, as how-ro books for parems ro show rheir children. They explain

where rhey would sing and dance, cut rhe hair of cheir small sons for

thar on the boy' s rhird birthdav, he recei ves his first pair of Ion bo- pants

the nrsr rime, engage in various rnystical exercises, and visit rhe grave-

and his first ritual undergarmem,

side ofRabbi Shirnon bar Yohai. By rhe sevenreerirh cenrury, rhe addi-

under rhe shirt. He also gers his firsr haircur.

tional rradirion developed

that Rabbi Shirnon bar Yohai had died on

Lag ba-Omer. This added ca the day the sanct iry of remembering
anniversary

of rhe dearh of agreat

saries of one's parents'


Israelis cusromarily

sage. (See Chapter 4, an anniver-

death, or Yahrzeir.) On Lag ba-Omer

roday,

lighr bonfires and have cookouts rhroughour

counrry, a secularized

form of rhe original celebrarion

Somecime in the late eighceemh


liturgical

the

and orher custams

or eariy ninereenrh

the

in Meron.

begun by the mysrical cireles of Rabbi

Note rhat by doing

this, he goes from being a litrle wild thing ro becoming

a lirrle hasid,

since now his earlocks are lefr uncur arid Bow down rhe sides of his
face. Li.ke rhe rransirion from birrh ta bri t, when the] ewish boy first
is transformed

from an imperfecc natural crearure inro a Iirrle Jew-

ish boy by beiog circumcised,


now by growing

cenrury, many

a kind of mini prayer shawl worn

the rhree-year-old

is furrher civilized

up rituaily.

The curring away of his hai r, again ar; ace of rernoval viewed as a
positive change culrurally, leaves the hair thar is significam,

rhe ear-

Shlomo Luria in Safed spread ro eastern Europe among the growing

locks, or "pe'os," which by Jewish law are forbidden

ta be cur ofE. He

cornmuniries

also purs on

life: firsr, ritual

of the Hasidim

or ]ewish

Friday evening service of "Welcoming

sbabbat), recired by all traditional


ern European

pierisrs.

They adopred

rhe

the Sabbarh Bride" (qabbalat

Jews of the Ashkenazic

or north-

rite today, Safed mysrics also wrote cyeles of Sabbach

[WO

garmems

that add ta his ]ewish

fringes (zizit), which are ta remind hirn of rhe eommandmems

he

begins ta follow, and, second, long pams, which are a furrher sign
thar he is becoming a lirtle rnan. An indicarion

of rhe link between

songs ro accompany the Friday evening arid Sabbarh noon meals, and

the first haircut and maturiry, is a special gold-colored

rhey are still sung roday by most traditional]

ro be placed on lirrle boys when rhey are rhree. It picrures a boy wear-

Anorher part of rhe Safedlegacy


]ewish
Hasidim

piery was rhe haircutting


celebrated

Omer. Although
"upsherenish,"

ews.

ta Hasidic and larer traditional


ceremony.

In easrern Europe, the

it an rhe child's rhird birrhday,

nor on Lag ba-

for "haircut,"

"halaqa," which is Arabic for "haircur,"


origins even in Yiddish!

Israeli Hasidim

ing a big black skullcap and long side curls, smiling in his new arba'

kanfot (child's rallir), whieh he wears over his dress whire shirr and
on which is wrirren "Mazel Tov." Written

in a band, encireling

the

rire as

boy, are the Yiddish words "1 am three years old!" and pairs of scis-

roday caH it

sors cutting hair are pierured ar the bonom of rhe circular band. The

the Hasidic Jews refer ta this haircutting


Yiddish

round sticker

thereby preserving

irs Arab

sticker is dated I994. Some modern Italian bovs used ta receive rheir
J

firsr pair of Iong pants when they were confirmed

as reenagers.":'

Birtb,

Following

-e.: Scbooling

Birtb, "Bris,' Scbooling


new but also a continuarion

rhe haircur, the boy is raughr the Hebrew alphaber on

rnenrarion

medieval initiation ceremooy. He oow ingesrs Tonih and honey, God's

dernonstrated

gifrs ro the Jews. He wi11 start learning

as marking

combinarion,

rhese tWO independent

a new compound

his aleph bers, Of ABCs. In,


are an innovarion,

cerernonies

rire rhat Ulrra-Orrhodox

jews have invenred in the

late t\ventieth cenrury. Thrce bcoks for children and parenrs were published orily in rhe early 19905.
The alphaber ceremooy is nor paft of an ongoing

I
I
I
I
I

European rradi-

rion. In realiry, rnost of rhe beder iniriation

rire faded away in Iare

medieval rirnes. Only small parrs persisred

arid rhen in newly fash-

ioned forms, such as the parent or reacher rhrowi~g


00

coins or caody

the book and saying rhar an angel had rhrown it from heaven.

Orher Je\vs have already adopred

and adapted

rhe idea, and it has

spread ro other secrors of rhe Jewish world. For exarnple, Jonarhan


and Gaj] Schorsch creared rheir own combined
ley, California,

for rheir son Emanuel.

duce tbree-year-old
The pattern

Sorne Orrhodox J ews intro-

ro a rirst haircut for boys.

of reinveming

sources,

Rabbi

rhe ceremony

from one of rhe earliest


of \'Vorms's SefiI' ha-

Eleazar ben Judah

Roqeab. exernplifies the recent form of Jewish fundamentalism


neo-rradirionalisrn

rhat is a late rwenrierh-cenrury

This lirurgical and ritual invenriveness

phenornenon.P''

is also characterisric

movemem

and

of progressive,

of the

late I960s and rhe rerurn-ro-judaism

irarian varieties. They have in common a break from any organic, his-

egal-

rorical rradirion from parent ro child and replace it wirh a book, either
a venerable one, as 'in the case of the Ulrra-Orthodox

11a-Roqeah from early-rhirreenrh-cenrury


logues, in the progressive

raking up Sefer

Gerrnany, or theJelcisb Cata-

communiry.

It should also be neted that the very process of ritual inventiveness is irself a persisring

pattern

of traditional

alphaber ceremony irself was an innovation


reenrh cemuries;

girls (( Friday night and festival canJle lighting

as a female equivalenr
medieval

12

cerernony in Berke-

[l

Jewish

culrure. The

in the rwelfrh and thir-

its revival as part of rhe haircutring

rire, rhen, is

of that pattern

of Jewish

ritual experi-

and self-discovery that is a constant, Thar pattern is also

a special chare smear~d wirh honey, which he licks up, a link ro rhe

in the gradual emergence of the bar rnirzvah ceremony


rhe coming of age of a J ewish boy and d~e modern

of bat mitzvah and contirrnation.

ri tes

Bar 1\1it:1'ab, Bat Mitzz'ah,


Our Rabbis taught:

Conirmat ion

A minor who knows how ro shake [the lulav] is

subiect ca rhe obligation

of rhe lulav. [lf he knows how] ca wrap him-

self] wirh the rallir] he is subject ro rhe obligarion

of zizir: (ifhe knows

how] ca look afrer refillin, his farher must acquire tetillin for him; if
he is able ro speak, his farher must reach him Terah and the reading

Bar Nlitzvah,

~,frhe Shema.6

Bat :Nlitzvah,

Alrhough

rhe phrase "ar age rhirreen,

subject

rnenrs" refers ro rhe age when a boy is obligated


mandmems,

Conhrmation

ro rhe command-

ro do all of the corn-

like an adult male Jew, seve ral ritual rornrnandmenrs

are ro be done by a young boy who is capable of doing


Among rhese are purring on refillin and being called

[O

50

earlier.

read rhe Torah

in public wirh rhe blessings before and after rhe reading irself.? These
two commandmems
TU'CI!fy,

not tbirteen, marks

sibil iry, and adulrhood.

CI
I

biblical Israelite male's time o matnriry, respon-

a boy who reached rhe age of rhirreen years and aday, But being rhir-

Even afcer che rabbis inrroduced

reen was nor reguired for a Jewish boy ro do eirher of rhese public

age chir-

reen for the firsr rime, along with signs of physical rnaruriry,
cor;rinued

te be significanr

as rhe minimum

ing real estare , for exarnple.


rhirreen,

subject

would larer be associared in particular only with

It is noe cIear when the significance

before he reached rhirreen.>


Tbe Mishnah and Talmud

age for buying and sell-

\,>/'hat is the rneaning , rhen, of "ar age

ro rhe commandmenrs"

do we know whar it implied

twenry

(Pseudo-M.

:;-;,sorne Muslim-Jewisb
mandrnenrs

nor

abour how a boy could act religiously

comrnuniries,

long aher certain corn-

had been restricred in pan:s of Chrisrian

thirteen-year-old

Avot Y23)i

of age rhirteen firsr emerged;

acrs eirher in Talrnudic or early medieval rimes."

boys,Jews cominued

Europe only

[O

[O

teach rheir sons ta perform

rhern when ready. In Yemen, for example,

rhe custorns of bar rnitz-

vah did nor develop


ar all. With Iirtle difference between reli baious
.
rninoriry and rnajoriry, rhere was no need for a rite when a boy became

make it cIear rhar a Jewisb

required ta rrain his son ta perform many comrnandmenrs,

father is
nor when

thirteen.?
Before the Iare Middle Ages, it was also possible for a boy under

be reaches a certain age, but when he is able ro do rhern properly,

age thirteen ro be paft of a religious quorum

at an indererminate

the rhreesorne needed ro recite che public version of the Grace after

age, which rhe rabbis spent rime rrying te define.

The rabbis developed

categories

such as "she-eino zarikh le-irno"

(when he no longer needs his rnother)" or "ke-she-hegi'a le-hinukh"


(when he reaches tbe age of rrainirig)"

or "qatan ha-yodei'a"

(when

a minor knows [how ta take care of sornething l), as, for exarnple,
rhe Misbnah,

"A minor wbo knows how ro sbake rhe lulav is sub-

ject ta the obligation


adds:

in

of lulav" (Mishnah

Sukkah 3: I 5) The Talmud

of ten men (minyan) ar

Meals tzimmun), About Rabbi Isaac ben Judah,

head of rhe Mainz

academy in the elevenrh cenrury, rhere was a tradition

rhat "Ar the

rime of a fire in his cit)', he had ro organize a minyan so he could pray


and could .!ind only nine who were over thirteen

(bmei mizvah) and

he included a young boy (lZa'ar) holding a Pemateuch

ro pray with

[a quorum of] ren.":" This was vigorouslv debated in the Middle Azes
b
J

an indication

rhar the practice was persistent.

~abbeinu

Tam, for

.)

Bar Mitzl'ah, Bat /Hitzl'ah, Conirmation

example, wrote rhat rhis was a stupid custom tminhag shtl!!), since it
obviously was rhe boy alone who consrirured

rhe renth, nor the book!

II

Ar some poim, it was preciseIy such religious acts rh~t were reserved
only for rhe moment a boy reached age rhirreen
before. It was rhen, as part of.his iniriation
vah," or obligaredfor

tbefinI time, and nor before, rhar he

rhe moment of transition

frorn religious childhood

made inro an increasingly

more elaborare

age rhirreen years and a day evenrually

rire of passage.

developed,

on the religious

reen-year-olds.

behavior

A boy of

and in rheir wake evenrually

rninoriry

rire of

thing more rhan an isolared case.

and adult-

are required

rire, we firsr need ro clarify

perform cerrain religious

1
f

responsible for his son's sins. The boy gives a specially prepared Torah
discourse ar a fesrive rneal that marks the occasion. Finally, it is the
where this takes place not ca expect boys

of rhe bar rnirzvah rite. When all of rhese elemems

rire does nor

mC~~1it

was prac-

riced in more rhan one region. The hisrory of rhe diirusion


developmem

are rhat we are talking abour

and rwenrierh cenruries-for

mosr Iew-

ourside of rhe German Empire aod easrern Europe.

We will also see rhat rhe sarne pattern

occurred with rhe begin-

nings of bar rnitzvah: rhough the earliesr occurrences


of any recognirion

found rhus far

of a Jewish girI reaching ber rwelfth birrhday are

no earlier than rhe ninereenth

cenrury. Here too we have ro define


practice rhat marked off a

birrhday wirh a special act. Again, we will


and rhat one earIy rire in

rhe Unired Srares was connecred with the family of a particular

bar mitzvah thar rnarrers. These elemems appear together for the firsr

I
j

ar, less

of rhe complex rite needs ro be stud-

see rhar there was no linear developmem

religious

but it is rhe

an tefillin a rnonrh or longer before their bar mirzvah,

ance ar a cerrain rime of the compound

girl's rwelfrh or rhirteenrh

are in place, we

experience, There will be some places where boys will start ca put

practice wirh what developed much larer, Moreover, even rhe appear-

what we mean and examine carefullyany

rhar are part

can speak of rhe bar rnirzvah being part of a cornrnuniry's

ro it as a bar rnirzvah rire, but we should nor confuse rhat isolared

ish communiries

On the day that rhis hap-

younger (han rhirteen ro do any of rhe commandmenrs

inro a complex bar rnitzvah rire, we can refer

modern times-ninereent11

acrs rhar adulr rnales

pens, his farher gers up in public and blesses God rhat now he is nor

practice of rhe comrnunity

larer was incorporared

ied sysrernarically, bur rhe indicarions

and is also obligated-

ro do, such as put on refillin, get called ro rhe Torah for

an 'aliyah, be counred in a prayer quorum.

This means rhar when we tind a source rhar refers ro a practice thar

likely, independent

years and a day. For rhe

firsr rime, the bol' is now no longer prohibired


both are needed-ro

rabbi, almosr always

dence ro supporr rhe idea dur each dat on the graph represems any-

BAR !vfITZVAH

whar it means. A boy reaches age rhirreen

wirh one particular

in rhe German Empire from rhe elevenrh cenrury ono There is no evi-

hood, is difficu!r to say in more than a skerchy way.'?

To trace the hisrory of rhe bar mirzvah

a boy ar age rhirreen crap up from rime ro

rime, usually in connection

rnale. Exacrly how

emerged a compound

ar each

un lv ro rhir-

Tbe complete rire did nor exist as such in late anriq-

of a ceremony marking

of pre-rhirreen-year-olds

passage berween a newly carved out religious

1$

uiry or even in medieval rirnes. As we will see, one ar more elemems

was

carne ro be called a "bar rn itz-

vah," rneaning a newly responsible religiousJewish


rhe resrricrions

ro adulthood

earlier than rhe sixreenrh cemury,

poim wirh a rrend ro restricr certain religious obligatie

occur,

LO

00

oprnenr, and it is nor possible ro correlare irs developrnenr

c':l!uired

'.'.",iS

Empire

.The hisrory of rhe rii::eof bar rn irzvah did noe have a linear devel-

"bar rnirz-

for rhe firsr rime ro do thern. And when rhat change bet;:lf!

rime in the German

and it is still nor clear how long it rook ro develop and become popular elsewhere.'>

years and a day, nor

rire ofbecoming

Bar Mitzl'ah, Bat Mitzz'qh, Confirmation

rabbi.

Moreover, it was decades Iarer before whar we have carne ro know as


an egalitarian

bat rnirzvah emerged, ler alone became widespread.r'

S. D. Goitein already sensed the mulri-srranded

hisrory of rhe bar

.,

bur

bar .liflZl'aIJ,

mirzvah

rire. He poimed

,\11l21'C/b,

Conirmatton

Bar Alitzvah, Bat Afit:rab,

Out rhe absence of any celebrarion

rnirzvah in rhe Medirerranean

cornmunities

documemed

of bar

an a corrupt version of the text rhat acmally refers

in the Cairo

.,,

Ages in Cen-

tral Europe."

seems

But he conrinued,

"A kind of ceremony

been older ... A recem srudy by Arnoldo ~Jom;gliano


likely that some such ceremony

Before that age, he is increas-'

or even prohibired

rrom daing sa, even ifhe

ing ro refl.ect chis. In rabbinic rimes, bar mitzvah means "being obli-

mony appears firsr as a central European rite of passage, rhough even

gared," as in rhe case of a Jewish rnale of any age aher rhirreen years

larer rhan Goirein rhoughr,

and a day. It was a synonym for bar 'onesbin, meaning

but irs absence in even later Italian and

raises many quesrions

abour irs universal

ro rabbinic

Ages, rhe terrn begins ro shift irs meaning

rhe well-known
ro Mishnah

have led ta dating "bar rnirzvah"

ar gaonic (early Muslirn)


ages-of-man

text thar is now artached

Avor, one auchor wrires, "The bar mirzvah ...

ar

and is associared with a

child's rite of passage, the age when he must act like a Jewish maIe

tirnes. For exarnple, in light of

posr-rnishnaic

"culpable

responsible for one's acrions" as an adult Jewish male. In rhe MiddIe

in modern rirnes.

Several such misunderstandings

ritual can

for tbe jint

tinte. ar age rhirreen years and a day, when "he becomes bar

rnitzvah."
In addition ca the ancienr rabbinic idea of rhirreen years and a day

be rraced back ta rhe second cemury C. E. ," 16 rhar is, the rime of the

as rhe age when religious obligarion

Mishnah.

one of the orher elemems is even rabbi nic i.: origin. The earliesr hinr

Aparr from nor being parr of rhe l\.r:;,hnah, that ofr-quored

rakes effect for all maIes,

19

only

text does nor acrually refer ca any ritual ar ull. Nor does ir use rhe

of an action of any kind associated wirh a boy who reaches age rhir-

ferm "bar rnirzvah."

teen is from late antique Palesrine in IIfidl'ash Bereisbit (Genesis) Rab-

Moreover, as we have seen, age rhirteen

and a day rneant for the rabbis in late anriquitythe


Jewish bay was required ro take an rhe obligarions
He was required

years

age by which a
of an adult man.

do sa earlier for certain ritual commandmems,

ready, but all were obligared

if

ro do sa no larer rhan that age. The age

bah, compiled perhaps by rhe fifth cemury

~:

~.. ,

C.E.

There we are cald,

"whoever has a son who has reached the age of thirteen years should
say rhe blessing: 'Blessed ris rhe One} who has exernpred

me from

[responsibility

refers ro

for} rhis one's punishrnenr."

The midrash

of rhirreen years and a day, then, did exist by the early third cenrury,

rhe age of rhirreen, at which rhe boy, nor rhe farher, is legally respon-

but rhere was no rite attached

sible for his own religious acrs. Thar age, we recall, did not coincide

sharp rime of transition


Orhers

rake on adult male religious obligations.


ingly being discourged

ta

is capable and ready. Indeed, the rerm "bar .nirzvah" changes irs rnean-

emergence

years and a day became the age. every Jewish bay is first required

have

around

thar is, in Geniza rirnes."

easrern Europe memoirs

An innovative feature of the bar mitzvah rire is thar age rhirteen

makes it

vO;:~'le in Germany

a child of the

I agree rhar tbe bar mi rzvah cere-

II 00,

wasin

...

(O

(O

age of one ar rwo, nor eleven or rwelve.i''

Geniza and added: "Long aga it was observed rhat the terrn 'bar rnitzvah' for a cerernony appeared only in rhe late Middle

Confirmation

medieval

have poimed
Palestinian

ta rhe day because it was nor yer a

into religious

adulehood.

in antiquiry

ro a passage in Afasekhet Soferim, an early

legal source on liturgical

practice,

rhar "(here

was a good cusrom in J erusalem ro train rhe minor sons and daugh-

with rhe earliesr time he was allowed ta perform some

adult male religious obligarions, but afrer he reached it, he was responsible for all of rhern an his own.:"
The bay does norhing when the father makes his declararion.

We

ters for a fast day: an eleven year ald a half day, and a twelve year old

do nor even knaw if rhey are rcgerher when the father recites it. Nor

a full da)'. Afrerwards, [rhe farherjcarried

do we know where rhe father is. For all we know, he could say it pri-

him [not her?} ca each elder

ro bless him and encourage him by praying rhar he derive merit from

vately at horne an rhe day in quesrion. Alrhough

doing the commandmems

refer ca sornerhing li rurgical, we are not rold if any ceremony marked

and good deeds."!? This rranslation is based

86

rhe passage rnighr

Bar Mitzl!ab, Bat Mitwah,

Bar Afitzl'ah, Bat lIJitzz'ab, Confirmation


carne

is im plied in rhe second dause [B] and is nor srared in the first [A}.

wirh a rire of passage for rhe son does

But even if we assume thar this is what he means, Rabbi Aaron rells

rhe occasion. The faer that medieval European and modemJews


ro link rhe father's declaration

nor mean rhat it meant rhat in ancient

Palestine.

tures of.bar mirzvah rires are posr- Talmudic


at differem

us [har even in fourreemh-cemury

AIl the other fea-

parental responsibility
and rhe son's getting

II

We do nor hear abour a boy's rire ar age rhirteen


turies larer, Two medieval

European

Provence rhere is no regular.link-

age berween r?e father's reciration

cusroms rhar developed

tirnes and seem ca crop up earlier in medieval Germany

than anywhere else.

Confirmation

of the blessing

of release from

for his son's sins afrer he reaches age thirteen


called ro rhe Torah ar rhat -'6""

"there are rhose who say it" on that occasion, which implies rhar it

uaril many cen-

is a relarively new cusrom, at least in sourhern

texrs refer back ro an elevenrh-

France, and was nor

cemury German rabbi as observing a rire rhar connects a boy's reaching

universally pracriced [here. He does nor rell us where or when it was

rhe age of rhirreen

done or how old such a practice is. Moreover,

years and a day, when he gets his firsr 'al iyah ro

read from rhe Torah in rhe synagogue,


blessing thar is memioned
rhe fifrh ca rhe elevemh
ancienr Palestine

wirh his farher's reci ring rhe

only thar rhe combinarion

here and a geographicalleap

of the farher's reciting

He [hen supporrs rhis newly combined

from

ca the Rhineland.

rhe formula and

practice by citing a prece-

firsr glance, Rabbi Aaron seems ro be speaking

of Lunel,

a rabbi wriring in sourhern France in rhe fourreenth cemury. He seerns

Gaon, Rabbi Yehudai ben Nahrnan


of rhe academy of Sura (sourhern

in a rire that dares back ro rhe Geonim,

rabbis of Baghdad

irnplies

dent rhar "rhe Gaon Rabbi Yehudai, of blessed rnernory," did it. Ar

ca refer ca an element
centralized

his commenr

rhe son gerring called ro read rhe Torah for rhe first rime is new.

in rhe anciem midrasb. There is a gap from


centuries

The firsr text is from Rabbi Aaron ben Jacob Ha-Kohen

the

abour the great lraqi

(mid-eighrh

cenrury),

the head

Iraq) and compiJer of rhe code of

Jewish law known as Hafakhot Pesuqot (DecidedLrws).

from rhe early j\fidc:;e Ages. lf this

Bur rhe ref-

were true, ir would bean exceprion ro Goireiri's observarion rhat rhere

erence is nor ro [har great sage. lf it had beeri, we would expect rhis

is no hinr of a bar mirzvah rire in Muslim lands in rhe Middle Ages.

cusrom ro be incorporated

As we will see, rhe authoriry

creared in Sura in rhe ninrh and remh centuries,

only seems ro be one of rhose Geonim

and, in faer, refers ro a German

Orbot Hayyim (Parhs ofLife), Rabbi Aaron quores


the passage from Afidrash Bereisbit Rabbah abour a farher who recites
a blessing when his son reaches rhe age of rhirreen,

into rhe earliest liturgical

books that were

rhe basis of aIl sub-

sequem Jewish prayer books.23

rabbi.

Rarher, Rabbi Aaron of Lunel is aIluding

In his compilation

rabbi. Alrhough

and cominues:

ro a medieval German

rhe title gaon is often linked ro the sages of Iraq, it

was also applied ro disringuished

rabbis of medieval Europe, and rhat

is the case here. Rabbi Aaron is referring ro RabbiJudah


who is sornetimes quored with rhe ride ha-gaon.

[A} There are those who say it the firsr rime their son goes up
Coleh) ta read ehe Torah.

a student

[B] And rhe Gaon Rabbi Yehudai, of blessed memory, srood up


in rhe synagogue and recired chis blessing the firsr rime his

Notice rhar Rabbi Aaron does nor acrually say that rhe son goes
up ro read rhe Torah for the first rime when he is age rhirteen.
88

This

of Rabbi Gershom

ben Judah

24

ben Barukh,

He apparemly

was

of Mainz (d. I028) and a

teacher of Rashi of Troyes (d. IIo5). This locares his cusrom in rhe

son read from rhe Torah.22

r,

de only says,

I
j

German Empire around the second rhird of the elevemh cemury.


This becomes cIear Iram a second medieval
explicit wrirren tradirion abolit RabbiJudah

ben Barukh on this prac-

tice. It is paft of a collecrion of rhcreench-cenrury


from norrhern Europe and rransrnirred

text rhar contains an

rabbinic decisions

by Iarer German aurhorities:

Bar MltzI'ab, Bat Mitzvah, Conirmation

Bar lHitZ1'ah, Bat MitZl!Clb. Conirmation

Ha-Levi Molin, known as Maharil.

[A} Whoever has a son age chirceen, che firsc rime he gets up in

Alrhough

the repon is cited in

Mordecai ben Hillel Ha-Kohen (I240?-98), also

public ro read rhe Terah, che father must bless [as follows]:

the narne ofRabbi

Blessed are You Who redeemed (') me from the punishrnenr

of Germany, the passage has nor been found in his wrirings.

of rhis one.25
\Vheo MaHaRI SeGaL [=Maharil}'s son became bar rnirzvah arid he

[B} And rhe Gaon Rabbi Judah ben Barukh got up in rhe synagogue
and said chis blessing when his

SO:1

bec

Lop

read rhe Tarah, he would bless hirn: "Blesscd Are You, O Lord, our

and read for rhe firsr

rime from the Tarah, and chis blessin-; is an obligarion (hovah hi).26

Gad, King of the universe, who exenpred (perarani) me from rhis


one's punishrnenr." And chis blessing is alsa faund in ,\fordekbai ba-

The thineemh-cemury

cornpiler/aurhor

rakes for gramed rhat sons

will get called up ro rhe Tarah for rhe first rime ar age rhirreen. From
rhe emphasis an rhe farhers

blessing being "an obligarion'

called ro rhe Tarah wirhour

rhe farher's paniciparion.

text is found among a series of shorr rraditions


Yehiel of Paris (rnid-thirreenrh

compiled

This

by Rabbi

cenrury), many of which are German-

This passage is somerimes

cired as rhe firsr case of a bar mitzvah

cerernony, but chis is nor at ali clear. From rhe way rhe text is wrirten, we do nor know if Maharil's son did anyrhing

when he "becarne

bar mi rzvah," thar is, reached rhe age of rhirreen years and ada y. The
subject of "he read" could be rhe farher who read rhe Tarah, rather

]ewish sources.
Ta rnake an irnpression

an his readers, the author poinrs ro rhe

precedent of rhe Gaon, RabbiJudah


synagogue

King of rhe universe"}."?

it appar-

enrly had not been che practice for some (arhers ro do sa. Sons were
getting

Gadol wirh rhe name of Gad and His Kingship [="0 Lord, aur Gad,

bu Barukh,

w110 "gat up in the

and said chis blessing when his son gor up and read for

che fim rime from the Tarah." Even ifRabbiJudah


recite the midrashic

ben Barukh did

blessing when his son went up ca read the Tarah

than rhe son. Nor does chis text say thar "he" read rhe Tarah for rhe
first rime. The text may simply. n irerare rhe rnidrash

in Midrasb

Bereisbit Rubbab and add rhar rhe Lther said his blessing in the synagogue when he ar his son had an 'aliyah when the
thirteen.

SOD

reached age

This text, unlike the one abolit Rabbi Judah ben Barukh,

for the first rime when he reached the age of rhirreen, an innovarion

does nor say rhar the boy gor an 'aliyah-if

nor arresred earlier, rhere is no indication

his farher who got called ro rhe Tarah-for the finI time when he

ofhow widespread

rhat cus-

it was the boy and nor

tom was. This practice is found in a single source and may have been

"became bar mirzvah,"

rhis rabbi's family cusrorn, There is no reason ca assume thar it was

it was rhe son who read the Tarah for rhe firsr rime, again, nor stip-

pracriced

ulared here, it would only be another insrance of what we found in

in other circIes. We may just as well rhink rhar younger

boys conrinued

ta be called ro rhe Tarah earlier and char some farhers

eirher did ar did nor follow. the cusrom in L'vfidrash Bereisblt Rabbah
of saying a blessing when a son reached age thirteen,

even if rhe boy

Rabbi Judah

ben Barukh

anorher ro what seems

tO

references ro rhe innovation

in elevenrh-cenrury

Germany,

of

there is

be a bar rnitzvah practice in early fifteemh-

cenrury Germany. It is in rhe compilation


90

ofRabbi

rhe case of Rabbi ]udah ben Barukh, nor a firsr.


The echer new informarion is rhar Maharil's blessing used the cornpIere formula of a rabbinic

blessing and nor an abbreviated

form,

which Iarer rabbis would insist an as proper, since this blessing does

himself did nor go up to rhe Tarah then for rhe first rime.
Besides these two late medieval

that is, age thirteen years and a day. Even if

Jacob ben Moses

not have the aurhoriry of one prescribed


only an a midrashic

in rhe Talmud, but is based

compilation.

In any event, rhere is no proof of any conrinuiry


tice from rhe days ofRabbiJudah

of this new prac-

ben Barukh. We do nor know how


91

our

often age thirreen

,IUi:'1

ut).

o.r;

,IUI:'I

;.II). LUJljlrilt.'i;Ui!

was rhe occasion for a boy ro read from rhe Torah

for rhe first rime. Clearly, sorne farhers did nor recire rhe blessing on

the occasion a son gor called ro rhe Torah for the first rime ar age

rhe age of thirreen, the farher acknowledged

thar he, rhe farher, nor

rhe SaD, had been responsible before, but now the son, nor the farher,

Ger~an

say rhar the boy new will be able to earn greater reward fro-:n God

rabbis, and the anonyrnous

aurhor of the rradition

wanrs it

Rabbi Aaron wants ro eoforce rhe cusrom [har

An underlying
urnenration

1
1
f

eirher,
factor rhat may accoum for rhe relarively rar~ doc-

of a farher blessiog God that he is

for rhe religious

00

longer responsible

behavior of his son as he rurns rhirreen

on rhar very subject rhar is himed ar in medieval

is a debare

German

I
I

sources,

the very place the earliesr insrances of some kiod of rite of passage
ar age rhirreen

appears. When rhe Talmudic

aurhoriries

concluded

rhat a boy who "knew" or "who was ready" was supposed


tefillin or ear in a s/{kkah. aod so on, rhe quesrion
was responsible

ifhe failed ro do

50

ro put on

of rhe boy's sioning

specifically rhar rhe father's responsibiliry


Alrhough

for the farher,

is over.

we do nor have comemporary

rexts rhar indicare such

a debare was going an in the circles in ancienc Palesrine where Midrasb

Bereishit Rabbab was edited, there are larer signs in Germany of such
a difference of opinion. Merhodologically,

chis leap is nor as far-ferched

as ir mighr ar firsr appear, since there is good evidence thar some Ger. man rabbis in rhe late rwelfrh arid early rhirreenth

cenruries,

as Pierisrs ibasidim), were aware of many ancienr Palestinian

from Palesrine ro Germ

10 point of fact, the rabbis srill considered the boy's farher respon-

for his own religious conducr. Rarher,

rhe conse.juences

known
cusroms

of minors may

in faer be yet anorher example of rhis cultural strearn of rransrniss ion

properly, \X7asrhe farher respon-

[1Y. 29

10 rhe early thirreen cenrury, rhe aurhor of Sefer Hasidim commencs


rhar a boy is responsible

sible for the boy's failure ro carry our some of rhe commandments
rhar he had beguo ro do before he rurned thirreen.

because he is now responsible


it emphasizes

and tradirions. The debate over parental responsibiliry

arose about who

sible or the son, even thouch he was still a minor;

for his sins even chough he is a minor:

The boy did corn-

mit a sin when he did nor do whar his farher had raughr him, bur it

Someone carne before a Sage and said ro hirn, "I remember (har when

was the sin of not obeying

The farher, on

1 was a child (qatan), 1 used ro rob people arid commit orher sins. Per-

rhe other hand, deserved punishrnent

when the son failed ro carry

haps 1 do nor require atonernenr since when 1 commirred rhe sins 1

out one of the special commandmems,

because he was responsible

was nor ye( rhirreen years and a day oId? Since 1 was a minor, why

his farher's instrucrions.

for reaching him properly and he did nor.do

50.28

should 1 need atonernenr and m make restirution?" The Sage said ro

Perhaps rhe cusrom developed in late anriquiry for a farher ro recite


a blessing rhat he was

00

longer responsible

for his son's punishrnenr

because rhere were orhers in ancient Palesrine who rhought


should be punished

rhe son

like an adult for nor doing the commandmenr

even though he was srill a minor. The emergence of rhe farher's blessing may be conrextualized

ture ro indicare rheir poinr of view. And so, when a rnan's son reached

was. The blessing does nor place rhe emphasis on rhe boy: it does nor

farhers in southern France do so, too. Clearly, some did not do it [here

ulJ, Dul ,11":'1 uIJ, LUlljtrJ/iJllul!

rhirreen. This seems ro have been a relatively isolared practice of some


ro be "an obligation."

o.,r .vuiu

by proposing

thar a debare was already

underway abolit rhis. Those who argued that minors were nor responsible directly ro God, bur only ro rheir farhers, creared a public ges-

92

I
I

him: "[For] rhe sins you remember [you need aronernenr] and everyrhing you stele l'ou have to repay." But if orher people rell him, "You
were very young when you stele," he does nor have ta make resritution new rhar he is an adult, since he does nor remember doing sa
himself.t?
About a cemury larer, Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel, also originally from
Germany, wrore, "it is

a: law

derived frorn Moses ar Sinai" rhar only


93

Bar MitzlJab, Bat Mitzuab, Confirmaiion


a rhirreen

year old is responsible

an indication

requiremem

for his sins, nor someone younger,

connecredwirh

the scarrershor

and ies meaning

appearance
ro thinking

of rhe ancient

thirreen

those who tbought

German ]e\vry, the blessing

only thirreen-year-olds

Chrisuuns

for

of discrer.on

rions thar stressed the importance


her acrs and of requiring
responsibiliry

larer, it does suggest

of a persori's awareness of his or

sufficiem age ro assure eaking conscious

for chem. Alrhough

explain the emergence

insriru-

by ieself this resrricrion

does nor

of the fuUy formed bar rnitzvah rire centuries


rhe beginnings

of a gap being creaeed berween

religious rninoriry and rhe age of responsibiliry

of rhirreen years and

An indicaeion of rhe same pattern is rhe criticism


Cistercian

moumed

by the

Order against rhe ancienr and venerable practice

of par-

ems donating
cemury

the more subjectively

their small children ro a life of rnonasric service. Infam

as it was called, was srrongly discouraged


on, even though

rhe rwelfrh cemury

it cominued

from rhe rwelfrh

in many places. The trend by

was ro defer religious

obligation

ro the age of

fourreen for boys and rwelve for girlsY


The Talmud seems ro recommend
ro a Jewish

boy's readiness

ro perform

94

a commandmem

as ehe

derer-

been open

ro

may have driven chis change home for Jews. The

more broadly than before the Talmudic

late rwe rth and thirreenth


thar the age of thirteen,

cenruries,

age of rnajoriry of thirreen

some rabbis began ta assume

nor readiness, was required

for adult male

religious partici pation.


A sign of rhe restricrive trend occurred in rhe late rwelfth cemury.
Rabbi Isaac ben Abba Mari of .Marseilles (ca.

Il20-90),

rhe aurhor

of Sefer ba-Tttur, objected in Provence ro a boy's putting


before age thirreen and interprered

rhe Talmudic

northern French and German aurhoriries


cations of this view. Rashi's grandson,

on refillin

text thar seems ro

enforce the plain meaning

At first,

did noe accept rhe impl~-

Rabbeinu

Tam, conrinued

of rhe Talmud thar permits

ro

even young

boys who know how ro take care of tefillin ro pur thern on. He was
followed by such German-Jewish

authoriries

as Rabbi Mordecai ben

Hillel Ha-Kohen.>'
Even as late as rhe sixteenth

a similar crirerion when it refers

older Chrisrian

in rires rhat had formerly

permit it ro refer ro a Jewish male who is over thirteen.33

a day.

oblarion,

of stipularing

years and a day for boys and twelve years and a day for girls. By the

of the age

Chrisrian

The principle

shift in Chrisrian practice, in orher words, may have ledJews ro apply

were more frequently

was also a fearure of comemporary

parricipating

younger children

reenth in German}', resrricrions on rninors ro perform even ritual comthem in rhe Talmud

was

rime based on a vague concepe

mined yardsrick of the child's readiness. Observing

From the Iute twelfrh cenrury, and especially ar rhe end of rhe thirperrnirted

nor some indererrninare

specific age seerns ro have overridden


children

A trend ro limir religious acriviries ro children

rhar the measure of a child's maturiry

such as readiness (higi'a le-hinukh).

and older were responsi-

rheir own sins.

expressed.

dererrnined

rhe age of fourreen, for boys, and rwelve, for girls, an ancient Roman
standard,

recited by

ble, as in rhe view of Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel, and the orher tradi-

mandmems

in adult rires, as in rhe Talmud,

But the ,'c:ry opposire seems ro have happened.

the age of

rion rhar surfaced in Sefer Hasidint rhar minors were responsible

insisrence on rnaruriry as a pre-

cbildren who were aware and capable ro perform adult Jewish rires.

the rime when the son was an his own. Borh Palestinian
r~ached medieval

even if he is nor yer rhirteen years old. One

would posirively reinforce rhe anciem Jewish practice of perrnirting

blessing a

rhat the bay was respon-

sible, eveu ".~ a minor, and only a few rabbis considered


tradirions

50,

requisire for anyone ro participare

may be

ro recite when his son becornes rhirreen. It may well be rhat

many Jen ..~ ...cre accusromed

for doing

rnighr have expected that Chrisrian

rhat rhe issue was stil! nor serrled.>'

The debate over religious responsibiliey


farheris

Bar i\litzz'ab. Bat /vurzua, LU"p""'."w.

cenrury, Rabbi Joseph Karo (I488-

1575), the grear Sefardic codifier of Jewish law, also upheld rhis generalIy accepred sense of rhe Talmud,
95

but his Ashkenazic

glossaror,

l
I

Bar Alitzvab, Bat iHitzl/ab, Confirmation

Bar Mi/wa/J, Bat l'.1itzvah, Confirmation

Rabbi Moses Isserles (1525/30-72), disagreed. Isserles reaffirrned rhe

Jews apparendy

I '

implicarions

Rabbi Isaac ben Moses ofVienna (ca. 1180-1250) observed jhar youog

1., '

bag) is in accord with the aurhor of the'lttur:

minors shollld not pur

boys could get called ro the Torah in Germany, but rhe norrhern French

an refillin umil bar mirzvah,

years and a day. "35

rabbis -had limited thern ro reading it once a year on the festival of

1 :'

II

ofRabbi Isaac ben Abba Mari's view: "The practice irninrhar is, rhirteen

Note rhar Isserles also has ro explain rhe rneaning of the rerrn "bar
rnirzvah"

ro refer nor ro any Jewish

"obligared"

male rhirreen

ro perforrn rhe commandmems

and

ofJudaism,

0\":.

continued

ro permit minors ro do rhis for cenruries,

Simhat Torah, a cusrom rhar conrinues

who is

gious rninoriry

as in rhe Tal-

rnud.e" but ro a boy when be becomes rhirreen years and a day, wbo

then becomes obligared for tbe fmt tlme at tbat age. In Isserles's corn-

Rorhenburg

rnenr, rhe rerrn is acquiring

rhe second half of rhe rhirteenrh

Of special influence in rhis rnarrer was Rabbi Meir ben Barukh

rhar refiecrs rhe prohi-

(d. 1293), rhe rnosr irnporranr

rabbinical

aurhoriry

in
As

has shown, Rabbi Meir reversed cemuries

of

Elisheva Baurngarren

certain ritual commandmems.

cusrorn rhar permirred Jewish women ro participare

was begin-

of

cemury in rhe German Empire.

birion of young boys acting like adult rnen wirh regard ro performing
Tbe rerrn "bar rnitzvah"

an.l an excep-

tion was perrnirred on rhar holiday, instead of a11year round.>?

j :

a new meaning

roday, In effect, a hoy'~ reli-

was being newly defined in practice,

in synagogue

ning ro rnean tbe earliest rime a boy must do the religious acrs he for-

riruals such as serving as a ba'alat brit who held rhe baby on her Iap

merly had been encouraged

during

ro do earlier.

Elsewhere, Isserles cires Maharil ro support resrricring anorher religious dury ro boys only of rhar minimum

rhe circumcision

Rothenburg

age. In places ebat do nor

ceremony .:~o Rabbi

Meir ben Barukh

of

also opposed a cusrom involving rninors. He argued rhat

a minor should nor be coumed as the renth rnan in a male quorum

already permit it, one may nor let a boy lead the synagogllf' services

(rninyan): "Ta pur it blunrly, 1 tell ro you rhar when rhey aid a minor

as canror Sarurday nighrs unless he is of rhe minimum

ro make up rhe ten, rau should walk out of rhe synagogue

ag'; of obli-

harrn will cerne of it! "4 1

garion (bar mitzvah) on rhe Sabbath in quesrion. This ruling is issued


despice the Shllihan 'Amkh explicirly permining
Yet anorher cusrorn was being modified
based an rhe minimum

minors ro do rhis.>?

in rhe sixreenth

Furrher conhrrnarion of rhe German origin of sorne kind of rire of

cemury

bar mi tzvah-not

age of rhirteen years and a day. Rabbi Morde-

cai ben Hillel and Maharil

would recite the blessing

becomes bar rnirzvah" imroduced

rions rhe name of God, "Blessed are You, O Lord aur God, King of
and medieval

couming the ancient Palestinian blessing-meaning

a boy who reaches rhe age of rhirteen

when "a boy

and obligarioo

and reads the

Torah for the fim rime, is from rhe major Polish rabbioical

by the regular formula that rnen-

rhe universe.">" This refers ro rhe ancient Palestinian

arid no

Rabbi Shlomo ben Yehiel Luria (Maharshal,

I~...
~
~
"

rhar when a boy reaches age rhirreen,

figure,

1510?-7 4). He observed

"rhe German Jews make a bar

rnitzvah feasr" arid "rhere is no grearer obligarory

religious feast rhan

'~"

German cusrorn of rhe farher reciting a blessing when his son reaches
rhis age, the earliesr rire rhat became in rime parr of the bar rnirzvah ceremony. Isserles insisred thar the blessing should be recired without rnenrion of God'snarne

and kingship,

in a rruncared

:1

form, since

we have seen rhar rhere was a cusrorn for ac leasr one

boy in Germany

in the elevenrh cemury, and maybe larer as well, ro

read rhe Tarah for the firsr rime when he reached age rhirteen,

other

ta Gad rhat the young boy

(na'ar) has been able ro become bar mirzvah (lihiyor bar rnirzvah)

, ,.

and rhar rhe farher has been able ro raise him umil now and iniriare
him inca rhe covenanr of rhe complete
ha- Tarah bi-khelala).

this blessiog is nor found in rhe Talmud but is merely a custom.


Alrhough

chis, . , . One offers praise and gratitude

Tarah (le-hakhnisho

bi-verit

"42

J
f,

ceremony of "enrering rhe Terah," which he glosses "covenanr of rhe

complete Tarah" and rakes ro rnean nor learning

!C

Rabbi Shlorno's words allude ro the phrase from the circumcision


rhe Hebrew alpha-

Bar j\l,tzl'ab,
bec ac ehe beginning

of schooling

the commandmencs

iillf:'l'a!J

bat .vuizran.

l.uIlprlIIuf/Uli

birrhday, we have a partially pre-

served reference frorn the rhirteenth-cenrury

rabbinic scholar Rabbi

Avigdor Ha-Zarfari, a colleague frorn Vienna ofRabbi

bar rnitzvah" was becoming associated mainly

ritual of a boy's new obligation

Har

ro rhe marking of a boy's rhirteenth

but encering the life of observing

for rhe firsr tirne ar age rhirteen years and a day.

The phrase "becoming


wieh the rhreshold

"-.l

b at ,HltZZ''ab, Couinnation

Isaac ben Moses

of Vienna. Rabbi Avigdor refers ro rhe cusrorn of preparing

ac age thirreerr.

a meal

By rhe sevenceench cenrury, Yuspa Shamash of\Vorms can say, "a boy

when a boy reaches his rhirteenrh birthday, This German cusrom found

who is rhirteen

ies way, as did many scores of orher German-.Jewish

cusrorns,

[here, the rerm would everirually come ro r-fer ro rhe boy hirnself as

rhe Zobar, the great compilation

and legal tra-

"rhe bar rnirzvah boy."

ditions that appears in the end of rhe rhirreenrh

years and a day old is called 'bar mirzvah.'''43

The bar rnirzvah feasr, Rabbi Shlomo concinues,


sidered an obligarory

religious

meal (se 'udat mizrab),

is trained ro offer a Torah exposirion

appropriate

From

exposirion and demonseraeion

ofJewish

cemury in Casrile.s?

The surprise Rabbi Shlomo expresses in his comment

should be con-

retlects his

concern rhar rhis new cusrom may nor actually be a religious

"when the boy

meal

rhat enrails cerrain consequences. Thar is why he memions rhe learned

ro rhe occasion."44

This is rhe nrst reference ro a bar m irzvah speech involving

of Spanish .nystical

inro

Torah ralk as part of rhe occasion, rhe firse evidence we have of rhis

Torah

parc of a bar rnirzvah celebration.

learning in association with

It would give rhe meal the func-

rhe compound

rite rhar we have come ro ehink of as bar rnirzvah. It

rion of a ceremony of celebrarion accompanying

is docurnented,

rhen, no earlier than the middle of the sixreenrh cen-

rhe way he describes it, it seems rhat even rhis was nor ret firmly

tury, only aboutJews

living in (or from?) German lands, and remarked

upon by someone living in Poland as something


Alrhough

some have poimed

eseablished even in Gerrnany,


Nor did the lirerary rradirion in rhe Zobar spawn a Spanish-Jew-

dO.45

ro hims ac ' teasc for Jewish boys ar

age rhirteen perhaps as far back as rwelfrh- .entury


as in rhirreenrh-cenrury

German Jews
Germany

Spain, no rire is elearly attested

study ofTorah. From

ish ritual meal rhere; in Poland, it was associared with German Jews
(Ashkenazim).

as well

rhen, only

Again, as with echer fean.res of rhe bar mirzvah rire,

we do nor know if the meal was practiced

cominuously

from rhe

lirerary allusions, and Rabbi Shlomo was surprised ro hear about such

rwelfth cemury (if, in faer, it was even done then), or from rhe thir-

a bar rnirzvah feast even in the sixreenrh cencury. 10 his Latin account

teenrh cemury, when the Zobar was wrirren down for the firsr time,

of his conversion

ro Christianiry,

wrires, under his new Christian

rhe former Jew, Judah


name Hermannus,

rhe Levire,

:'i.-.

that when he was

we see the regional character

. rhirreen he had a dream. He was ar a feasr and received presenrs and

rnirzvah rire rhroughout

made a speech of thanks. This report is part of rhe symbolic language


of rhe dream rhat Hermaonus
argument

thar Christianiry

constructed

is also possible a feast at age thirteen


in rwelfrh-cenrury

rhan J udaism. But it

was a Jewish practice already

Gerrnany, This possibiliry led Arnoldo Momigliano

ta propose rhat the report may reflect the practice in Judah's


a celebrarion

in order ro drive home his

is more atrractive

life of

or even from rhe sixteerith cenrury, even in Germany.

Once again,

of the sources rhat are part of a bar

rhe Middle Ages and welI into early mod-

ern rirnes. le was a gradually developing German-Jewish

cusrom, spo-

radic, idiosyncraric, nearly trivial, and only extended beyond Germany


in some limired respecrs, eirher ro Spain (Zohar) or Provence (Rabbi

.-"

'.:1
"

of his reaching the age of thirreen.t''

Aaron ben Jacob Ha-Koheri).


The bar rnitzvah speech has been captured
cemury German-Jewish

by rhe ninereenrh-

painter Morirz Oppenheim,

but roday rhe

typical visual symbol of rhe bar rnirzvah, outside of learned tradi-

To reinforce further rhar central E~rope is rhe source of rites relared

tionalist cornrnunities,

is rhe child reading from an open Torah scrall

f
99

,
Bar Mitzrab,

Bar Mit:l'ab. Bat Afitzl'tlb, Confirmation

Bat A1itzl/ah, Confirmation

or at least reciting rhe blessings over ir. Tbe open Torah scroll and the

Ar rwelve and a halfhe began reading rhe Terah in rhe synagogue ...

learned Torah discourse as bar rnirzvah symbols again echo the phrase

and rhe sarne year he leamed ritual slaughrering ....

frorn the ancient

of Simchar Terah in the year 5)22 [= 157 1] he :-ecited rhe morning

circumcision

Since early Polish rabbinic

refrain "ro emer rhe Terah."


aurhoriries

place where some kind of innovarion

synagogue

lirurgical service in rhe synagogue49

the

arrached ro "becorning bar mirz-

vah" began and grew, it is Dor surprising


leasr sporadically,

poinr ro Gerrnanyas

During rhe feasc

There is no bar mirzvah ..:r::;'ClJOnybecause [here is no gap [har rhe

ro see it arresred rhere, at

ceremony helps rhe child

frorn early modern times. For example, rhe \'Xforms

sexton (shamash) Yuspa left memoirs

([O;;S

over. Mernoirs Erom modem rimes do

nor rnake much of rhe everir ac all. Leon Modena,

rhar include a corn-

wrire an exrerisive aurobiography,

rnenr abour his own bar rnirzvah in 1617:

ro birrhs, circumcisions,

the first J ew ta

refers in rhe sevemeemh

cenrury

weddings, and dearhs, especially of children,

The following incident occurred when I reached the age of rhirreen on

but does nor rnention a ri te of bar mi tzvah in his own life or rhar of

Sabbarh, Parshat Tezaieb, 13 Adar I, 5733 [February 18, 1617]. 1 was

bis

S005.

Indeed, in his book about lewish rires, which was a respoose

raughr ro chanr rhe Torah porrion, but when the Rabbi was informed

ro descriprions

of the siruation, he did nor permit rne ro read Parsbat Tezaieb. Rather,

JlIden Scbii! (1603; English

of Jewisb life in Christian

Hebraisr Johann Buxcorf's

he required me to read K: Taro on the following Sabbarh, for rhey

all but only the enhanced starus of a Jewish

decreed that rhe one who chants the Torah portion must have reached

gious responsibiliry

1663), Modena describes

rrans,

00

ri te ar

boy who reaches reli-

at rhirreen years and a day:

the age of rhirreen years and one day. The incident occurred in rhe
cornrnuniry of Fulda.48

\X!hen a Son is now come

be Thirreen years, anJ a dav old, he is

.1

rhen accounted a Mari, and becomes bound


How widespread
question,

was it? \17e need a comprehensive

but the evidence suggests

(Q

rhe Observat ion of all

the Precepts of the Law and rherefore is now called Bar mi tzvah, rhar

srudy of rhis

is ro say filius mandari, a Son of rhe Commandmem,

it was nor thar common excepr

alrhough some

in some parr5 of central Europe well into modern tirnes. For exarn-

caII him Bar de rninian, that is

ple, in sixteenrh-cenrury

Ferrara, Daniel ben Samuel Rosina could

businesse, and mal' make One, in the number of rhe Ten, rhat are

up and nor rnenrion it because it was nor

required ro be presem ar any of rheir Public Acts of Devotion. Arid

describe his son's growing

needed. The boy could still do the religious

(Q

say, one thar is of age ro do any

whacever conrracrs he makes, rhey are of force; and if he were for-

rires when younger, as

merIy under, he is now Freed from rheir Jurisdiction over him: and,

in rhe days of the Talmud:

in a word, borh in Spiriruall, and Temporal Affaires, he is Absolure


Lord and Masrer of HimselfY

Ar three ]oseph encouncered his Creator [in orher words carne inro
contact wirh rhe world of religion]. He began srudying rhe firsr day

Even Buxtorf's description is

of rhe momh of Iyar 5320 [= 1560]. Ar four and a half he read rhe

00

more rhan the father reciring a bless-

Hafrorah in rhe synagogue, on rhe occasion of rhe wedding ofMesser

ing thar God "had delivered and unburdeoed

Baruch of Arles ....

Ar five and a half he learned ro write, At six he

due unto his son for his sin." Beyond rhat Buxtorf says ebat rhe boy

started wearing the Phylacreries [refillin], Ar eighr and a half ... he

has now "learned rhe rnanner and custorn of rhe Zizim aod Tephillin

was srudyiog the Alfasi [a famous medieval Talmudical cornpendiurn].

[tallir and tefillin]." There is no description

100

lOI

him of the punishment

of rhe boy's being called

Bar i\litzzoab, Bat i\litZ1'a/J, Confirmation

. Bar ,Ilit::.;.'lb,Bat Afitzl'ah, Conjn-mauon


ro the Tarah ar a fesrive meal ar which the boy delivers a special Tarah

century an might in fact be refiecred in rhe hisrory of the diffusion

lesson."

of rhe rite of bar mirzvah.t+


In the Muslirn world, S. D. Goirein nored nor only rhar the bar

The bar rnirzvah rite does nor come up.in rhe exrensive memoir
rhat Glueckl

of Hameln

in rhe late sevenreenth


dwells ar great lengrh
for her daughrers,
rnirzvah

cerernony

philosopher

wrote about her life and rhar of her family


.
and early eighteen cemuries in Gerrnany, She

00

rhe various arrernpts

but there is

00

Solomon Mairnon does nor memion

Kantian

it in his aueobiog-

raphy eirher,
rian Hebraisrs
through

of}ewish life arid ritual rhar Chris-

and converrs ro Chrisrianiry

eighteemh

cemuries,

socieries in rhe Middle

emony umil rhey became acculrurared

1
fi

wrore from the sixteenrh

The sicuarion was probably


Yemenite

cornmuniry

gave their children


of four or

hardly aoy of rhe dozens of accoums

ro Israel~ ]ewish life:

50,

hood worthy

about

a srriedy

similar ro one observed in rhe traditional


fifty years ago. Sinee rhose Yernenires
religious

educarion

of an elaborare

celebrarion.

adult,

he adorned

second parc of rhe exrensive polemical rracr writren by rhe former] ew,

Bible (Deureronomy

now rurned Chrisriao,

of thirteen. 55

rhirreen comes ro rhe syoagogue,

On rhe Sabbath,

rhe boy of

ro adult-

religiously

him wirh rhe prayer rrappings

like an

described

in rhe

6:8) even before he reached rhe obligatory

age

where everyone greets him. Afrer


One comes across references from easrern Europe much larer, of

service, rhe boy is called ro read the Tarah, "which he

was nor perrnirred

ar rhe age

\"\(lhen a farher nored rhar

late sevenreenrh cemuryY

One of rhese is reporred from Venire in rhe

srarring

rhere was no marked passage from ehildhood

ever refer ro the rire of bar rnirzvah and rhe few that do are from rhe

Giulio Morosini.

Ages, but also.

his boy was ready and eager ro compore himself

rhe morning

course, but how rhe pattern of celebrating

ro do before." The boy rhen recites a special bless-

it developed

in different

ing, "rhanking Gad rhar he has become bar rnirzvah," and he announces

parts of the ]ewish world is srill nor clear. The brief references from

gifrs of differem arnounts of chariry conrriburions

easrern Europe stress rhe Iearned speech more than anyrhing

sion ro rhe functionaries

in the syoagogue.

in honor of rhe occa-

For example,

\Vhen rhe boy finishes, he

is blessed agaio and kisses rhe hands of his faeher and his reacher.V
century ar even rhe ninereenrh
opmem

cemury. In a srriking

of rhe hisrory of bar mirzvah

before the eighteenrh

treared only as small adulrs and rhat parents


affecrive bond wirh rheir chiIdren,
ioned notion of childhood

102

were

did net have a strong

one wonders

to which he poimed

cemury

if rhe newly fash-

from rhe eighteenth

else.
before

"My Rebbe began ro teach me the Shulchan


"held no terrors

for me. Ar the age of severi 1 had already beeri called up ta the pulPresurn-

ably, he gat called up ta read from rhe Torah for the first rime and

famous rhesis proposed over forty l'ears ago by rhe arnateur hisrorian
icized his claims that children

rhat several rnonrhs

pir for rhe reading of rhe week's secrion of rhe Prophers."

the

Phili ppe Aries. Al though rnedievalisrs and] udaica scholars have crir-

mentions

Aruch." "The Synagogue cerernonies," he continues,

way, rhe devel-

in Europe mal' illusrrate

Shmarya levin

he became rhirreen,

But even such ceremonies apparenrly were rare umil rhe eighreenrh

"Ieft no trace wharsoever in the Geniza" among

rhar rhe ] ews of Yemen never developed much of a bar mi rzvah cer-

hint thar aoy of her sens had a bar


The ]ewish

mirzvah ceremony

Jews living in Mediterranean

ro arraoge marriages

or thar it was irnporranr.

Among rhe many presenrations

-;( \ "-.:
::_'-~:"o

I
~

his farher recited rhe biessing of becoming exempr,

but Levin does

nor describe rhis. His emphasis is placed an rhe Iearned discourse

he

delivered at a banquer ro which nearly the whole town was invired.


The descriprion

reads less like a bar mirzvah speech than a defense

of a doctoral dissertarion:

10.3

Bar i\lit::.rab, Bat Mitzz,'ah.

Conirmarion

Ii
i

If

Ii

II
I

1"

50, rhen, how old is rhe bar mirzvah ceremony wirh which we are
familiar roday? \X!hen rhe farher blesses his son ar age rhirreen years
and a day and rhe boy becomes obligated (bar rnitzvah) ro fulfill all

rhe commandmems?

Or, when he is allowed ro read from the Torah

in public for the nrsr rjrne ar age rhirreen years and a day (one rabbinical family in elevenrl.-cenrury

Gerrnany)? Or when a fesrive meal

is prepared for rhe boy who reaches age rhirreen years and a day (Herrnannus, Rabbi Avigdor Ha-Zarfari, Zobar? \X!edo nor know. (Fig. 4)

The evidence discussed rhus far poinrs ca rhe German Ernpire as


rhe place where bar mirzvah rires developed well irite early modern

rirnes and from rhere spread ca easrern Europe. They rnoved


German Jews inca norrhern

w ith

Iraly as well, bur we do nor kflOW how

long ir rook ro become cornmon in Iraly, or in rhe Nerherlands,


its rnixed Sefardic and Ashkenazic
Europe ro whichJews

popularions,

were readrnirred,

wirh

or inro rhe parts of

such as England and France.

Nor do we know when rhe rite is raken for granred in rhe New \X/orld
and in differem )e\\'ish communiries
nor ali dur impo[(an.h..~')re.
than rhe eighreemh

ot maybe

in Muslim lands, where it was

Ar sorne poinr, apparenrly


even rhe ninereenrh

no earlier

cemury, ar even

larer, modern Jews adapred an elaborare bar rnirzvah rire in nearly


all of rhese places. Afrer considering

rhe beginnings

of bat mirzvah

rires, 1 will turn ro some of rhe modern perrnurations

bar and bar

mitzvah underwenr.>?

BAT MITZVAH
4 Bar Mitzlah photograph taken of Cbarles S. Lefkou:itz in

I922

in New Y01k

One of the rnost radical innovations in rhe Unired Stares was rhe inrro-

Cit)'. Courtesy of Dr. R/lth S. Lejkouirz

ducrion of a bat mirzvah ceremony rirually equivalem


vah. There were occasional attempts
My Bar rnirzvah address was a cornplicared

and involved rrearise an

l
f

exarnination

was over, rhey congratulared


IO..

my farber.56

of

cenruries,

rhe former in Warsaw (18"1-3) and the larrer in Lemberg (1902).

me closely an the subjecr rnarter, and

1 answered thern an rhat day wirh unusual ease and skill. When the

ro recognize a girl's coming

age in easrern Europe in rhe nineteenrh and early twentierh

a Talmudic point. 1 wenr rhrough it wirhour an error. Ar the clase of


it rhe faur Rabbis quesrioned

ro bar rnitz-

The

occasion was marked by a parry withour any ritual in rhe synagogue.

1
I

I
f

More formal was rhe "entrance inca rhe rninyan" ceremony

for boys

and girls ages rhirreen and rwelve, respectively, in which several girls
I05

b.:lr ,\litzvaJ. Bat i\litzmb.


and sisters."6! Kaplan imroduced

and boys were blessed by rhe rabbi and recited a blessing, documemed
in differem Icalian-Jewish

communiries

tury.s8 One recem Baghdadi


Elijah al-Hakam

from the mid-nineteemh

aurhoriry,

(1833/35-199),

Rabbi Joseph

cen-

Hayyim

ben

al~o refers ro a modest family occa-

sion wirhour atest ive meal, when rhe gir! wears her Sabbarh nnesr
or.

if her farn il y can afford it, a new dress arid reci res the: blessi ng of

g;atitude.
us alive"

known as "Sheheheyanu,"

rhankirig

God "who has kept


59

[Q

rnark rhe occasion of her corning of religious age.

None

: ::.

..

Conirmation

family pews in rhe synagogue

only

in the fali of rhat year for rhe High Holiday services.I"


Moreover, Judith was nor thirteen but "rnidway berween my twelve
and rhirteenrh

year."63 Hei:-twelfrh birthday had been on Seprernber

10, 1921, when her father was sril l the rabbi of the Jewish Cemer,
an Orrhcdcx

synagogue.

Kaplan began ro conduct

newly ~0l1nded S.A.]. only in January


four daughrers,

judith

27, I922.64

services at rhe

The oldesr of his

was rhe first ro be of bat rnirzvah age when

of rhese occasions ro rnark rhe corning of age of aJewish gir! of twelve

he was in a posirion ro creare a ceremony for a young gir! in rhe new

years and a day is what we roday would rhink of as a bat rnirzvah ,

synagogue.

rhough

still rwelve, rhe traditional

rhey are rites ro mark the occasion in differerir traditional

As Judirh

Jewish communities.
The true history of rhe bat mirzvah,
"rhe firsc bat rnitzvah,"

that ofJudieh

it is ofeen said, begins with


Kaplan, the daughter

Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist


Movernenr of
6o
AmericanJudaism.
Given rhe egalitarian nature of rhe American bat
congregations,

roday as an American

rhe day had been planned

majoriry,
and invi-

rarions sem ro family and friends, but the ceremony irself was rather
before.65

She did nor read frorn rhe Torah scroll but from her Humash
(Pentareuch):

rhe claim suggests

that Rabbi Kaplan creared a ceremony analogous


service ti.ar is familiar

age for a gir! ro reach religious

herself remembered,

hasr ily improvisecl rhe evening

ofRabbi

Mordecai

miezvah roday in non-Orthodox

The rire rook place on .March I8, 1922, when she was

Farher was called up for the honor of reading the Maftir,

ro the egalirarian

bat rnitzvah,

when a

\Yhen

he

finishcd the Haftarah 1 "vassignaled ro srep forward ro a place below

young girl of rhirteen reads part of the Torah and recites the hafrarah

the bimah ac a very respecrable disrance from the Scroll of rhe Tarah,

and ali blessings before and after each reading and possibly delivers

which had already been rolled up aod garbed in irs rnantle. I pro-

a shorr devar Torah ro rhe congregation

nounced rhe firsr blessing, and from my own Churnash read the selec-

Sornerhing

during

very different rook place atJudith

rhe services.
Kaplan's bat rnitz-

vah, and it was nor umil the 1940S thar rhe now familiar egalirarian ceremony firsr appeared anywhere, and it didri'r spread umil rhe
1980s, as part of the movernent

for Jewish wornen ro participare

Kaplan's bat rnirzvah rite took place, rhe newly founded

Socieey for rhe Advancement

of Judaism

and concluded with rhe closing berachah. Thar

in

leading services and in being called ro rhe Torah, The congregation


whereJudirh

rion [hac Father had chosen tor me, conrinued with the reading of the
English rranslation,
was it.66

(S.A.].), srill had separare

Finally, although

Judirh

later recaUed rhat rhe occasion rook place

an "a sunny day, early in May of 1922,"67 and rhat rhe reading of rhe
week was "the magnificem

Code,:'68 rhat is, Kedoshim,

searing for men and women in March 1922, only three rnonths after

Leviticus

Kaplan became Leader. He did nor use rhe title Rabbi for several years.

the event rcok place on March I8, when the portion of rhe Penta-

J udirh reporrs: "The firsr pan of my own ordeal was ro sit in that

teuch read in synagogue

from room among rhe men, away from rhe cozy protection

106

of morher

I9-20,

Kaplan's

Holiness

He wrore on March

journal clearly records, ar the rime, rhar

was Ki Tissa (Exod. 30:u-34:35).


28, 1922:

.)

Bar i1itzl ah, Bat i\1itzZ'ab, C onfirmation

Bar Alitzl'ab, Bat Mitzrab, Confirmation

'

Last Sabbarh a week ago (Mch.

I 8)

ceremony one rabbi invented for his own daughrer,

I inaugurared rhe ceremony of rhe

and it was by

00

[in Hebrew characrers:} bat mitzuab ar rhe S.A.]. [Sociery for the

means rhe begiooing

Advancement of J udaism] Meeting House (4 I W. 86th 'St.i-abolit

herself wrore, "It was many years before the full privilege

which more details larer, My daughter] udirh was rhe first one ta have

caUed ro the Terah was gramed ro a gir!, even in the Sociery for rhe

her [in Hebrew:} bat mltzrab celebrated rhere.

Advaneemem

l'

of a new trend. As Judith

Kaplan added

00

own commem,

further derails in rhe journal about

of being

ofJudaism."73

That it did nor catch


Unforrunarely,

Kaplan Eisensrein

written

00

for some rime, is also elear from Kaplari's

in his journal \'X7ednesday, May 31, I93Y

rhe reremony.?
1 ,

Golden

I
I

f'

of rhe

The instirution of rhe Bas Mizvah which 1 inrroduced inca che SA]

Rule (Lev, I9:18); the porti an from Exodus deals wirh rhe

noe long afrer rhe Sociery was organized had fallen inro desuerude of

The secrion from Leviticus


sin of rhe Golden

ineludes

the grear reaching

Calf! Later an, ] udith

Kaplan

Eisensrein

recall that she had read a selecrion Eram Leviricus, and she says in her

lasr rwo years. This morning Shirley Lubell, rhe daughrer ofSam and

memoir rhar her daughrers "each, in turn, read,

00

Jennie Lubell, celebrated her Bas Mizvah, 1 hore rhat from now on

not only the highly ethical code of behavior

in rhe Tarah, but the

Shabbat Kedoshim,

poetic words of the final chapter of the book of Amos.


There is a diserepancy

";0

May 31,

berween rhe date Kaplan wrore in his jour-

nal (March 18) arid rhe dare Judirh


when her bar rnitzvah

thar insrirur ion will be kepr up regularIy.!-1

herself remembered

ter Judith's.

rook place (early May). Kaplan clearly wrore

ehe enrry in his journal jusr ren days aher rhe evenr ,

00

Alrhough

Judirh

correerly remembered

I
I

not been the regularly

scheduled

porrion

over

basis umil 1951, though well ahead of mosr American


dox congregarions,

rhar she read from Levi-

women parriciparing

had

in the adulr services for nearly rhirry years.i5

~ As the bat rnirzvah developed in Conservative

of the week rhar rhe men

non-Ortho-

rhe rite ofbat mitzvah rernained aur of synch with


and Reform syna-

gogues, the cerernony was usually relegared ro the Friday night ser-

Tissa an March 18, but Kaplan had seleeted for her a passage from

vice, when the bat rnitzvah girl, age rhirteen,

Kedoshim

scheduled ro be recired by arnan rhe next day. In the pasr, even young

rhe night

before, probably

because of its spiritual


daughrers

content.

had her egalitarian

including

rhe Golden Rule,

bat rnirzvah,

she scheduled

it an the

eirher asked

had been read as the weekly

in rhe spring of 1922, Iearned that it had

been in early May, and inferred, incorrect1y, rhat rhar was when she
herselfhad
Judirh

celebrated
Kaplan's

her "bat mirzvah."??

bat rnitzvah rite, then, was sui generis. It was a

recited

boys had been permirred ro read rhe hafrarah in traditional

Years larer, when each of her two

Sabbath when Kedoshim was read. Ar some point,Judirh


reading in rhe synagogue

Sinre wornen being called ro reci re the blessings

had just read before she gat up ta speak. In fact, rhe men read Ki

her father or looked up when Kedoshim

l'

rhe festival of Shavuor, ~ut it is nor clear from

the Torah did nor begin there umil rhe I940s, and not an a regular

March 28,

tieus rhar day, she did nor realize years larer thar Kedoshim

I 9:'>:'>,was

Kaplan's rernarks if her ceremooy was aoy differenr from his daugh-

as rhe date

and rhere is no reason ca rhink he wrore it Iarer and backdai:ed itJ'

Iare. There has noe been a single Bas Mizvah ctlebraeion during rhe

would

In rhe sevenreenth

rhe hafrarah
synagogues.

cemury, Leon Modena relates in his aurobiogra-

phy rhat he had done so, showoff rhar he was, when he was only two
and a half years old! Sa it was nor very threatening

for a girl of thir-

reen ta do so Friday nighr. In sorne Conservative

eongregarions,

bar mitzvah ceremony took place ar the Havdalah

ritual rhar marks

the transition
Alrhough

from rhe Sabbarh ro rhe

workweek.i6

the rise of a bat mirzvah rire eomribured

ta Jewish lirur-

Bar Mitz1'ah. Bat Mitzl'ab, Conjmnation

Bar i\1it:ziah, Bat Mitzz!<1h,Confirmation


gical equaliry for women, it was only wirh rhe arrival of rhe wornen's
movernenr

in America

and the concomitanr

wornen's efforrs ro enable women


-leadership

in progressive

bat miezvah developed

American

ro assume positions

American

synagogues

on Saturday morning

]ewish

of liturgical

rhar rhe egalitarian

and involved the read-

like boys, were now C'lld

ing of rhe Torah. Girls of thirreen,

L1P

ro

read from the Torah, recite che blessings,

as well as read rk' bl{rarah

and make a brief speech from rhe podium

during

ing services,

00

differem

from boys ar their bar mitzvah

process ro reach rhis stage of bat mitzvah


hindsight

rhe Sabbarh rnornrire. The

was a long one and orily in

can one say, wirh some degree of accuracy, rhar ]udirh

bya bishop, and in which rhe Holy Spirit srrengrhens


in his or her faith and Chrisrian

ually approaches rhe bishop, who anoinrs each with oiI "ro mark their'
recepeion of the seal of rhe Holy Spirit." Each cbild also rakes on an

addirional

narne ar confirrnarion.??

Though in antiquiry rhe rhree rites ofbapeism,


ent or godparem

rock the place of rhe chiids

rogeeher wirh Firsr Communion,

Viewed

From rhe late Middle

ewish scene more than a half cenrury larer,

buc in more recent rirnes, especially since the Second Vatican Coun-

from rhe perspective

cil in rhe 19605, it is ofren celebrared

of whar was ro develop,

Judith

bar mirzvah ri re from rhe elevenrh cerirury on ar age chirreen. Like

educarion,

the early medieval cases ofbar

rnitzvah, Judith's

family. Like cheirs, her rite was an innovation

was also ~ rabbinic

rhar one particular rabbi

And like rhose cases, rhere is no reason ro assume that

rhere was conrinuiry

afrerwards before we encounrer the next insrance

of anorher rabbi innovating

anorher feature of the rite much larer.

event was the beginning

of a trend or tradition.

Kaplari's case, it is nor clear what prornpted


innovarion

In Judith

her father to make rhe

in the form he did, and he did nor commenr

further on

the ri re itself.
by a ceremony that

berween rhe ages of thirreen


a childs

Carholic religious

much like rhe rationale in Jewish Reform and Conserva-

tive synagogues.

Firsr Cornmunion,

however, has rernaine!

~i

child-

hood rire for boys and girls in rhe second grade (age severi or se), when
girls dress up in whire like lirrle brides.
Iralian-jewish

mernoirs frorn rhe rwenrierh century record a]ew-

. ish rire that resembled Carholic confirrnarion


or boys and girls wenr rhrough

a ceremony

in rhar a group of girls


rhat involved a dergy-

rnan's blessing rhern. For example, Dan Vittorio Segre poimed


in his own memoir, rhat his rnother bad been taught
norions in prepararion

One thing is clear, Kaplan was nor influenced

our,

"sorne vague

for her bai rnirzvah, celebraced in the sryle of

a Christian girl's confirmarion."

About himself, he reports, "We chil-

Iralian Iews had creared ro mark the enrrance ofJewish girl and boys,

dren had all made oureorry inro da-minyan, a corruptedJewish

ages twelve and rhirreen, respecrively, "inro the rninyan" and religious

sion indicacing our coming of age. ]ews of thirreen years of age emer

adulrhood.

ro

was ofren deferred ro early

rook place ar age severi for cemuries

and sixreen, with rhe aim of excending

Neirher

confession by answer-

Ages on, Carholic confirmarion,

Kaplari's bat mi tzvah rire resernbles some of rhe instances of a boy's

inrroduced,

and rhe par-

ing rhe bishop for rhe child, in medieval Europe, it was difficult
find a bishop and rhe fire of confirrnarion

an indication
American]

Fim Comrnunion,

and confirrnarion were performed ar rhe rirne ofbaptism,

childhood.

views rhar would sweep the

idenriry, Several boys and girls of

tbe same age are confirrned ar rhe same rime, rhough each individ-

Kaplari's bat mirzvah was a firsr. In realiry, it was a straw in rhe wind,
of her farher's egalirarian

a baptized child

He learned of that ceremony

firsrhand,

but only rnonths

after he had created his daughrer's

rire in New York. The Italian-

]ewish practice resembled

confirmarion,

Catholic

reenagers were given a special religious


In rhe Carholic Church,

confirrnation
IrO

in rhat a group of

blessing by a dergyman.
is a sacrarnent,

conducred

inro a minyan ....

expres-

To prepare for chis they used ro send us ro Tal-

mud Terah, courses of Judaism.

"78

The rype of rire Kaplan saw in Rome, parterned

on Catholic con-

firmarion, was sornerirnes held on Shavuot (Penrecost), which is when


ceenage ]ewish confirrnarion often takes place today. Edda Servi Machrr1

I
I
I
j
j

Bar i\litzl'ab, Bat i\litzmb, Contrmation


lin describes such a moment

as a bat rnirzvah in her memoir abolit

.MODERNITY,

Jewish life in rhe Tuscan village of Pitigliano:


Toward che end of my sixrh grade, an Shavuor
1 celebrared

my Bac Miczva-a

CONFIRMA

Alrhough features ofCatholic

5698 (June 5, 1938),

a carper of rose perals covered irs beauriful rnarble rloor. The chil-

Ark, where the Tarah scrolls are

Mordecai

Kaplan

kepr.79

himself wrote in some decail abour an Italian

cerernony dur he wirnessed

in Rorne, while on an exrensive Euro-

pean rrip, several monrhs ajrer he had independenrly


rnirzvah cerernony for his daughrer Judith

ney aboard rhe S.S . .1.r,7/;j( on August

ceremony

in rhe Protestant

first insrirured

"Minyan" ac rhe age of rwelve. The ceremony consisrs of having the


father called up ro rhe Tarah an rhe Sabbarh rhat tbe girl becomes
Bas Mizvah. She accompanies him ro rhe Almemar [Canror's placrorm}, and when he is rhrough wich his part she recires rhe benedicrion of [Hebrew lerrers.] sheheheyyanu ["\\1ho has kept us alive," a
blessing giving rhanks ro Gad for reaching a rnilesrone]. Before
Musaph [rhe additional service on the Sabbarh], rhe Rabbi addresses
her an rhe significance ofher enrering minyan. Ori rhe Sabbarh 1 was
ar rhe synagogue rhere were three girls arid one boy who enrered
Minyan. The assisranr Rabbi who was supposed ro address rhern read

bar rnirzvah wirh a new Jew-

rire was on religious educarion and srudy, nor sacragestures. It apparemly

was

in Dessau, in r803, and was then taken up in Wolfen-

biirrel, where rhe fu ture J udaica scholar Leopold Zunz was conrirmed

in I807, and [hen in orher cornrnuniries.


The experiment

wi ch connrmarion

and girls ro rhe principal


educational

focused on inrroducing

teachings of Judaism

tions and answers, an arrempt

Kaplan recalled:

cognizance of a girl's becoming Bas Mizvah. They cal! ir emering

Italian Jews,

confirmarion

mental change by means of a clergyrnans

in New

1 was very much pleased ro see rhat rhey had rhe cusrorn of raking

are reflecred in rhe "rnin-

ish ceremony for boys and girls age nfteen or sixreen. The emphasis

abolit it on rhe rerurn sea jour22, I922,

confirrnarion

rury Germany ro replace the traditional

in New York. He did nor

conneer what he saw in Rorne ro his daughrers


York a few rnonrhs earlier. \\1riring

creared a bar

BAT MITZVAH

infiuenced leaders of the Jewish Reform


Movernenr in Germany. An efforr was made in early ninereenrh-cen-

Protestam

drens chorus sang Barueh Abba, the song sung an fesrive oceasions,
me ro the Eehal, the sreps in front of the

AND

yan" ceremony for boys and girls~ among traditional

sumpruous ceremony in which 1 per-

formed rhe role of rhe Rabbi. Roses of all kinds filled rhe temple and

wliile my farher escorred

BAR ~-fITZV AH,

TION,

boys

in rhe form of ques-

ro fashion a Jewish

carechisrn.

This

technique had already been used in rhe late sixteenth cen-

tury, in Abraham Yagel's Leqab Tov (Veni ce, I 595), based an a Carholic
manual,

II

but rhe Reform effort was an independent

surprisingly,

rhere was opposirion

rnirzvah and confirmarion


many and

initiative.

ro rhis, and cornbinarions

persisred in differem comrnuniries

Nor
of bar

in Ger-

beyond.81

Jewish teenage confirrnarion was imroduced in France in rhe I840s,


wirh girls wearing

they celebrared
in England,

II

rhe whire dresses Catholic

rheir Firsr Communion

children

wore when

ar a much younger age. And

also in rhe 1840s, the Wesr London synagogue

held a confirmarion ceremony an theJewish

annually

New Year, afeer rhe blow-

ing of rhe rarn's horn, in which boys and girls, age rhirreen,
ipated. Even an easrern European comrnuniry

observed

parric-

rhe Reform

instirurion.i"

someehing ro chem cur of a book in a very mechanical fashion. The

In the Unired Srares, some American Reform congregarions

farhers of rhe girls acred as if they were rather infrequenr visitors ar

replaced bar mirzvah with the egalirarian and education-oriented

rhe synagogue.

emony of confirmation.

80

112

It was instirured
113

i.

in Temple Emanu-El,

also
cerin

Bar MitZl'ah, Bat Afitzl'ab, Conmnation

Bar Afitzl'ah, Bat Alitzl'ah, Conirmation


New York Ciry, in 1847.83 Orher Reform leaders insisred
mitzvah

should be rerained where it was already custornary.

To be sure, an Israeli boy whose narive or

acquired language is modern Hebrew does nor have as difficulr a tirne

rhar Reform men did nor need ro have lirurgical

American Jewish boy who may or may nor know much of the lan-

as leaders in the synagogue

equally obsolete

skills since they did

service.v'The norion of an

role f'r girls in rhe form of a bat.rniczvah

did nor

congregations

added a confirrnarion

mirzvah ro mark rhe graduarion


schooling

These ceremonies

guage, but rhere is somerhing


What is inreresring

reading (hafrarah)

new ro learn even for a ~ecular Israeli.

is t l.ar rhere is a sense of Jewish cultural

iden-

tiry at rhis moment of lift cyele transirion, Unlike marriage in Israel,

come up for obvious reasons,

Jewish

to chant rhe propheric

as does a rypical

learning

Conservative

ceremony ro bar

of rhose children who cominued

in supplernenrary

Jewish

their

which is conrrolled by the Orthodox rabbinical esrablishrnenr,

usually were held on Shavuor and rhe girls wore

by con-

no law

forces an Israel farnily ro have a bar mitzvah in a traditional


in rhe synagogue.

high school programs.

whire dresses, an echo of rheir Chrisrian origin. Congregation

setting

Yet many do even if rhey never srep foot inro a syn-

agogue agam.
In rhe Unired Srares, egalitarianJewish

groups mark a girl's bat

cer-

mitzvah ar age thirreen and enable her, like a bar rnirzvah boy, also

emony ro mark a girl's coming of age ar thirreen and ro set a goal for

ro get an 'aliyah, read from the Torah, recite the hafrarah, deliver a

a girl's religious educarion in the supplememary

Torah speech, and do exacdy what a boy does in rhe synagogue service.

gregation

I
I
I

Oppo-

irs extensive preparation,

nenrs of bar miczvah poinred ro irs exclusion of girls and ro rhe fact
nor participare

that bar

Alrhough,

also discussed

imroducing

sorne kind of bat mitzvah

as already nored , Conservative

synagogue schoo1.

synagogues

adopted

84

a bar

mirzvah cerernony when rhe gir! read rhe hafrarah ar rhe end of rhe
Friday night service, ::', the egalirarlan

movernenr grew in rhe Unired

Srares in rhe 1970s and 1980s, rhe egalirarian


on Shabbat rnorning
Ironicaliy,

bat rnitzvah

service

dox synagogues.

reasons, mosr boys and girls who had

of bat rnirz-

The "e is m uch discussion, pro and con, of how chis

shoulcl be irnplernenred

or even if it should. Some rabbis raise objec-

rions precisely on rhe grounds

became more common.f?

but for differem

One of rhe rnosr recent chapters in rhe developrnent

vah is rhe emergence of rires for a gir! ar age twelve in modern Orrho-

is, and per se unacceptable.

rhat any rite is innovarive,

Women in rhe Jewish Orrhodox

a bar/bat rnitzvah ceremony regarded it as a last rire in rheir Judaism.

nisr Alliance (jOFA),

Before egalitarian

can mark the occasion without violating accepred Orthodox

rirnes, rhe bat rnirzvah was a unique, onerirne evenr

for girls. They could nor repeat the rite in rhe synagogue service, where
women were nor able ro participare.

In realiry, it was also che case

thar rnost bar rnitzvah boys in Conservative


considered

the bar mitzvah

the culrninarion

and Reform synagogues


of their Jewish

tion and would nor repeat rheir rite in rhe synagogue


ference, of course, was rhat boys rheoretically

educa-

either. The dif-

could do so, and some

did over their Iiferirnes; girls, before egalirarian Judaism,

which it
Femi-

for example, have proposed various ways a girl

norms abour women and girls not parriciparing

rabbinic

in rhe synagogue.f''

The impact of rhe feminist movernenr on American OrrhodoxJewish life has made the bat rnirzvah more important
rhough alI ritual egalitarianism

rhan before, even

has umil recenrly been rejected in

mixed services. One option is ro conduce all-wornen's services. Anorher


recent developmem

is for groups of Orrhodox

J ews ta meet

apart from

could nor.

the regular synagogue service and ro permit women ro receive 'aliyot.

The same can be said abour bar rnitzvah for secular Israelis roday.

Some Orrhodox rabbinic opinion has cautiously supporred this oprion.

Secular Israelis of ten have rheir sons prepare some of the lirurgical

Either way, there now are oprions for Orthodox

readings

Torah, recei ve 'aliyor, and serve as cantors. As a by-product,

in rhe traditional

Orrhodox

synagogue

nor JUSt have a parry but move into rhe synagogue


II4

nearby, They do
for the rire and

women ta read rhe


girls who

reach age twelve can do rhe same, for the first rime, in such services.F
I15

Har .llJtz'l'aJJ. b at illttz1/alJ,

Anorher possibiliry

Cunjlnlta1Wll

in modemOrrhodox

comrnunities

age rwelve years and a day ro address rhe congregarion


Torah afcer rhe services and celebrare

with adevar

rhe bat mirzvah

at a festive

in her horior.88

kiddish reception

BAI'

is for girIs

;,n~ZVAHS

ARE

Somerimes r ires that rradirionally

LIKE

WEDDINGS?

belonged

ro weddings

ferred ro bar rnirzvah celebrarions.

For example,

were trans-

in some commu-

niries a boy acquires a rallit ro be used not only during rhe ceremony
but also as part of his permanent
rary ro phylacreries
In rraditional

religious equi pmem,

complemen-

(refillin), which be begins ro wear ar this age.89

Iewish communiries

in Europe and rhe Muslim East,

refillin is a rire associared wirh bar mirzvah, but a tallir is nor, excepr
when rhe boy leads rhe services as a camor or receives an 'aliyah or
orher lirurg ical honor, Normally, Jewisb men do nor wear a large rallir overtheir

5. Bar .\fi.--:z.:;h o! _'bs.;;.i.z. Israel, 1968. Courtesy of tbe lsrael

clorbes umil rhey are married. Insread, boys and unrnar-

[ied men wear an undergarmem

known as arba' kemfot (lirerally, "four

corners"), ro .vhich are attached

ritual fringes rhar are worn hanging

ourside rhe shirr as a visible reminder


Tradirionally,

Offce,J::r-;;.c';;!:'Jl?_

of the commandmems.

(see Cbapter

3), and which he conrinues

ro wear as a congregam,

nor

ro rhe adolescent boy. Consequenrly,


dox synagogues

wbich

Reconsrructionist,

'i

and Conservative

berween

communiries

One of rhe ritual objecrs rhar is a distinctive

l
r

bar rnirzvah
e

marker

some Reform,

(and rheir officiat-

as Orrhodox.
bar rnirzvah gift is rhe

rallir and refillin bag, rhe arrwork of which reflecrs rhe

sryles of each larger culrure. In the East, rhey tend ro be embroidered


II6

sets are available,

An exrension

"

rhey were married

ing rabbis) and others who refer ro themselves


embroidered

.-matching

groups, girls may roo, even if rbey do nor put


is a boundary

rhe bags often are zippered

in

velvet

':, orative design on rhe ourside ro rell rhern apan from rhe others. Today

bar rnirzvah boys in non-Ortho-

will often wear a rallir as rhough

adults. In egalitarian
on refillin,

rhis adult garment

parterns;

pouches and rnarked bv the boy's name on rhe ourside or wirh a dec-

just when he is a prayer leader. But rnodern jews in the Medirerranean,


Europe, and the Unired Srares bave transferred

designs, in Arabesque-like

Europe and relared comrnunities,

during the ceremony or which might serve as a canopy over bis head

PI'W

lsrae]. Pix,:CJ credit: M. Aii/ner

with silver and gold nligree

Jews gave a groom an adult tallir, which he wore

GOI'e1717J1ellt

one for each ritual objecr. (Fig. 5)

of the linking

of rhe wedding

boy and rire is rhe wedding

shawl covering.

\\7eddings,

prayer shawl ro the

canopy topped by a prayer-

as we will soon see, reinrerprered

Hebrew rerrn "huppah - over rhe course of rhousands

: carne ro irs presem

meariing , a four-poled

, bride and groorn undergo

rhe wedding

Israel, rri cs haye been orcanized


'rnounrain

of years umil it

covering under which rhe

ceremony. In recent rimes, in

for bar rnirzvah families ro celebrare

rhe rire eirher ar rhe \\- estero \"X!allin Jerusalem


--Herodian

rhe

or sometirnes

on the

rorrress of Masada, ro rhe wesr of rhe Dead Sea.

When (ne rire rakes place ar such places, it is somerimes


117

conducted

Har iIlt/:l'ab, Bat Mitzzab,

Conirmation

under what can only be descri bed as a wedding canopy, made of faur

comrary

poles attached ta rhe corners of a large tallir. This is yet anorher exam-

ries included primed menus and invitarions.

ple of rhe exrension of wedding

Weinberger

celebrations

As rhe prayer shawl has been exrended


.weddings,

so have orher elernents,

c'yes of]ewish

sornetirnes wirh surprising

and Christian influences. Ir is custornary

celebrare

every year rheir

henei mizvah, amid enormous splendor and grear show." In rhe Unired

in many eul-

S,,:tes in the 19505, [ar example, rhe caterer who was responsible

as a fertility

wish ro rhern ro have rnany children.]

rhe evem also prinred color-coordinated

ish wedding

in easrern Europe, the groom would be honored in the

ust before a Jew-

an rhe Sabbarh, and, afrer he received his 'aliyah and per-

of rhe honoree, matchbooks

for

napkins with rhe firsr name

wirh rhe first name, and possibly a rnenu

of rhe meal wirh elaborare tassels holding rwo double pages rogerher
that might include a cameo photograph

of the bar rnitzvah boy an

rhrow candies an him and the rnen below as a sign of congrarula-

the cover. The rnarches complemented

glasses filled with pastel-

tions (see Chaprer

colored cigarerres that also were provided, often wirh rhe child's narne

haps also read rhe hatrarah,

rhe women in che gallery above would

3). Tbrowing

candy in the synagogue

has beeri

ro the bar rnirzvah boy after he receives his firsr 'aliyah and

extended

reads rhe haftarah even rhough it seems ro be a cusrom thar derives


from rhrowing

grain on a married couple. \'7e recall rhat somerhing

similar carne imo exisrence in Europe in conneerion

wirh rhe school-

primed

an rhern, cusrorn ordered from such specialist

robacconists

as Nat Sherrnan in New York Ciry.?'


And (hen (here is the cake and caodle ceremooy in rhe Americao
bar/bar rnirzvah, which can be read as a combioation

of a Torah 'aliyah

1-.)'; receiving candies ar coins rhrown down from behind onto his

.erernony combioed with an Americao birrhday cake celebration aod

aiphabet chart.
Yet another rearure rhar has been extended ro rhe bar mitzvah cel-

caterers coococred chis ceremony.'"

ebrarion from

Jewish

weddings is the chairing of the bride and groom

during the wedding teasc. InJewish

celebrations,

it became cusrornary

a lirtle of a weddiog cake rhrown in for good measure.

Apparenr1y,

Ar the parry for rhe bar or bar rnirzvah, the rnaster of cerernonies
stops rhe proceedings

and announces

that the candle lighring

cere-

for t he bride and graom ro be lifred an separare chairs and danced

rnony will begin. The honoree ho1ds a large lighred candle behind a

araund the room while each holds one end of a handkerchief

white cake, usually a sheet cake an which a Torah seral! has been

napkin

In 1887, Rabbi Moses

and went an ro decry rhe boys

in New York City who "by the hundred

mix-

par-

larnented thar the bar rnirzvah was "the grearesr of hol-

idays among aur Jewish brethren"??

ro rhe bar rn itzvah from

Already in Germany,

CUies [cir people ro rhrow grain ar a couple abolit ro be or just married

synagogue

ro bar mirzvah.

ta Jewish custom and pracrice.

50

that rhey do nor touch each other. It has become common

ta see a bar or bar rnitzvah boy ar girllifted


araund

ar clorh

an a chair and danced

rhe rtoor as rhough he or she were a graom or bride.

designed in icing ar one in rhe shape of an open book or scro11. The


bar ar bat mitzvah may read a short tribute for each of a series of reiatives, grandparenrs,

uncles and aunts, cousins, siblings,

and then

parents, and each in turn is honored wirh "rhe first candle," "the second candle," and sa an through
THE

PARTY

AND

CANDLE-LIGHTING

rhe ninereenth

and early rwenrieth

and elegam invirations

a candle, rhe phorographer

CEREMONY

The parry became a very important


planned

THE

cenruries.

Il8

lavish

As each comes up ro lighr

shoots a srill phoro and the video con-

rinues ro record each episode.

parr of the bar rnitzvah even in

primed.

rhirreen.

balls were

Rabbis scowled thar it was

The special cake is of course reminiscem

of rhe wedding cake corn-

bined wirh a child's birrhday pafty cake ro which rhe special candle
ceremony has been added. Sometimes
IlO

a lirrle plastic figure of a bar

Bar, \1irz1'ab, Bat ;\iitZl!ah, Conmuarion


rnirzvah boy is placed an rhe cake, everi as plastic figures of a bride
and groom areseared

arap wedding

ADUL T BAR/BAT

cakes. But in anorher way, the

calling up ro the cake, often baked in rhe shape ar covered by a Tarah,

The efforts of the American Jewish communiry

irnirates the cailing up, ar 'aliyor, in rhe synagogue,

resulted in how-to books by the dozens for all aspects of J ewish life,

when adult men

ar women are called ta rhe real Tarah and recite the blessings
it. Here the bar/bat

ineluding

many an rhe life cyele, in general, ~nd an bar mitzvah,

mirzvah blesses each of rhe honorees instead of

particular.

Such information

in rhe local booksrore.

Ta be sure, if rhe parry is being held an rhe Sabbarh, right after


services, as mine was, lighring

of the children's

have beeri assimilared


initiarion

ceremony

rwelve and a day for traditional

iota Tarah learn-

he ar she no longer is a child. (Compare


in the Israeli kindergarten

rnent, adrninisrered

his ar ber age wirh

rhe kindergarren

Although

Jews have nor traditionally

celebrared

birthdays

Tarah scrall, is an inrernalizarion

of widespread

Christian

practice .

ar bat mirzvah, rhe cirele of mutual awareness would be compleeed.

rion back ro age seven sa that it will noe appear to be a Carholic


Even more striking is rhe new Protestam

, ~':
:;~.;

at all,

duced in many American


youth

with

a meaningful

confirrnarion

ler alone with birrhday cakes and candles, here we have a special adap-

Rire 13 thar has been inrro-

churches expressly ro provide


ceremony

bar

that

compares

Protestant
ro Carholic

and Jewish bar and bat mirzvah.P"

In a bar rnirzvah rite, rhe bay is perrnirted

ro perform rhe acrs he

ration of rhe non-jewish

birrhday

cake, assimi-

does, such as get an 'aliyah ar put an refillin, because he has "becorne

Iared into the American

bar and bat rnirzvah parries. Of course, an

bar rnirzvah," already, reached rhe righr age. This means, of course,

regular birthday

cake, and wedding

by a rabbi, in a synagogue ritual araund rhe sacred

.1
f.

birthday

good soldier, go up ta grade one, erc.)

girls) and nor because of any rire.

If sorne Catholics roday wanr ro change rhe teenage rite of confirma-

when each classrnare comes up

ta the child and blesses him ar her wirh the wish thar he ar she be a

occurs by

Indeed, the very idea of rhinking of the bar rnirzvah as a kind of sacra-

a number of candles. It becornes a Jewish child's last birrhday parry;


ceremony

poinr of view, rhe rire in the synagogue, ler alone

irself when rhe child reaches rhe age of rhirreen years and a day (ar

ro one anorher,

The relarives bless rhe child-as-

Tarah in public, while at rhe same rime marking

One of rhe features of this renewal is the rite

rhe party, is net "the bar rnirzvah" ar alI. That transirion

rerms,

ing when rhe boys eat honey cakes an which rhe alphabet arid verses
from rhe Bible have been wrirren,

is also available an rhe Internet, nor only

men and women who "were never bar mirzvahed"

From a traditional

of rhe candles, insread of reci ring blessings, comes

the child and rhe Torah-as-cake

in

having one ar a more mature ar even advanced age.93 (Fig. 6)

the candles wil! be lighred. In any

in rhe context of each relarive blessing rhe child. In symbolic


rerniniscent

of adult Jewish

candles may nor rake place, but ifSab-

barh observance is nor cusramary,


case, the lighring

ro renew irself have

over

rheir blessing the Tarah.

rhar all of rhe adules who now seek ro "be bar rnirzvahed"

cakes one lighrs a candle for each year and an exrra

one for "good luck." The lighting


ro be an adaprarion

of the candles an the cake seems

of the conventional

birthday

cake extended

ro

honoring

the child's relatives who have helped him ar her reach rhis

milestone

of the bar ar bat rn irzvah , It is an American

innovarion,

already

are, since rhey are well beyond the requisire age when rhey "became

CII

".',

0.-

.... ;..
.:

bar mi tzvah. "


Neverrheless,

it speaks ro the irnporrance

of the rites that have

developed over the last hundred years rhat rhe commirment

ro Jew-

correlared wirh rhe special role birthday parties play in American chil-

ish living thar we see in some adulrs is rnarked by having a public

dren's lives in general.

ceremony rhar consisrs of one ar more parrs of rhe rire as celebrared

brating

!vfITZVAH

And of course a bar ar bat rnirzvah is cele-

a birrhday and receives presents accordingly.


120

by youngJewish

adolescems ar rhe rime rhey reach the required


I2I

age.

Bar Mitzl'ab, Bat ,\1itzl/ab.

Bar MitztlClb, Bat Mitz1iah, Confirmation

COlljirlilatl011

will nor go on ro high schoolJewish

studies and "be confirmed."

Per-

haps half may nor have aJewish wedding of any kind and it may nor
rake place for decades, as the age of marriage is delayed. In some sense,
then, one sees a shifring downward

of rites thar combine

]ewish wedding and the earlier rradirional.elernenrs

both the

of the child's bar

mirzvah.:"
In recent rirnes, as Jews soughr ro rnark uie life cyele in ritual ways

.>.

even in lives nor orherwise filled wirh Terah observance, the bar rnirzvah emerged as a rite of passage frorn ]ewish childhood
cence and acculturation

into adoles-

into rhe larger secular world, especially

American or Israeli life. In contrast, some Hasidic communiries


other Ulrra-Orthodox

in
and

(haredi) Jews, for example, downp1ay the bar

rnirzvah riruals in rhe synagogue

and have a fesrive meal ar which

friends and family celebrare and give the child preseots, often as nor,
religious books for a liferirne of learning.v"
In some ways, even as it is an iniriation

6. Mass Bat A[itu'ah Seri ,ia al Hadassah National Conrention.erusalem. Israel,


ili/gust 6.

200

r. 2001 Hadassab, The Womm Zionist Organization of America,

[ne. Remnted uitb permission.

inro Jewish

some older adulrs, it can be seen as a finishing

Pboto credit: A~'i r-J..yrln

identiry

for

rire for many young

Jewish adolescems. le rnoves rhe child

biW

Judaism

world possibly wirhour any addirional

traditional

inro rhe larger

Jewish rires until

Others who have dane this include Russian Jews who were unable

dearh, if rhen. But, of course, rhere may be orher chances ta practice

ca have a public celebration

]ewish rires, Wi[h adolescence and puberty

when rhey lived as refusniks in rhe Soviet

Union, adult Jews who became "rerurnees

ro Judaism"

rhere is an awareness of

rhe opposire sex. Many Jews marry or inrerrnarry

(ba 'alei teshu-

by enacring

some

l)ah) and who did nor have one when they were secular and assimi-

kind of Jewish wedding ceremony. The next phrase in the circumci-

Iared but now want one as a sign of rheir dedicaeion

sion refrain, "ta emer rhe huppah," also has had a long and fascinat-

traditional

ro a form of

ing hisrory, and irs contemporary

Jewish living.

variarions reflecr, even more [han

rhe bar rnirzvah cerernony, the complexiries


BAR/BAT

MITZVAH

AS GRADUATION

\"Vhy have so many features of oneJewish

life cycle evenr, Jewish wed-

dings, been shifeed ro the bar miezvah? We will also see rhat even
more mourning

custorns were shifted ta traditional]ewish

Today in American]ewish

bar rnirzvah as well as a celebrarion


Jewish child's formalJewish

weddings.

life, at least, there is a culrninarion

of youth. It ofeen is rhe end of a

schoo1ing, his or her graduation.


I22

in the
Most

123

of Jewish life roday,

Engagement, Betrotbal, Afarriage


BibIe, as in much of larer Jewish hisrory, is largely in rhe hands of
. rhe farher or some equivalem
applies ro the prospecrive

male relarive such as an unele. This

groom as well as ro rhe bride. Alrhough

aspecrs of what w~ roday call romantic love berween man and woman
are found in rhe Bible, especially in rhe Song of Songs, a collection

Engagement,

of

~t:l;,';UOUSpoems

berween rwo srnirren lovers, the matchmaking

young people was a typical parenral responsibility,

Betrothal,

well inro che rwentieth


as with Rebekah

tvlarriage

(Gen. 24), or ar orher rirnes before a marriage,


r6A)J

Deureronorny

must write sornerhing

stipulares for a divorce thar rhe husband

referred ro as "sefer kerirur"

rion) (Deur. 24: I~3; Jer. y8), no comparable

(a writ of separa-

wedding

\Vom ue consider a uedding today, ue IIsua!!)' tbinl: of a plIblic ceremollY

rioned in rhe Hebrew

as a rransirion

know: it is easier ro get married rhan ro get divorced.

when a man and woman leave rheir childhood

homes

,; couple, and larer as parems .. Mare reaIisrically,


rionship

for some rime decides

Bible. Perhaps chis rells us whar we already

with leah arid Rachel, Samson and Delilah, and David and Michal, as

a couple thar has

ro formalize

well as rhe meraphoric

rhe rela-

as a monogamous

in public before having chiIdren or for some orher reason.

andJeremiab,

Even more rhan childhood cusroms, rhe Iaws and cusroms attached

references ro God and Israel's covenamal

give us more information

ro rires of courrship and marriage are elosely relared ro rhose of neigh-

monly accepted

families, nor individuals,

is especially pronounced

process of inward accuIrurarion

in the rires surrounding

the Jewish

ding: in the biblical age, the culrure especially of Mesopotamia;


anriquiry,

Greco-Roman

civilizarion;

in pre-modem

polirical connecrions,

in

In rhe Hebrew

BibIe, [here is no wedding

ceremony

several narratives were Iarer invoked as jusriticarions


developed.

ar all, but

for practices rhat

Ir is elear thar the marriage of sons ancl daughrers

in the

erhnic and religious cornparibiliry,

wirh God serving as rheir "parents" and matcbmaker

alI figure in
marriage,

combined.

rheme is made c1ear in the midrash .. ~'\ Roman noblewoman,

gious aud secular socieries. In each case, some text or custorn from
priarion of an ourside practice rurned into a J ewish one.

of family wealrh, good social or

\VIe may rhink of Adam and Eve as the first arranged

of Chrisrians or Muslirns cornbining reli-

earlier J ewish practice is somehow linked ro what acrually is an appro-

was upperrnost on everyone's mind. Consid-

the Bible and afrerwards inJewish rradirional life down ro the presenr.

rimes, rhe var-

ious Chrisrian and Muslim culrures in Europe, Asia, and Norrh Africa;
in modern rimes, rhe meres

abolit what seem ro be corn-

norms for anciem Israelite sociery. A union of rwo

erarions of alliances, aggrandizemenr

wed-

bond

marriage of man and wife, in prophets such as Hosea

boring civilizations.

This dynamic

rire is men-

Still, key episodes, such as the unions of Rebekah and Isaac, Jacob

singles pads and join rogerher ro form a new family unit, firsr as

been Iiving rogerher

as

with Michal, Saul's younger daughrer, for David (1 Sam. 18:28) and
Although

from biblical days

century, and love might sornetirnes come aher,

Samson for Delilah (Jud.

Of

of

I,
I

rogating

This
inrer-

Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, asked: In how rnany days did the

Holy One, blessed be He, creare His world? Rabbi Yose replied: In
six days. She asked: And whar has He beeri doing
replied:

...

Such-and-Such

He has been busy making


ro So-and-So.'"

macches-v-rhe

since? R. Yose
daughrer

of

1
J.
Ellgagement, Betrotbal, Afaniage

Engagelllent. Betrotbal, Man'iage


In late anriquiry,
where no wedding

The second version of rhe crearion ofhumans

the rabbis read the narrarive of rhe nrst parenrs,


ceremony

rhe gardeo aod cominues, in Gen. 2: 1 5, with man alone and demon-

is even hinted ar, as the model of the

firsr arranged marriage and declared rhar physical consummation

strates rnan's power over woman by acrually naming her along wirh

was

naming orher crearures:

one of three means by which a berrorhal could be cornpleted, rhe other


rwo being a wrirten

document

of inrenr (nor rhe same as rhe ketubty

The Lord Gad said, "It is nor good for man ta be alone; I wil! rnakc

ro rhe bride. A form of each of

a ntting helper for hirn." And rhe Lord Gad formed out of rhe earrh

bah ar prenupt ial contract) or the transfer of some personal praft:!


of minimal

value Eram the graom

became part of rhe rires of

all rhe wild beasrs and al! the birds of che sky, and broughr rhern ta

marriage, though nor oecessarily as a rneans by which the groom can

the man ro see what he would call chem; and wharever rhe man called

berroch a bride.>

each living creature, that would be irs name. And rhe man gave narnes

rhese rhree modes of crearing a betrorhal

The bibiicai narrative

sets up a series of expecrations

would become Jewish married life, including


union, even though
rhe patriarchal

ro all the carrle and ro the birds of rhe sky and ta al! the wiId beasrs:

as a model

bur for Adam no nrring heiper was found. Sa the Lord God cast a

in

who marries rwo sisrers.' The con-

and closed up rhe flesh ar (har spor. Arid rhe Lord fashioned the rib

rhere are exceptions,

age, notably,Jacob,

monogamy

abour what

deep sleep upon rhe rnan; and, while he slepr, He rook one ofhis ribs

cluding secrion of rhe Book ofProverbs,

I
I

in Genesis describes

aparr from coocubines,

(har he had raken from the man inro a wornan; and He brought her

known from rhe nrst phrase,

"esher hayil" (a woman of valor), is abolit an ideal wife, a wornan who

ro the man. Then rhe man said, "This OIlear last is bone of my bones

works and also rends ro her family (Prov, 31:IO-31).

and flesh of my tlesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from man

The nrst of two accounts of the crearion of humankind

was she taken." Hence a man leaves his farher and rnorher and clir~.,:;

enigrru-

ically begins: "And God creared man in His image, in the image of

(O

his wife, sa (har rhey become one Besh (Gen. 2:r8-24).

God He creared him; male and female He creared rhern. God blessed ,
chem and God said ro chem, 'Be fertile and increase, nIl the earth

Shortly we find them cohabieing:

"Now the man knew his wife

and rnasrer it; and rule the fish of the sea, rhe birds of the sky, and

Eve, and she conceived and bare Cain" (Gen. 4: 1), rhe first reference

all rhe living rhings rhar creep on earrh" (Gen. 1:27-28).5

ro rhe verb "ta know" in what has carne ta be known as the "bibli-

In rhis version, God creates humaniry,

We are immediarely

thar chis refers ro man and woman togerher,


rhern ro procreate and be dominam
is described

arian. The narrative of human procrearive


imirarion

of Gad, wirh a difference.

cal sense," that is, meaning

Gad then commands

seems ro be an

ing a married couple is rhe verb "raking,"

"When men began ro increase an earrh and daughters

in human beings. Man and woman, cre-

more life and are placed above the rest of anirnare, vegerative,
material parts of rhe world.
126

and

as in a man rakes a wife.

For example, "Larnekh rook ta' himself rwo wives" (Gen. 4:19); ar,

Gad is depicred as creating the

ated in the image of Gad, are ro be like God in that they roo creare

ar

One expression rhar appears soon in the Bible for the act ofbecom-

beings by verbal har, nor myrhic sexual acts. This

willed crearion culrninares

No orher gesture

ceremony an Adam or Eve's part signals thar they are man and wife,

of the six days of cre-

generation

sexual intimacy.

nor just man and woman.

over the rest of the crearion that

in rhe firsr paft of rhe narrative

world and allliving

told

were born ta

rhern, the divine beings saw how beaueiful the daughters of men were
..

'1:,:'

,
f

and took wives from among those rhat pleased thern" (Gen. 6: 1-2)
This expression

is found again in connecrion

'Abram and Nahor

with

Abra(ha)m:

rook ta thernselves wives" (Gen. 11:29).


I27

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage

Engagement. Betrothal, Marriage

(
(

(.

rhe word laqah (rook) may be similar ro a purchase

Alrhough

an obiect, rhe act does nor mean rhat the groorn's


woman for his son. In no biblical or rabbinic

had known" (v, 16). Before he even rneets rhe family, Abraharn's

of

father buys rhe

vanr gives her "a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel,

text, for that rnarter,

bands for her arms, ten shekels in weighr" (v, 22).

can a husband sell his wife, as he can his carrle, for exarnple ..This distinction

Key elemems of larer rites appear here, The wornan's consenr is

is. also made clear in rhe ancienr Near Easrern codes." The

furure husband

acquires the father's permission

fer of aurhoriry

over rhe young woman from her farher ro her furure

ro be;in

indicaredas

the trans-

II!

ro rhe union, and rhis is required in larer


A second element adurnbrated

is rhar

rhe groorn's family presenr gifrs ta the bride. More of rhis wil! get
illusrrated

in various combinarions

as rhe srory progresses.

The ref-

might seem ro fore-

erence ro a ring, however, should nor be confused wirh rhe use of a

shadow whar was involved in rhe act of "raking ," thar is, a sexual

ring in the Jewish berrothal ceremony, which dares ta no earlier rhan

consummarion.

Muslim rirnes.

In facr, rhe mosr elaborare

biblical courtship

narra-

tive suggesrs orherwise and provides a model for- how arnan takesa

1:

a prerequisire

Jewish wedding arrangernents.

husband and his family.


Adarri's sexual union, described as "knowing,"

ser-

and rwo gold

It rurns out thar Rebekah is Abraharri's

niece, Isaac's first cousin

bride. The narrarive does nor begin wirh rhe rwo young people ar all

once rernoved: rhe daughrer of Berhuel, who is rhe son of Abraharn's

bur instead wirh rhe groom's farber, Abraham,

off his son Isaac properly, which means ro a relarive back in "the old

brorher Nahor arid sisrer-in-law Milcah. Her imrnediare reacrion is


ro reIl "all chis ro her rnorher's household" (v, 28), ta her rnorher, nor

counrry," nor ro a local Canaanire

her farher, an indicarion that in rhe original srory her farher, Berhuel,

According

who wanrs ro marry

wornan.

ro Genesis, Abraham

will nor '''rake a wite (tiqah ishah) for my son from .ne daughrers
rhe Canaanires

of

among whorn I dwell, but wil! go ro the land of my

birrh and get a wife (ve-laqahra

ishah) for my son Isaac" (24A).

The

servant asks what he should do "'if rhe woman does nor con sem ro
foHow me ro rhis land?'"
Absolurely

(2+5). Should

nor, says Abraham:

son back rhere!"

"'an

(24:6). Trusring

he bring

his eyes lighr up arid he immediarely

wanrs ro know aiI abour rhe

vrsiror,
'''1 am Abraharn's servanr,"

rhe stranger begins. '''The Lord has

no accoum must you take my

sheep and carele, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and

insisrs thar "'you

"you shal! rhen be clear of rhis

oath ro rne" (24:7-8).

asses'" (vv. 34-35).


Ar rhe news, Laban and Bethuel, Rebekah's

farher, who makes a

sudden carnea appearance, in an addirion ro rhe original narrarive, borh


declare, "'The rnarter was decreed by rhe Lord'" (v. 50). Their reac-

The servanr goes of[ rowards Aram (Syria), where Abraham


iIy had lived for rnany years, en roure from Mesopotamia
rhe trusred servant encounrers

strearn. Although

,,:,'

greatly blessed my rnaster, aod he has become rich: He has given hirn

Gad, Abraham

consenr ro foIlow you," he conrinues,

is abour, As soon as he sees his sister's new nqse-r-i"s and bracelets,

Isaac rhere?

will ger a wife for my son from there. And if rhe woman does nor

Immediarely,

is dead. Her brorher Laban runs out ro see whar all the commorion

makes his servanr swear rhat he

fam-

rion is predicrable: "'Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and

ro Canaan.

let her be a wife ro your rnasrer's son, as the Lord has spoken'" (v. 51).

'5

Rebekah ar rhe well ar

he asks her for water for himself, she offers water

nor only ta him, but also ro his camels, a prearranged

sign he had

But firsr, "The servant broughr out objects of silver and gald, and
garrnenrs, and gave rhem ro Rebekah;

and he gave presenrs ta her

brorher and her rnorher" (v. 53). The former are gifrs from the groom's

worked out earlier ro indicare rhat she is the one divinely chosen for

family for the bride; the latrer are a kind of dowry ar bride price rhar

Isaac. Of course, rhe woman is "very beauriful, a virgin whom no rnan

rhe groorn's family conrribures

128

ro the family of the furure bride ro


129

betrotbai, iHarriage

ElIgagt'lJleJlt,

I2).

Engagement. Betrotbal, Marriage

Generally, rhe parenrs arrange their children's rnarriages, alrhough

rhere are cases of choice being expressed


a young wornan. For exarnple,

regarding

sexual uruon were frowned

by young rnen, arid even by


his daughters,

betrothed

Merab and

out [previous] shiddukhin.

Michal Saul firsr tells David, "'Here is my older daughter, Merab; 1


.
'
.
will give her ta you in marriage" (I Sam. 18:17) David proresrs he
is unworrhy

ta be '''Your majesry's

son-in-law"

younger daughrer,

Michal,

-.'._,o

t hat

~.
"

punished

any man who

"17

The rabbis

ar with-

rried ta enforce rhese

but they obviously did nor always succeed. There also

arrangements,
_.~ .

(v. 18), ~nd rnysre-

riously Saul gives Merab ta another. Ar this poinr we learn

upon:"Rab

[a wornan] in a rnarker place, ar by intercourse,

is some evrdence rhar some of the rabbis themselves

were notabove

chis temporary marriage practice. 18

Saul's

A genuine berrorhal was the gaal, such that ehi:' lack of rhe pre-

"had fallen in love wirh David" (I Sam.

lirninary arrangemems

was nor decisive. The rabbis' gaal was ro insist

18:20). Even so, it is up ro rhe girl's farher ro arrange the union. He

on arrangemenrs

sripulates

riages of convenience, and rhey tried ro do chis by making rhe rela-

the bride-price

that David succeeded

As a resulr, "Saul rhen gave him his daughter

ta pay ivv, 21-27).


Michal in marriage"

were consequences

if rhe wornan's

father

broke off rhe

he shall pay back double

rhe full arnounr

a woman wirhour preliminary

if rhe farher

receives gifts and then says, "1 will nor give my daughrer

(shiddukhin)

ta you,"

thar was brought

is punished

The assurnprion

ro

for walking away afrer

ous relaricnship

The civil arrangemem

in rabbinic

thar rypifies rhe biblical noriori of marriage

was rhar one sbouJd max-

regulations

of marriage and minimize

an inhibitor

many rules would not have preoccupied

arran bcernents "shiddukhin,"

reducing it. Once rhe families got rogerher

ar matchmaker.

The arrangement

preceded

couple, alrhough

rhey might be followed immediately

In Palestine and some parts of Babylonia,


right before the berrorhal,
ties if rhe proposed

marriage

of marriage

agreement

would

rerrn sbadkban,

a contract

rhat stipulated

breach of promise of marriage


woman did nor need a religious

'5

"1:

Breaking

consequences-c--sornerhing

in modern civil Iaw-but

It is
the

Babylonia,

casuai marriages
134

agreement,

, and

which was no doubt real. Orherwise,

signed

and sripulared

by wirnesses,

incenrive for rhe families ta nurture

50

rhe rabbis with rnerhods of


rerms of

rhere was a concrete

rhe relationship

and bring it ta

cornpletion.

gous ro a modern engagemenr.

of the rabbinic

shiddukhin

Ar the engagemenr,

was analo-

the couple "go

public" as a couple for the firsr rime, and newspapers may even carry

'~f"
/;

the announcernenr.

The difference berween engagemenr

and arrange-

like

rnent is that the decision today usually rests with the couple, nor the
parents. Nearly all Jews today who have a Jewish wedding,

rhe young

divorce. It did not change her per-

of prorniscuiry,

In some ways, rhe timing


..

This docu-

sonal status.
In chird-cenrury

t'

rnonerary penal-

between rhe families.

have monetary

';.p.~.. ,.:".:.

was written

was called off ar rhe last minute.

arranged

a pre-nuptial

the

by berrothal.

as it still is roday (rena'irnj.i''

ment consisred of a set of condirions

in rhe Yid-

any acts involving

casual sexual parrriering.

In effecr, rhe legal sysrern served as an agency of rnachmaking

riage a public evenr and later on a sacred union. They called making
dish terrn sbiddeeh, ar rnarch, and the cornplernentary

is valid."19

rwo people rhat would lead ta a seri-

began ta change under rhe rabbis, as they first tried ta make a mara terrn rhat srill reverberares

between rhe families

arrangemems

but rhe berrothal

imize rhe social ries berween

hirn."!:'

a promise

ar mar-

a brief fiing. In rhe Ierusalern Talmud, ir is srared: "\Vhoever berrorhs

arranged marriage. According to rhe Code ofHammurabi,


" ...

casual sexualliaisons

tionship public, wirh rnonerary consequences

(v, 27).

There

in order ro minimize

for Ultra-OrchodoxJews,

carried out through

ger engaged

excepr

in ways rhar are nor much dif-

ferenr from rhe way non-J ews do. The couple decide they wam ta
ger rriarried; rhe rwo families meer; rhe man gives his bride-to-be

gift, ofren a diamond ring, rhanks ro rhe efforcs of European royalry

135

Engagement, Betrotbal, MCl1Tiage

Engagement. Betrotba], l'r1an'iage


and the modern diamond

cartel; friends and family throw a party or

bridal shower; and a date is set for rhe wedding.


are all rhe rires of betrorhal
Today, rhe document
wedding

contract

and marriage

stipulating

became betrorhed

as weIl as rhe

are borh signed

the Talmud indicares

just before

rhat sorne -;e2p!e

privately, rhar is, wirhour any of rhe above public

The favored days for a wedding

in rhe Talmud were Wednesdays

for firsr-rirne brides (virgins) arid Thursdays

for widows.:"

In easrern

Europe, weddings were sornerirnes held on Fridays (virgins) and Thursdays (widows), respectively,

so rhar people could sray over rhe Sab-

barh. More recentIy, traditional jews have overridden


in favor of Tuesday weddings,

rhese rradirions

based, it is said, on Genesis, where it

says twice rhat God's crearion was good on the rhird day (Gen.
1: 1 2).

It is nor elear how far back rhis conternporary

Jewish wedding
rhousands

rires in rhe Muslim

of documenrs

discovered

Medirerranean

communities,

1: ro;

practice goes.

world were revealed in the

over a hundred

Cairo Geniza. Mainly from rhe tenrh-

through

rears ag', in rhe

thirreenth-cenrury

rhey disclose thar weddings

were nor

he!d in rhe synagogue. Nor were Muslim or early Chrisrian marriages


held in mosques

sisrer.:" Memoirs throughout

ern rimes srress rhe irnportance

or churches. It was still "predorninantly

a secular

The occasion of parents coming ro terms or agreeing


ments generated

morhers

As was the case wirh Abraharn's decis ion for Isaac, Isaac's for Jacob,
50 Jews

in the Geniza

worId favored marriage wirh a relarive. AJew writes a lerrer ta a mern-

of

and sons.

riruals in .Medirerranean

aod European

ro .1r~;if1.!.:econ.rnunicustoms

arid pracrices, respecrively, For exampIe, Persian (and Kurdish) Jews


have a special cusrom thar marks rhe meering of the rwo families for
the !irst rime and rhe engagemene

of rhe couple ta be married.

It is called "earing rhe sweers" (shirini khuri). On the appointed


day, rhe groom's

parenrs invite rhe honored members

of the corn-

rnunity as welI as rhe chief rabbi ro rheir home. They take severa!
sugar cones about eighreen

inches high and go ro rhe house of rhe

bride's pare nes and relI rhem why rhey are [here. Tf rhe bride's parents consenr, rhe rabbi breaks

(WO

cones by hirring

thern rngerher

and says, "May your march succeed," and he concludes withP.


':Asong for ascenes. 1 turn my eyes ro rhe mounrains;

1:2 1: 1:

from where will

my help corne?'
He offers the firsr piece of sugar ro rhe bride's farher and the next
ooe ro rhe groorn' s farher. The rwo of rhem rhen exchange their pieces
of sugar and say, "be-rnazel rov u-ve-siman

affair," as it had been in rhe Bible.:"


Sarnson's parenrs' for him, and Tobir's for his soo,

early and mod-

ro pare nes and widowed

!inding a good rnarch for daughters

well in

scribe who

ties, each bearing some resemblance ro Muslirn or Chrisrian

ritual. They were cusrorns, not requirernenrs.P"

his new home of Fustar, Egypr, ro rhe sisrer of a prominenr


married Mairnonides'

enacred.

rhe arrangernenrs

proper, or kerubbah,

rhe ceremony. Neverrheless,

Only ar rhat rime

monides (II38-1204), who was born io Spain and married

tov" (accompaoied

favorable star and a good sign), and they disrribure

by a

rhe orher pieces

of sugar ro everyone rhere.


In anorher room a table is laden wirh all kinds of delicacies.

They

ber of rhe family near Cairo abolit a youog girl: "We have saved rhe

eat and drink wine. The groorn's father takes rhe piece of sugar that

girl for Abu l-:Ala [a relative] ...

P. S. She is weIl off. "23 In rhe small

he received from rhe bride's farher and gives it ro his son, who has

in northern Europe, it may have beeri difficult

stayed ar home, aod says ro him: "You have a bride and her narne is

medieval comrnuniries
ta find marriage
Judaism,

partners

who were nor cousins.

unlike Chrisrianiry, p~mits

Remember

rhat

even first cousins ro marry. Nev-

errheless, orhers married their daughters

off far away in order ro build

migratioo

Mazel tov!" The bride's pare nes give the bride a piece of

sugar and say: "You have a groom. Mazel Tov!" It is srill practiced,
for example, among Iranian Jews in Gr~ar Neck, New York
In Ashkenaz,

a welcome family alliance.


Sornerirnes

so-and-so.

led ta new unions,

as in the case of Mai-

rhe document

rlernenr if the wedding

of tena'irn sripulares

a financial set-

were nor ro rake place, even rhough


T2.7

every-

E ngagement, Betrothal, Ma1Tiage

Engage711mt, Betrothal, Marriage

The making of conditions


addition

of breaking

is al sa described, without

rhe German

the pottery, in Leon Modena's aurobiography,


of his own firsr engagement

as in the description

Esther, who died a year afrerwards,

ro the ill-fated

before rhey could be married,

and he also includes this rire in his History of tbe Rites. He indicates
in both accounts thar, besides drawing up rhe writrcn rerrns and rnaking rhe traditional

rhe document,
groom shake hands as a sign of the uniou." (Fig. 7)
gesrure

In many traditional
rhe wedding

of acquiring

bride and

weddings roday, just before the wimesses sign

contract, or kerubbah,

rhe cauple or their fathers and

wirnesses sign the tena'irn, and the rnothers of the bride and of rhe
groom take a plate, usually wrapped in a clorh napkin, and smash it
an rhe back of a chair. This symbalic act is now carried our rnornenrs
before rhe complete

Il

7. Signing tbe Tena 'im (Conditions of Engagement) just before ti uedding at Neiei

Ilan,

IS1'aef,julle

2003.

Pboto rredit:judith

one has already garhered

where the wedding

minures.

The parties sign the document

rnorhers,

and sornetirnes

sign that the bargain


Knasmahl

R. Marrus.

others assembled,

ward off demons or bad luck. The rite is described


century cusroms books such as rhat ofYuspa
is also illustrared

in an etching inJohann

century compilarion
combined

of Jewish ceremonies.

formal engagement

Bodenscharz's

eighreenth-

This rite functioned

and promise of marriage.

le
as a

The family

of the groom usually paid for the parry at rhe engagernenr.:"

Arnan

who is betrorhed

but nor yet

married does nor have ro go off ro war, so rhat no orher man sleeps
with his fiancee (Deut. 20:7). And if a man who

is nor a betrorhed
22:23-27),

of arrangement

20:IO;

and betrorhal,

Deur.

22:22).

the groom's

farn-

....

..'."'<'.1:"', .

in seventeenrh-

Shamash ofWorms.

eleady refer ro a wornan who is berrorhed

(armah) but nor yet married.

At the moment

were

The broken portery was me~nt ro

The laws in Deureronomy

OR MARRIAGE?

rery by sleeping wirh a married woman (lev.


i':'

broken, there would be penalties,

BETROTHAL

the penalry is death, rhe same penalry as for arnan who cornrnits adul-

rhis rire was called

(Penalry Meal). The idea was rhat if rhe engagemem

or

even a year in advance, as in earlier tirnes."?

been married before ("na'arah betulah rne'orasah") (Deur.

The tWO

break a por or plare as a

was sealed. In Germany,

ceremony rakes place, nor monrhs

wornan's Iiance, sleeps wirh a betrorhed young woman who had never

will rake place in a few

and it is wirnessed.

wedding

ily gives the bride-price,

or mohar, ta the family of the bride and

other gifts ro rhe bride herself, as we see with Rebekah.

promises his older daughter,

1.

right after rhe parents reach an agreernenr, skipping

"

;1

When Saul

Merab, ro David, he uses the formula,

"1 will give her ro you in marriage."

They are net yet married.

In contrast, in-rhe Book ot Tobic, Tobias, Tobit's son, rnarries Sarah


betrorhal

gether (Tob. T9~I6). Aside from rhe narrarive about Rebekah


I39

altoand

.....
,.V .. 0~"

.. ,

"-,,,.'

"""-'

.1/

"~IV'"

t . ~,f

Isaac, Tobir's wedding

is rhe rnost elaborare

as does Isaac's marriage

ro Rebekah,

and takes for gramed,

that a relative is preferable

ta a

srranger, As described (here, rhe bride's farher "called in his daughrer Sarah, and he rock her by the hand and gave het ro Tobias ro be
his wife, and said, 'Here; rake her according

ta rhe law ofMoses, arid

adopts rhe biblica:

verb "take," and rhe expres-

it was a public evenr: "Ul la said:

rorches are seen burning and couches spread and people emering
leaving, and rhen they said, So-and-so
For the rabbis, the rire of berrothal

is being berrorhed

and

roday.

itself was sornetirnes

"29

known

as eirusin, from the biblical roor A-R-S,.'o ar it was called qiddusbin


a rabbinic

rerrn from rhe roor Q-D-Sh,

ro sancrify,

meaning set apan in some way. \X7e "cc.,:1 rhe Adam and Eve narra-

sion, "according ca the law of Moses," was larer adopted and expanded

rive in which even as God creares the hrsr couple in his image he

as the rabbinic

commands

formula ro solernnify

mem/engagemem

the berrorhal,

stage prior ro actual betrorhal

rabbis also stipulared

nor the arrangeand marriage. The

that it is the groom, nor rhe bride's farher, who

Sarahs

farher, Raguel,

wrore an agreemem,

rhen blesses rhern: "He rock a seroll and

and rhey put rheir seals

tO

it. And rhey began

ro eat" (Tob. T 14). This ceremony illusrrates an agreemem

using for-

mulaic language by the brides farher, the use of some kind of arrangement or wedding
rhe document
kerubbah,

contract,

comained,

rhe contract

and a fesrive rneal. \\!e have no idea what


and rhere

j~

no basis for referring

rhar carne ii.ro

J udaisrn

ca it as a

as a rneans of pro-

recring a wife in rhe case of divorce or becoming

a widow. Finally,

Adam ro procreare and, implicirly

AlI of rhese associations


berrothal,
in rabbinic

says it ta rhe bride.

are included

ar leasr, be God-like.

in rhe rerrn "qiddusbin"

rirnes. There is a hinr, when Jews are referred ro as rhe

"holy seed" (zera' ha-qodesh)

(Ezra 9:2), rhar marriage

berween Jews

is sacred, each is ro be set apan onl y for anorher J ew, and nor ro be
profaned rhrough inrerrnarriage.>

Like rhe biblical arusah, rhe berroched wornan in rabbinic J udaism


was noe allowed ro live with her fiance, but if she had sexual relarions
with anorher rnan, it was viewed as rdulrery. She required
divorce (get) ro break the relarionsh:

jJ,

even though

a bi ll' of

the couple did

nor sleep rogerher, Ac firsr, berrothal rnighr be separared from rhe acrual
marriage by as much rime as one or more years. Ar differenr

they finished supper, rhey rock Tobias in ro her" (Tob. 8: 1).

betrorhal preceded marriage by years or rnonths or rninutes,

Tobir compresses arrangemem,

into one rire, the rabbis separared

berrorhal,

and marriage

thern from one anorher

mainly

for

rhough it is nor clear why rhe rerrn carne inro vogue only

Sarah's parents rake her inro rhe bed chamber and prepare her. "When
Alrhough

In late anriquity,
agreement,

rirnes,
as roday.

usually rwelve rnonrhs were sripulared,

as ro rhe rime separat ing rhe qiddushin/eirusio

in an

from rhe

because it was more common for a new bride and her family ro require

actual consumrnarion

ac least a year ca garher what was needed ro build a new household.

her parenrs' dornain ro the family ofher husband. Aner twelve rnonths

A separare berrorhal

rire was common

for much of ancient

earIy medieval Jewish hisrory, and irs rieualizarion


firsr by rhe rabbis in Iare antiquity,

and

The woman who is berrothed

in an in-between

state. She still lives in her parenrs'

she is berrorhed,

she is available

is

house, but once

only ro her furure husband,

even

also means

rhar rhe woman or ber family could still break rhings off.28 One way
of establishing

rhe wornan's

changed
140

srarus was ro announce

of the marriage aod the wornan's rnoving from

the man had ro supporr

the wornan;"

before that she was rotally

dependent on her family. Compare Esther, who goes ro King Ahasuarus

was undertaken

rhough she is nor yer living wirh him. Being berrorhed

fi

As roday, in antiquiry

(sancrificarion),

rake her back ro your farher" (Tob. T 13).


This procedure

berrothal.

rhe

"ar the end of the twelve months'

rreatrnent

(for thar was rhe period spenr on beautifying

prescribed

for women

thern: six rnonrhs with

oiI of myrrh and six months with perfumes and wornen's cosmetics")
(Esrher

2: 12).

The Mishnah

also assumes that a previously

unmarried

wornan

. needs rwelve rnonrhs ro get her rrousseau rogerher; for a widow, only
141

E,ngagewent, Betrotbal, kIarriage


rhirry days were rhoughr
of iL33 In rhe Talmud,

In rhe Mishnah, rhe acrs sripulared

necessary, since she already owned much

berroehal still Iacked any religious words and represemed

some rabbis wanred the period of betrorha]

ro be shortened ro one month.v' A trousseau could be elaborare and

of intention

expensive.

cup of wine. The basic requirernent

From twelfrh-cemury

for an upper-midde-class

Cairo, we have a list one collected

privare acrs

by rhe man and woman. There are no blessings yer, no


was one of rhree minimal

acts

on the part of rhe man.

Jewish wornan:

i\ccording

ro rhe Mishnah, tbe three ways a woman can becorne

a pair of wristbands

a man's berrothed are by means of a transfer ro her of a minimal

a pair of earrings

of money or property with rhe inrention

one finger ring of gold and three of silver ...

of a written document

of berrorhing

sum

her, by means

drawn up for the purpose of berrorhal,

or by

a greenish festive robe

means of sexual relations wirh that inrention.

a rranslucenc veil .

is required. This makes the rnarrer less rhan precise and open ro elab-

a Sicilian robe

oration. Each act had ro be accompanied

a snow-whire

ration rhar it was undertaken

slip and wimple

rwo whire robes and a vei!


rwo

Only one of the three

by the rnari's verbal decla-

with rhe express inrenrion

on the rnan's

parr ro berrorh rhe wornan. In each case, rhe act must be carried out

a wrap

ro creare rhe biblical srarus of

red robes, a cloak and

rwo

1-

wirnples

a Rurni bathrobe and a piece of red ladh silk


a kerchief for rhe face
a gown of khazz silk a pink slip

11
o.;

wirh rhe purpose of making the woman rhe mari's wife.16


The mode of acquiring

by means of transferring

property

becarne

widespread and is srill in use roday; by rneans of cohabitation

alene

was ruJed aur in rhe rhird cenrury.>? Today when a groom transfers
property

ro rhe bride, usually a ring, rhe husband

must say sorne-

a linen [prayer} manrle

rhing ro rhe woman; he must give the wornan somerhing;

a Sicilian robe

must be rwo wirnesses.

and (here

four kerchiefs and a bathrobe


a Baghdadi bucket and wash basin

Groom's Betrotbal Formula

a basin arid a ewer


a chandelier and an (oil} lamp

In the berrothal ceremony, whar does the groom say? There are vari-

a Damascene pot ...

arions. The formula lisred first among orhers in the Palestinian

a Tabari sofa and pad

lecrion called rhe Tosefta was accepred and later elaborared:


li).38

col-

"See now,

a brocade bed cover

you are sancrified ro me" (harei at mequdeshet

a Buziyon sofa

formulas in rhe Talrnud: "See now rau are my wife" (harei ar ishri),

a quilr coverler and six pillows ...

"See now you are my berrothed"

35

There are other

(harei ar arusari), "See now you are

acquired for rne" (harei at qenuyah li), ar "See new, you are mine"
By the rwelfrh cenrury in Chrisrian
were usually

Europe, rhe rwo cerernonies

cornbined, as rhey are today, inro a single compound

rite of rwo distinct

parrs.

(harei at sheli).39
When

the groom

recites rhe betrorhal

formula,

he must

say

exacdy whar is required accompanied by rhe inrenr ro marry rhe bride.


143

Engagement, Betrotbal,

For example,

if a man rried ro berrorh a woman by using an agent,

which was permirred,

rhe agem had ro be very careful nor ro say, "See

new, you are berrothed

betrotba],

bllgageWt:lll,

illarnu'ge

to me." but rarher, "betrorhed

i\-1arriage

Israel by means of rhe wedding chamber (huppah) and berrothal (veqiddushin):" [or] who sancrifies Israel.43

ro so-and-so,"

rhe man who had sem him. There were cases in which 'an agent did

As it is wrirren in rhe Talmud,

rhe text conrains rwo anomalies

say, "ro me," and the woman had ro be given a bill of divorce from

rhar begged for modificarion.

rhe agent before she could marry her intended!

having relations with a Jewish woman who is betrorhed

More important

rhan using specific words ro express the groom 's

intent ro berrorh rhe bride, he had ro give her somerhing

of minimal

The blessing forbids aJewish man from

man but then seems tO permit

him ta have relarions with Jewish

women who are already married ta someone else! This is an absurd-

value, observed by rwo proper wimesses. Proper meanr rhat rhey were

iry, since it seems ro permit whar is obviously forbidden.

not relarives of the principals.

rhis misundersranding,

No invesrigarion

inro their worrhiness

ro anorher

rabbis changed

rhe Talmudic

To prevenr
formula

was required, as is done in rhe case of wirnesses abour money rnarrers.

adding rhe phrase "ro us" (lanu) ro modify the word "rnarried."

No wrirten confirmation

addirion follows Rashi's comment

rhe enrire minimal

was needed of rheir oral srarernenr.

act frorn a legal and institutional

In short,

srandpoinr

was

be doubrful

[Q

The woman in the berrorhal is relarively passive: rhe man says somero her, and she is observed nor ro objecr

She does nor have ro say anything,


is consrrued
berrorhed

as consenr,

only nor prorest, and her silenc;

since rhe rabbis

held

rhat a woman

ings as parc of a .religious


designed

is

ceremony

of berrorhal,

ro sancrify it. In rhis way, the berrorhal,

A second problem is rhe order of rhe


ofhuppah

and qiddushin."

specific blessand they were

which had been

rhe blessing was emended

a special blessing of berrorhal

ro be recited in

the home of the bride:

elemenrs thar complete

which evenrually came ro rnen

rhe marriage;

qiddushin

already by rbe eighrh cemury

reads in the logical order, "by means of qiddushin


mosr medieval authoriries

The rabbis formulated

Huppah,

go ta consummate

reinrerprered

in ritual.

(WO

in the end of rhe blessing: "by rneans

means

berrorhal, the fim srage. Wby is rhe proper order reversed? Alrhough

farher ro husband,

character

wedding ceremony.

the wedding canopy, acrually refers ro rhe marriage chamber ro which

purely a secular rnatter of a transfer of righrs over the woman from


began ro acquire a religious

Rabbi Jacob ben Meir (Rabbeinu

srage of a traditional

a marriage rhar are memioned

the couple

only with her consent.'' '

As wirh orher life cyele evenrs, the rabbis insrirured

ta rhe passage in rhe Talmud and

who are} married to lIS (lanu)," and this is rhe way rhe blessing is recired
raday ar rhe betrothal

as ro wherher someone was rnarried or nor.f"

thing to her, gives sornerhing

by his grandson,

This

Tam).44 The blessing new reads: "and has allowed ro us rhe [wornen

very vague and fragile, subjecr ro false claims and rnisrepresenrations.


This rneant rhar ir was nor only easy ro get married but also easy

was legislated

by

50

rhat it

and huppah,"45

did not change rhe original sequence, bur

it, and rhe "wrong order" has remained ever since. Per-

haps rhe phrase was originally


ing sancrified consummation,

undersrood

ro be a hendiadys, mean-

in which rhe second term, ve-qiddushin,

modifies rhe firsr, huppah.t''


Blessed are You, Lord God, King of rhe universe, who has sancrified
us by His commandmems

and has commanded us concerning ehe

forbidden relations ('arayor) and has forbidden ro us rhe berrorhed


[of orhers] and has allowed

[Q

us married [wornen] by means of rhe

wedding chamber and sancrificarion. Blessed are You who sancrifies

Ring as Meam of Betrothal


A number of other enduring
developed in posr-Talmudic

new fearures of rhe wedding ceremony


tirnes in rhe Medirerranean

communiries

thar were governed

by rhe central rabbis of Baghdad,

and in rhe various local cornmunities


ern Chrisrian

of medieval

Ceremony for rhe most pan:, when they are Conrracred

the Geooim,

possible that Italian Renaissance

Ashkenaz in norrh,

been thoughr

Europe.

In Muslirn

orher object of minimal

value, ro enact betroehal,

even rhough

gives a gift of jewelry induding

ro refer ro a Jewish berrorhal ceremony

merit ceremony (shiddukhinj

the

(qiddushin),

such as the Hizmi family

in New York, have rner rhe demand for gold wedding r~r;;s

0:1 which

rhe Hebrew lerrers of biblical phrases have been engraved vr cur our.

a ring, the ring is nor the means of

berroehal. We know when it became parc of rhe J ewish berrorhal rire,

Alrhough

but nor why.47

rnenrs if the lerrers are inser or produced a distance away from the

\"'V"harever rhe immediare


became important

source of rhis change,

berrorhal

rings

medieval

number

of unusual

cimes in Chrisrian

Europe. They are anything

olam ahavrikh" (1 willlove

you forever) (jer. 31: 3).

from

but simple

and were usually the properry of a particular Jewish comrnuniry

Gtber Innouations in IIJediet'al Times

before

museums and private collectors acguired chem. Yet, despice rhese two

Anorher

significam

Shabha of Sura, the eighrh-cenrury

deparrures

from the requirements

of a jewish

ring, some scholars and collectors have conrinued


riogs are Jewish wedding

betrorhal

innovarion,

perhaps as early as che Gaon Rar-oi Aha bar


author of rhe book ::Jf sermons

known as rhe Sbe'iltot, requires a quorum

to daim rhar rhese

rings.48

berrothal,

alrhough

of ten for rhe blessing of

in a Jewish cere-

of the marriage (nesu' in)Y Even if Rabbi Aha himself did nor intro-

mooy is in Renaissance lraly. From fifreemh-cemury

Pesaro, for exarn-

duce rhis practice, Rabbi Samuel Ibn Naghrela,

officiam holding

though nor supporred

in written

rhe hand of rhe bride and groom

rure that is standard

in Christian marriage ceremonies.

sources, an

together,

Muslim

a ges-

in eleventh-century

Spain, reporrs rhar his copy of rhe Sbe'iltot included

rhe

requirernenr, and it became generally accepred. As the rwo ceremonies

Tbe bride also

of betrothal

frequency, there was no problem having a quorum for rhe firsr as well

ture is simply a Christian

as the second ceremony, alrhough

as well as Christian

Note, though,
engagement
Hand,

artistic convention
wedding

thar was used to depict

cerernonies.s?

0-

He continues,

In Muslim lands, rhe Geonim expanded rhe ceremony of becrothal

"In

ro include reci ring a blessing an a cup of wine and over such rhings

some places they use, at chis rime, ro put a Ring upon her finger, and

as rnyrrle (hadas) prior ro rhe blessing of betrorhal,

so betroarh

tari an of the blessing on the wine as the firsr of seven blessings for

her: but in Iraly and in Germany


146

rhe rwo parts of the ceremony rogether.

or

ceremony, "then doth the Man take the Woman by rhe


Her for his Spouse.'

it is nor clear what the relatia

ship is berween rhe dernand for a second quorum and rhe joining of

that Leon Modena says abour the arrangement

and acknowledgeth

and marriage were celebrared rcgerher with increasing

wears a ring. It is nor clear if Italian J ews did tbis or if rhe porrrai]ewish

rhe Talmud required rhis only for rhe blessing

One of rhe places where we see riogs depicted


ple, we find porrrayed,

rings are 'Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li"

(1 am mr beloved's and rny beloved is mine) (Song 6:3) and "Ahavar

band,

rings have been preserved

band. Among the phrases rhar are pop-

ular for modern Hebrew wedding

worrh ar leasr "a penny," arid rhar it must be rhe propercy of the groom.
A significam

these rings are decorared, rhey stil! conform to rhe require-

ourer edges of rhe conrinuous

in some Muslim and European Jewish comrnuni-

eies. Jewish Iaw requires rhe ring ro be a simple unornamemed

'>'

. In recent rirnes, Yerneniregoldsmiths,

cere-

Even il' Llie braom

monies. It is nor found in rhe Bible or Talmud.

only.">? Is it

that have previously

with joined hands and a ring, are acrually porrrayals of rhe engage-

lands, Jews began to use a ring insread of a coin, or

pracrice was widely artesred much earlier in Roman wedding

illusrrations

they do not use chis


..

"_

perhaps in imi-

:.

Betrotbal, iHaJTiage

Engage/lltJ/f,

the second, or nesu'in,

ceremony

l3etrot~al, ;\larriage

EJ/gagmtellt,

(see later discussion).

Preliminary

Their husbands roo, in rhe flower of rheir yourh, wore

riage h)'mn ....

blessings over wine and spices appear for rhe firsr rime in rhe prayer

halters about rheir necks instead of garlands, and insread of [easting

book of Rabbi Saadia Gaon (d. 942). The blessingover

and youthful ease rhey spent rhe remaining da)' of rheir nuprials in

remained;

rhe one over spices dropped


the symbolic

dirges.56

OUL

as rhe act of"acquisition,"

Before the ring became widespread


coin that consrirured

the wine has


rhe

roken of transfer of the bride ro


,.

rhe groom was dropped

into rhe cup, and in Babylonia

oped rhe formula of berrothal:


me, So and So, the daughter

"You are betrorhed

rhere devel-

and sanctified

!c:.
r:

as rhe means of symbolic

::.:':,

and women married in tirnes of peace <lud j(,y, rhe brides


spiced, rhe groom wore a garland

s,

celebrarion

by rneans of rhe groorri's

of flowers, the bride was veiled,

of feasring in rhe bridal chamber,

where rhey consum-

After berrorhal
compound

and wedding

rires were combined

ceremony, various new preliminary

into a single

cusroms developed

Muslirn and Chrisrian lands. Followiog Muslirn practice,

marched

rhrough

be painred

rhe town wirh lighred

rorches and a Iirrer beariog the bride ro a,,, iounce ro all rhar a wedding was taking place. Already rhe prophuJeremiah
voice of the bridegroom

and bride ...

rion of people accompanying

<1"
'."

ranean family backgrounds


henna patterns

stil! do rhis. Jews borrowed

from Arab wedding pracrces

ferenr J ewish comm uni ries.>?


In Chrisrian

Europe,

several pre-nuptial

relared ro ferriliry, A passage in the Talmud

pracrices

ancienr ferriliry cusrom, but we donor know if it was practiced

in a Jewish

narrarive

frorn early firsr-cenrury

B.C.E.

as rhe Third Book of Maccabees. While recounting

Egypt known

a plor ro kill the

were being

escorred, a cock and a hen were carried before rhern, as if ro say, Be


fertile and increase like fowls.

"58

We do nor hear again of rhis cusrorn umil medieval


rhe rhirreenrh

century

Germany

and, afte~ anorher gap, once again

J ews of Alexandria,

rhe aurhor refers to J ewish brides and grooms and

.fifteeorh. The firsr text adds throwing

indicates

cusroms associared with newly married couples:

carrying rhe bride over the threshold:

common

con-

"By means of a cock and a hen Tur Malka was destroyed.

rinually:

in the Bible and larer in rhe Talmud appear

developed

already arresrs ro an

How? It was the cusrom that when a bride and bridegroom

of some of the festiv-

disr incrive

or creared rhem in dif-

ro the place where she would become part of a new farnily.l>


ities rhat are rnenrioned

we see a descrip-

rhe bride from her farher's house ro the

of rhe persistence

it became

wirh henna, a reddish dye. Some brides from Medirer-

house of rhe groorn.>' The gesrure was clear: rhe bride was escorted
Anorher early indicarion

r
[

associares "the

and the lighr of rhe lamp" (Jer.

z y.r o). In rhe second cenrury B.C.E. in Palesrine,

in

customary for rhe bride's (sornerirnes rhe groom 's) hands and face ro

CJtStOIllS prior to tbe \fIedding Ceremony


processions

rheir

mared the marriage.

transfer of the womari's sta-

tus from herself (or her farher, if she was a minor) tO her husband.

In anriquity,

hair was

and rhe couple was greered wirh marriage hyrnns ro accompany

of So and So, ro me, So and So, son of

This custorn, roo, did nor lasr, and berrorhal

Each of rhe signs of disaster irnplies ies o-pos ire. \'Qhen Jewish men

....

ro

So and So, by means of this cup and what is in it," meaning rhe coin.53
ring persisted

in

in the

whear as well as the groom

Young women who had bur larely emered their brida! cbamber for shar-

People would lead a chicken and roosrer before rhe bride and groom,

ing wedded life, ... rheir myrrb-drencbed loces sullied wirh duse, were

based on rhe verse, "Be fertile and increase" (Gen.

driven unveiled, and with one accord chanred a dirge instead of a mar-

rhrew whear an rhem because rhere is no peace in a house wirhour

1:28),

and rhey

.....,.........-------------

Engagement, Betrotbal, Alaniage


food ....

Engagement, Betrothal, Marriage

\'Vhen rhe bride enrers rhe house for rhe firsr rime, she is

accompanied by rorches and lighred candles on Friday morning, and


rhe groorn lifrs her up when she enrers the' house, as it is wrirren in
rhe Book of Chronicles, "jehoiada lifted

(va-yissa) tWOwives

(=took)

for hirn, by whorn he had sons and daughters"

(2

Chron.

24:

3) "arid

chey married Moabite wornen" (va-yissu lahem nashirn) (Rurh

1A).

Now someching one i1nds is acquired by lifting it up, and [abolit a


wornan, it is wrirren], "He who finds a wife has found happiness" (Prov.
18:22).

And on Friday, the srudenrs return ro rheir srudies, A wornan

Friday morning [ro rheir wedding} based an [the verse], 'He sarisfies
you wirh choice whear"

(Ps. 14F14).63

In rhe Sefer Afaharil, from fifteenrh-cenrury

Mainz, we have a more

srylized version of chis idea rhat is reinforced


prornoring

from conternporary

medieval German Christian cusrorns, and it is jusrifiedas

a wayof

rhe brides afla groorn's fertility. It is relared ro May Day

cusroms involving c.-un.ship and ferriliry, and some remnanrs of these


practices exist roday, May gave irs narne ro rhe ]ewish

adaptarion,

called "Maien."64

is married on \'Vednesday, for if she becomes pregnam on a \'{'ednes-

I
I
I

day, Thursday or Friday, she will net give birth on rhe Sabbarh and
people will nor desecrare rhe Sabbarh on her accounr.P?

On Friday morning ar dawn, the sexton calls everyone


synagogue and ar rhe same rime, called thern ro go

[O

[O

come

rhe

[O

rhe "Maien."

The rabbi brings rhe groam befare him ... and rhe rest behind wirh
The cusrorns of escorting rhe bride aher rhe wedding wirh rorches
ro rhe new house and of carrying her over rhe threshold
Roman roors that ultirnarely

have anciem

go back ro rhe belief (har it was bad

luck for rhe bride ro touch rhe threshold.

Roman girlfriends

torches and musicians ro che courryard of the synagogue. They go


back and ger the bride and her friends, also wirh rorches and rnusical instrurnents. \Xihen the bride gers ro the enrrance of the COUrt-

of the

yard, rhe rabbi and the orher norables get rhe groorn and bring him

bride, nor rhe groom, would earry her inro rhe marriage house ro pro-

rowards her. \V'irh ~ .nds clasped, rhe people shower chem wirh grains

rect her. The ]ewish

of wheat and say rhree rirnes, "Be fruirful and mulriply."G5

cusrorns, however, are memioned

only ar this

rime and only in this place, and it is nor cIear why we do nor see
chem emerge earlier.6o
The disrriburion

of roasred heads of whear was one of severa] indi-

cations in rhe Mishnah


ously unmarried

thar a wedding

woman.or

virgin,6r

was raking place for a previand in rhe Tosejta, ir is nored

Today, Chrisrian

wedding

bride and groom as rhey leave rhe chureh. Traditional


threw grain before the wedding
tie tin cans ta a wedding

[har fragram or old wine may be pas sed rhrough rubes before rhe brides

been writren,

and grooms. A passage in rhe Babylonian

and from rhe wedding

Talmud includes the addi-

[ion rhar roasred heads of wheat and nuts may be thrown in front of
a bride and groom, so long as the food is nor ruined.62
In medieval European sources.Tews

added thar rhey should rhrow

guesrs throw rice on rhe heads of rhe


]ews onee

but no longer do so. Nor do they

limousine,

an which "just married"

On the orher hand, a typical Israeli wedding


is fesrooned wirh streamers

has

car ta

and orher eye-

catching decorarions.
Instead, traditional

]ews throw candy ar the groom the Sabbarh

before the wedding.

In ancienr Palestine, rhis Sabbarh was a special

grains of whear ar orher kinds of parric les an rhe bride and groom.

rime of celebration

and was known as the "Sabbarh before rhe wed-

For example, Rabbi Eleazar ben]udah

ding" or, in a rnixrure of Hebrew and Greek, sbabbat sbel protogamia. 66

pendium

ofWorm5

wrore in his corn-

of laws and eusroms, Sefer ha-Roqeah: "It is rhe cusrom ta

throw wheat an rhe groom and bride when they are escorred early

In medieval Germany, this Sabbarh was called spinboltz, an obscure


narne, sometimes

ried ro the female symbol of the "distaff"

(Ger-

f
I50

I51

clIgag~IIIt.:71t. bet rot na], ,Uaruase

l.

rnan: Spindei) ar used as a corruprion


for borh berrorhal
derivarions

and betrorhal

1:..

of sponsalia, rhe Roman rerm

party. Borh eryrnologies

that work onIy if you ignore rhe second

terrn appears only in ~arly modern


pre-nuptial

Sabbaths.

Thefirst

Germany,

place where tbe bride lives and is officiated by her family rabbi, wirh
an assist perbaps from the groorn's. This practice, however, is based

are forced

.syllabIe.67

on rhe Rornan-Chrisrian

The

weeks before rhe wedding; rhe second, rhe "grear spinholrz,"

rheir children, responsibiliries

two

the Sab-

ilies. Bur,

barh prior ta rhe wedding."


Ar some poinr, the Sabbath
rhe

allfl7lf(calling

before the wedding

groom in rhe synagogue

barh, As in many traditional

bar rnirzvahs nowadays,

run up and grab rhe bags for thernselves.


children

fertility syrn-

since as soon as rhe candy is rhrown,

pares rhe groom fathering

bags of candy

rhe blessings in rhe syn-

agogue. One could consider rhis a kiod of rransferred


bol, especially

li

paid rhe

by calling him ro the Torah an rhar Sab-

are rhrown an rhe groom when he completes

1i

was also called

up), based on the honor rhe commuoiry

lirrle childreo

In effect, rhe rire antici-

by provoking

lirrle children

ro

the fesrive Sabbath

of

:15

1
I

In modern

Germany

~nd easrern Europe,

the aufruf was a rime of parries and celebrations

Sefardic, Medirerranean,

bat batan (rhe Groorn's Sabbarh), as part of rhe severi days of celebration and feasring rhar take place afrer rhe wedding.
common

practice

modern

arnounr

in his family's home. When rhe ceremonies


riage were combined

by

MOURNING

RITES

AT A WEDDING

cusrorns appear, especially


a significanr

number

trans-

celebratioos,

during

the fes-

of mourning

scrange as it may be ro modern

sensibili-

ries, ro Jewish weddings. Recemly an entire book has been compiled


Some are rarely seen roday, For example, Jews eat eggs in a house

rhar rook place

of berrothal

Jews in Israel roday,

with these parallel cusroms.P?

of rime, was held in the home of rhe bride,

whereas the family of rhe groom paid for rhe wedding

Orrhodox

This is also a

regardless of their place of origin.

cusrorns were rransferred,

Jewish

rhe betrorhal party, when separared from the wedding

of mourning

and mar-

righr afrer rhe mourners

rerurn frorn rhe cemerery, but

in some Muslim lands,Jews and Muslims have a custorn for rhe groom

inro one rite, rhe evenr usually rook place in

rhe groorn's horne and-his family paid for the enrire evenr. As a resu!t,

to throw an egg in the direction

rhe family of the bride sponsored

The Muslim Berbers in Norrh Africa did rhis. Lancelor Addison, who

rhe preliminary

celebration,

such

as the aufruf.

of the bride, ro ward off dernons,

wrore about rhe customs of the Jews rhere in the seventeenth

In recent tirnes, in the Unired Srares, for example,Jews


ilared the ancienr Roman and traditional

Chrisrian

rhe family of rhe bride is ar least theorerically


ning and paying for rhe wedding.

among

tive parry. Already in anriquiry,

a significanc

called shab-

ro celebrare an the Sabbarh afrer rhe wedding, sornetimes

ferred ro another, \X'e saw rhis in modern bar mitzvah

of who is respon-

In traditional

tended

Clusrers uf cusroms from one rite in rhe life cyele are somerimes

by the

fam-

from rhe

and Asian Jewish cornrnunities

ernJews havecornplerely

shifted rheir undersranding

[WO

dornaiu uf rhe groom ro that of rhe bride, the aufruf became a pre-

in which some wedding

weddings,

I
I
I

a result of rhe rheorerical shift of rhe wedding

family of rhe bride, nor, as roday, of rhe groom. This is because modsible for hosring and paying for the wedding.

sponsored

are ofren shared berween rhe

liminary parey given by rhe family of rhe groom.

appear when he is honored.


I

norion rhat the bride's farher gives her away.

Today, if Jewish parems are rhe ones who make rhe we:dding wirh/for

when it refers ro rwo

is calIed rhe "lirrle spinholrz,"

"g,;/gelIIUIt , betrotbal, Alarnage

I52

rraditions

responsible

The wedding

tury, rnentions rhar "the[Jewish]

have assirn-

takes a raw Egg which

he casrs ar the Bride."?"

rhar

In parrs of Yemen, the rnother of the bride rook eggs when she

for plan-

today ofcen takes

Bridegroom

cen-

1j
J

accompanied

the bride ro the ritual barh for rhe firsr rime, prior ro
I53

Engagement,
rhe wedding.

The morher

with it a circular motion,

Ellgagelllwt,

Betrotbal, ,\1Cl1Tiage

held an egg over rhe brides


is a specialized

torn of kaPP~1-ot, in which]ews

application

ferring human sins to rhe animal,


some Muslirn communities
by irnrnediarely

of rhe cus-

when eazs
bb

aod break, a sign of bad luck, which


saying, "rnay rhis be atonernenr

all of which became parc of jewish wedding

(kap-

syoagogue,

paror) for my sins."7


Jerusalem

of dearh ar of rhe destruction

rhar appears ar Jewish weddings

whire omer garment,


S<1rganes,

reminder

is rhe groorn's wearing a

known in Yddish as a kittel. al sa called sarganit]

and rradirionally

Aronernenr

of

worn on the Jewish New Year arid Day of

and ar certain orher rimes of the liturgical

state of puriry and aronernenr

is important.

year when a

The groom 's special hon-

the groorn's (and/or the brides)


a glass by throwing

againsr a stone wall in the synagogue courtyard

or underfoor

it

in the

as rcday."

Placing burm ashes

symbolic

00

lore: humiliry,remem-

a morif rhat was first asso-

tcrehead and also wirh rhe groom breaking

Anorher

Jerusalem,

ci'lted wirh che wearing of ashes

which is rhen killed. Jews from

acted

ro deceive the dernons and elude harm. Orher reasons were adduced,
bering dearh, and rememberiog

a way of trans-

sornerimes "rnake kapparot"

for example, fal! ro rhe grouod


is neurralized

rhat might jinx the weddiog joy. By posing as mourners,Jews

rake a living chickeo and swing it

over their heads, just before rhe Day of Aronernenr.as

i\larnage

The prirnary hisrorical reason for rhese rransfers is ro fool demons

head, made

and said that rhe eggs should be "an arene-

ment for you." This gesture

DdrotIJ.1I,

00

rhe head of the bridegroom,

rhe bride, as a reminder of rhe desrrucrion ofJerusalem

and rhe ancient

Temple, was an early Babylooiao cusrom. In rhe Babylonian

Talmud,

rhis relatively rare practice among some rabbis is justified

by Iiter-

ally imerprering

the word rosb (head) in rhe verse abour nor forgec-

ring Jerusalem:

"If 1 forget you, O Jerusalem,

wicher; ...

iEI do not keep Jerusalem

in memory

ler my righr

hand

even ac my 'head'

ored guesrs pur it on hirn before rhe ceremony begios. This garment

joy" (Ps. 137=5). The question is raised in rhe Talmud exacrly where

also alludes ro the whire color of rhe burial shrouds and rhe \Vay orh-

on ehe head rhe ashes are ro be placed. The answer is that they should

ers put the shrouds

go

00

rhe body. The sargaoir/sarganes

became asso-

00

rery (refillah), or learher box in which are enclosed special parchment

garmeot,

srrips.I" An early medieval midrash an Psalms indicares rhar in Pales-

before brides wore elegant whire weddiog

Thus, long

dresses, Jewish brides in

norrhern Europe wore rhis special whire ourer garrnenr.


Orher mouroiog

customs were incorporared inro weddiogs. Amoog

Though
is memioned

rhe custorn for the groom ro wear ashes


among some rabbis in ancient

00

Babylonia,

his forehead

wedding,

reason that rnosr Jewish men rhere did not put an tefillin.

as well as fuoerals and memorial

days; usiog a

Insread,

groom as a way of remembering

ding canopy or on the bride's and groorn's heads instead of a wedding

act was also sornerirnes considered a form of canopy or head cover-

caoopy; breaking

ing for other purposes as weH.76 In late medieval Ashkenaz, the ancienr

the destruction

cusrorn of wearing ashes prevailed.??

of Jerusalem.

This

of rhe bride and groom breaking a dish ar rhe signiog of the tena'irn;

Babylonian

rhe severi days of mourning

rnuniries, some pur wrearhs of olive leaves on the bride's and groom's

aher rhe funeral arid rhe seven days of

In Sefardic corn-

wedding feasrs after the wedding; burial sociery members circling the

heads, the birrer taste of which served as yer anorher reminder

opeo grave seven tirnes and the bride circling the groom seven times,

loss of Jerusalem.'8

154

rhey placed a black or whire clorh over rhe heads of the bride and

rallit to bury a man and placiog one overhead as rhe rap of the weda vessel made of clay at a fuoeral and the rnothers

it was nor

common in sourhern Europe in the late Middle Ages for the simple

candles ar weddings

tine the bride or groom rnighr wear ashes."

rhese are rhe custom of rhe bride and groom fasring on rhe day of the
as an rhe day of a close relarive's dearh ar funeral; Iighring

rhe forehead, an rhe spor where Jews are ro wear rhe phylac-

ciated especially wirh brides. When bride and groom wore rhe whire
rhey were to be mindful of dearh and hurnbled.P

or sornerimes

of the

155

ElIgagoJJeJJ/, Be/ro/ba!,

EJlgafjeJ/leJJI,Belrolbtl~ ,Harriage

sion srares the comrasr berween it and rhe earlier betrothal blessing.

By che sixreerirh century, Rabbi J oseph Karo ruled thar rhe groom
should place ashes an rhe spor where rhe head phylacrery

"The blessing of rhe bridegroom

(tefillah sbel

rhe cusroms of Polish


Jewry, wrore rhar jews could remember Jerusalem by breaking a glass
or by covering the bride and groom wirh black clorh or placing some

seven days.85 This quorum is reguired in Talmudic tirnes for chis linal

other sign of mourning

on rhe groorn's

The blessing of the bridegroorn

head."?
.

':

cusrorns in culrures

involving

1.-

is said in the presence of ren all

srage of the cerernony, a requiremem

nor imposed

an rhe betrorhal

came ro require a minyan.


The cerernony known as "rhe severi blessings"

rire begins. There are many

actually consisrs of six, ascribed ro rhird-cenrury

eirher cirdes or rhe number seven or,

rogether, making a circuit severi rirnes. TheJewish

in rhe house of berrorhal."84

srage rhar needed only two wirn.esses umil Geonic rimes when it [()"

Relared ro rhe power of demons and the need ro gain prorecrion


over rhern is rhe cusrom of the bride circling rhe groom eirher rhree
or severi rirnes just before rhe giddushin

are prescribed

wedding cusrom

(sheva berakhot)

aurhoriries,

in rhe Talrnud and caIled "birkat

haranirn.

and rhey
"86

These

is nor neted earIier rhan the fifreenrh century and appears firsr in easr

blessings were recired ar rhe rime of rhe wedding,

Austria (Vienna, Neusradr)

the groom led rhe bride into rhe huppah, or bridal chamber, ro con-

and rhen in eastern European communi-

(ies. It is based an a Polish Chrisrian

l'

is said in rhe house of rhe bride-

groom' and rhe blessing of berrorhal

rosh) goes; Rabbi Moses Isserles, represenring

,11t1rriage

practice, apparenrly

surnmare rhe wedding sexually. This act of complerion

raken inro

Jewish rires, in order ro protect rhe groom Eram demons who are jeal-

tirnes referred ro in rabbinic

ous rhar he is abour ro marry and beger children.i"

rhe bridal charnber" (rikkanes la-huppahj.f?

in rhe Iare sevenreenrh

language

is also sorne-

as when rhe woman "enrers


rhar is, rnoved inro the

fiance's bed and life in her husband's family's home ar neighborhood.

The cusrom spread from rhere ro echer Jewish regions and is rnenrioned by Lancelor Addison

following which

Following the text of rhe blessing of berrorhal,

cemury, suppos-

guored earlier, rl. .

..

edly abour rhe Jews of Morocco,

but possibly reflecring,

as is ofren

the case wirh hirn, German practice:


her Husband

"Ar the Wives firsr meering


she walks rhrice abour him:'s!

of

Talrnud proceeds ro provide rhe blessing for the bridegroom:

'1'
Whar does one say? Rav Judah said: Blessed are you, Lord Gad, King
of rhe universe [I) who has creared everyrhing ro his glory;and

NESU'IN
Following

(CO.MPLETION

arrangernenrs

and betrorhal,

creator of man; and [3] who has creared man in his image, in rhe image

OF MARRIAGE)

and rhe likeness of his form, and has prepared unro himself our of

rhe third srage of a Jewish

hirnself a building for ever, Blessed are You, Lord, creator of man;

marriage is called nesu'in, This 1S when rhe groom symbolically "takes"

[4} May rhe barren greatly rejoice and exult when her children wiU

the bride and "enrers the huppah,"


mare rhe marriage.
(ne movernenr

or wedding chamber, ro cC?nsum-

The central ges(Ure of rhe wedding

aur of her father's house accompanied


hair hanging

is

be garhered in her midsr in joy. Blessed are You, O Lord, who makes
Zion joyful through her children; [5} May You make rhe loved cornpanions gready ro rejoice, even as of old Yau did gladden your crea-

knew rhat a young bride went

ture in rhe Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, O Lord, who makes

by music (be-hinurnaj.i"

bridegroom and bride rejoice; [6} Blessed are You, Lord God, King

her

down ro her shoulders.P> For, as rhe baraira (third cen-

tury) in the Talmud


marriage}

ceremony

of rhe bride trorn her house ro rhe groorn's.

In anriquiry, rhe Jewish communicy

l fI

[2}

puts it, "The blessing

of rhe bridegroom

is recired in rhe house of the bridegroom."

of the uni verse, who has creared joy and gladness, bridegroom and

[for

bride, rejoicing, song, mirth, delighr, love, brorherhood, peace, and

Anorher ver-

friendship. Speedily, Lord our Gad, ma)' be heard in rhe ciries ofJudah,
I57

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage


and in the streers of ]erusalem, rhe voice of joy and rhe voice of glad-

Ketubbab

ness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, rhe voice
of rhe singing of bridegrooms from their marriage chambers and of

Alrhough rhere are allusions in rhe Bible ta marriage

yourhs from rhe feasrs of song. Blessed areYou, O Lord, who makes

covenanr.?" we have no sign of a writren contract in rhe Hebrew Bible

rhe bridegroom ta rejoice wirh the bride.88

irself Norhing

rhere rnarches rhe stipularion.for

and a religious

a "book of sever-

ance" (sefer eeritet) rhar is ne nrioned in connecrion


An important

It is nor clear how old rhese forrnulas are, but one may note rhat there
is a sirnilariry

is rhe kerubbah

berween rhe second, "Who creares rnan," and a phrase

in Tobias's blessing ac his marriage,

"Blessed are You ....

:'0''-

marriage

and rhe wedding

(a rerrn used in rhe Mishnah),

includes rhe groorn's comrnirrnenr

You made

Adam [mari]" (Tob. 8:5-6).89

feature of jewish

in the case of her becoming

with a divorce.

the document

rire
rhar

ro provide financially for his wife

a widow ar divorcee. Though

rhe terrn

is rabbinic, rhe institution,

wirh several variarions

six, nor seven, blessings. Yer, coday the seven blessings are recired as

oped inca a fairly standard

rite, is atresred frorn nearly twenry-five

rhe liturgy of the marriage, ar nesu'in, ceremony, and they are known

hundred years ago in the anciem Persian Empire.

From rhe Talmudic enumeracion

as "sheva berakhor."

Acrually,

it is clear rhar we are dealing wirh

in rhe Talmud

irself, opinions

The kerubbah

are

is a fascinating

instirution.

expressed rhar rhere are eirher six ar five, since rhe second and third

husband may divorce his wife withour

seem ta be abour the same rhing, the creati an of man. But no one

changed only in the earIy elevenrh-cenrury

refers ret ta "severi blessings,"

shom ben Judah of Mainz (d.

which carne a lirrle later, afrer rhe

Geonim added a firsr ro rhe s.x wedding


Talmud,

making

blessings formulared

seven, That firsr blessing

recired under rhe wed-

ding canopy roday is rhe blessing over wine, nor mentioned


rhe Talrnud's

'~:

~}"

While

is rhesibjecr

ar rwo points:

her consent.

This siruation

ordinance

of Rabbi Ger-

1028).95

of an enrire seerion of rhe Talmud.

this subject is an important

marriage

In rhe Bible, a Jewish

one, it bears an rhe riruals of

rhe language

used, along with irs being

signed by two proper wirnesses usually before rhe ceremony

In "The Differences berween rhe J ews ofBabylonia

and Palestine,"

cusroms pracriced by J ews who live ei ther in Chris-

and the presenration

of the text from the groom

begins

ro rhe bride dur-

ing the ceremony.

Palesrine or in Muslim Iraq, there is a posr- Talmudic

Even earlier (han the rime rhe Book of Tobir (Tob. 7: 13) was writ-

that "rhe people of the East [IraqJ bless rhe groom with

ten, we have evidence from Ararnaic papyri dated in rhe fifrh cen-

tian Byzantine
rradirion

among

six.??

a list of competing

The kerubbah

in the

from what devel-

severi biessings; theJews


practice disappeared,

ofPalestine,

wirh rhree."?' The Palestinian

and we do nor even know whar these biessings

The practice of seven continues,


:4.17Z1"a17Z

and we find it in the first prayer

Gaon.92 Perhaps the earIy easrern Chrisrian

practice of celebrating

weddings over a cup of wine drunk by rhe bride

and groom, practiced

ne ar the Geonim

in southern

the cuscom of adding a blessing over a cup of wine.P>

158

Iraq, suggesred

by a bride's father,

nor the husband, an the occasion of a wedding. These documents


frorn rhe Jewish rnilitary colony of Elephanrine,

were.
book, Seder Rav

tury B.C.E. of a unique type of contract writren

come

located an an island

in the Nile an rhe border berween southern Egypt and Nubia (northern Erhiopia),

an the sourhern frontier of the extreme

of rhe Persian Empire. The beginning

western parc

of the Book of Esrher intre-

duces the reader ro the vast size of King Ahasuarus's

domain, by say-

ing that he "reigned over a hundred and rwenry-seven

provinces from

-- v....
...,' .. "...

India ro Nubia"

(Esrher

o..J"

'"

,-.,

'. '..)'~

"'0'

I:I). The sourhwesr

border of the empire

A number of Jews served the distant


a rnilirary colony responsible
objecrs rraded was elephant

Persian governrnenr

for collecting

. and exporrs across rhe imperial


"elephanrine"

border.

there as

custorns due on irnports

One of rhe rnost valuable

ivory, which gave the name ro rhe island,

in (~[eekor "Svein" in Aramaic, which became rhe Ara-

bic Asuan. When the Asuan High Dam was builr in rhe 19605, much
ofNubia

was flooded, including

papyrus documems

wrirren

the former colony. Among rhe many

in Aramaic

the earliesr preserved Jewish marriage


Take rhe case ofMibrahiah
erallegal

transactions

Elephanrine.??

from Elephanrine,

we tind

contracrs.P?

bar (daughter

of) Mahseiah, whose sev-

rexts of various kinds rhar are relared ro

The tirst is a legal contract

rhar her farher issued

her in 459 B.C.E. in which he deeds her a house on the occasion of

It is nor a marriage

niah, a Jew of Elephanrine,

contract.

"One Mahseiah b. Yedo-

of the detachment

ro Jezaeniah b. Uriah of rhe said derachrnenr

site of one house belonging

of Haurnadara,

ro me, wesr of rhe house belonging

in respect of which 1 have writren


Mibtahiah

berween his daughrer

Mibrahiah,

ro
and

contract."IOO She was

did, Pia withdrew any chim ro it. She swore her oarh by an Egyptian
gad, and Egypu.J:1 ,vi cnesses signed rhe document

of serrlernenr.

Then, around 440, some rwenry years aner her firsr marriageshe is probabIy in her late thirries now-we

finally have a marriage

contract. In it, one Ashor b. Seho-Egyptian

names, apparenrly

formula, nor ro Mibtahiah


guage ro Mibtahiah's

indi-

an ancient

herself, but in archaic and formulaic

ian-

father: "1 have come ro your house rhar you

might give me your daughrer Mibrahiah

in marriage.

She is my wife

and 1 am her husband from chis day forever. 1 have given you as rhe
bride price of rom daughter
weighr. ,. 1 02

Mibrahiah

[a sum of} five shekels, royal :

This contract furrher sripulares that should Ashor die firsr wirhaur any heir fro:_1Mibrahiah,
belonging

she inherirs the house and all property

ro her husband. Despice rhe differences berween rhis doc-

ument and rhe larer rabbinic

marriage

contract,

or kerubbah,

the

marriage contracts for firsr-rime

The document

also indicares

opportuniry

ta know him wel1.99

first marriage ended with her husband's dearh, she

married "Pia b. Pahi, rhe builder," an Egyprian.

Alrhough

srrong pressures in fifth-cenrury

for Jews nor to imer-

Judah/Yuhud

the norm in Elephanrine,

a good deal of evidence of inrerrnarriage

rhere were
and we have

there. N o marriage contract

same

1:2

ratia found in rhe later Jewish kerubbah.

brides, the

r03

U nlike rhe rite in the Book of Tobir, in which the bride's farher,
Raguel, issues rhe formula, in rhe marriage conrracts ofElephanrine
it is rhe husband who srates: "She is my wife and 1 am her husband,
from rhis day for ever.""?' This formula did nor survive ro become
part of the Jewish wedding

rire. Part of rhe formula

in rhe Book of

Tobit did survive. But it is the groom, nor the bride's

farher, who

recites rhe phrase, "according ro rhe Iaw ofMoses." Differenr elernents


from each period persisred; orhers disappeared

or were rransformed.

As wiIl be the case in the rabbinic ketubbah,

the poim of theJew-

ish marriage contract is ro protect rhe wife should the marriage


160

101

reguired in Elephanrine

two."98

father rnighr have arranged rhe march

for this union survived eirher.

sels]; alI goods, possessions and rhe marriage

required ro rake an ?ath that the property was all hers, and when she .

ro orhers; only your children by

and a neighbor.

marry, rhis was nor considered

ofher properry, includ ing "silver, grain, clorhing, bronze and iron [ves-

fara widow or divorcee is half of what was

shall have power over it afcer you

father, and rhis gave him addirional

was a woman of rneans, and when her second

arnount here stipulated

ehar rhe furure groom belonged ro rhe same milirary unit as rhe girl's
After Mibtahiah's

"'u'

her a deed .. : . But you may not

seIl that house or give it as a present


').'le see here rhat Mibrahiah's

said

as follows: There is the

you, which 1 have given ro your wife, my daughrer

my daughter

'

cat ing rhar her new husband also was an Egyptian-records

have been preserved in a personal archive from

It includes

her three marriages.


her marriage.

.-

marriage ended in divorce, her ex-husband challenged the ride ro some

was at Elephamine.

By now Mibtahiah

-.-

161

end

by her husband's death or by divorce. It is a kind of pre-nuptial

rnent rhar creares a deferred hen againsr rhe husband's

agree-

esrare thar

had ta be paid ro the widow or divorcee unless she was judged


fault for th.e dissol~tion
feit rhe payment

of rhe marriage.

sripulared

ar

In thar case, she would for-

in rhe kerubbah.

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage

E71gagement, Betrotbal, Marnage

Should the husband be

Isaiah's image of a cloud or pillar of smoke forming a "canopy" over


God's shrine (Isa. 4:5).
The groom ar the bride in rhe Bible spends rime in rhe huppah
before the marriage, like in a bride's roorn ar a greenroom
Psalmist

today. The

compares rhe sun ro a groom and says, "He placed a tem

judged ar fa.ult, he would have ro divorce her and pa}' rhe kerubbah.

[in rhe heavens] for rhe sun, who is like a groom coming forrh from

This served borh ro protect

his charnber (rnei-huparo)

and as a double

incemive

bond. Fragments

the young bride frorn being abandoned


ro borh parmers

of other marriage

ro protect

contracts

rhe marriage

frorn rhe tirst two cen-

ruries found in the J udean Desert and in caves near rhe Dead Sea are
of ten quite differem

from what was being prornoted

by early rab-

wedding

rire,

of cornbining

The groom carne aur, as the prophetJoel

ber" (rnei-hedro),

says, "of his cham-

and the bride, frorn "her charnber"

ro rhe traditional
[\\"0

has played in the

other Ieatures should be nored. One consequence

the ceremonies

cusrorn of reading

roles the kerubbah

of beuochal

rhe kerubbah

and marriage was rhe new

out loud, berween rhe tWO parts of

(Joel2:16).
By late anriquiry, rhe huppah has become rhe wedding chamber,
eral cusroms enurnerared

in rhe Tosefta abolit the wedding chamber

that existed in different parrs of rhe Land of Israel and at various


tirnes.

110

In post-rabbinic

rirnes, huppah develops an inreresring

of meanings and gestures as it is transformed

ser

Eram a wedding cham-

rhe ancienr separare rires. This is arresred for rhe firsr rime in rhe

ber ro some orher kind of head covering

twelfth cemury in northern

aneI zroom, a kind of veil over borh, rhen into a tallit over borh. Any

France.

106

The practice of combining

the

rwo cerernonies became comrnon in northern Europe, spread ro Spain,


and immigrams

from Germany and Spain imroduced

ing of rhe kerubbah


enreenth

out laud ar the ceremony

it aud rhe read-

ro Iraly. By the sev-

rhere, roO.107

century, it was raken for granred

icated with lavishly illuminated

kerubbot, and these are a special geme

of J ewish arc hisrory and material eul ture.

108

Today, professional

cal-

Thus, in medieval Ashkenaz, huppah was undersrood


rhe bride and groom needed a head covering during

tallit over rhe heads of the bride, groom, aod assembled.


dred years larer, RabbiJacob
ro draping

ing sizes and rypes are available as wel!.

and groom "ro be their huppah."!"

appears in rhe Bible but only in certain conrexts

and does nor mean a canopy under which the wedding ceremony rook
place, as today, The roor H-P-H

means ta cover, especially overhead,

as in rhe phrase "everyone covered his head" (2 Sam. 1Y30), ar in

Zipfel-send)

of Rabbi Moses Isserles in sixteenth-cenrury

Poland, we see that rhe wedding

canopy was an innovation.

note ta pan of the Shulhan 'Arukh he cornmenrs


by RabbiJoseph

of the groorn's spe-

ourer garmem (mitaron) over rhe heads of rhe bride

From rhe writings

The word "huppah"

Two hun-

ben Moses Ha-Levi Molin (Maharil) refers

rhe 100g hood (rzippel

cial poncho-like

Huppah as Canopy

ta mean [har
the ceremony.

(d. ca. 1230) refers ro placing a

ligraphers are able ro make a kerubbah by hand, and kerubbot of vary19

for rhe bride ar rhe bride

and all of these can be a huppah.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah ofWorms

Since early modern tirnes, especially in Italy, Jews became intox-

1 f

(rnei-huparah)

ro which the couple repairs afrer they are married. This is one of sev-

binic circles.I'"
In addirion

19:5-6).

Iike a hero, eager ro run his course (Ps.

Karo 00 what constirutes

In his

an a srarernenr made

a completed

marriage cer-

emony. Karo wrires that a husband may nor sleep with his bride so
long as she is only betrorhed and srill Iiving in her father's house. It
is necessary "that he bring her inro his house and be alone with her

EligageJlle71t, Betrotbal, Afarriage

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage


(ve-yiryahed

irnah), and set her apan for himself alone. This imimacy

(yihud) is what is called emering

1;
I

everywhere ....
hatanim)

One should

the huppah and it is called nesu'in

recite the wedding

blessings

(birkar

in rhe house of the groom before the nesu'in."For

Karo,

then, the rerrn huppah means marriage in its lasr stage. To "emer rhe
!:uppah" rneans one has undergone

all of the rires of berrorhal

marriage and now rhe couple may be alone together


it is rhis siruarion

of imimacy

Karo, rhat is rhe definition


ing of rhe word huppah,

and

in his house, and

or being alene (yihud), according

of "ro emer the huppah."

ro

On rhis rnean-

Isserles commems:

There are those who say rhar huppah does nor refer ro yihud but rather
ro whenever
marriage;

a groom

brings his bride ro his house for rhe purpose

orhers say that huppah

her head during


widespread

of

means one spreads out a cloth on

rhe rime of the blessing ....

The cusrorn

today is

ro caii huppah a place where one places a sheer over poles

and we bring rhe groom and bride under it in public (be-rabirn).

He

berroths

her rhere

are

recired,

Afrerwards,

and

rhe berrorhal

and wedding

blessings

one escorts thern ro cheir house where rhey ear

rogerher in a sec!uded place. This is [the meaning

of] huppah as prac-

riced roday.1l2

For him, rhe terrn huppah now refers ro rhe ceremony under a canopy
followed by privacy (yihud). It still does nor mean just the wedding
canopy. (Fig. 8)
And yet, huppah

has shifted significamly

ing of being just the wedding


summated,

chamber

from irs earlier mean-

where the wedding

as in the Talmud, ro being rhe canopy where rhe ceremony

takes place and rhe cornpletion


Talmud, rhe trees that some

of the rite is private. Whereas

Jews plamed

ern Europe, rhey were used ro construcr


A Iirrle later, Rabbi Benjamin
wrires in Poland:

a wedding

chamber, in eastcanopy">

Aaron ben Abraham

Verfas-

sung der heurigen

J uden,

Leipzig, I748-49'

Courtesy of tbe Librar)' of the }euoish Theologica! Semlnary.

Part 4,

p.

I2

7e, Plate XI. Frankfllrt am /lfain and

in the

on rhe birth of a child were

used when they were married ro build rhe wedding

16Ij)

is con-

8. l\farriage scenein} obann Cbristopb Georg Bodenschatz, Kirchliche

Slonik (d. ca.

The cusrom ofhuppa

has changed, however. The huppa used ro be an

elaborare Lent with decorared currains inro which the bride and groom
were cerernoniously

led (afrer rhe ceremony;

in contrast]

tice is ro spread a prayer shawl on four poles benearh


and groom are Ied [for rhe cerernony].

'14

...

our prac-

which the bride

Engagement, Betrothal, lHarriage

Engagement. Betrotbal, llfarl'iage


Sometimes

attached ro the Talmudic reason of crearing a moment

rhe wedding canopy consisted of rhe groom's rallir rhar

was tied tO the four poles; ac other tirnes, a rallit or orher clorh was .

at a rime of great joy, nor remembering

draped over rhe couple, even chough rhey were staoding

saror commems

ding canopy, AH are variarions

an the common

under a wed-

00

ral" ar a wedding feast: "This is rhe basis for breaking glass (zekhukhir)

cheme of huppah as

ar weddings.""? Presumably,rhe

of marriage,

precedent and rhe rnotivarion

which ends in rhe groom

tO consurnmare

bringing

synagogue

or in a banquer

"this" refers to both the Talrnudic


in the story ..

The Ma/nor Vitry, also frorn northern

halI ar outdoors.

wirh greens and floral arraogemeots.


a skylight

the bride inca his

the marriage.

The rerrn huppah today can be a four-poled

It is usually decorared

~
...

emony for the seven wedding blessings, after which rhe wine is spilled
out and, adding here a new element ta rhe gesture,

between tbe cusrorn of placiog a wedding cbam-

juscify rhe act are still relared ta creating a mood of seriousness, nor

ber in rhe courryard

aod boldiog a wedding

ta rememberingJerusaIem:

skylight

has acquired additional

meaoing

lical commandment

inside a synagogue.
as a reminder.of

The

"As it is writren, 'Frorn al! sadness ('ezev)

there is some gairi' (Prov, 14:23) and 'Serve rhe Lord in awe; rejoice

offspriog

with rrernbling ' (Ps.

covenaot (Geo. 15) and the bib-

to "be fertile aod increase" (Geo.

2: II).

[Tbe lase phrase rneans] where rhere is

joy, there should be rrernbling,"

I :28).

as in rhe Talmud.

the same author connecrs purring


remembering

Concluding Castom: Breahing a Glass


Borh early modern Chrisrian represenrations
Hollywood

depicrions

the culrninarion

have immortalized

of a]ewish

weddiog.

nects this act, not ta remembering

a glass.

of a]ewish wedding and


rhe breakiog

poinrs to important

of a glass as

of ]erusalem,

were growing
hundred

feast for his soo. He saw rhat the rabbis

ous." A similar story is rold, with variarions,

abolit Rav Ashi, who

broke a glass of whire crystal for rhe same reason.


As we have seen, the custom

rnenrioned

in the Talmud

for the

groom to wear ashes ar rhe rime of the wedding

is rnotivated

desire to remember

ar even the rnost

joyous occasion.

rr6

gesrure ofbreaking

rhe destruction

of Jerusalem

By the rwelfrh cemury


a glass is meotioned,

in northern

but its rnotivarion

by a

France, the
stiU seems

Mainz, Rabbi ~liezer ben Natan

derails nor rnentioned


desrruction.

before, but there stil! is


He says rhar the cup the
one of the bless-

ings over wine, and is worth only a penny. Rabbi Eliezer rhen ques:~-:.Il.i..'.':"

tions how sad one can be by breaking a cup worth sa Iitrle. He also

:.

over which a blessing had just been recired earlier. From rhese reser-

~;.,.'

quescions the propriery of acting disrespecrtully


.:.

"i
'1

115

bead wirh

(Ps. 137=5), as in rhe Talmud, nor breaking

no connecrion wirh jerusalern's

very rnerry and so he took a precious cup worth four

zuz and broke it before chem. Then rhey became very seri-

ashes on the groorn's

groom breaks is one rhat was used before, during

as

today, but tO being serious even at a time of great joy: "Mar rhe son
of Ravina made a wedding

Jerusalem

A few lines larer,

119

Writing in early rwelfrh-cenrury

A passage in rhe Talmud con-

rhe destrucrion

"he [rhe groom}

rhrows rhe glass vessel at rhe wall and breaks it."I18 The verses rhar

can be held underneath,

chis is a compromise

as many as rhe stars in Abraharri's

France ar about the same

rime, poinrs out rhat rhe glass ta be brokeri was used during rhe cer-

caoopy erected in the

Wben modem synagogues insrall

above rhe altar sa thar weddings

The Tosafist glos-

rhe passage about breaking "a glass of white crys-

a covering overhead and are relared ro rhe final stage of rhe ceremony
chamber

Jerusalem.

of solernniry

1
i

toward a cup of wine

varions, it would seem that Rabbi Eliezer discouraged


It conrinued

in Germany anyway, as breaking

is also menrioned

by rhe German-Jewish

rhe cusrorn,

a glass ar a wedding

aurhoriry Rabbi Eleazar of

Worms wirh the sarne rationale as in the Talmud, decreased joy. 120
The earliest reference ta breaking

a glass as a way ta remember

Jerusalem is as a subsrirure for the Talmudic cusrorn that the groom


is ta put ashes an his forehead. li. subsrirute ~stam

was needed where

E17gageTllent, Betrotbal, Mar1"idge

\ (

most Jewish rnen were nor in rhe habit of wearing phylacteries.


poinr is made by Rabbi Aaron ben Jacob ha-Kohen
Sefer arho! Hayyim

This

Rabbi Joseph Karo repears rhe Talmudic cusrom rhat the groom

of Lunel in his

purs ashes on his forehead where he wears rhe refillin, but Rabbi Moses

and is repeated with minor variarions

nymous coinpilarion

in rhe ano-

known as rhe Kol Ba, borh from fourreenrh-

sourhern France: ''A person must remernber

cemury

Betrotbal, ll1tl1"1"iage

Engagement,

ro mourn for

Isserles, relying on iucKo! Ba, says [here are places whereJews were
accusrorned ro break a cup ar rhe rime of a wedding or ro put a black
clorh or orher sign of mourning

on rhe groorn's head.124

Alrhough

Jerusalem

ar all his joyous occa-ions,

as it says, 'If 1 forger you, O

he does not rnenrion rhe reJ.S0i1, Rabbi David ben Samuel Halevi

Jerusalem'

(Ps. I37:5) and

But in places where rhe Jews

(1586-I

50

on ....

667), rhe aurhor ofT:n Zabav. also wriring in Poland, adds

are nor pres umed ro put on tefillin, it became rhe cusrom ro perform

ro Karo's commem rhar one should remember Jerusalem:

a differenr

places where rhe shamash (beadle) says rhe verse (Ps. I3T5)

ace of memorializarion

insread,

such as purring

clorh over rhe head of the bride and groorn. In addirion,


widespread

a black

it became

ra break rhe cup after rhe seven blessings."121 This is rhe

groom repears it, word for word, and it is praper ro do

"1 have seen


and the

Else-

12

50."

where, Isserles adds rhat "it is rhe cusrorn in these lands ro break rhe

earliest reference thar connecrs J erusalern wi rh breaking rhe g lass afrer

cup after the seven blessings, and the groom breaks rhe cup over which

the wedding.

the berrorhal

The indicarions
groom

breaking

'5

blessing was recired."116 Thus, by rhe sixreenrh

are, rhen, that rhe cusrorn we follow radar of rhe

tury, variat ions of rhe cusrom were esrablished

a glass ar rhe end of rhe marriage

German}', .

reminder of rhe desrrucrion

ofJerusalem

earlier than the fourteenth

cenrury in sourhern

ceremony

as a

was an innovation nor much


France. It was a sub-

cen-

in Poland as well as

Among early modern illusrrarions from Gerrnany ofJewish life cycle


rires, one depicrs the groom rhrowing a glass ar a special srone inserred

srirure for rhe Talmudic ace of ,-ne groom weariru; ashes on rhe fore-

in a wall. Such a srone, known

head where his head refillin are placed, since, we are rold, mosrJews

vived from Bingen (Gerrnany) and is presenrly in rhe Israel Museurn. 127

in sourhern France did nor put on refillin. Only very piousJews

Anorher variation, in Sefardic practice, was ro place a special plate on

did

it [here.

.3

a Traustein (betrorhal

srone), has sur-

the fIoor and have the groom rhrow a glass agaiosr the plate. This is

Over rhe nexr rwo hundred


spread norrh inro Germany

years, the cusrorn

and explanarion

and Poland, but nor every reference ta

rhe rire is explicit abolit irs rneaning. For example, in the early fifteenrh
cemury, in his long descriprion

of a wedding

in Mainz, RabbiJacob

illustrared

in Picart's illustrarion

Although

rnost descriprions

of a Portuguese wedding.':"
of Jewish weddings

place rhe break-

ing of rhe glass ar rhe end of rhe marriage ceremony, Hayyim Schauss
recal!ed weddings

in easrern Europe, in which the groom breaks rhe

ben Moses (Mahari l) says rhat "rhe rabbi holds rhe cup and after-

glass righr after the berrorhal blessing over rhe first cup, followed by

.wards gives it ro the groom who rurns around, faces norrh, and rhrows

reading rhe kerubbah,

the cup against


122

Jerusalem.

rhe wal!

50

thar it breaks."

By rhe late tifteemh

He does nor rnenrion

ings.

129

and then reci ring the seven marriage

This acrually makes sense if it was srill cusromary

cenrury, when Rabbi Moses ben

rwentierh

Isaac Mintz describes this cusrom, he says (har rhe groom throws the

Jerusalem,

cup used for rhe berrorhal

brokeri umil rhe end of rhe whole marriage rire.

(nor, as earlier, the marriage)

in memory of rhe desrrucrion

of Jerusalem

at rhe wal!

(zekher Ia-hurbani.l'"

rhar poinr, ar leasr, the gesture was associared also in Germany


the desrrucrion

of Jerusalem.

By
wirh

cemury

rhere ro break rhe berrothal

bless-

in the early

cup in memory

of

even rhough Isserles himself wrore thar thar cup is nor

The cusrom roday of placing the glass, wrapped

in a clorh, under

rhe groorn's foor, then, is relarively recent. It should


mosr weddings

be nored that

roday use metal cups for each of rhe two ceremonies

Betrotbal, f\larriage

Engagenient,

of berrorhal

and marriage,

made special matching

nor breakable

two-cup

Engagement, Betrotbal, /l1arriage

ones, as earlier. Craftsrnen

sers for wedding

ceremonies

torns, it is relatively rare ro tind actual descriptions

Out of

ern rirnes. Aurobiographical

Modena (1 571 - 1648),

silver, for example.I>'' The glass that is now broken is a third one,

Glueckl of Hameln (1646-1724),

used in neirher ceremony, aud all ofrhis

1800) are unusually rich examples from rhis period and indicare how

apparendy,

than rhe eig~teemh

is an innovarion,

no earlier,

cenrury.'>'

important

In the lirst half of rhe rwenrierh cemury, when phorographers,


rend ro be ever presenr inwedding
rhe groom sometimes

who

crushed one of these bulbs wrapped

new memory of rhe desrrucrion

rr:atches was, especially for Glueckl,

. One of the firsr Je'wish aurobiographies

in a nap ...

who was

is Leon Modena's Hayye!

Yebudab (Life of Judah) in which this seventeenrh ...cenrury Venerian


rabbi relates his own arranged

ta be used. Some companies roday take rhe broken pieces

of rhe glass and mounr rhern in Lucire as a momente

arranging

and Solomon Mairnon (ca. 1753-

widowed at an early age.

events, used removable flash b...


.lbs,

kin. As attached flashguns and srrobes replaced bulbs, an actual wine


glass carne

rnernoirs ofleon

before early mod-

18. His rnother

of the act, a

"Eseher-ehe

C'zekher la-hurban").

marriage some rime in 1589 at age

kept after him ro marry her niece, his cousin,

daughter

of my rnorher's sisrer Gioja."132

Despice rhe fact thar the young Leon had a dream in which he sees
his cousin Esther and inexplicably

sees her replaced by anorher, rhey

go ahead with plans for the match. While in Venice, her sisrers fes ...

\Vtdding Feasts for Seuen Days

idence, Leori's morher and aunr discuss rhe rnarch and an agreemem
In rhe Bible, the wedding

feast is usually porrrayed

in rhe home of rhe groom.


Jacob,

There are exceptions,

as raking place

is reached. In Iare summer 1589, "we cornplered the marriage agree ...

as in rhe cases of

merit, shook hands, and made che symbolic acquisieion

Samson, and Tobit, but it usually lasts seven days, as when

rejoicing."

Jacob "waired om the bridal week of [Leah] and rhen [Laban] 6ave
{]acob] his daughter
who formulated
out" 'during

I
I

a riddle and ber the locals they could nor figure it

he found the bride contined


.~,

."-.
;--

..

ro her bed. JUSt before she died, she

reached out ro Leon, despite the impropriery, and he reporrs that "she
summoned

In ehe Book of Tobie, Tobias's in ...laws gave him and Sarah a feasr

J.13

The wedding dare was ro be June 1590, and aher arriving inVcnice

Rachel as wife" (Gen. 29:28) or wirh Samson,

rhe seven days of the feasr" (] ud. 14: 12).

wirh grear

me arid embraced and kissed me. She said, '1 know rhar

this is bold behavior, but God knows that during rhe one year of our

for rwo weeks (Tob. 8:20; 10:7). It will soon become seven days in

engagemem

rnost places. The power of the n umber seven is seen in all J ewish life

Now, ar the rime of dearh, the rights of rhe dying are mine. 1 was

cyele evems from anriquiry:

nor allowed ta become your wife, but whar can 1 do, for thus it is

the seven-day

(shevu'a ha-ben), rhe wedding

celebrarion

aher a birth

feasr, and the seven days of mourning

right afrer burial of rhe dead (shiva).

we did not touch each other even wirh our little fingers.

decreed in heaven. May God's wi11 be done."'I34


In an uncanny rwisr recalling Jacob's courtship,
reia te thar after his betrorhed

EARLY

MODERN

AND WEDDING

MEMOIRS
RITES

Leon goes on ro

had died rhat ] une 22 aud was buried,

"all the relatives set upon me and my mother saying, 'Behold her
younger ister is as good as she. Why forfeie the opportuniry

ro per ...

peruate the kinship and ro give comfort ta the morher and father of
Alrhough
aJewish

we found descriptions
wedding

of various pracrices associated with

in Rabbi Jacob ben .Moses (Maharilj's book of cus-

the young wornan?'

They entreared

me ro the poinr of embarrass-

rnenr ta take her sister Rachel ro wife." Leon wri tes that he consulred
171

Engagemerzt, Betrotbal, Afan'iage

Engagentent, Betrotbal, Man-iage

~I

his farher, who replied, "'Do as you like, for rhe cboice is yours." He

There was such commorion,

agreed w marry the younger sisrer "ro please my rnother and rhe dead

happened,

girl, who had himed ar it in her words ... ' . Immediarely

almosr went awry. "As rhe bridal pair were led beneath

up the agreemem
5350

{]uly 6,

and individual

cboice, fatal-

accoums that bring us inro modern

a boodsman ro write our rhe contract irnmediarely

rimes. Glueck1 of Hame1n, for

example, relates her family hisrory in grear

derail.136

At rhe rime of

"ro rhe son of rhe learned Reb Gumpel

1,800

irself

rhe chuppah

we had 'forgotten
and

rnony, \V'berear Rabbi Meir declared rhar rhe groom should appoim

revealed here are a1so reflecred in orher firsrhand

Cleves, she received

nores for us. The ceremony

prioces were already ar hand arid chey were all agog ro see the cere-

of marchrnaking

her sisrer's engagemem

rhings

ta write rhe marriage contract! \'.{!hat was ro be dane? Nobiliry

funeral.I35

ism and cunning,

which Gluecklluckily

(here, a canopy] out it carne thar in the confusion

u'nder a favorab1e star" less rhan a monrh after

1590J,

Tbe cornbination

a handsome

we wrote

on Friday che yrh of Tarnrnuz

and were married

rhe ill-fated girl's

Reichsrhalers

Then rhe rabbi read a set-contract

afrer rhe wedding.

frorn a book. And so the cauple

were joioed."14

.. : "i

of

as her dowry, in rhose days

Nor we.re rhe agreed-upon


,

dowries from borh families

properly in all the rush. "On rhe marriage day, immediarely

",

sum."l}7

weddiog,

Glueckl says she herself was "berroched

when 1 was a girl ofbarely

rhere was spread a lavish collarion

mears and fine irnporred

wines and fruirs ...

handled
aher rhe

of al! kinds of sweet_ You can readily pic-

rwelve, arid less rhan rwo years later 1 rnarried." Sbe describes in derail

ture rhe busde arid exciremenr ....

rhe rrip ofher "parenrs rogerher wirh abour rwenry wedding guesrs"

and counr over rhe dowries, as is cuscam ary. So we placed our own

from Hamburg

dowry in a pouch and sealed it, and Elias Cleve did likewise, rhat we

ro Hameln,

her groorn's small rown , where rhe wed-

ding was ro take place. Afrer the .vedding, she conrinues,


rerurned home and Ieft me-I
with srrangers

"rny parents

in a srrange world."

Forrunarely

for Glueckl,

her in-

performers

138

families conrribured

and marriages

proposed

Cleve, "worrh ar least

was alrnost rwelve, a marriage

broker in

Reichsrhalers.t'U?

Her husband, still

young and nor as well esrablished as her daughter's

furure in-Iaws, pro-

posed a dowry of

2,200

Reichsrhalers

and set rhe wedding

Their presence added ro rhe

importante

of the rnatch but a1so ro rhe unusually

busy preparations.

and unexpecredly,

rheir performance,"
"with

a truly

she wrires rnosr


splendid

broker rried ca arraoge a marriage

Dance

ca rhe daughter

for Glueckl's

of

son

of one of the wealth-

iesr aod rnost iofluemial CourrJews of the rime, Samuel Oppenheimer.


Borh families were ro send dowries ro her brorher-in-Iaw

in Frank-

furt, and "w deposited with him precious srones worrh several rhousands, and Samuel Oppenheimer

ily arrived fourteen days before rhe wedding and were lavishly hosred.
Cleve invired rhern all ro rhe wedding.

revealiogly

Narhan, abour age thirceen;'+'

and a balf larer in Cleves, the home of rhe groom. 14The bride's famrhe furure king, and farher

They concluded

A marriage

for a year

Several nobles were in Cleves, including

ing pranks.

of enrertain-

That rnarch was a good one, bur ooe even berrer did not come off.

a rnarch ro a son of a very wealthy man, Elias


100,000

who bowed prerrily arid played all manner

Dearh."J.+3

ro which borh

dowries when possible. For examp1e, when Zip-

porah, her oldesr daughter,


Amsterdam

weddings

was over, ,. ql

\'.{!ealso hear thar after rhe feasr was eleared, "rhen appeared masked

She was ro have fourteen children of her own, and she relares many
derails about their arranged

There was nor even rime ca deliver

mighr rally rhe sum aher rhe \\"-dJing

was a child of scarcely fourteen-alone

1aws were warm and kind ro het.

in faer, rhar several unusual

Bur unfortunarely
dowry for his daughrer,

likewise sem on bis dowry."145

Boods delayed rhe arriva1 of the great rnan's


and under pressure frorn rhe marriage

ker arid Glueck1's brorher-in-law's

doubrs thar Oppenheimer

brornighr

have changed his mind, Glueckel aod .her husband agreed ro rhe newly
173

Engagement, Betrotbal. Marriage

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage


proposed arrangernent

legged Pessel, whom rhe farher inrended ro marry inro a wealrhy fam-

wirh anorher young girl whose father had died.

The girl's rnother agreed ta a dowry of 4040 Reichsrhalers


ding expenses, and Glueckel

and her husband

ily. Although

plus wed-

of money ro rernpr him, he refused ro make the arrangemem,

".,

agreed co 2,400, and

the rich neighbor offered Solornori's farher a great deal


and

.~

"rhereupon
1,;

the berrorhal

stood [a.st."q6
/..

But "eighe days larer carne a lerrer from my brorher in law Isaac;
rhe money had .irrivcd, and my husband should wirhout
on rhe aurhoriz.u ion
brorher-in-Iaw
bur Glueckl

LO

delay send

rioning His ways, we ignoram

morrals must in all ehings thank our

rhe actual rnarriage

my sori Narhan

and agreed ro draw up a contract.

It

lifty rhalers paid ro him on the spot as well as rhe tradi-

tional small gifts for rhe groom, such as "a cap ofblack velver trimmed
The groom ro be was also ta prepare a learned serrnon for the wed-

ser of near-rnarital

ding, rwo rnonrhs ahead. Solornon's rnorher also gOt busy and srarred

back home, thar he make his

was ta be we do noe know.

baking wedding

How much larer

adverirures

ding speech, he learned rhar his bride had conrracred

phy of rhe Jewis!, philosopher Solomon Mairnon (1754-1800), a Lithu-

'.

who carne under rhe influence of rhe Berlin Enlighrenrnenr

ro nab rhis carch is ro overhear for a moment


in eighteemh-cemury

died. The groor= rnd farher did nor have ro return an)' of rhe presents
ar money and but used ro rhe bad news. Solomon figured he could
over rhe cakes and preserves that now would go ro wasre.
The Mairnons'

some of rhe

central Europe.

smallpox and

"

financial

Solomon accompanied

siruarion

dereriorared

even further.

his farher ta the rown of Nesvij,

where rhey

ro the same young

man named

opened a privare school, rhe father as reacher, the son as his assistanr.

Firsr came a rnarch ar the initiative

of a wealrhy

In the same town it happened rhat rhere was a shrewish widow named

Ali of the foilowing


Solomon Mairnon.

ca

use his wedding speech another rime. Bur his rnorher was inconsolable

Just ro enumerare rhe many effores

made by farhers and morhers of young women of various shapes and


vagaries of coureship

preserves thar she planned

But just as Solomon was srarring ca work in earnesr on his wed-

rhan rhose relared in rhe aucobiogra-

(Haskalah) ofMoses Mendelssohn.

cakes and perishable

rake ca rhe wedding.

qS

Tom f ones. it is hard ro find a more remarkable

Prior ro Fieldings

occurred

neighbor, with whom the Maimons always were quarreling,


had rhree daughrers.

and who

The oldesr was already married; the second, Pes-

Madame Rissia, who owned an inn located on the edge of rown.


Solomon relares: "She had a daughrer

sel, was about Solomori's age, and the town gossips had it that they

the above-rnenrioned

were likely ta marry. Moreover, Solomon tells us rhat he and rhis Pes-

the managemem

sel "formed a mutual


Unforrunarely

far rhar a total stranger from

anorher town wrcre :0 Solornon's farher seeking ta arrange a match

included

rock place wieh the bride's family, and, "upon his

gife co rhe bride," the occasioo for more fesriviries.

demeanors

Solornon's repuraeion had spreadso

wirh gold lace, a Bible bound in green velver wirh silver clasps, <:,(c,"150

berrochal, we broughr

anianJew

ta quarrel wirhour any rnarch ro mend fences.

man a visir, rner the daughter,

Crea cor. "147


The berrorhal

rhe families continued

between him a.'d c!Je man's only daughrer. Solornon's farher paid rhe

was furious when he learned about rhe new match,


about the ourcorne: "\X1iehout ques-

::~

,.~;,

conclude the rnatch." But it was coo late, The

was philosophical

,,'

affection."I49

for her and for Solomon,

Madame
the youngest

Rachel, feU and broke her leg. The leg mended

daughter,

badly, leaving

youngest

daughter,
I74

Rachel, nor for straighr-

qualiries, and who was indispensable

ro her in

of rhe house.l">'

Rissia decided

thar her daughrer

Sarah should marry

Solomon, rhe Talmudic prodigy, and she sem Ietters ro his farher, But
it

crooked. The rich neighbor wanred Solomon for a son-in-Iaw but only
for the crooked-legged

who yielded ro her in nene of

Maimon did nor think it was such a good march.


Once when Solomon and his father wenr ta the widow's hou.se ca
wair for transporrarion

our of rown, Solomon and his farher were sudI75

:3

denly put upon by a half-drunk"parry

a circumcision

ar sorneone else's house. Madame Rissia knew where

ehey had been and had sem her son ta bring them ta her house in
order ta creare a fair accornpli. The rabbisassurned

rhat a march had

already been srruck and began ta wrire aur rhe rerrns of rhe engag'emem. Solomori's

farher proresred

rhr r be had agreed ta noching of

rhe kind. Bur the rabbis proceeded


Rissia by poiming
rhree generations

of rabbis who had just been ta

t'l

our that the bride's

argue rhe case for Madarne


family had the pedigree

of

of rabbis.

:l'
.

reneged on her prornised gifrs ro the groom. An agreemem


ar once. The initial debt of fifty rhalers was rerurned

was made

and rom up,

J'

and Solornon's farher receivecl an addirional

fifry,

Now rhe plor thickens, For where should rhe liquor mercham now
go but ro Madarne Rissia's inn, where he always srayed when in Nesvij.
NaturalIy

she could nor refrain frorn h:l~,:;iog abour rhe grear carch

she had recerirly arranged for ber daughrer:

"'The farher of rhe bride-

groorn,' said she, 'is himself a grear scholar, and the bridegroom

is a

rhis, Solornon's farher actually did agree and the engagemem contract was made OUCI)2 The Mairnons were ta get Madarne

the mercham bragged himself abour his great catch for his daughrer

Rissias

and memioned

boardinghouse,

rhe couple was ro be boarded

young man of eleven years, who has scarcely his equaL'''I54 Ar which

rhere for six

rhe name of Solomon Maimon.

years, and rhe groom would receive a new ser of Talrnud worth , he

name, rhe widow cried our, '''har

says, "two or cbree hundred

my daughcer's bridegroom;

bad no dowry obligaeions


he sripulared
berrorhal.

rhalers," as well as ocber gifrs. His farher


and moreover was ta get fifcy ehalers thar

were ro be handed

The mercham

over ro bim in cash before the

arrive. Norhing
[Q

Ar rhe scund of rhat

is a confounded

lie. Solomon is

arid here, sir, is rhe marriage contract.' " 155

also produced

his contract.

Ar chis poim rhe widow called Solornon's farher ro courr, buc be


clid nor appear. Suddenly, his wife died, arid Solornon's farher broughr

1 '5

The groom and his farher went horne and waited for rhe gifrs ta
happened

for severa: weeks. Mairnon's

wonder jf the widow had nor been duplicirous

she did nor imend

his wifes

farher began

wirh him. Perhaps

ro make good on rhe condirions

would spend the nighr en roure in rhe Mairnons'

umil

point, Madame Rissia finally made good

00

her promises

and gave

rhe groom ali of her promised gifrs and released rhe body for buria1.
The rnerchanr now carne ro courr and rried ro enforce his contract.

rown. He had an

Solornon's farher argued rhat it was nul!, since rhere was an earlier
contract rhar he had thoughr she would nor honor. Hardly reconciled

he dererrnined

ta ger him

imo debt and rhen leverage rhe debr imo an engagement

contract in

which rhe debt would be forgiven. And so he offered Solomon

'5

farher

sorne barrels of liquor on credit. The date of paying off rhe Ioan arrived,
bur Solornon's farher could nor pay it. The mercham
debr will be included

Hard ro believe, rhe widow

ta ger Solomon for her, Seeing thar

Solornon's facher was poor bur srubborn,

\Vhat abour an engagemem

for burial

Solornon's farher would come ro court ro answer her charges, At rhis

of rhe engage-

A richJew who used ta sell spirirs in the widow's rown ofUnsaved


only daughrer and was derermined

body ro Nesvij

Madame Rissia gOt a lien againsr the bcdy ro prevent interrnenr

ment afrer all. He began ro look for a way our of the agreernenr.

sprang his trap.

berween your son and my daughrer?

in rhe terrns of rhe engagemem,

The

and you will

recerve even more.


Solomon rells us rhar his farher was a willing dupe because it was

back ar the widow Madame Rissia, who had herself

Hearing

a way of gening

ta his

:J1
;....

,1
I

I
I

!05S,

rhe merchant

proceeded

rhar nighr ro kidnap Solomon

and rake him out of rown, bur he did it

50

noisily rhar people chased

after hirn and retrieved the srarrled young ~room.


Solomon acrually marries the daughrer

of rhe innkeeper, Madarne

Rissia, and has one more revealing secret ta rell us abolit local cusrorns, rhis rime, under rhe huppah. "1 had read in a Iirtle book," he
relates, "of an approved plan for a husband

ta secure lordship

over

his betrer half for life, he was ro tread on her foor ar rhe marriage ceremooy; and if borh hir on rhe stratagem,
177

che firsr ro succeed would

ElIgagelllellf, Betrothal. Alarnage

Engagement, Betrotbal, MaITiage

when my bride and 1were placed

rerain rhe upper hand. Accordingly,

side by side ar rhe cerernony, this uick occurred

ta me, and 1 said

ro myself, 'Now you must nor ler rhe opportuniry

pass of securing

boots. But he did wear the white gown over his satin cafran.
bridal party arrives the day before rhe wedding

The

and StOpS at the

groom's uncles' house, where rhe wedding will take place. A cusrorn
of separate pre-wedding

tread on her foor, but a certain je ne sais quoi, wherher fear, shame,

a practice thar roday sornetirnes is carried our ar whar is called rhe

or love, held me !->::-,ck.


\'<7hile 1was in rhis irresolure state, all ar orice

Hasan's Tisch (Groorns

or rny

wife on my foot wirh such an irnpression

rhar

Here is Ezekiel

sharne. 1 took rhis for a bad ornen."


Shordy thereafrer, he conrinues,
rhe slipper of my wife, but-what
lash of my rnorher-in-Iaw.t'P"
dowry consisred

cor only half a vear's


worth,
,

Table) ar, in sorne cases, rhe Kallah's Tisch

describing

many of the elernenrs of rhe wedding

rhat are now pracriced by traditional

was rhe cusrorn rhar on rhe wedding

was yery much worse-uoder

garher ar rhe brides quarrers at noon and stage a preliminary

rnorhers

rhe

for Solomon, his wife's

house rhar carne equipped

similar send-off ro rhe bridegroom,

thern six year's board, but rhey

"and rhis arriidsr constant

day women and girls would

thar lasred for several hours. At rwilighr

Afrerwards

who climaxed

be was Ied wirh music rhrough

rhe srreers ro rhe cere-

riage ritual. Afrer the wedding,

the principals

ta the bridal quarc'~'s for supper and alI-night

home from rhe synagogue,


century

in easrern Europe,

roo, we hear of rhe slipper under the huppah contest,


similar

though

cornpetirive

ancient Roman and medieval Christian weddings,

it has

behavior

in

involving who gets

a small party rerurned


.,

....

(1847-1921),

years old, apparendy

'.f(~f'

nor that unusual

rhat he "was married offbefore my sevemeemh


Hebrew

poet laureare Hayyim

eighteen

1carne under rhe bridal canopy."161

an age.159

birrhday," 160and the

BiaIik says, "ar the age of

clothes 'P" but insread insisted


178

relatives and

and led him tO the syna-

gogue, where he was called upon ta read fram the Holy Scroll. In rhe
evening rhere was rhe usual supper and hoopla. "164

:_:J

i>

c.

-::',

.-';;: .

see rhe bride before rhe wedding.

He then memions

rom we saw in Solomon Mairnon's autobiography.

rhe same cus-

"Under the wed-

ding canopy my bride stepped an my foot. 1 thoughr ir was accidental.


Immediately

afrer the ceremony,

her relarives

whisked

her away

,<>-:,-

towards rhe house so rhat she might be the first tO emer it. This was
done in accordance with rhe then currenr belief that the one of a newlywedded couple who first srepped inca rheir home would dominare

Ezekiei rells us he was ta wear "white socks, slippers and a satin


caftan" for his wedding

;2' ---:

in 1865, when

The great Hebrew essayisr Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Ha-Am) also reports
Nahman

and the guesrs lefc for rhe services. Only

Ezekiel nores that his farher was a strict Hasid and did nor ler him

of Ezekiel Korick, a wrirer from a Hasidic family

include a passage about his wedding

he was seventeen

fesciviries.

tO celebrare. Sabbarh morning

intirnare friends carne for rhe bridegraom

back ta rhe house first, bride or groom.ls8


The memoirs

and guests repaired

"I." 'ie wedding rook place an a Friday, rhe couple was paraded

\rihor on Top?

le resembles

rhe event with a

rnonial veiling of rhe bride, and thence ro the synagogue for the mar-

ar each orher's heads bowls, plates, spoons, and similar arricles.t">?

From the second half of the nineteenrh

dance

the men folk would give a

speech, rhen treared his guests ro honey cake wirh jam and liquor.

brawls and

Scarcely a meal passed during which we did nor fiing

since disappeared.

Jewish couples. "It

"1 srood, however, nor only under

She promised

squabbles ....

celebration

Unforrunarely

of his brides

wirh his rnorher-in-law.

parties with the bride or groom is described,

(Bride's Table).

1 should alrnosr have screamed alo ud if 1 had nor bem checked by

163

for your whole liferime lordship over your wife.' 1 was just going ro

1felt rhe slipper

in wearing

the orher for rhe rest of rheir conjugallife."


friends led hirn home by a shortcut

Ezekiel reports thar his

but rhe bride was already rhere.

I79

ElIgagement, Betrotbal, i\Jan'iage


1

They worked aur a compromi5e,

Ezekiel ler his bride emer first."'>

E17gagellleJZt.

j
j

of rhe groom and his party for rhe bedeken, ar veiling ceremony.
Before rhe groom can arrive, some rechnical work needs ro be done
back ar the Groom's Table. The firsr is rhe signing

A MODERN

I
t
r
,

ORTHODOX!TRADITIONAL

WEDDING

IN THE

UNITED

which also involves rhe rnothers doing sornerhing

STi\TES

is the signing of rhe kerubbah,

Before rhe guesrs arrive, rhe bride or the groom and each of his
her families are raking rurns wirh rhe phoeographer
rhe wedding

The document

Of

This preference

bas ro serrle for separare bride-parry

the agreemenc
..?d ' .:.

his or her family. This also rneans delaying

tbe arrival of rhe bride

and groom ar the wedding

celebrarion

are phorographed

only afrer rhe ceremony.

Depending

togerher

wirh

because rhe bride and groom

on wherher rhe wedding

JUSt signed,

rhe rnorhers break a dish. It is usually

wrapped in plastic wrap and endosed

R:; '.,~

Borh

or orher hard surface. This is a symbolic act rhar in effect says, May
rhis happen

ro us if anything

goes wrong now. Alrernarively,

it is

rneanr ro scare away rhe demons hovering in rhe viciniry. It usually


works.

is called for rhe afrernoon or

The morhers leave and rerurn ro rhe place where rhe bride is seared.

evening, guests arrive and are escorred eirher ro a light breakfast of

The men cominue

juice and pasrries ar a full-blown

by tWO wirnesses. Once it is signed, and rhe groom takes possession

smorgasbord.

thar ofren precedes

reserved for rhe Hasan's

In randem wirh rhe

rhe ceremony, a small room is

Tisch (Groorn's

Table). A long table is set

up where rhe groom, his farher and brorhers, his furure farher-in-Iaw
and brorhers-in-law,

and other male relatives and friends gather. Some

wirh a second rire, the signing

of the kerubbah

of it, rhe signa! is given for the band ro assernble rhe groom and his
escort ta leave the room of rhe Hasan's Tisch and proceed,
singing and dancing ro blaring trumpers,

inro the reception

while
hall ta

the seared bride. When rhe groorn's parry arrives, farhers bless the

of the hot food is rhere as well as cakes and an array of drinks, espe-

bride and rhe groom lowers the brides veil, reminiscenr

cially liquor. Guests or relarives deliver words of Torah in honor of

and Isaac. Eirher rhe farher of rhe bride or the rabbi pronounces

rhe couple, sing, and share drinks.

biblical verse ofblessing

At sorne weddings,

a nod ro egalirarian

trends, a Kallah's

Tisch

is provided ar which rhe bride, her fernale family rnernbers, and friends

rhat Laban and Rebekah's

of Rebekah

father said ro her

Now and only now do rhe guesrs proceed inro the room where the

also sing and hear words of Tarah from various relarives and friends

wedding

and personal commems

bles, groorn's parry first. As rhe guesrs go inro rhe wedding

abolit rhe bride and rhe couple.

Ar some poinr, the bride is escorted

ro a decorated

large rhrone-

like whire wicker chair in an area ar one end of rhe large reception
IBo

rhe

before she went off ro marry Isaac.


ceremony will rake place, and rhe wedding

ers often pass out a small folded program


new fearure of traditional

weddings,

-s

r '

in a large clorh napkin.

rnorhers rake it and, while holding on ro it, smash it against a chair

outs in rhe hallways and signal one rhen rhe orher rhar rhe coasr is
dear sa rhe bride or groom can emerge and be phoeograpbed

penalries would have ro be paid by rhe

the groorn's parry. Ta indicare symbolically rhar norhing should break

shors umil aher

rhe wedding cerernony. Friends of rhe bride and groom serve as look-

cal!ed rhe rena'irn, or rerrns, is read and sig::,,>,j Lcy

ro be called off, sripulated

rneans rhar rhe phorographer

and groom-party

'special; the other

contract.

groom and his family. The morhers of rhe bride and groom now join

and do nor wanr ro see each orher prior ro rhe cere-

rnony ar rhe huppah.

or wedding

of the rena'irn,

borh sides, Technically rhis document means rhar if rhe marriage were

in the room where

will take place. Some couples are fasring on rhe day of

rheir wedding

overall receprion

Afa1"riage

room. There her friends greer her publicly, while rhey await the arrival

rrying ro emer rogerher, and finally

Betrotbal,

ISI

party assemhall, ush-

rhar has become a popular

It usually includes

rhe names

;=

;~I"""

Engagement, Betrotbal, iHarriage


of rhe entire wedding

procession.

And it also conrains an annorated

oudine of rhe various parts of rhe wedding,

including

rhose rhar have

already taken place, and each of rhe parrs of the cerernony and feast
up ro rheconclusion

The programs

are important

lecred arid archived

somewhere

of rhe less persona1ized


songs and blessings
wedding

hisrorical

data and should be c01-

for furure srudy as should samples

booklers

conraining

Sabbaeh and wedding

that guesrs will find on rheir eables during

feasr.

Sidrei ha-hatunah

(plural form) are of ten writren by the bride and

groom rcgerher, and even the rnost traditional


and decision making,

services, especially rhose of traditional

couples who are also egalirarian,

a good deal of research and creativ-

iry come inro play. The programs


rhe standard

require some ehought

if only wirh regard ro who is lisred in rhe pro-

cessional. In more egalirarian

augmenr

may involve noe only explaining

pares of the days events but also adding feaeures rhat

rhern wirhout

requiremems

neueralizing

of a traditional

the minimal

Jewish

legal

wedding.

Ushers do nor ask guesrs, as at many formal American


weddings,

the

Christian

"Bride or groorn?" which means, On which side of the aisle

do you belong?

Instead,

mase traditional

weddings

sear men and

of a Hebrew poem and asks God, "rhe One who is a11166

powerful" (mi adir al ha-kol) ro bless rhe bride and groom.


Thebride's

family comes in nexr, culminating

in rhe enrrance of

eirher by her parems

or by

both morhers. who again may hold lighted rapers. While the groom

meals as

calI rhe program seder ha-batunab (Order of rhe Wedding).

beginning

th~ veiled bride, who is accompanied

of rhe seven blessings said afrer rhe meal and

perhaps a reference ro the ensuing w~ek of fesrive wedding


well.Ler's

I1};

EngageTlle7lt, Betrotbal, Marriage

:g

.' !-

;;1
'!;

awaits rhe bride he is helped inro his kirrel, a white garment


some traditional

rnen wear on rhe holiesr days of rhe year and iri

which some Jewish men are buried as a shroud. It is one of rhe rnourning and atonernent

...

:1'
.""
,~

that

rituals that have become part of traditional

Jew-

ish weddings .
It is not clear how long Jewish brides have been wearing a white
wedding go\\'n, which is a \'V'estern ninereenth-cenrury
rnenr made de rigueur by the wedding

fashion state-

in 1840 of Queen Victoria

and Prince Alberr. It caught on firsr in England and rhe Unired Srates
and spread around the world rhanks ro American fashion magazines.t'"
Many posed wedding pictures rhat have survived rrom eastern Europe
and America from rhe late ninereenth
are studio portraits

arid early rweritierh cemuries

of bride arid groom and do nor show the bride

wearing a white wedding

gown. Nor do rnost phorographs

record

rhe marriage ceremony irself Today, in contrast, phoeagraphy

is ever

presem before, during,

and after the cerernony,

but was much less

common before WorId War II.


The bride is greeted

wirh words of welcome,

"berukhah

ha-

women on separate sides, regardless of the guesr's re!arionship ro eirher

ba'ah," and, recendy, another special poem is chanted for her, as she

bride or groom.

circles the groom seven times.168 It has been cusromary

Music announces rhat the procession is abour ea begin, usuall y violin, harp, crumpet.
of the groorn's

The procession

family, grandparenrs,

groom, accompanied
traditional

of relarives srarrs wirh mernbers

weddings,

siblings,

and leads up ro rhe

eirher by borh of his parenrs ar, in some superby his father and furure farher-in-Iaw,

who

borh sornetimes hold long lighred candles. \'V'hen rhe groom arrives,
a special guesr sings welcome,

"barukh ha-ba," rhe same words rhar

greeted the.baby boy ar his circumcision.

Those who know are irnme-

diately aware of rhe passage of rime. The sarne person rhen sings the

rhat when

rhe parents and bride ar groom emer, the assernbled rise ro greer chem
and then sit down.
In Christian weddings roday, it is custornary for rhe wedding parry
ta be seated in the front of the Church or orher room where the wedding takes place. In rraditional jewish

weddings,

apan [rom grand-

parents and very small children, who sit in front, ali of rhe wedding
party assemble under ar around the huppah.
When the bride arrives, she may cirele the groom seven tirnes, as
her mother and morher-in-Iaw

hold an ro her train arid try ta keep

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage


from rripping

over it. This is frequendy

ding ceremonies;

sornerimes

rarian ceremonies,

Engagement,

done roday in Orthodox

wed-

she circles three times. In more egali-

rhe bride acid groom take rurns going araund each

other, Therneaning

of rhe cireling,

roored in the prorecrive

magic

cirele, has echoes in orher life cyele evenrs.

emonies, the couple turn rheir back on rhe congregation

weddir::~ ctrand

tace rhe

and the officiam, back ro the altar, faces rhe

couple and looks our raward the congregation.


mon American

This follows rhe corn-

Chrisrian practice, in which rhe couple face rhe altar,

and is ofren done even when rhe wedding

does nor take place in a

synagogue.

The officiant (hen asks rhe groom if the ring is hisproperry

ceremonies,

and if it

is worrh "a penny." lf he says, "Yes," the groom places rhe ring on
Iert hand, and he recires the formula: "Harei ar ... " Those in mi: ;:nolv
srnile and whisper "rnazel tov," since, technically

rhe couple face the congre-

speaking,

rhcy "re

married in rhe sense that if rhey StOp now, rhe wife wiIl need a religious divorce (get).
Before proceeding

tO rhe coneluding

parc or nesu'in, sorneone is


or a porrion of it. A

usuaIly called upon ro read the enrire kerubbah

is usually read by a rabbi or

religious reacher whorn rhe couple wanrs ta honor, Today, elaborately


calligraphied

rhe congregarion

sideways, ca rhe right of rhe

displayed afrer rhe ceremony for the guests ro admire. During

the ceremony. In American

cerernony, afrer it is read our loud, the groom takes it and gives it ro

traditional

ar, more rhoughrfully,

Jewish weddings,

is no microphone,

rhe coupIe bIock the view, and if rhere

one hardly knows whar is going on excepr frorn

experience of whar is supposed ro be happening.

In any case, the bride

is supposed ro stand ar rhe righr hand of the groom. In Sefer ha-Roqeah,


from rhirreenth-cenrury

Germany, the reason given is rhe verse "rhe

queen srands ar your right

hand" (nizvaH

sheigaL liyeminK)

hand-made

or prinred kerubbor

are used and are of ten

the bride. It is hers. She chen hands ir ro one of the wedJing

rhe
party

under rhe huppah for safekeeping.


Again, rhe emcee announces each person who is honored wirh ODe
of the seven wedding blessings, relatives and reachers, for example.
Each comes up, recires one of rhe blessings over a second cup of wine

(Ps.

filled especially for rhis part of the rite, and rerurns ro his seat. After

4S: IO), the lasr lerters ofwhich, read backwards, are K 1H, or bride."169

all seven have been called up, the groom and bride each rake a sip.

The rwo parts of the ceremony each involves reciring blessings over
a separare cup of wine. The person officiating

pronounces

the bless-

ing over wine and rhen rhe blessing over eirusin/qiddushin


rhe cup first ta rhe groom,

and gives

who takes a sip, and then ta the veiled

Ar rhis poinr, it has become cusromary


"IfI forget you, O ]erusalem,
(v. 5), This remembrance

rirnes, whire wine is used, since it is less likely ca stain rhe gown if

officially concludes rhe ceremony.

of rhe groorn's

smashing

of Jerusalem

the glass under

is sung in
foor rhar

Note thar no menrion has been made rhus far of any personal com-

In many cerernonies
particular

rhe tone into

May my righr hand forget irs cunning"

of rhe desrrucrion

anticipation

announces

ro modulare

a moment of solemniry. Verses are sung from Psalm 137, beginning,

bride, who gets some help wirh her veil and rhen rakes a sip. Most
any spills.

II

and ta wirness the ceremony.

gation and rhe rabbi stands eirher facing rhe couple wirh his back ro
couple, so rhar all can see rhem during

make sure it is plain and nor improper

rongue twisrer, rhe Aramaic document

In many Israeli wedding

.. announces who rhey will be. They are needed ro inspecr rhe ring ro

rhe index finger of rhe bride's righc hand, nor the "ring finger" ofher

When the circl.ing is over, in most J ewish American


altar, if in a synagogue,

Betrotbal, Marriage

a friend of rhe couple serves as an emcee and

each person who is being called up and honored

ta do a

parr of the rite. As the officiant asks for rhe rwo wirnesses

of rhe qiddushin,

or berrorhal,

part of rhe ceremony,

the emcee

rnenrs abolit the bride and groom and rheir families. lncreasingly,
this has disappeared from traditional

wedding ceremonies and recep-

tions and seems ro be relegated ro rhe preliminary


aufruf on the Sabbarh before rhe wedding,

events, such as the

and ta other occasions fol-

Engagement, Betrotbal, Marriage

Engagement, Betrotbal. Mtlrriage


lowing the wedding,
and blessings

Dancing alrernares wirh courses of the dinner. Befare ir concludes,

such as rhe weeklong celebrarory wedding feasts

(sheva berakhor).

At orher weddings,

cusromary for rhe rabbi ro make such commems

After rhe groom

his bride.

the glass-in

<orne egalitarian

monies, both bride and groom break a glass-rhe

Once rhe meal is over, rhe Grace afrer Mcals fur a wedding

cere-

rnany have given the bride or groom a gift and have lefr early-bring

rhe bride

chairs over ro where the bride and groom are seared. Several guests

and groom our of the room. They are escorred ro a privare room of
seclusion (yihud) where, theorerically,
comrnuniries,

ineluding some from rhe Mus-

Iim world, rhe marriage

may arrually

be consummated

and rhe couple arrives ar the wedding


couples who practice

party afterwards.

Meanwhile,

all of rhe blessings are rhe same seven thar are recired
rhe nesu'in, or

marriage ceremony. Ar the Grace afrer Meals, rhe blessing over wine
is first skipped and recired last as rhe seventh blessing.

Anorher dif-

ference is rhar unc.ler rhe huppah a single CYF of wine is used when
the seven blessings are recired.

of the couple for rhe firsr rime.

rhe guests have been ushered imo rhe banquet

where rhere is some preliminary

our on it.

blessing is recired over rhe cup of wine used during

alone ro saver rhe

wi11 also deay rhe couple a while

Alrhough

feasr and may be given a special card

under rhe huppah, rhe order is differem. Under rhe huppah rhe first

rhe firsr food

before rhe bedlam of rhe dancing and cel-

ebraring begins. Tbe phorographer


Ionger and take picrures

with rheir blessing wrirren


.. :

,"

yihud ask special friends ro stand

rhey have had all day, and have a few momems


of rhe moment

ings recired aher rhe wedding

ar rhis rime ,
Today, most

guard oucside rhe doar while rhe couple ears sornerhing,


signiticance

are rold in advance rhey wi11 be honored wirh one of the seven bless-

rhey are alone for the first rime.

In some ultra-traditional

and

rhe special severi blessings begin. Guesrs who are srill in the ha11-

band and dancers

appear and break our in Iively dancing, which accompanies

traditional

Orrhodox

leads his friends in singing Proverbs 31, sornerimes on one knee before

~o

the reception.
smashes

has become cusrornary among modern

weddings and is a sign of]ewish feminism, Orthodox sryle.The groom

usually right before

rhe first parr of rhe rite irself and for friends ar family members
make "roasts" during

one interruption

of course, it is

Afcer rhe meal, rhe person who recires rhe Grace does so over one

room,

ralking and earing , somerimes

full cup of wine. Then he fills up a second cup of wine. It is rhis one

for

quite some rime, umil rhe couple finally arrives. Then large cirele

that is circulated

dances begin, rnen and women separarely, based on a canon of con-

Ar rhe end, thar second cup is returned ta rhe person who recired the

venrional
elaborarely

melodies.

Many of rhese songs have been cam posed and

choreographed,

....

.~,
:',

...

among rhose who recite six of rhe severi blessings.

Grace, and he recires the sevenrh blessing over the first cup, rhe one
that had been poured when he began ro lead the Grace. Then he trans-

during rhe past thirry years ar sa. Videos

provide lessons ta women an how ta do rhe steps, for it is usually the

fers some of the wine from each of the tWOfull glasses ro a third glass,

women who do the real dancing ac] ewish weddings.

mixing rhern togerher,

The men tend

and rhen pours some back inro each of rhe

to shuffle behind one another in righrly packed circles, regardless of

two original glasses. The bride drinks from one and rhe groom from

the music being played. The b.rst dance "sec" can lase up ro forty-five

the orher,

minures.

In some of rhe dancing

sers, party costumes

This cornpleres the formalities

may appear,

of a traditional

]ewish

wedding.

sparkles and srrearners are rhrown an the couple; someone irnirares

Guests continue dancing and singing, more gifrs are given ro the cou-

a bull and another plays matador. There is a whole repertoire of games

ple, and gradually

and special dances rhar guests eake part in, all ro amuse the bride and
groom, which is paft of rhe protocol of a traditional]ewish
r86

wedding.

1
-J:

l
J

everyone goes hame and rerurns ro the routine of

their everyday Iives.


The bride and groom may ga ro a hotel for the night, but rhey do

Engagement,

nor go an a honeymoon,

Engagemenl, Betrotbal, llfarriage

Betrotba], Marriage

ar leasr, nor for a week. That is because the

A MORE

Jewish wedding feast cominues for an enrire seven days of subsequenr


fesrive dinners. Friends of rhe family take a turn inviting

rhern, the seven wedding

ro continue

"SECULAR"

rhe celebrarions.

Nor eV,erywedding

friends

car, fesrooned wirh crepe-paper

are invired ro one of rhe sheva berakhor

where rhey are phoeagraphed

1.-

that one finds in rhe American

dieional wedding.

There, roo, no personal remarks are said abour the

bride and groom,

either during

ehe ceremony

rion. If rhe parents are "religious"

traditional

weddings

in America,

loaded toward rhe acrs of the groom, while enabling

park. The guests arrived long before and


for over an hour. A porrable

.'

ticed as rhe disc jockey encourages

the guesrs ea dance ca his elec-

phone and iocroduces

rhe Orrhodox

now preside over "rekes ha-huppah"


-c

i~
",

rabbi who, he announces,

will

(the wedding

The

ceremony).

bride and groom eocer ro some applause, and if rhere is nor enough

the couple

ro suit the disc jockey, he may introduce

which are

rhe applause overrakes rhe talking ar the many rables at which rhe

rhe bride to play

a positive and active role. Apart from learned cornrnenrs

isolared part of an industrial

tronic fare.
\V'hen rhe bride and groom arrive, rhe disc jockey rakes rhe micro-

';.-;

tries ro creare a delicare balance between older elemenrs,

made ar rhe

bride's table before the ceremony, it is possible to introduce

a dou-

rhern again and again until

guesrs sic, talk, ear, drink, and smoke throughout


The only ones who are sranding

rhe ceremony.

under or around the canopy are

the couple rhernselves, their parems, and a few close friends. The rabbi

ble ring ceremony, so Iong as what rhe bride says does nor affect rhe

conducrs the required

validiry of whar rhe groom says by implying

wine, asks for the ring, and verifies rhar it is the groom's

properry

and that the groom

"harei at

weight.

Clearly, the intention

that rhey are of equal

is to give boeh equal weight,

one is nor careful, rhe ceremony can be compromised.


of rhe opportuniries

bur if

These are some

rhat modern wedding ceremonies presem to cou-

ples today. In principle,

rhe innovarive

spirit rhar informs

no differem from rhat which enabled rhe wedding


and develop over rnillennia,
ture in which J ews lived.

'.':',

or even ar the recep-

ar rhe reception.

ar

wedding canopy has been erecred in rhe sarne room, but it goes unno-

and rhe couple "secular," rhe corn-

binaeion results in a brief ceremony and lors of rock music and parrying
At more egalirarian

tra-

wirh friends before arriving

have beeri eating, srnoking, and drinking

in Israel wiU have processions,

of relarives and friends under rhe hup-

pah, and rnany of the trappings

They (hen proceed

ehe hall , which rnay be located in a rernore and relarively dark and
". : ~ "

wirh candles, rhe parriciparion

ro one of severaliocations

before the wedding.

ea have dinner in a favorite restauram

basic rule is rhat ac least one new guese must be invired ro each of
Other modern Orrhodox weddings

buming,

The

rhe seven meals.

in Israel roday, rhere may nor be

in her whire wedding gown, go out in a speciaIly decorared wedding

Ofeen people who were

feasrs, so as ro include more people in rhe overall celebrarions.

involves such an ornare set of rires and custorns.

a procession ar all. In faer, the groom dressed in a suit and rhe bride,

'.

~:

rhis has given rhe name ro rhe sec of dinners as rhe sheva berakhot.
nor invired ro rhe wedding

WEDDING

For example, in sorne cornmuniries

Ar each of

blessings are recited aher rhe Grace, and

They can be held at homes ar restauranrs.

ISRAELI

the couple,

their parems and siblings, and. differem groups of addirional


ro a series of daily dinners

INFORMAL

rhern is

ceremony to grow

often in creative response ta the host eul-

mequdeshee
broughr

rites of rhe berrorhal

recites the correcr line in Hebrew,

li be-tabba'at

zo ke-dar

with him his own proper

berrorhal has been conducred

_00

moshe

ve-yisrael."

witnesses

ro cerrify

He has
that

rhe

correct1y.

Five minures into the ceremony, the rabbi reads part of rhe kerubbah and irnrnediarely

rnoves on ta rhe seven blessings,

he recires himself. The conclusion

'70

ceremony over a cup of

all of which

is a brief reference ta rhe desrruc-

Engagement. Betrothal. Ma1Tiage

Engagement, Betrotbal, MalTiage

rion of rhe Temple, and keeping in mind that even at one's tirne of

verb for making rhis blessing is "ro bentch." In Hebrew it is known

grearesr joy one remembers

as "birkar ha-rnazon," lirerally rhe blessing over leavened bread. Whar

rhe rragedy of J erusalem in rhe past, arid

the groom smashes a wine glass wtapped

in a clorh napkin

foor. Mazel tov! Mazel rovl The disc jockey is back-perhaps

under-

is that rhe rerrn


ro benrch and rhe oouo . bentcher are
.
derived frorn rhe Latin benedictio, which in Germany is pronounced

ten miri,

ures have elapsed.


Irnmediarely,
manded,

beneditzio
rhe plastic Tinkerroy-like

if rhe phorographers

wedding

have nor managed

canopy

dis-

lS

and became the Yiddish verb "bentchen,"

frorn which rhe

ro knock it dQwn

one "benrches." This is yer another example of Jewish inwa..i

d, eul-

rurarion, as Jews rake common words and gesrures rhey see alI around

The music and dancing resume. This more or less ritually correct wed-

rhern and inventively Judaize them,

ding is rypical of many secular Israeli rites. The occasion is regarded


a social one rhar must, by Israeli law, have a minimal

gious ceremonia!

componenr

presided over by an Orthodox

reli-

rabbi.

SIDREI

'7'

HA-HATUNAH

(WEDDI0l"G

PROGRAMS)

-:

The use of programs ar rhe wedding


WEDDING

haps a rwentieth-cenrury

"BENTCHERS"

Jewish weddings

roday, a pile of smaI! prinred

book-

is a recent developmenr,

AmericanJewish

line rhe conrours of a traditional


At rradirional

per-

invenrion designed ro our-

wedding

for guesrs who are nor

familiar wirh one. On some scripts rhe order of family march is also

lers are placed an each guest table rowards rhe end of rhe meal. They

Iisred in addirion ro explanarions

include nor only rhe Grace afrer Meals (birkat ha-rnazon) and rheseven

dings, only the lisr of rhe family procession is prinred, it beinuissurned

blessings

rhat the guests know what is going ta happen.

meal (sheva berakhor),

but also

Sabbarh Eve and Sabbath Day songs thar Jews sing araund

recited afrer the wedding

the table

each week. The booklers also have the couple's narnes printed
cover wirh the dare of rhe wedding.
collectables,
attendees,
during

collecred,

grounded

taken home by the

ations in their handouts.

and are used at various occasions

The popularity

of differem weddings

be srrucrured

textual and artistic improvisation.

favored kinds is a rniniarurized

ones

Among the

copy of the bride's kerubbah

or some

wedding,

:;:.: .,:~<
...'....

............

original arrwork an rhe cover of the booklet.


..

A good example ofhow Jews rake from rhe Christian


and appropriate

it inro

J udaism

is the standard

chis booklet

rhar contains

blessings for bride and groom as welI as

rhe standard

Grace afrer Meals. Iris called a "benrcher," The Yiddish


190

For example, a double riog ceremony can

symmetrically,

giving the same words and gesrures ro

in which it is the groom who "rakes the bride." In wed-

dings that wam ro respect rhat difference while at the same rime giving rhe woman an active role, she might reci re a variation of rhe rnan's
betrorhal formula rhat is srated in the passive voi ce and clearly nor
made as a condition

for the effectiveness of rhe groorn's ace Or, rhe

'

environrnenr

rerrn used ro describe

among Orrho-

men and women, explain rhese vari-

rhe man and woman, but chis would nor be sui table for a traditional

one has arrended.

of rhese booklers has led ro some standard

but also ro remarkable

ritual forms thar are

in some kind of geoder equality, including

dox and other rraditionalJewish

rhe year ar the Sabbath and festival table and are also con-

tinuous reminders

of rhe day's evenrs; in orher wed-

More recenrly, couples who have designed

an rhe

These booklers are meam ro be

and they are religiously


where rhey accumulate

norninative "benrcher" emerged as rhe name of the bookler wirl: ':'.'~!ch

in order ro get a berrer shor of rhe ceremony while ir is taking place.

mainlyas

is remarkable

bride might recite a verse from Song of Songs, "1 am my beloved's

and he is mine" (6:3), thar has meaning ro borh but does nor interfere wirh the groorn's function in berrorhing
as required.
191

the woman ro himself,

i.
Sidrei ha-hatunah
rhe elemems
of berrothal

can be based an standard explanarions abolit whar

in aJewish wedding are, such as rhe terms for rhe stages


(eirusin!qiddushin)

. inary ceremonies

and marriage

at eirher rhe Groom's

(nesu' in); the prelim-

Table, where various docu- .

rnenrs are signed, or the Bride's Table, where singing and Tarah lessons
may take place; rhe appearance

.Aging,

of rhe bride on her special throne

(beserzen); the entrance of rhe groom and his eSCO[l, (Jill!S/ibillill), who
approach her and veil her (bedecken);

the ceremony

the groom's special whire arrire (kirrel); rhe bride's cirding

rhe groom

up ro severi rimes; rhe ring ceremony and words of berrothal,


ing a double ring ceremony;

Dying,

ieself, including

if a specially designed

.Remembering

includ-

formulation

be

:'""
!~".

eirher within
betrorhal;

or norwithin

rhe kerubbah's

riage ceremony;

rhe asymmetry
meaning;

and rhe mournful

get you, O ]erusalem,"

of Jewish

laws view of

rhe seven blessings of the marsinging of Psalm

I3

r 5,

"IfI for-

arid rhe groorn's breaking the glass underfoor,

ar the end, followed by a commem

abour a rime of privacy (yihud).

The refrain ar rhe end of rhe circumcision

ceremony

adds ro the

hope rhat rhe baby will "emer the Terah" and "e r rer rhe wedding
charnber,"

rhe wish rhar he "emer a life of good devds." Throughour

life, despice many rnilestones


major

that lie ahead, there is no prescribed

life cyele rite for a couple

rogerher, ]udaism

that

seerns ro presuppose

that a married

rnarried

life

life of good

deeds, with children and grandchildren,

is irself rhe goal of growing

up and maruring.

major

The on1y additional

involves rhe end of life and the customs


arid mourning

lives a lang

for the survivors,

life cyele rransirion

of prepararion

of the dead

Tbe reeogl7itiOJl of deatb is unirersal, but eacb cult ure interirets and mediates it in unique ways accampanied

by rnany rypes of riruals. It is a

personal evenr, and it is also a profoundly social and cui rural moment
that expresses rhe fundamental

values and beliefs

l-

a communi ey. The

riruals of dearh involve what is dane ta prepare the body and what
the livinz mourners
CI

do from rhe moment of dearh. In chis chaprer,

1 trace both more or less seguentially.


If we rhink of rhe major life cyele rires alone, rhe liferirne of a
Jewish person seems to go from marriage ta death wirhout any inrermediate lifesryle events. As we have seen, Jewish custorn books rend
ta shifr the perspective immediately

from rhe young adulrs who marry

ta their new baby and his ar her rransirions ta young adulthood

and

marriage. Missing are any furrher rransitions of the young adulrs rhernselves inro work or parenrhood.

Having

children

is assumed

part of life as a married couple.


Rires of passage, of course, focus on tirnes of rransition.
seems ta rake for gramed,

ta be

]udaism

as in the refrain at the brie ceremony, that

afrer marriage one "enrers [a lifeof l good deeds," of which rhe first
is the biblical commandment

of being fertile and rhen going an to


193

/igi71g, Dying,

Aging, Dylng, Remembering


follow rhe orher commandrnenrs

of the Torah as a mamre adult. Only

dearh inrervenes and prevems thar from cominuing.


of-man

texr rnentioned

in (pseudo) Mishnah

Despire rhe ages-

Avor.ino

celebrations

are rnarked out for decade birrhdays, wirh rhe exception already noted
of reaching age sixry, as in rhe Talmudic

For example, some Jewi:oh men may grow a beard ar a

certain age, such as forry, ar grow one as mourners


one of their parems,

an rhe dearh of

during rhe rhirry days of serni-inrense

ing (sbelosbi711), and decide ro keep it afrerwards

rnourn-

as a show of rnaru-

riry and family senioriry,


for women in rhe life cycle, eirher at puberry

ar menarch,

for girls,

for wornen, chough new rires are being experirnenred

wirh today. These include mourning


riage ar srillbirth

custorn of nor having a full mourning

for a lost pregnancy

and prayers upon rnenstruarion.

gence of a gay population

by miscar- .

SimilarIy, rhe emer-

rhar wants ro be explicitly involved inJewish

culrure and life has generared

rire if the child

rires ,( coming out as well.

From the memoirs of aJew namedJoseph

who was a dealer in sec-

learn that in one year rhe followins

Sienna, we .

died: "Messer Arnadeo Berarbo,

a young man of rhirty-five years aLge; Messer Aaron Emilio, a youth


of eighreen,

...

rhe rnorher of Salvador died eight days ~fter giving

birth ro a male child; a male child of my own died, aged eight rnonrhs;
rhe wife ofReuben

Frosolone miscarried of a male child; and rhe wife


of a rnale child."3

Anorher kind of early dearh that is recorded, of course, is a violent one, eirher from sorne incident rhar occurs in rhe streer ar horne,
a roday, ar from an anti-Jewish
rer, is Rabbi Eleazar benJudah

riot ar persecurion.

Dulce, in rhe form of a paraphrase


Valor.! He also wrore a tribute
and six, who were murdered

Amoog rhe lat-

af\X1orms's elegy written for his wife,


of Proverbs

31, rhe Woman of

ro his rwo daughrers,

ages rhirreen

wir;: their rnorher in front of Rabbi

Eleazar's eyes.> Abour rhe older girl, Belerre, Rabbi Eleazar wrore
PRE~-fATURE

thar "she prepared my bed and pulled off my shoes each evening ...

DEATH

and spoke only rhe rruth."

Ta be sure, death need nor be associared with old age. Although


of the rites of mourning

ness, rhere are ample examples throughout


ent kinds of premarure

Jewish hisrory of differ-

death. Who can forget rhe vivid and poignanr

words of King David, who cries out: '''11y son Absalom!


my son Absalom!

most

are associated with rhe aged who die of i11-

O my son,

lf only I had died insread of you! O Absalom, my

The younger daughter,

Hannah,

Rabbi

Eleazar rells us, "recited the first part of the Shema prayer every day ...
spun and sewed and embroidered.I"
In medieval Spain, aJewish

farher lamented

rhe early dearh ofhis

son, Asher ben Turiel of Toledo, who died in rhe Black Death rhat
brought

dearh ta hundreds

rhe fourteenrh

of rhousands of people in rhe middle of

cenrury.?

son, my son!'" (2 Sam. I9:I).


Dearh struck ar any age, especially ar childbirth,
arid child were vulnerable.
birrh ro Benjamin
Berhlehern"

when borh morher

In the Bible, Rachel died while giving

and "was buried on rhe road ro Ephrath-now

(Gen. 3):I9). Rabbis in ancienr

lonia differed about rhe minimum

194

Palesrine

and Baby-

age a baby should be for formal

died ar less rhan rhirry days old."

of Clement Pesaro likewise miscarried

Umil very recently there was no special rite for biological changes
ar menopause,

Palestinian

rires ta take place. Ashkenazic Jews followed rhe ancienr

ondhand clorhes and lived in early sevenreenth-cenrury

precedent.

Short of a rire, one somerimes does "e~:behavior rhat marks srages


of rnarurity,

mouming

Kemembenng

This stane is a memorial! That a later generarion may know ! Thar


'nearh it lies hidden a pleasant bud ! a cherished child ....
only fifteen years in age....

Though

But a few days before his dearh ! He estab-

lished his horne; ! But yesrernighr the

jOYOllS

groorn ! Was (Umed ro rhe voice of wailing.

195

voice of the bride and

.I

~IL_----------1:

Anorher kind of vioIence prompted

gambIing-addieted

Rabbi Leon Modena ro wrire in his auwbiography


ture violent death of his rwenty-year-old

nor arrended a cerrain evenr. He replied: "The rnounrain

Verierian

is surrounded

abour rhe prema-

son.8

is snowy, it

by ice, the dog does nor bark and the grinders

do nor

grind'" fi. e., his hair and beard are whire, his voice is feeble, and hi~
reerh do nor work],

I
tc

An example rhat also seerns ta illustrate

AGING
The Hebrew

Bible hin"

old, advanced

verted inro an example of rhe advamages of old age. The Talmud con-

duc age is a blessing:

"Abraham

in years, and the Lord had blessed

things" (Gen. z.i: r ). And yet, age

0.150

rhe' same point is con-

Abraham

brings infirmity:

rinues wirh an account of King David, wbo invired his old ally and

was now

friend Barzillay rhe Gileadire

in all

"When Isaac

ro Jerusalem.

He refused ta come: "'1

am now eighry years old. Can 1 rell rhe difference between good and

was old and his eyes were roo dim ta see" (Gen. 2]: 1); and "King

bad? Can your servant taste wbar he ears and drinks?

David was new oId, advanced

ten ro rhe singing of men and wornen? \X!hy rhen should your ser-

in years; and although

rhey covered

Cari 1 srill lis(2 Sarn. 19:36).

him wirh bedclorhes, he never felc warrn" (1 Kings 1: 1). The poigoaot

vanr continue ro be a burden ro m)' lord rhe king?'"

line in rhe penirential secrions of the Day of Aronernent

Alrhough rhe text speaks of rhe infirmie)' of old age, the Talrnud under-

ro God "not ro abandon

lirurgy appeaIs

us during our old age" (al rashlihenu

be-iet

ziqnah).?
BU[ how oId is old? The Frencb cornmentaror
of Narbonne

(Radag-II6o)-II35

Rabbi David Kirnhi

was surprised

that David was

so weak when he was only seventY, as he himself was ro embark on


a major joumey by hors- and cart across sourhern
at rhe age of sevenry-rwo.
Occasionally,

France and Spain

II
~.

example, Rabbi Sherira Gaon, head of orie of rhe rabbinical


Baghdad,

is reporred

long life, in faet for about one hundred years ....

taste rhe dishes." Moreover, conrinues Rava, "Barzillay rhe Gileadire


was promiscuous,

and whoever is promiscuous gers old prernarurely."

The discussion concluc'es

wi rh rhe pious observarion

age. For

VISITING

acade-

THE

ro have "Iived a very

Regardless of age, the onser of serious illness is a sign rhat death rnay

[and] stepped down

be near, and Jewish sources place a premium

Gaon ....

and Jacob blesses rhern (Gen. 48: 1). During

for ninery-nine

Rabbi Elijah Capsali memions

years,

the elaborare

panied the dearh ofhis reacher, RabbiJudah

he passed

ceremony

away."

II

thar accom-

Minrz, who died in I509,

as the head of the Yeshiva in Padua, near Venice, about whorn he says,

;'1

in passing, "he was ninery-eighr years old." And orher exarnples can
be cited.

J.)

SICK

example, whenJacob

Iiving

rhar as scholars

age, rhey become wisr; only rhe ignoram get more foolish.

in favor of his son. The larrer was Rabbi Hai Gaon bar Rabbi Sherira
After

was a liar. For

10

we hear of Jews who lived ta an advanced

mies in late tenrh-cenrury

srood it differendy. "Rav said: Barzillay rhe Gileadire

rhere was a servanr in Rab's house, ninery-rwo years old, and he could

monarchy, KingJoram,

becomes ill,Joseph

on visitiog

and his sons go ro visir him


rhe divided

son of King Ahab of rhe norrhern

Israelite
Kingdom

of Israel, "lay ill" and King Ahazia of rhe sourhern Kingdoro ofJudah
wenr ta visit him (2 Kings 9: 16), and when the propher Elisha became
il!, King Joash of Israel "went down ro see hirn"

;~."~'i'"

rhe ill. For

(2

Kings

1 y q) .

..,.'.'

I2

Some commems

in J ewish sources refer ta obvious physical decline

with grear years; others, ro an increase of wisdom.

Of rhe former,

"Ernperor [Hadrian] asked Rabbi Joshua ben Hanania

why he had

: '
~I.:

':f...

~l

It was rhe ancient rabbis, however, who roade visiting

(biqqur bolim) inro a major religious obligation.

as serting an example when he carne ro Abraham

recovering

his circumcision (Gen. r 8: r). Rabbi Akiva, rhe second-cenrury


197

rhe sick

The rabbis saw God


from
Pales-

AgiJlg,

rinian sage, is credired wirh rhe srarernenr:


the sick it is as though
attribured

"Whoever

calI rheir families rogether

does nor visir

ro make a final blessing (Jacob), or lead-

18

conf~ssion of rheir sins.


The rabbis in the Talmud

Palestinian. sage Rabbi Yohanan is

rhe teaching thar visiting

J(eTlleTlLbtrlllg

ers make a final ararion (Moses), but rhey do nor make a personal

he shed his blood," because it may hasten

dearh, And ro rhe third-cenrury

Dymg,

Aging,

Dying, Rememberiug

rhe sick was one of rhe greatesr

propose rhat individuals

make a con-

acts of love rhar rhe Mishnah raughr (M. Pe' ah r: 1); doing it resulred

fession of sins when seriously ill, a custom rhat is related ro lase rires

in unlirnired

in rhe Church: "Our rabbis raught: lf one falls sick and his life is in

reward in the nexr world. Arnong rhe brief Talmudic

prayers ro oe recired when visiring rhe s.ick on the Sabbath is: "May

danger, he is rold, 'Make confession.'

rhe Almighey

death make confession."I9 This text was expanded ro include: "Many

have compassion

upon rau in ehe midst of the sick of

ta

confessed their sins and did nor die, and many who did nor confess

IsraeL"'4

died; and as a reward should you confess, you wiUlive,

Relarives were ta visir righr away, during rhe firsr rhree days; orhers, afeerwards, a: disrincrion
rary groups or associarions
visiting

'5

rhe sick in rhe communiey,

nah says abouc rhose who are about ta be executed and make confes-

Special voI un-

carne into being rhat were dedicaeed

sion: "AU who confess have a place in rhe world tO come.

ro

In descriptions of early modern Iralian-jewish

rendirig ro their needs tberrat

biqqnr bolim). The first references ro one are from fourteemh-cemury

rution of deathbed

Spain, when similar

example, Leon Modena's

Chrisrian

associarions

carne inro prominence.

From there rhe practice spread ro Renaissance


rnuniries seil! farm volunrary
In addirion,

biqqur

Christian

Italy and northward

inro Pragu.. arid easrern Europe. Some ]ewish congregarions

or corn-

wrirren

surroundings.

For

in Italian mainly for

rabbi, even rhough rhe rabbi is not needed. In Chrisr-

ian lasr rires, however, a priest is needed ro minister

holirn socieries.,6

The individual's

confession berrays Christian


description,

"20

death rires, the insri-

readers, notes rhar the dying rnan makes confession in the

presence da

extreme urie-

tion, a sacramenr of rhe church."

prayers are offered for rhe recovery of rhe sick in tra-

synagogues.

and he who

confesses his sins has a porrion in rhe world ta cerne," as the Mish-

rhat would also apply ro rhe rhree and

severi days aher a funeral for visirors of rnourners.

ditional

For all who are senrenced

name and rhar of his or her

'.'

The confession, or

uidui, is designed ro cleanse che dying person

rnorher, noe farher, are menrioned in a special version of a prayer begin-

ofhis sins. Those who are listening do not have any special religious

ning wirh rhe words, "He who blessed aur ancestors" (mi she-beirakh).

power ta "absolve" or in any other way assisr rhe person's afterlife.

The ernphasis

In many ways, rhe dearh scene of ]acob in Genesis, like rhe wedding

an rhe name of the ill persori's rnorher is an ancient

cusrom, found in rhe Talmud, common

arrangements

ro rhe old Roman norion of

of Rebekah, are the model text for Jewish cusroms abour

the cerrainry of marerniry. Today cIergy regularly visir rhe sick of var-

dying and burial. The Italian Kabbalisr

ious fairhs in hospirals.'?

Moses of Modena

CONFESSIONS
Confession

of sins is an important

practice in rhe Hebrew

individuals

and leaders of che people, and yer dearhbed

nor found (here. Nor is any rext of a confession


occasion umil the rime of the Mishnah.

Bible for

wrore

Rabbi Aaron Berechia ben

a special book abolit

confession

called

Ma'awr Yabboq, named afrer rhe biblical phrase connected wirh jacob's
taking his family "across the ford of the Yabbok" (Gen. 32:23).22

JUST

BEFORE

DEATH

confession is

sripulared

for any

In rhe Bible, dying figures

Aher the confession and possible blessing of children and orher family members, ir became traditional

for the dying person ro recite the

199

II.i

Agil7g, Dying

Aging, Dying, Remembering

Remembering

verse, "Hear O Israel, The Lord our Gad, rhe Lord is one" (Deur, 6A),

ural dearh, regardless of the tirne of day. The pattern

rhe firsr .verse of rhe Shema. Exacrly when

behaviors rhat originace with martyrs ro rhe everyday world of ordi-

rhis becarne an accepced

of cransferring

practice is nor dear. In rhe Talmud, a narrarive describes how Jacob's

nary Jewish practice, especially in norrhern Europe, is noticeable,

children recite rhe Shema ac his dearhbed scene, ro reassure rheir facher

obvious reasons, in relarion ro rires associared with rhe dead.

of their loyalry ro the Gad of Israel and Jacob,

and Jacob replies,

"Blessed is rhe narne of rl.e gIury ofhis kingJom,

for ever and ever,"

rhe line recired righr afrer Deur. 6A in the lirurgy.

for

The J ews of Germany and larer an in easrern Europe and in communiries derived front rheir descendants

identified wirh rhe rnarryrs

This is nor rhe

of 1096 and builr an enrire ideology abour rhernselves as a pious com-

sarne rhing as the dying perseu reciting it him- ar herself with a dying

rnuniry, proud of the acts of rhose marryrs, and ready ro emulare chem

breath.

should circumsrances

A differem model may lie behind rhe practice, whenever it appeared.


A midrash

picrures

Rabbi

Akiva, rhe grear second-cemury

tinian sage, being rorrured

by rhe Romans.

despice rhe agony of being rorrured.


rabbis inrerprered

rhe yardsrick of rhe more difficulr acr of marryrdom,


ions rhat expressed

rhe views of German-Jewish

From chis model of piery, the

The Jews of Ashkenaz remembered

rhe next verse, "and you shall Iove rhe lord your

the anniversary of rhe dearhs of each comrnuniry's

with all rour rnighr" (Der.r. 6:5), ro mean, ""virh al! your soul'-

rherwo

even if rau have ro give up faur life," rhat is, be marryred, like Rabbi

Day thar the Church celebrared an November

Akiva."

Temples in Jeru;:alem,

ren ro mernorialize,
texts abolit Rabbi Akiva

rhar a general practice yer exisred for a Jewish


ordinary Jew an his ar her dearhbed,

Pierists

burning

rnarryr, ler alene an

marryrs. In anorher
of rhe destrucrion

became a kind of Jewish


1.

1242

of 1096 and rhe

the Shema upon dying is but one of many ways thar rhe dead of 1096
affected rhe broader culrure of medieval European Jewish

tionally recired as lirurgy, as in Rabbi Akiva's case. Thar innovarion

expressed in liturgical

frequenr

recired lirurgically.
Rhineland

underwenr

When

in rhe spring

rhe first crusade, Jews are pictured

of I096, rhe Jews of rhe

as reciring

apparenrly

.i\JOMENT

OF DEATH

In rhe Sbulban 'Amkh, Rabbi Joseph Karo stipulates what ODemay nor

rhe call ta

do when a person is gravely ill but nor yer dead. From this lisr, we

rhe verse ar rhe poinr

can infer whar was ro be dane when the person acrually died. Some

of dearh ar when rhey wimess orhers who are martyring


From rhar new practice in the late elevenrh

rites and gestures.

AT THE

when the daily Sbema was nor being

a series of rnassacres in the wakeof

memory

who

ro apply Rabbi Akiva's behavior even ro rhe more

rirnes of marryrdom

All Sainrs'

were added ro rhe canon of

ryrdorn or dearh rock place when the Shema was nor being inren-

made rhe rirualleap

of

Dirges (qiuot) writ-

for example, the mareyrdoms

of the Talmud in Paris in

an

rhose rhat referred explicirly ro rhe evenrs of the Temple. Reciring

ro reci re rhe Shema when mar-

seerns ro have been acred out by rhe marryrs of rhe Rhineland

in the

rhe acrs of rhose marryrs

way, however, the Ninrh of Av, rhe anniversary

from rhe midrashic

in

rwelfrh and rhirreenrh centuries.i?

text, he recires it,

Gad with all your heart and with all your saul [lirerally, life} arid

Tbere is no indication

for example,

Sefer Hasidim (Book of rhe Pietisrs), a colleccion of practices and opin-

Pales-

\'X!hen rhe proper rime

arrives ro recire the evening Shema as a lirurgical

arise. Religious behavior was measured against

thernselves.

of rhese practices were rarely followed, such as placing an the body a

25

cemury, rhe cusrom

spread ro apply rhe rire that rhe rnarryrs of I096 inno-

vated ro every Iew, rnartvr ar nor, ar the momenr of dying even a nar-

bowl

Of

a comb ar a jar of warer ar a pinch of salt. Among rhose that

were put inca varying degrees of practice were closing rhe dead person's eyes, hiring professional wailers and mourners, purring rhe body

Dying, Remembering

Aging.

Agillg, DJil1g, Remembering

an rhe cool ground an sand ar porcery fragmems


inzt vessels containing

warer."

was the sound of ernprying

ar earth, and empty-

days (Gen. 3T 34)' His sons and daughters tried ro comfort hirn, bur

Anorher sign rhar a dearh had occurred

vessels comaining

of the house where it had occurred.

Then rhe windows

\V'hen the body is put on rhe ground,

he was inconsolable.

warer aur rhe windows

a lighted

The Bible does go out of its way ta discourage

are closed.

were practiced by rheCanaanite

candle is placed ar

rhe head. It was custorn.u y, as we1l, for Christians

In hospicals,

rheir Hesh" (Lev,

but ar rhe feet.z8


but if rhe person dies ar

And yer, rhe propher Jeremiah

in rabbinic sources, but some or all are


ar other traditional

Kingdom

Jews today,

Talrnud,"?

menrioned

for granted.

though a hundred

This, Leon Modena,

apparel thernselves
rhe Counrries

in rhe

foad] wirh rhe dead,"

wenr in and out of favor among Jews. By

the sixreenrh cenrurv, ;'[ least in Iraly, the use ofblack

200 B.C.E.:

covering over

Rires of mourning

upon

in pagan culrures,

is

as well as in rhe Book of Tobir, from around


bread an rhe grave of rhe righreous but give

tearing ones garmenr, and it is already anricipared

here: "Iacob renr

his clorhes, pur sackclorh on his loins, and observed

and nor from any Precepc.">?


of a dearh

"Place ye"

cusrom

'''1 have nor deposired any of ir [rithed

The tearing of~lothes is the basis of what the rabbis called qeriyab,

in Venice, wrires, "All rnourners

hearing

"beards shaved,

nene ro sinners" (Tob. 4:17).

years larer, it was raken

in black; but they do rhis, fol1owing the use of

where rhey inhabit,

praeeices included:

rom, and their bodies gashed" <Jer. 41:5)1 Provid-

referred ro in Deur. 26:12-14:

while black is a color of mourning

rhe coffin seems strange,

mourning

1-2).

reports rhat in rhe last days of the

ing food for ehe dead, a widespread

by Jews or vice versa.

it apparerirlv

of Judah,

rheir garmems

Some are practices rhar were ancienr Chrisrian cusrorns and may have
In addition,

rhis is extended

you are rhe people consecrared ta the Lord your Gad" (Deur. q:

assisrance of members of rhe hena qadisha (burial sociery) or rhe rabbi.

beeri adopted

5). In rhe Book of Deureronorny,

yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of rhe dead. For

home, rhese custorns can be carried out by family members with rhe

rarely pracriced except by Orrhodox

21:

ro rhe whole people of Israel, who are called holy: "You shall nor gash

rhis is nor always possible;

Many of rhern are menrioned

ro "shave srnoorh any paft of

rheir heads, ar cur rh, sjck-giowrh of their beards, or rnake gashes in

of a former monk ar priesr an a cross of ashes ar sand on rhe floor


wirh a candle Iighted,

narions. Among these were the prohi-

birion on rhe parr of Israclire priesrsnor

ro place the body

cusroms it claims

mourning

for

his son many days" (Gen. 37: 34:). Other reactions are illusrrared when

are drarnarically

Jacob died: Joseph "fiung himself upon his father's face and wept over

recorded several tirnes in rhe Hebrew Bible, and some have left rheir

him and kissed hirn" (Gen. 50: r ), a custom rhar did nor continue.

rnark an practice

The period of imense maurning

down ta rhe present.

The abundance

are described is striking, sornerimes suggesting

of acrs thar

srylized forms of spon-

"{joseph]

tanei ty that border an frenzy.


Hearing
described.

abolit

rhe dearh

For exarnple,

(Gen.
of a famiIy

member

when Sarah dies, Abraham

mourn for Sarah and ro bewail her" (Gen.

2 Y2),

misrakenly

Tearing clorhes is also found elsewhere in cornbinarion

gesrures. David hears about rhe dearh of King Saul and his beloved

afrer which he buys

friend J onathan when a messenger arrives Eram the bartle "wirh his

accounr,

clorhes rent and earrh an his head" (2 Sam. I:II),

rhinks rhar joseph, his favorite son, has been

killed, he tears his garment,

purs on sackcloth,

and mourns

and afrer David

confirms the dearhs, "he rock hold of his clothes and rem rhern ...

many

they Iarnenred

202

with other

ta

a cave in which ta bury her. In contrast ro rhis marrer-of-fact


whenJacob

period of severi days for his farher"

50: 10),32

~.

is frequently
"proceeded

observed a mourning

of severi days appears new as well:

and wept, and rhey fasted until

evening"

(1 Sam.

Aging, Dying, Remembering

Aging, Dying, Remembering


1:11-12).

When

he leams char his general Joab has avenged

brorher's dearh by killing Saul's old supporrer


a supporrer

led ro rhe inevirable dearh ofhis rrairorous son

his

roo, rhar alrhough

Abner ben Ner, now

with him to rend rheir clorhes, gird on sackclorh,

of rheir wedding,

and make lament

before Abner; and King David himself walked behind rhe bier. And
so rhey buried

Abner ar Hebron;

rhe dead. These sounds are described

"In every square rhere shall be lameming,

ground

woe!' (Hebrew:

Mourners

rernoved rheir shoes

lands bur nor in Chrisrian

learher shoes

(2

Sam.

1 S:30)

ial" CI Kings

ones arm and shoulder


rhoughr

was prescribed

and nor using cos-

would ridicule

Judaism.34

pracrices

thar rabbis

That motive dernonsrrares

how

and a reason for discominuing

others even rhough rhey had an ancient

In the Hebrew

Bible, mourning

rires are invoked nor only when

a relarive orclose friend dies, but also at times of religious and social
crises. For example,

David acrs as a rnourner

'f.'lt

.:

when rhe rebellion

of

[Mounr of} Olives, weeping

went up rhe slope of the

he walked barefoot.

:;,l

:, :~~
.

their heads and wepr as rhey went up" (2 Sam. 15:30). There he mec

'

"wirh his robe torn and wirh earth on

rhe narrarive says only rhat he wept, perhaps

because he had already mourned

when rhe rebellion

broke out rhat

9:21;

22: 1 8;

see 34:5)

cf. 2 Sam. r:25)

As nored, a farher, like David, calls out rhe son's narne, as when
Absalom died (2 Sam. 19: 1, 5).36 Families and clans larnenred in male
and female groupings

(Zech.

12: II - 14).

cries of anguish was the camposition

More elaborare

[han rhese

of a dirge (qinah), a form rhat is

besr exemplified in the Hebrew Bible wirh rhe Book of Larnentations.


Ta David is artribured

such a dirge for the dearhs of Saul and jonarhan

(2 Sam. r:r9-27) and for Abner Iz Sam. Y33-34),

but professionals,

and sang these hyrnns.

The propher

Send for the skilled women (ha-hakhamor),

(ha-rneqonenor)

....

let them carne. Ler rhern

quickly start a wailing for us, rhar our eyes may run wirh rears" (Jer.
9: r6-17)Y These women were professionals and taughr rheir daugh-

his head" (2 Sam. r 5: 32). Later, when David hears of rhe dearh ofhis
beloved son Absalom,

nor "alas, my brorher"

rhe dirge echoed rhe morits-ot

Jeremiah mentions "sumrnon the dirge-singers


..
,-,.,.,:"",.",.,

(lispod) and bur-

"Alas, my brorher" (hoy, ahi)

"How is rhe mighry fallen, rhe savior

especially wornen, cornposed

as he wenr; his head was covered and

And all rhe people who were wirh hirn covered

rhe Ioyal Hushi rhe Archite

Maccabee was moumed,

of Israel!" (1 Mac.

l:~i'
.~;_.:

A body rhar is

.'

'1"': .

...

Absalom became known: "David meanwhile

which included:

David for Saul and Jonarhan:

was borh a source of practices thar J udaism adopted

pedigree.

1 Y29),

Lord" (hoy adon) ar "Alas, rnajesry" (hoy hohoh) () er,


WhenJudah

~;'::.' ,::,

rhe environrnent

s: r 6).

or "alas, my sister" (hoy ahor), but wirh rhe special refrain: "Alas,

bur became obsolere in thc

Ages, along with some orher public

ho ho). And rhe farm hand shall be called ro mourn,

(1 Kings 13:.)0). The king would be lamemed,

Europe. In con-

meric oils (2 Sam. r.i.z) were borh reinforced in rabbinic law.'3 Baring
Middle

behav-

in every streer cries of'Ah,

found on rhe road is broughr horne "for lamemarion

The cusrom of covering rhe upper lip (Ezek. 24:22) persisred among
trase, nor wearing

or srandardized

and those skilled in wailing ro larnenr" (Amos

or covered rheir faces (2 Sam. 19:5)

and rernoved their headgear (Ezek. 24: 17, 23).


Jews living in Muslim

in severa! conrexts

ior. The norrhern Israelite propher Amos refers ro rhe rire of lamem:

learns rhar his family have all suddenly been kil led,

he "arose, tore his robe, cur off his hair, and rhrew himself on rhe
1 ::W).

rhernselves

In rhe Bible, an elaborare parr of rhe rire of rhe funeral involved

the king wept aloud by Abners

and involve different degrees of spontaneiry

(Job

Nore,

of rhe seriousness of rhe occasion.>

Abner" (2 Sam. 3=31-33).

(2 Sam. 1S:30; Ezek. 24:17,23)

in order ro fool the spirirs arid remind

lamencing

and worshiped"

19:2).

an their heads on rhe day

grave, and a11rhe rroops wept. And rhe king inroned rhis dirge over
And whenJob

Sam.

wearing ashes fell inro disuse in actual funerals,

medieval European J ewish men purash~s

of rhe new king, David "ordered Joab and al! rhe rroops

(2

I
,~

1. "

ters how to do it.38 The practice was custornary


coumries into modern

tirnes."
20~

for Jews in Muslim

Aging, Dying, Remembering

/sging, Dying, Remembering

ONEIN

(MOURNER

UNTIL

THE

was also and was placed in a coffin, another Egyprian convenrion (Gen.

BURIAL

50:26). The forry days of ernbalmirrg were followed by seventy days

OF RELA TIVE)
Alrhough

biblical

and some rabbinic

ples of how an individual


.1

of wailing (Gen. 50:3). Embalmiog

sources previde

reacts when he ar she bears of rhe dearh of

U pon the dearh of a close relative-parems,

sibJings, and children-bur

before burial, rhe individual

onein and recires, "Barukh dayan ha-emer"

and burial in a coffin was dropped

for many years,

Insread, Israelires and ancienr Iews placed rheir dead on a biet (2 Sam
j ..> I

ciose relati ve, rhe rabbis red uced the ri tes ro just a few practical

responsibilities.

.ind Luke

' :

14), a practice we see even roday in rhe Arab world,

m news repofts of people carrying rhe parrially wrapped

spouse,

dead in public. Already in late anriquity, rhe preparation

becomes an

was delegated

(Blessed is rhe judge of

ro a hevra qadisha, but the cornrnuniry

body of rhe
of the body
srill is obli-

trurh)."? Ar rhat poim the rnourner tears a garment as a sign of rnourn-

gated ro honor rhe dead, aod a funeral rakes precedence

ing ar waits umil just before rhe funeral, when a ritual tearing (qeriyah)

srudy." Preparing rhe body has become a highly developed rire con-

is now cusromar.ily

dane. Some prefer ro tear a garmenr;

rear a black ribbon char is attached


it is cusrornary

others, ta

ta one's cloching. In either case,

tO wear the rom item rhe entire severi days of shiva.

A mourner

who is an ooein is respoosible

ararion of rhe body-washing


diggiog

parts of rhe prepararions

for arranging

rhe prep-

and cleaoing it, having shrouds made,

rhe grave.'!' Although

traditional

sisring of cleaning and dressing rhe body in a reverenrial

rnourners delegate various

ro rhe hevra qadisha aod funeral home, with

over Terah
manner.i"

Modern synagogues or privare associations consrirure a local hevra


qadisha and train members
purificarion

Sorne wear it for rhirry days, but chis is unusual.

in rhe derailed work of preparing

rhe

of rhe body (raharah) for burial. In Israel, one of rheir

responsibiliries

is ro publicize rhe dearh of a local residem by pasring

signs of rhe dearh on walls near rhe residence of rhe deceased. They
alert rhe neighborhood

rhar rhe person has died and indicare where

and when rhe funeral will rake place, sornerimes

the sarne day the

rhe assisrance of one's rabbi, it is rhe rnourner who is primarily respon-

dearh occurred. In the Unired Srares, for example, rhe family usually

sible ro see rhar arrangemems

places a notice in rhe local newspaper wirh rhe rime of rhe funeral.

are made. In view of this obligation,

he (ar she) is exempt from posirive commandmems

tional ]udaism,

maoy exarn-

did nor become part of tradi-

umil rhe burial."

The Bible marks rhe paths of the dead and the 1iviog that mourn

Some synagogues have cornpurerized phone announcemems


enrire coogregation.

ro calI rhe

Others have phone squads ro do this personally,

rhe dead as not being as absolutely different as we rnight suppose. In

Coffins come back into J ewish practice in medieval northern Europe

biblical religion there was no idea of a soul and a body. Life was called

but were nor common in medieval Spain, possibly due ro earlier Mus-

nefesh in HebrewxThe

is berween a living nefesh and a

Iim custorn. \'7hile their use roday is common in rhe Unired Stares,

dead nefesh. 50 long as the body or the bones exist, the being can sense

for example, rhey are generally nor used in Israel, where bodies are

disrincrion

rhings and is undersrood

as a shade Iiving in a never-never

SheoL43 Thar is why rhe worsr puoishmem


a person was ro leave the body unburied

land of

rhat could be intiicted an


and a prey ro anirnals, as in

rhe parcy of rhe rebellious Jereboam who are ro be "devoured by dogs"


aod "eaten by the birds of the air"
10 Egypt,

where

Joseph embalmed

embalming

(1

buried only in shrouds unless trauma or some other reason makes chis
inapproprate.

Kings 14: II).44

was practiced

in ancienr

tirnes,

his farher, Jacob (Gen. 50:2), and ]oseph himself

FUi\TERAL

AND

BURIAL

The Hebrew Bible suggesrs rhar rhe dead were buried in rheir clorhing.47 By rhe first century, in rhe New Testament

account of ]esus'

Aging! Dying, Remembering


burial,

we find references ro a ]oseph

Aging, Dying, Remembering

of Arirnerhea

who "rock rhe

Iar; it is rhe pillar ar Rachel's grave ro rhis day" (Gen. 35=20). The

body and wrapped it in a elean linen cloth and laid it in his own new

erecrion of a monument

romb which he had hewn inthe

when rhere are no children,

rock. He rhen rolled agreat

ro the door of rhe romb and wenr away" (Matr. 2]:59-60).


ro rhe burial cusror:

it wirh

as a subsrirure form of rememb.ering

for he said, '1 have no

of rhe ]ews"

did differem

SOD

ro keep my narne alive.' Hehad

In contrast ro pillars or srelae, mausoleums

how quickly a body was buried in ancienr Israel."? It must have beeri

ish graves from rhe Hellenisric

soon afrer death, a cusrom rhar has rernained a central practice in tra-

bees ar Modin: "And Simon builr a monument

ditionalJudaism.

farher and his brorhers ....

Burial could be in a farnily burial cave in one wall

of which ledges were dug out of soft rock. Presumably


did when he bought

rhe Hirrire of Hebron

the cave of Machpelah

rhis is whar
from Ephron

of arrnor ...

locared in ]erusalem

or even in common

(2

Kings 23:6; Jer. 26:23).

ledges in rhe walls ofburiaI

)udaism

in Hellenisric

'1 he

Palesrine who were absorbed

placed in srone containers,

Jew-

called ossuaries, for secondary

elaborare, even myrhically

inspired,

bas-reIiefs, for example,

uprighr

She'arirn, the burial place ofRabbi]udah


Palesrinej.>'

Srone markers, or srelae, wirhour any inscriprions,


already in rhe Hebrew Bible as a way ro remember

are rnenrioned
who is buried in

a grave, as in rhe case of Rachel: "Over her grave ]acob set up a pil-

Chrisrian

Europe,

tornbsrones

rated gravesrones
Amsterdam

with

rhe Parriarch (rhird-cenrury

1Y27-30).

It

This is bur one of rnany


in many fearures

cuI ture. All rhe rnonurnenrs

Bat, inscribed

]ewish cemeteries

burialY
ar Beir

Macc.

in rhe Kidron

Valley dare from rhe late Greek or early Roman per i.i as we ll.>'

medieval

up and

and some are decorared

erect-

and on rhe columns he pur suirs

In Muslim lands, elaborare sepulchres

If the larrer, afrer abour a year,

Many of rhese have been unearthed,

(1

of the pagan Hellenisric

more modest,

rhe bones were gathered

...

rhe rown, as

with Abraham.

from rhe Idurneans

burial rook place eirher in burial niches in

when rhe body had decomposed,

...

tice was for a family burial cave ar area ro be ourside

in rhe late second century B.C. E. 5

ar caves ar in rhe ground.

He also erecred seven pyramids

Alrhough Israelite kings were buried inside rowns, rhe common prac-

came inro

imo the Hasmonean

over rhe romb of his

examples of how rhe .Maccabees were ernbedded

practice of

chambers apparenrly

tirnes and was borrowed

Thus in late anriquiry,


catacombs

fields

in rhe Kidron Valley called "rhe :)urial ground

people"

digging

ish kingdom

graves, in porter's

were erecred over ]ew-

and besides rhe suirs of armor he carved ships ....

rernains ro rhis day"

(Gen. 23).

buried in rhe ground

(2

age, as in connection with rhe Macca-

ing abour thern great columns,

\'Vhat abour those who were less well offl The poor or ourcasr were

of sourhern

narred rhe

Sarn. r8:18).53

rhings wirh the

body, only some of which were taken up by Israelires. \J{1edo nor know

of rhe common

had raken

pillar aher himself, and it has been called Absalorn's Monument"

In biblica! rirnes, Israel's neighbors

Abraham

rhe

a pillar which is in rhe Valley of the King and set it up for himself;

(Jo1n 19AO).48

seems ar one poinr ro be. carried out only

dead. For example, David's son "Absalom, in his lifetime,

The par-

allel in ]ohn adds, "rhey rook rhe body of Jesus and wrapped
spices in linen clorhs, according

srone

rornbstones

might be erected,

burial in the ground

developed.

rhough

were more common.

In

with

inscribed

Two of rhe best preserved

medieval

are in Worms and Prague. Very unusually


are found from rhe seventeenrh

deco-

cenrury on, as in

and Poland.:"

1
..

If
J

At the Cemetery
The funeral consisred of a procession ta rhe gravesire

and words of

praise for rhe deceased, known as a hesped. Funerals, like weddings,


were known ta all by rhe way people behaved in public.

J ews

knew

ii
Agilzg, Dying, Remembermg

Aging, Dying, Remembering


rhar someone had died by the public sighrs and sounds of rhe rites
"wirh mourners

all araund in rhe srreer" (Eccles. 12:5). The proces-

sion .was marked

by sounds of trumpets

fessional rnourners,

who of ten were women and who preceded

family and cornmuniry


wornen

mourners,

(rarns' horns) and of pro-

members.

"Daughrers

the

David cries aur ta the professional


of Israel, ".('cI' over Saul" (2 Sam.

1:24).56 (Fig. 9)

People wrote a dirge (qinah) rhat rhey recired over rhe dead, as
DaviJ did for Saul and his son ]onathan

(2 Sam. 1:19-27).

survivors

mourning

lamemed

(si/dtl) and expressed

menrs and purring on sackclorh (2 Sam. 3: 31-35).

Or rhe

by rearing gar-

The larnenr mighr

take place afrer rhe burial: "He laid rhe corpse in his own burial place;
and rhey Iamemed
1Y

(l'i1yispedll) over it, 'Alas, my brorher!'"

Jererniah

30). Or rhe propher

warns that )ehoiakin,

(1 Kings

son of] osiah,

will nor be respecred: "They shall nor mourn (Jisped/.l) for him, 'Ah,
brorher!

Ah, sisrer!' They shall nor mourn for him, 'Ah, lord! Ah,

his rnajesry!'"

9. Funera! processiono/l\la/ka i1seb, motber of Yiddisb u-nter Sbolem Aseh. Kutno,

UeL 22:18). (Fig. ro)

War.rau. Regio. 1930s. From tbe Arebil'es cftbe YI\''O Institute [orjeuisb Researcb.

David also ser the pattern for piery roW2.,Jthe dead when he walked

Repri71ted uitb permission .

behind the bier (mittah) of Abner, son of Ner. It is srill cusrornarv.' when
funerals rake place ar a funeral chapel ar synagogue,
behind

for Jews

(Q

}'

walk

rhe body as it rnoves roward the hearse and again, after rhe

hearse arrives ar rhe cernerery, ro walk behind rhe body ta rhe grave.
\Vhat the Bible refers ro as Iamenrarion
ical dirge (qinah) ar memorial
anriquity

(hesped) srarred as a poet-

rhat was chanted.

and in Muslim lands iata modern

uiry it was complemented


hesped. Professionals

It cominued

tirnes, but from anriq-

by a funeral orarion, which carne

delivered

inro

some, and a few fragments

(Q

cailed

are pre-

served in rhe Talmud.??


The rradirion of mourners and orhers attending
dirr an rhe coffin in the open grave is becoming

a funerai ro shovel

more comrnon roday

than it used ro be. Each mourner who wishes ro do sa, rakes rhe shovel
and purs some earrh an the lowered coffin. It is custamary

Ia. "Tbe Oration oier tbe Dead Mall." Painting /rom tbe Prague BurialSociety

nor ta

pass rhe shovel from person ta person but for each ta dig it into the

(Heira Qadisha), about 1780, inu No. 12.843/9. Colleaion o/theJeu/ish MtlSeum

ground

in Prague. Reprinted uitb permission.

aher using it, and for rhe next person ta rake it out of the

211

Aging,

Agmg, DJlllg, Relllew6er!JIg

.1

earrh. In Israel, where coffins are nor used, rhe earth is pur direcdy

dendy larer still arid perhaps based on rhe merger of anorher rradi-

over rhe covered body. Among rhe orher custorns rhar developed

tional formula.

post- Talmudic
or emering

in

In Shem Tov Gagin's compendium

tirnes are washing hands when leaving rhe cemetery

rhe house of mourning

and lighring

a memorial

Aher rhe burial, rhe Talmud reporrs that mourners

ations from orher Sefardic or Medirerranean

used ro stand

rhat rhe phrase "May rhe PLrc [Gcd] comfort you" (ha-rnaqorn yena-

ger precedence

ro comfort rhe mourners afrer rhe burial, and rhe rab-

bis esrablished

rhe rule thar rhe people should remain sranding

hamu min ha-shamayim).

the prac-

combined

the funeral should form rwo par-

rinuarion

should pass by rhern. Subsequendy,

of rhose attending

in a

pass berween

These formulaic

words of comfort, also said today when a visiror

rnerely, "be comforred"

In the Talmud,

(titnaha7711l).6c ar rhey are

"

redundam

"and ]erusalem."64

This yields rhe currem

"May rhe

formula: "ha-

The firsr, memioned

above. is "Be comforred"

second, "Frorn Heaven rnay rhey have mercy'


yerabamu).

appears,

"May He who dwells

ha-sharnayim

shokhen

be-bayir

zeh yenahemkha),

comfort

you" (ha-

and chis is rhe language

cired

ben Asher, in his code, Arba'ah Tarim, in fourreenrhAshkenazic

Jews is

on rhe Arba'ah Turim and Shlllhan 'Arllkh, of which

part of rhe former cornrnenrary


(Inquiry

and Explication).

bit of support

throwing

is known as "Derishah

He cornmenrs:

for our way of consoling

u-Ferishah"

"Based on this there is a


mourners,

when generalIy

phrases.

(rirnaharnu)

and a

(min ha-shamayirn

The resulr: "May l'au be comforred from Heaven" (miri


reraharnu or reraharnu min ha-shamayirnj.P?

cemerery

custorns

involve people eirher

grass and pebbles behind rhern or putting

on a rornbstone.

rhe cornmenr in the gloss of Rabbi J oshua Falk (1555- 1614), author
of cornmenraries

Orher

(May

of Zion and

of rwo Talmudic

masrer of consolarion comfort you, blessed is He who comforts mournin rhis house

of Zion" rhe

maqom yenahem erkhern berokh sh'ar aveilei zion virushalayirn"

ers. ,,6, In rhe late Palestinian midrash, Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer, the phrase

Closer yer ro the formula used today among

!i

"irn" (wirh) ro

] erusalern).
Sefardim roday ofren say an adaptarion

by RabbiJacob

phrase, changing

on earlier shorrer formulas of consolarion or blessing.

greered when people leave rhe eemerery wirh rhe blessing,

rhe former, "May rhe Place comfort you," with rhe conof rhe earlier Ashkenazic

rhe Place comforr you among rhe rest of rhe mourners

cenrury Spain.v'

The Ashkenazic expression seerns ro have

"berokh" (among) and adding ro rhe phrase "rnourners


.~..

in rhe

say "be comforred from Heaven" (renu-

leaves the house sirring shiva, are relarively recent, but rhey are based
one rells mourners

. i .. _

rhem

and are greered wirh words of cornforr.>?

j !

be nores

hern erkhern) is offered as ar, expression of consolarion by]ews

allel lines facing each echer, and rhe mourners

comrnunities,

Land ofIsrael. In Egypt,]ews

tice developed

ro which he adds many vari-

line. But two families in Je!l~~~lem used ro argue about who should

row and rhe mourners

of the custorns of rhe Sefardic

synagogues in London and Amsterdam,

candle,s8

while rhe orher people passed by ro comfort rhern, as ar a receiving

D)'Illg, ReJl/e!lloeri!Jg

uprooting

and

grass or pebbles

The firsr, srill done in some traditional

burials, is to

pluck a bunch of grass and rhrow it inro the air. It is rnenrioned already
in the rwelfrh-cenrury

Mahzor Vit,.)', a rabbinic collecrion of liturgi-

cal cusrorns derived from Babylonian

rires and augrnented

ern France in the rwelfrh and rhirreenth


of the final book. Aher preseming

in norrh-

cenruries in various versions

rhe form of the burial Kaddish

that was used rben, the aurhor cominues: "There are rhose wbo pluck

speaking rhe mourner does nor begin to speak at alI but rarher people

up grass frorn rhe ground and say [rhe verse], 'Let men sprour up in

emer the house and sit awhile and then say: 'May the Lord comfort

towns like grass of rhe field'" (Ps. 72:r6).66

you along wirh rhe other rnourners

of Zion.'

('H yenahemkha

she'ar aveilei zion')."63 The phrase as it is usually

'irn

said today is evi-

Imrnediately

after this, an hisrorical anecdote is reporred by Rabbi

Isaac ben Dorbello (rnid-rwelfrh-cenrury

northern France), a student

Agillg, Dying, Remembering


of Rabbi Jacob ben Meir (Rabbeinu

llgillg, Dying, Remembering

Tam). Aposrares complained

ta
SHIVA

rhe French king (Louis VII) rhat Jews rhrew rhe grass behind thern
in order ta casr a spell an Christians
of a meering

ro cause rheir dearh. In a reporr

Uniess a dearh oecurs during some Jewish festivals ar JUStbefore one,

between Rabbi Moses of Paris and the king of France,

when special rules apply, the mourners rerurn from rhe cemerery and

l~

rhe rabbi explains ~har rhe reason for the custorn is ta affirm rhe ] ews'

belief in the resurrecrion


ro life in the spring,
supposedly

"sit shiva" for nearly a wbole week. Among the differenees berween

of the dead. Just as rhe grass will come back

sa the dead will in rhe end of days. The king

was impressed.

Some ]ews, Rabbi Isaac conrinues,

hesi-

B'lDylonia and Palesrine in Geonie times, in Babylooia arnan

:)

.:.I.~'
.--

repercussions.v?

tated ro do the rire for fear of Chrisrian

The more popular relared but differem cusrom roday of]ews picking up pebb!es and placing thern an rornbsrones
rhe Mahzor Vitry and apparenrly

dates from the late Middle

Germany. In his short commemary


Be'er Heiteiu. Rabbi]

is noe rnentioned

in

Ages in

(eighteenrh

a late fourteemh-cencury

aurhoriry,

and reacher of Mahar il, bur rhe

cusrorn is nor found in rhe pubIished


rulings. an arah

Hayyim

in Derasbot i'l'faharash ...


pebble and put it

011

""1' "

up from shiva." lf rhe sevenrh day is a Sabbarh, rhe shiva usually concIudes JUStbefore the Sabbarh begins. In some comrnunities,

of placing

walking "around the block,'

wholeness ro mark a recum ro the ourside world.


The biblical Book of Ecclesiasres preaches:

a small stane on rhe tornbsrone

One explanation

house of mouming
. ,',.--:

of bad luck. There are other explanarions

for seven days. For example, fasring is

nored as a sign of mourning,

for one day, by David

without

rhe fasring, remained

(2

customary

cemuries. We see it in rhe Pentareuch withJoseph

Sam.

1: I2; 2

rhrough

the

for Jacob: "and he

observed a mourning period of seven days for his farher" (Gen. 50: Ia);

a neurralizarion

and modern

(han ro a house of feasring" (Eccles. ]:2). Bibli-

cal rexrs emphasize mourning

mouming,

is that the stane prorecrs one from harm ehat comes


inscriprion,

"Berter ra go ro rhe

Sam. 3:35), but for severi days for Saul (1 Sam. 31:13). Severi days of

was widely Eollowed by

Iands and may have ancient pagaq roors.

frorn demons if one reads a tombsrone


accommodations,

a symbolic gesture of

says: "It is writren

roday place flowers on the grave, the cusrorn

Chrisrian

rhereby making

22-+:12, Rabbi ]udah

rhat rhe reason people pul! up grass or a

it is tra-

rhe rire by going ourside and

of Rabbi Shalorri's

tbe grauestone is purely out of respeCt for rhe dead,

Chrisrians

Jews in medieval

ditional for the rnourner ro complete

collecrions

ta show that he was ar the grave" (iralics added).68


Alehough

of the day of the funeral counts as rhe firsr day. It

is followed by rhe next five whole days, and it concludes wirh the
firsr paft of the rnorning of rhe sevemh day, when rhe rnourners "get

cen-

rury) cires Derasbot Maharash. a work by Rabbi Shalom rni-Neusradt,

The Babylonian cusrorn prevailed.??

','

".',-.: ..

an rhe Sbnlban "A17Ikh. known as

udah ben Simeon Ashkenazi

in Palesrine, rhree days were needed before rhe festival ro canceI shiva .
The remainder

,
",

need

nor sit shiva anymore ifhe did so even one hour before a festival begins;

in the posr-biblical

homiletical

Book of ]udith about whom it is said, "rhe house

of Israel mourned her for severi days" (jrh.

but the origins seem vei led in ancienr pagan prac-

16:24); and in the Book

of Ecclesiasricus, ar Ben Sira, ca. 200 B.C.E., "rnourning

rices. Today it is viewed as a sign of respect for rhe dead. Alrhough

lasts seven days" (Ecclus.

22: 12).

for rhe dead

The seven-day period is yet another

rradi tional J ews roday do nor usually put flowers on graves, some] ews

rite built an thar number, complememing

do place all kinds of objects an rhe grave of a srnall child including

the birrh of a son, and rhe seven days of feasring afrer a wedding.

baskers of scuffed animals,

sornething

sires of rerrorist bombings

in which children were killed, as in Okla-

homa Ci ty, 69

we have seen at the memorial

rhe shevua ha-ben after

Fasring was nor practiced already in rhe rime of J eremiah and Ezekiel
(late sixrh cenrury B.c.E.).In

fact, rnourning

involves breaking bread

for rhe mourner as a form of comfort.] eremiah rnenrions thar "a cup
215

Agin$, Dying, Remembering

Agillg, Dying, Remembering


of consolarion"

is offered ro rhe rnourner

nazic and Sefardic rabbis ruled thar it was no longer ro be done. For

"for the loss of his farher or

morher" UeL 16:7), and Ezekiel refers ro "rhe bread of cornforters"

example,

(Ezek. 24: 17, 22)Jl This meal is called se'ndat bacra'ab (healing rneal)

adopted inro Judaism., Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg

and is a shift from feeding rhe dead tofeeding

"roday one does nor overturn the beds, since we live among (Chris-

Today, some synagogue cornrnuniries


but alI subsequem

of covering

Ashkenazic

daily services in rhe rnourners'

mirrors

in the house is modern,

conceded (har "upserring

and Sefardic/Medirerranean

horne. The
practiced

... '.

,-',"

berween rhe first "rhree days of weep-

Israel roday, where it is cusromary

survives ar leasr in

behavior during

the Day of Aronernent:

the shiva period rhar is also forbiddeo


working,

barhiog,

a grear pleasure,

rhe bed is no longer done because rhe Gen-

tiles will say it is wirchcrafr and our beds are nor made rhe way the

2: 1 3).

cosmetics,

eogaging

law
on

couches. This is based on rhe behavior of Job's friends who '''sar wirh
The text does nor say

sornething

'071

(al) the ground'

and thar rneans an

close ro rhe ground."79 Synagogues

or funeral

parlors

roday provide rnourners wbo are sirting shiva with low folding chairs.
,;

~"

Yet anorher mouming

in

cusrorn is ioferred in rhe Talmud

biblical verse: 'A rnourner is obligared

sexual relarions, and wearing learher shoes. In addirion, srudy ofTorah,


cansidered

(d. 1293) wrore;

him rowards rhe ground (la-aretz) severi days arid severi nights' (Job

~'

"

ooly for family ro visit rhe first

rhree days, aod for friends ro carne larer in the week. Rabbioic
prohibirs

were

The practice roday is for mourners nor ro sir on regular chairs or

Jews.f1

ing" and rhe orher four days73 This disrinction

pracrices

beds were made in ancienr rimes."78

by
;""',

The Talmud disririguished

where rnany Christian

rians) and they would suspect us of wirchcrafr."77 Even ]oseph Karo

provide nor only rhe first meal

meals as well arid if possible also a prayer quorum

for evening and moming


practice

the living.

even in Germany,

Merciful

is prohibired.":'

from a

ro wrap his head. Sioce rhe

rold Ezekiel [the opposire], namely, 'And cover nor your

upper lip' (Ezek. 24: 17), we infer [hac other rnourners are obligarecl
[ro do so], "80 The passage in Ezekiel also menrions seve rai orher corn-

Othe?-Signs of

MOlll7ling

monly pracriced modes of rnourning,

Many cusrorns about shiva developed or were eliminared


aod early modern

times. The week is orie of confinemem

tine duties and allowing

nor ro perform when his wife dies: '''But you shall not larnent ar weep

in medieval

ar Iet your rears flow. Moan softly; observe no mourning

from rou-

is supposed
ground:

ir is raughrrhar

ro overrurn

"Bar Kappara

over your upper lip (ve-lo ta'reh 'al safam), and do nor ear rhe bread

taught

upper lip means covering rhe rnouth."

[God says]: 1 have set rhe Iikeness of

tO cover rhe

In Babylonia, Shmuel (third

century) describes rhe difference berween wrapping rhe head on week-

their sins have 1 upset it; ler your

days and on the Sabbarh, which is nor ro be a rime of public rnourning.

humans were created in the image of God, death

On rhe Sabbath, a rnourner wraps the bead but shows hair; during

is relared ro sin and this upsets rhe human condition.


are ro sleep with beds turned

Despice rhe urging ofMaimonides

To act rhis our,

andJoseph

Karo rhat mournperiod,

'1
:1

upside down.i?

ers should do this for ar least parr of rhe seven-day

fi

(Ezek. 24:16-17).

The Jerusalem Talmud explains rhar rhe requiremem

on rheir account."75 Behind this gesrure is the

couches be overturned

mourners

of cornforters'"

the shiva rhe mourner

his or her bed and sit an it or sleep on rhe

my image on thern and through


idea that alrhough

during

for rhe dead;

Pur on your turban and put your sandals an your feer; do nor cover

oneself ro be raken care of by orher famiIy

members and especially close friends and members of the communiry.


In borh Talmuds

all of which Gad rells Ezekiel

Ashke-

the rest of rhe week, he wraps his head complerely,

in the manner of

the Arabs.82 The cusrorn of covering the lip by specially wrapping

I'~.

tallir or cloth around the head is ta begin afrer the burial, according

1'"

ro Rabbi Narronai

bar Hilai Gaon (of Sura, 853-58).83

i'
Aging, Dying, Remembering

Aging, Dying, Remembering


French

Talmud

comrnentators,

the Tosafisrs,

rhat in smalI Jewish

observed rhat rhis ancient

cusrom,

like overturning

the beds, is no

prayer quorums then was as difficult as it is roday.

The

norrhern

longer done. The basis for nor covering


bed aoymore
(akhsana'i)

is nor obligared

nor say be is
rians]

is rhe passage

:l

ro overturn

sorcerer (harash)."

Anorher
ridicule

reason for not coveriog

head."84 Nor surprisingly,

ie should continue,
did continue

rhere. In Chriseian

servanrs ....

Mairnonides,

bring

way of wrapping

rhe

in Muslim Egypr, ruled ehat

as did Joseph Karo in Otrornan

in Muslim

should followrhe local cusrom during rhe firsr week and rhar "in Baby-

the head is that it would

us, since it Iooks like rhe Muslim

00

"a rraveler

we live amoog [Chris-

[Chrisrian}

Palestine, and it

lands aod among some Jews who grew up

Poland,

Rabbi Moses Isserles cornrnenred

rhat

In some parts of the Muslirn Easr, rnourners went ro cbe synagogue


rnourners'

Ion everyone go~s ro rhe synagogue,


rnost p~2:' al horne." In Muslim
::" ..

during

shiva insread

house, especially

of having

services

in che

when rhere were nor enough people ro

make a rninyan boch in che synagogue

and in rhe house. Agaio, rhere

but in Iarge ciries and districts


Spain, Rabbi Isaac Ibn Ghayyar

(1038-

8~j

reporred rhe words of rhe rwo disringuished

Babylonian

rabbinic aurhorities, but he added rhat "it was the cusrom of our predecessors ro go ro the synagague

to pray" (during shiva).88

Writing larer in Christian Gerona, in Caralonia, Rabbi Moses ben


Nahman

(Nahmanides)

(II94-1270)

says rhat rnourners

pray ar home rhe firsr week excepr on the

Sabbarh,89

should

but Rabbi Isaac

bar Shesher (r 326-1408) poinrs out: "[here are differem pracrices in


rhese Iands. In alI of Caralonia,

it' is OOt done. 85


for daily prayers

rwo sirnulraneous

Rabbi Hai ben Shrira Gaon (939-138) ruled rhere rhat people

his bed, so rhat people do

"Moreover,

and we have meo and women

Talmud:

providing

the

rhe head or overrurning

in the Jerusalem

comrnuniries,

when one prays ar rhe house of a mourner; bur on rhe Sabbath morning, rhe rnourner may go ta the synagogue, since mourning

does nor

take place on rhe Sabbarh, and he does nor sit in his usual place." In
Valenc.a, he conrinued,

"it is cusrornary nor ro go ro synagogue

rhe

was a difference berween rhe cusroms of Babylonia and Paleseioe. In

firsr week even on rhe Sabbarh," while "in Saragossa mourners

Babylonia,

ally go ta rhe synagogue all severi days of rhe week in rhe morning

rhe rnourner

usu-

was able to go ro the synagogue rhroughour


rhe shiva; in Palestine, only on rhe Sabbarh.86 The practice depended

and evening. Afrer services rhey rerurn ta their house accompaoied

on how different

by rnost of rhe cornrnuniry

rabbis interprered

the words "shabbar

rishonah"

(either first Sabbath or first week) in the following Talmudic


ing: "Our Rabbis taught: On/During

teach-

the first shabbat a rnourner does

nor go our of rhe door of his house; rhe secood week he goes out bur
does nor sit in his [usual] place (in the syoagogue);

rhe third week

who stop ar the enrrance ro the COUIT-

yard, rhe keener iba-meqonenet

wails and beats a tambourine

this to honor rhe deceased, and their custorn is nor ro be stopped."??


In che Sbulban 'Amkh, Rabbi Joseph Karo rules "but rhe first week

ba-risbon he does nor leave his house even to hear the bless-

(Sha1.'11a

like any orher person."87

ing of a,huppah (wedding) or a circurncision."?'

uniess a person is an important

public figure who has many students

and relatives who come ro comfort him ar home, he should go ro synagogue ro be comforted

there, as is done in "all the vilIages in

lonia and in rhe other Iands." Apparent!y


nor just che Sabbath.

he meam the emire week,

This ruling was made for rhe practica!


218

Babyreasoo

in her

hand and the women mourn and clap their hands togerher. They do

he sits in his [usual] place bur does nor speak; rhe fourrh week he is
In Iraq, Rabbi Paltoi ben Abbaye Gaon (fi. 842-57) wrote rhat

rhis is observed only on weekdays,

Isserles commems:

On this, Rabbi Moses

"These days, it is the cusrorn nor ro sit in one's

own seat [in the synagogueJ

the entire rhirty days [of mourning

a relative orher rhan aparent},

and for one's father or mother,

for
the

emire twelve rnonrhs. This custorn has no basis [in any rabbinic
authority],

but we should noe change it, since [we folIow the gen-

eral principle} 'every place should folIow irs own cusrom.'":"


2I9

.A..ging, Dying, Remembering

Aging, Dying, Remembering

Today, rhose rnourners who wish ro participare


ing in daily services, theorerically
synagogue,

if a quorum

may do sa wirhour

going ro the

of men (ar wornen, in egalitarian

niries) takes rurns coming


Sabbarh,

evening and morn-

it is cusromary

ro the rnourners'

house all week. On the

now for the rnourner

but ro wait ourside rhe main haIl during

commu-

ro arrend synagogue,

rhe preliminary

Qabbalar

Shabbat Friday evening service and be greered with traditional

words

sociery, The number rhirry is found in the Bible in connecrion


mouming

with

for Aaron, "All the house ofIsrael bewailed Aaron 3 days"

(Nurn. 20:29), and for Moses, "nd rhe Israel ires bewailed Moses in
rhe steppes of Moab for 30 days' (Deur. 34:8).
A person may nor shave or cur rhe hair for rhe entire month, unless
it becomes somerhing socially imolerable.

The rabbis derivedrhe

law

of the rnourner nor curring rhe hair for rhirry days by using the exeget-

of comfort just before rhe formal part of rhe evening service (ma'ariv)

ical technique

begins.

rhe same word appears (gezeimh sbauab). This permirs rhern ta apply

Despire rhe ruling in rhe Talmud abour where a rnourner

should

pray during alI or part of rhe seven days of shiva, practice clearly varied, even among sages in Baghdad

and in medieval

Spain. In addi-

of comparing

ro borh cases a condirion

rwo differenr

sripulared

biblical verses in which

in only one of (bem. Thus rhe

root PR' (Jer [hair] grow wild) appears in a verse rhar refers ro rnourning (Lev. 10:6) and ro one rhar speaks about the Nazirire (Nurn. 6:5),

tion, ordinary Jews followed various local cusrorns derived ftom eirher

where ir implicirly

Muslirn or Christian praerices, and rabbis were powerless ro srop rhern.

Iife is supposed ro ler his hair grow long for thirty days. Based on rhe

In some cases, rhey rhrew up rheir hands and did nor even try.

exegetical rule of comparison,

Rabbi Isaac bar Shesher also commemed


muniry

in Christian

rhat Jews in one corn-

Spain follow a Muslim cusrorn of which he dis-

says rhar a person who rakes on an ascetic way of

During

rhe thirry days, one is resrricred

celebraricns,

which people do in thar land ro go out ro rhe cemetery

a spouse, or a child, mouming

ends afrer rhirry days; for aparent,

only aher a

taken rhis cusrom from rhe Muslirns and you should teIl thern that

of holding

family or public memorials

it is forbidden."93

and remembering

each and every morning.

They have

mainly from arrending

especially any wirh live music. If che dead is a sibJ ing,


year.96

of rhe seven days of mourning

is also

to let his bair grow for rhirry days.?

arproves: "You also asked me ro instruct you abour rhe wicked cusrorn
rhe moming

rhe rabbis infer rhat a rnourner

The end of sheloshim,

ar least in Israel, is a rime


(askarot) dedicared

ta srudy

the dead (see "Unveiling," below).

Today, the most rypical fearure of shiva occurs berween meal tirnes
and religious
evening

ro pay respects, They are nor required

a rnourner;
mourner

services, when visirors drop by during


the mourner

is enough.

rakes rhe initiative.

rhe day or earIy

ro say anyrhing
JUSt sirring

ro

near rhe

Visits usuaIly last abour a half hour, depending

an how crowded the room .is wirh new arrivals.P+

RITES

OF MEMORIALIZATION:

GERMAN-JEWISH
Alrhough mouming

INNOVATIVENESS

ends afrer a stipulated

tinues in differenr ways through

period, remembering

the liferime of a surviving

One of rhe rnost observed rites of Judaism


SHELOSHIM
AFTER

l'

I'

The period of mourning

(THE
THE

"THIRTY

DAYS"

BURIAL)

continues, wirh fewer resrricrions, up ro rhirty

days as the mourner gradually

goes back inro rhe world of work and

con-

relarive.

roday, even among Jews

who orherwise are nor involved in traditional

Jewish religious prac-

tice, is the observance

rime of rhe year), rhe

anniversary

of Yahrzeir (lirerally,

of a parenr's dearh, on which Jews cusromarily

used ro

fast, rhough rhis is nor often mentioned

roday, Iighr a memorial

can-

dle thar burns all day, attend synagogue

services that day, and recite

iiging, DJlI1g, Remembering


rhe Kaddish (rhe besr-known
Hebrew

in roman lerrers of rhe Aramaic

text. The populariry

non-traditional
attending

American

of rhis observance,

among

orherwise

Jews roday, can be compared

a Passover Seder ar ro going ro rhe synagogue

and

Also popular
remernber").

is rhe memorial

and an the three major fes-

s: 17), and

in rhe Hebrew Bible of an afrerlife that resembles


.-."

The Hebrew Bible includes descriptions


rhe living should use inrerrnediaries

rhere is no sign
Heaven or Hell.

of rhe prohibition

thar

ro contact the dead (Lev, 19: 31;

Deur. 18:II; Isa. 8:19) and records episodes of worthy people who

on rhe J ew-

prayer known as Yizkor ("May He

On rhe Day of Aronemenc

..

only ta

ish New Year and Day of Aronemenc.

Kl:iiiI:III(Jl:r:llg

nor any who go down into silence" (Ps. II

cusrorn), even if ir is done by painstak-

ingly reading a rranslireration

Liymg,

iigilig,

do so anyway. A good exarnple is King Saul, who asks "a woman who
consults ghosrs ...

in Eri-dor" (1 Sam. 28:7) ro contact Samuel, -,;;'0

had recendy died, abolit how ro fight rhe Philisrines (1 Sam. 28:3-25).

rivals of Pesah (Passover), Shavuor, and Sukkot, Jews rradirionally

Saul is porrrayed as doing this even though he himself "had forbid-

recite a seguence of memorial

den [recourse ro} ghosts and familiar spirirs in rhe land" (1 Sam. 28:3;

rory and for individual

prayers for rhe rnarryrs of Jewish his-

members of one's own family who have died.

Many Jews go ro che synagogue

on rhose holidays just ro recite "rhe

Yizkor prayers,"

and synagogue

hcliday

JUSt

calendar

bullerins

stipulare

clearly in rhe

when rhe Yizkor service will take place.?? A

ar nor, modern Jews have personal reasons for observ-

ing sorne or all of rhe rites of remembering

the dead in one's f,1.mily,


basic hb-

especially parenrs. It is rrue rhar a rradirion inrerprersrhe

was a persisring

one in ancienr Israel.

100

There is a hine in late biblica! wrirings of rhe resurrecrion


12:2),

of rhe

but only afrer rhe Hebrew biblical canon was sealed

dead and lessen rheir punishment.


(firsr century B.C.E.) refers ro]udah

The book known as


making aronernent

Maccabees

for his elead


for the 'Iead,

5: 16)(0 rnean, especially, ro honor rheir memory aner rhey have died,

so rhar rhey might be delivered from their sin"

1 2A

but rhe background

pray and send money ro jerusalern

Interwoven

ro honor your father and rnorher (Exod.

sainrs are ofren connected,


unraveled,

one's own family are traditions

rhat

the memory of Jews who died as rnarryrs. As in the

Church, memorials

ro remember

Deur.

of these and orher rires of memory lies elsewhere.P''

wirh remembering

involve recalling
Christian

20: 12;

ro ehe souls of rhe deparred

and ro the

and the rires rhar Jews invenred

in order

each category of the dead are relaeed, in ways srill ro be


ro the ways rhe Church did so."?

rialization

of rhe dead is the ancient belief, srill held by some ]ews

roday, that an active relarionship

exisrs berween rhe living and the

dead, such rhat rhe rwo could affect one anorher in significanr

Aswill

(2

ways.

soon become cIear, it is nor surprising

5). They

thar some of rhe

ancient kernels of Jewish rites abolit rhe dead were shaped into a set
of rires of mernorializarion

of the dead in norrhern Europe, especially

from the rwelfrh cencury ono This was due ro the combined
of a specific set of experiences

rhar triggered

pracrices, including

Iighring

shiva, on the anniversary,


did when they remembered

effects

an ideology of ]ewish
familiar Christian

candles at the point of dearh, during

and on rhe days of Yizkor, just as mooks


rhe dead in rheir rnonasric family.

Apart from rhe specific conditions in medieval Germany thar gen-

In the biblical view, when a person died, rhe senrient part wenr inro

erared memorial rites, rhere was an ancient]ewish

a srorage area known as Sheol, an ill-defined place. It is nor clear whar

about a relarionship

happened rhere. The Psalmisr nores, "The dead cannor praise rhe Lord,

communiries

222

Macc.

for a sin offering (12A2-43).

martyrs, and rhe rites rhat developed inrernalized

A second powerful rnotivation ro creare and ro follow rires of memo-

did some ]ews rhink thar rhe !iving could atone for the sins of rhe

soldiers who had sinned: "Therefore he made atonernent

lical injunction

Chron. ro: 1 3). The king's desperare behavior suggesrs how inef-

dead (Dan.

candle rhat lasrs all day is Iir in the home.


Traditional

cf.

fecrive such laws were and that the practice of using such mediums

set of assumptions

J ewish
the J ews

berween rhe living and rhe dead that the

in Ashkenaz accepted and nurrured more than


223

i!:

Agi!?g,Dyillt RellleJ!loeriJlg
of Muslirn lands. Alrhough

living aod rhe dead are described


rhar this pattern

tional expressions of ]udaism.

is paft of ancienr aod larer tradirhe sraying power of memorials

rhe dead even roday among adrn.rtedly


Ia contrast,

" 1-.

modern men and women.

even under Christian

rule in Spain, were relarively

by these fearures of the ]ewish

rhe forms rhar developed


originared.

for

_t -I,::t~~\

rhe ]ews of medieval Trag and Spain under Islam, and

rheir descendams,
unrouched

rhese beliefs,

in norrhern

Some of rhern did penetrare

Europe, where rhey

Rabbinic

sources do nor agret.f

1;

I
1:
(

I:

of ]ewish marryrdorn
rhe geographically

rio'ts and acts

in rhe T~hint:Li1d rhar accompanied

rhe call ro

[J\ierciful Fatherj), once again, afrer

more exrensive mass murders perperrared

an rhe

]ews of the German Ernpire ar rhe rime of rhe Black Dearh (r 348-5)

of rhe Ukrainian

in r648-49 (el malei rahamim).

Ieader Bogdan

Chrnielnirzki

I now turn ro each of che elemenrs

rhar carne ro consrirure an elaborare cult in memory of rhe dead, espe-

a person's

sins can be aroned afrer

dearh. One view holds rhar dearh irself atones, and rhere is
rher possibiliry

(ar oeed?) of aronernenr

afrer death.

ICI

00

Europe.

there of a full set of rires in memory

rhe

In the midrashic

commem

rhe Sifrei Deuarim says: "'Absolve,

Your people Israel whorn You redeemed'

(Deur,

O Lord,

r :8); 'Absolve ...

[refers ta] rhose who are dead. This indicates rhat the dead, roo, require
The idea is found in the Talmud103 and in

Midrash

Pesiqta Rabbati, in a long discussion abour how a person may be cornpared ro the rwelve signs of rhe zodiac: "Perhaps you will say that
orice arnan is plunged

inca Gehenna,

him. \\'Then mercy is besoughr

The Palesrinian
.,

.~.-c~'- . ~";";"~X

Midrash

I~

r -Jieral Practices

Tanbtona

combines

rhe midrash

in Sifrei

Deuarim and the one aIso found in Pesiqta Rabbati ro justify differenr
specific ritual practices

thar we hear about for rhe firsr rime. These


owed ro rhe

dead:

an

. Your people' [refers ro] those who are now alive; 'whorn You redeemed'
atonernenr.Y'P"

Early

are said ro enable rhe living ta reduce rhe punishmenr

of rhe dead.

norion rhar rhe living can arene for rhe sios of

the dead was also a rabbioic teachiog.

....
!

fur-

This view had

adherenrs in the Muslirn Easr and \X1est, and may hve inbibited

a verse in Deuteranomy,

Palesrine and rhendevel-

in rhe wake of rhe '1096 anri-Jewish

rhe Firsr Crusade (av ha-raharn.m

for

This Lift and tbe Afterlife

But the comrary

oped liturgically

cially in Chrisrian

developmem
~:

borh begin in earlyrnedieval

under rhe leadership

inro medieval Spain, but orh-

(Merciful Farher), an rhe Sabbarh.

I
,

remembering

a dead

dead. Custorns

pur), and, once again, afrer rhe pogroms carried out by the Cossacks

ers clid nor, such as reciting rhe prayer thar begins, "av ha-rahamirn"

rires rhar enabled a ]ew ro remember

differ-

(Yahrzeit, saying Yizkor faur rirnes a year insread of just on Yom Kip-

culc of rhe dead in aIl of

Christian

memorial

parenc or other relarive as well as rhe rnarryred

wi~h rhese references

\X1ithout acknowledging

however, it is hard ro undersra.io

enr ]ewish

in biblical aod orher ancienr: Near

Easrern rexrs, rnost people roday are unfamiliar


aod are surprised

In Palesrine and medieval Ashkenaz, these ideas genera(ed

scholars know rhar relarions between rhe

\Ve are accustomed ta recall tbe [names of tbe} dead an tbe Sabbath sa that
tbey do not retN177 ta Hell. It is wrirren in Torat Kohanim [sic; read: Si/rei}
Ion rhe verse] "Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel [whorn You
redeemed]" (Deut,

r:8)--'''Your people Israel,' are the living; 'whorn

You redeerned;' are rhe dead. From rhis we learn char the living can
redeem the dead."
Tbis is icby ue are accustomed ta mall the [/lames of the} dead an Yom

there will be no corn ing up for

Kipplir and ta giue eharify an their beha/f For we have learned in Torat

on his behalf, however, he is shor up

Kobanim [sic; read: Pesiqta Rabbati] "Perhaps chariry does nor help chem

from Gehenna as an arrow from the bow [=SagittariusJ."'C4

afrer rhey died? Learn [rhat it does, from rhe verse] 'whorn You
??~

redeerned' (ibid.). From chis [we learn} rhar when we give charity for

bering rhe dead on the Day of Aronernent.

chem, they irnrnediarely rise up [from Hell] like an arrow from a bow

basis of rhe Yizkor memorial service that for centuries rook place afrer

[of the Archere Sagitrarius], immediately [rhey] are made pure and

rhe reading of rhe Torah only an Yom Kippur. In early modem


tral and especially

[rhey] were born, pure warer is.poured on [chem] from .the pail [of .

prayers were also recired on rhe lasr day of each of the rhree major

rhe Waterbearer}."

festivals: Sukkor (Tabernacles-v-on


and Shavuor

it ",'as expanded

cen-

innocenr like rhe Kid [=Capricorn}, and become pure as on rhe day

15

easrern Europe,

This practice became the

so rhar rhe

Shemini Azerer), Pesah (Passover),

i ?",-,ceusr).

The firsr part of ehe passage in i\fidrash Tanbuma, basing itself on


in Sifre: Deuarim on Deut. 21:8, says rhar Jews ha ve ehe

a midrash

cusrom of remembering

or memioning

in public

Hazkarat Neshamot

ehe (souls of rhe)

(Re17lelllberillg tbe Sou]:

of tbe ;Uartyrs) (gedoshim)

dead on rhe Sabbath "so ehat rhey [the dead} do nor rerurn ro Hell."
U nderlying

chis teaching

ship exisrs between

is the rabbis' assurnprion

In addition

rhat a relation-

ehe Sabbaeh and ehe souls of rhe living and of

ehe dead. Thus, rhe third-cenrury

is given an "additional

The special relarionship

many. One, "av ha-rahamirn"

scul"

for rhe Sabbarh and when rhe Sabbath ends rhar soul is taken away.

marryrs

106

between rhe Sabbath and the souls of ehe

wicked who have died is made explicit in rhe Tanbuma passage where
it says rhar rhe .ouls of rhose being punished
ily reprieved

on rhe Sabbarh,

idea concerning

in Hell are temporar-

but ar the conc1usion of rhe Sabbath,

rhey rerurn rhere. This norion, in turn, is predicaeed


the punishmem

Of

in medieval

(Merciful Father), was writren

sainrs (qedoshim)

rowns. Another, beginoing

God rernember), was dedicared ro remembering


dead an rhe Lay of Atonernent.
None of these new traditional

(Mar

rhe souls of farnily

pracrices of memorializarion

con-

ar Talmud. Jews developed earlier hinrs they "found" in rradirional


....

and descends; after twelve momhs

toms and pracrices in order ro affirm rheir own ]ewish

the body ceases ro exist and rhe


ehat is, inro Hell.

for rhe

who died in 1096 in ehe Rhineland

sources when rhey imernalized

soul ascends but never descends again,'

Ger-

with rhe words "yizkor ehohirn"

"for full [rwelve rnonths] the body is in exiseence and rhe soul ascends
IC7

rhe names of

in L\fidl'asb Taubmn. rwo

necred with che dead of one's own family is clearly found in rhe Bible

on ehe rabbinic

of rhe "wicked" for rwelve monrhs:

rhe pracrice of menrioning

differenr prayers in memory of rhe dead emerged

Palestinian Amora Simeon ben/Resh

Laqish raughr rhar on Friday a livingJew

ro cominuing

rhe family dead on rhe Sabbarh, menrioned

and rneanings.

When

and transformed

As in customs of childhood

local Chrisrian

and forming

cus-

cominuiries
a new cou-

ehe living rnention the names of the dead on the Sabbath, their rerurn

ple and family, dearh toO connecrs rhe individual

ro rhe larger whole

ro Hell is delayed.l'" The practice of "menrioning

rhe dead" on the

of a]ewish

culmre.

Sabbath in rhe Tanbuma text, orherwise unartested

umil much Iarer,

the individual

underlies

what would eventually

ent rites of memioning

lead ro rhe inrroducrion

of diffei-

ehe dead in the synagogue right aher the Torah

reading on rhe Sabbarh."'?


The second rire rnenrioned

in Mid"ash Tanbuma, rhis rime based

on a passage in Afidrash Pesiqta Rabbati, anorher early medieval Palesrinian text, refers to the specific acts of giving chariry and remern226

I
I

cornmuniry

situated in a non-]ewish

to sources of rranscendenr

meanings

It also ties
that people

express in dramaric riruals and ceremonies.


The primary
mourning-av

prayers and cusroms


ha-rahamirn,

Kaddish (kaddish yarom)-all

associated

Yizkor, Yahrzeir,

with

marryrs

or

and rhe Orphari's

developed in medieval Germany

and

r
f

spread ro varying degrees to rhe resr of the Jewish world. They devel-

22.7

oped rhere because rhar is where a cult of rhe local ]ewish rnartyrs of

Aging. Dying, Remembering

Aging, Dying, Remembering


I096 emerged

as a coherent

set of pracrices

regional Jewish collective memory. The rires desigoed


the special rnartyrs

of Germany

developed

Europe inro broader mernorializarionsof

rwelfth

that became parr of a


ro remember

in central

and easrern

the dead of every Jewish

lirurgies for the Ninth of Av, the fast day that marks rhe

destruction

of borh ancienr Temples in]erusalem, new linked ro GerThe rnarryrs of I096 lefc a scar in J ewish
1096 as well,
III

about rhe various episodes accompanying

lands poinrs ro rhe reg;"n;;! origins of th~se rites

The formation

of a ]ewish

cult in memory

of rhe dead was acceler-

ated afrer a rraurnatic episode in GermanJewish


arrnies of knighrs

1C96, other knighrs

left for rhe Easr in the late summer

arracked rhe growing Jewish comrnuniries

Regensburg

ro which

00

liviog in Speyer, \X7orms,

Frankfurt

Bavaria, who were forced inro rhe Danube


mosr ] ews eirher remporarily

ro Chrisrianiry,

and baprized

suicide,

only rwice a year:

of their

Sabbath

rarher than be forcibly converred

detailed

narratives

or chronicles.

Ashkenazic

tim) wrirren in the form of dirges tqinot). Perhaps as many as rwenry-

, ','

five such lamems about rhe I096 marryrs were composed in rhe eariy

!....
,~
.
.>~~;;.

Together,

rhe Hebrew rexrs created a liturgically

collecrive rnernory of rhe very character

strucrured,

lasring

of rhe culrure of Ashkenaz.

..

,.

and

the Sabbath prior ro Tisha Be-Av and on rhe


in

if rhere is a special reason for nor remembering


av ha-rahamim

1~~:r
~,,/

in rnost

synagogues ro rhis day, It is nor recited in rnost Sefardic

and Medirerranean

synagogues, where rhe earlier cusrorn conrinued.

1t reads i [1 parc

"

i-.

The oldesr and rnost influenrial geme is the liturgical poetry (piyyu-

0[1

ple. This has remained the practice regarding

trek ro J eru-

salem and frorn three types of Hebrew sources: liturgical poems, rnernorial lisrs of rnarryrs, and unusually

lirurgy

rhe narnes of family dead

rragedy, as an Sabbaths when one blesses rhe new maon, for exarn-

are known ro us

from short passages in Latin chronicles of the Crusaders'

,!.e Sabbarh

One of

before Shavuor, when rhe ]ews of Mainz were anacked

I096. It is omitted
and conversion

enrered

cenrury.

Polish/Li thuanian rire, but in rhe synagogues of Germany ir was said

rr o

The riors and acts of rnarryrdorn

especially

on the Sabbarh, as in Midrash Tanbltma.


Called av ha-rahamim. it is st ill recited an most Sabbarhs in rhe

in

en rnasse,

in acts of ritual killiog

I096

inro the rwenrierh

replaced the earlier custorn of rernemberiug

converred or died. The arrackers killed

some Jews, as other Jews engaged


families and cornmitred

furrher sourheasr,

am Main, for exemple,

the poems wr it t en about

had Red, and

on rhe Danube. \V'ith the exceptlon of rhe ]ews ofSpeyer,

rnost of whom were saved, or of Regensburg,

rhe

in Ashkenazic Jewish practice .


. Lituruical poems were crucial in achieving rhis collective group
""
consciousoess,
which pers isted in special ways among rhe Jews of

rhe Moselle River, rhe villages

rhe Jews (J Cologoe

rires from remembering

rhe dead relarives. especially par-

ro rhe intensive cult in memory of rhe dead rhat persists

of

In rhe late spring and eariy summer, rhey

and Mainz, on the Rbine, Trier,

anthologies

ents, of every ]ewish family was a gradual process (har contributed

hisrory. Before well-

and mobs marched from France and areas of Ger-

man)' into the Rhineland.

on the lower Rhine

martyrs of I096 ro remembering

:l~ro Jewish

evenrs worrhy of being recorded

and remembered. 111


The expansion of cerrain memorial

(Merci/II! Patim)

reporrs

:h.: First Cr~lsade. Some

rraces are in narrarives that made rheir w,'y


about accountS of past significant

1096 and At, Ha-Rabamim

and Polishl

collective memory in the German Empire and in Christian

and prayers.

organized

in the German

Lithuaniao
many in

farnily, The relative absence of this cult in mernory of rhe dead among
Jews from Muslim

century. Some have remained

May the Merciful Farher, \Vho dweils on high, in His mighry


cornpassron.
Rernernber rhose loving, uprighr, and blameless ories,

Agillg, Dying, Remembering


The holy congregations,

of

sancrificarion

A-ging, D)'iJlg, Remembering


emphasizes

who laid down their lives for che

a special memorial

Swifrer (han eagles, srronger (han lions ro do rile will of rheir Masrer

Sabbath afrernoons.

rnourners

continue

ta

by having

on Monday and Thursday mornings

Sefardic Jews continue

and an

rhe practice rnentioned

ir; :~ii{:;-a.fh.Ta71h/.t7l7aand recite a prayer for rheir dead an the Sabbarh

desire of rheir Rock.

arrcr rhe Tarah is read and generally

Ma)' our God remernber chem for good wirh the orher righreous

Their practice, uninfluenced

of the world.
And render reuibution

rnartyrs,

prayer said in their memory when the Tarah is

read inthe syoagogue

nor divided;

for rhe blood of his servanrs

which has beeri

1 .
i:.'.

shed.

of ]ewish

remernber their dead forar leasr rhirry days (sheloshirn),

rhe divine Name,

\'<7ho were lovely and pleasant in rheir lives, arid in rheir dearh were;

"ne rhe

the deaths

Il}

do nor recite av ha-raharnirn.

by rhe regional events of I096, is in con-

trast ro rhar of Ashkenazic ]ews, whose memorialliturgy

was grearly

expanded in rheir wake.

.:~

It also became the cusrom in German)! ro recite annually rhe narnes


of rhe local martyrs an rhe anniversary

rnuriiry, This practice is rnainly derived from rhe Chrisrian


tic practice
arranged

of cornpiling

according

were preserved
tic

[Q

and reading

rhat preserved

in !ibri mentorialis,

"birrhday,"

meaning

lisrs of rhe dead

(memorial

AIflilorbiieher

udapted from rnonasreries

of members

necrologies,

monas-

rhe date of rheir deatb. ]ewish rnarryrs' narnes

in cornrnunal

recired

00

books), a prac-

A second prayer, wrirren in memory of farnily dead, begins wirh rhe


words, "yizkor ehohirn" (May Gad remember).

rhe dies natalis, lirerally,

rhe day rhe sainr died and was born ro eterna]

of Aronemenr,

irnrnediately

aher rhe reading of the Torah:

May Gad remember

rhe saul of my father/rnorher

a practice
'L!

northern

]ewish

] ews adopred as well an rhe anniversary

Reading
marryrs'

and denying
Alrhough

rires rhat rhey sometimes


aur rhe mernorial

turned

of rhe

dearhs was a way of affirming

any Chrisrian
av ha-rahamim,

claims.

morning

service

by rnarryrs, came ro displace


one's family dead an rhe

mourners

of a congregation

rnosr weeks the prarer


23

Abraham,

Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebekah,

wirh the souls of

Rachel, Leah, and rhe

rest of rhe righteous males and females rhat are in Paradise; and let
us say, Amen.1I5

By the earIy fifteemh cemury, remembering


extended

ro the rhree

major

fesrivals.

the dead rhis way was

Rabbi ]acob

ben Moses

(Maharil) nores: "In Austria, we do it also an three fesrivals and say

generated

but only for Ashkenazic


all members

of rhe

the truth of ]udaism

Sabbath, forms of the anciem family memorialization


\Vhereas

(O

iota a cultural

Iists an rhe anniversaries

rhe early medieval cusrom of rernembering


persisted,

candles,

These praccices reflecr rhe ]ews' clase awareness of rheir Chris-

rian neighbors'
polemic.

in the Church by lighting

who has gane

his/her erernal [rest] for rhar, 1 now solemnly offer chariry for his sake;
in reward of chis, may his saul enjoy erernallife,

The cusrom was accompanied

It is found in many

medieval prayer books and ar firsr was ro be recired only an rhe Day

the dares of rhe dearhs

life.

dead.

Yizkor

rhar rhey died in each com-

an rhe Sabbath

and for Sefardic Jews.

recite during

the Sabbath

av ha-rahamim,

which

av ha-rahamim."jj6

The expanded practice did not catch on in Ger-

rnany, where Yizkor ofren cominued

ro be recired only an Yom Kip-

pur. In easrern Europe, an rhe orher hand, faur rirnes a year became
rhe norm by the late sevemeemh

cenrury.

Around thar rime, special prayers, beginning

"el rnalei raharnim"

(O Gad, full of Mercy), were writren in memory of rnarryrs of specific


23I

i"l.glJlg, V)IJlg,

comrnunities

perperrared

who were murdered,


in rhe Ukraine

seventeenrh century,
dard for Jewish
wording,

IIi

especially

by Bogdan

Chrnielnirzki

On All Sainrs' Day and All Souls' Day, candles are lighred and spe-

in rhe mid-

cia! masses are recired for rhe dead. lighting

services,

with slighdy

memorial

candles thar

burn all day on Yom Kippur, when Yizkor was firsr said exclusive!y,

One version of chis prayer al sa beeame stan-

family memorial

depending

in rhe Cossack riots

J{Ullh'II1I;eJ'lIlg

is fim rnentioned by Rabbi Joseph ben Moses (fifreenrh-cenrury

differing

Ger-

rnany), who says, "And 1 recall that rhere is a cusrorn in Marburg

on wherher rhe prayer is recired by an officiam

ar a funeral service ar by a surviving spouse, for exarnple, ar an appro-

ro light oillamps

priare subsequem

died."110 The Yizkor memoria!

rime of rhe year. The text recired by a person such

as a canror reads:

[ro burn on] Yom Kippur for relarives who have


larnp became standard

Ashkenazic

practice from rhar poinr on and was extended ro all four days Yizkor
prayers carne ro be recired, as well as on rhe day of the anniversary,

o God,

full of merey (el malei rahamirn), who dwells on high, Gram

rhe Yahrzeit.

perfect rest benearh the wings ofYour Divine Presence, in rhe highest [places of rhe] holy and pure ones, who rad iare as brighrly as rhe
heavens, ro rhe soul of
Because tbey
bel' soa],

p/~dged

ban

In Mlfs/im Lands: Hashkavah

who has gone ro his/her eterna] horne.


(ta

giz'e)

tbe name

eb.;ril)' [OI' lIleJ1r;rJllillg

0/

bis!

may his/her rest be in Paradise. Therefore, O Lord of corn-

Remembering
'3 .

rhe dead had a differenc hisrory in rhe Muslirn East

and Spain from rhar in Chrisrian

norrhern

Europe. The geonim and

passion, shelrer hirn/her forever under rhe prorecrion ofYour wings,

Jews of Spain refer ro a form of prayer for rhe recent dead, called

and Iet his/her saul be bound up in rhe bond of life, anJ may he/she

"hashkavah"

rest in peace upon his couch; and ler us say Amen.

yeaL In ir rhey also menrion

II

(purring

Rabbi Natronai
In rhe ones recired by a surviving

spouse, for example,

rhe individ-

ro resr), thar mourners


famiIy members

Gaon srands by rhe principle

gorren afrer rwelve months'T"

recite during

and sripulares

rhe firsr

who died earlier. 12!


that "rhe dead are forat which semiannual

ual says: "Because 1 pledge chariry for his/her sake, as a reward may

assemb!y one should eu!ogize (rnaspidin) and pray for rhe rest (rnash-

his/her saul be bound up in rhe bond of life."

kivin) of rhe rabbi who has died, apparenrly

In some ways, Yizkor, also known in Hebrew as hazkarar nesharnor,


remembering

the souls, is a Je\vish equivalem

Souls' Day, celebrared


Chrisrians

Eve, ar rhe modern Halloween.

Day (Novernber

in Germany

pened in individual
Christian

r ). In the Jewish
an the anniversary
communities.

1,

preceded

The memorial

the rnartyrs of I096 resembles rhe Chrisrian


marked

2,

All
when

pray in public for the souls of all who have died. It is a

feast rhar follows All Sainrs' Day an November


Hallows'

ro rhe Chrisrian

in rhe Roman calendar on November

by AlI

prayers for

inst irution of AII Sainrs'

adaprarion,

rhe occasion

was

of the dares rhe artacks hap-

Yizkor is a cornbinarion

of borh

rires, since different Yizkor prayers are said for marryrs and

for one's own farnily."?

a reference ro rwo dif-

ferenc rites. The larter took place ar rhe end of the first year. Though
the language of rhe prayer is nor provided,
Aramaic as "ashkavra"

irs name is referred ro in

(Hebrewe hashkavah).

adds rhar if an important

Rabbi Natronai

Jew dies in Babylonia,

also

the Jews who live

in Spain or France do nor have ro take-nore of it in any way, since it


least rwe!ve rnonrhs for word ro reach rhern there.1?-3

takesar

We find referenees in doeumems

from rhe Cairo Geniza ro prayers

of praise for Jews who made contributions

ro the poor, and rhe lan-

guage of praise includes rnenrion of the names of rhe donors' relatives who have died.
Egypr

12

In one Geniza document from twelfrh-cenrury

rhere is a lisr of narnes rhat begins, "a good memorial"


tav).125 In Muslirn Spain and in the subseguem Sefardic

(dukhran

Aglllg. Dying, Remembering


culmre,

rnourners

recieed ashkavah prayers during the seven days of

shiva, rwire a day, and whenever a mourner


during

Agillg, Dymg, Remembenng

rhe firsr year aher the dearh,

and in rhe course of the blessing

126

was called ro rhe Torah

The individual

his departed

In Muslirn
rhought

vals, memioned

by Rabbi Eleazar, somerimes rakes the form of char-

irable "Yizkor appeals."I31

relatives weremen-

rioned. No special ceremony, like Yizkor in northern


for remembering

was blessed,

of the dead as well. In any case, the practice of doing rhis on fesri-

Europe, exisred

Yahrzeit

ehe souls of rhe dead in a collective way. I2i


lands, it was ,,150 nor always dear whar effecr Jews

prayer or some other way of remembering

rhe dead had on

The midrash in Tanbuma cont.uns rhe ideas that the living can arene
for rhe dead by remembering

rhern eirher an rhe Sabbarh or on Yom

rhe Jead. Thus Rabbi Hai Gaon was asked if living relarives can pay

Kippur and by giving chariry for rheir benefir. Alrhough

off a dead relarives

reachings in rhe TaImud rhat sons are ta remember

monerary debts and other sins againsr people, so

as ro reduce their punishrnenr

in the afrerlife. He writes rhat they

can and rhar a righreous person can even alleviace somewhat


ishrnenr owed for sins cornmirred

the pun-

againsr God, but no living person

affece rheir tare in rhe afrerlife, rhe insrirurion

there are

of memorialization

of

the dead in rhe form of Yahrzeir builr on an ancienr norion and an


early medieval one. The ancienr text was the reaching rhar a student

can add ro ehe reward a dead person will receive. Thar is derermined

ar child was supposed ta fast an rhe anni versary of rhe dearh of a teacher

solely by rheir merirorious

ar parem. In ehe Talmud, one rook an oath not ro eac rnear ar drink

(Barcelona),

behavior while alive.

however, Rabbi Abraham

128

In Christian Spain

bar Hiyya (d. ca. II36) wrore

rhar rhe living who give chariry can affeer rhe punishmem
deserved by rerurning

the dead

whar the dead had srolen or by couming

amounr of Torah rhey raugi.r.

rhe

12

Even in early rhirreenrh-century


Judah of Worms seems ro srruggle

Rabbi

Eleazar ben

with why giving chariry for the

dead is effecrive and why it is done only on the Day of Aronemem


arid nor on the festivals, perhaps a sign rhar some Jews wanted
curtail the practice,

wine on the anniversary


day So and

50 died, or an rbe da}' rhar Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, was


[from earing}."'3'

nor genera te any cominuous

in ies desrrucrion,

annual rite rhar lasred.

Perhaps no aspecr of ]ewish

idemiey brings Jews inro rhe syna-

gogue of their yourh more rhan rhe annual date memorializing


ro

he is

But, as far as we can tell, that text did

rhe

death of one's parenr, the Yahrzeir. The reciration of rhe rnourner's

ro expand it ro four tirnes

Kaddish in memory of rhe dead relarive moves some ]ews during rheir

a year: "The reason we donate chariry for rhe [benefic of rhe] dead on

eleven-rnonrh mourning cyele for a parent ro arrange rheir busy sched-

Yom Kippur

while orhers wamed

of "rhe day rhar my faeher died, or on rhe

killed, or on ehe day rhat I . :~VJerusalem


prohibired

Germany,

and net on rhe fesrivals has scriptural

support.

...

But

ules as lawyers ar businesspeople

or physicians

around synagogues

whar good is it ro rhe dead when rhe living give chariry? God exam-

mornings and late afrernoons. People are nearly obsessed wirh rhe daily

ines the rnotives of the living and the dead. If rhat dead person, while

thoughr:

he was alive, used ro give chariry or if he was poor but had a good

required ro say rhe prayer ar a Jewish service.

heart and would have given had he had the means ro do sa, then he

can 1 nnd a minyan for Kaddish,

It is srill a cusrorn for a person marking

rhe guorum

of ten Jews

what carne ta be caUed a

derives a Iirrle benefir because the living can ask [God] ro lighren

Yahrzeit for a parent's

his semence. "'3Rabbi

candle is lighred at home, and the person who has a religious obli-

Eleazar seems ro resisr the earlier assumption

that the living can ameliorare

rhe fare of the dead sirnply by giving

chari ty, For him, rhere must also be a relarionship


234

ro rhe characrer

the parencs and

day of death ta fast. In addition,

gation that day (hin/It') may either lead services or,

an all-day

if rhe Tarah is

read, receive an 'aliyah. The hisrorical context that generared or rein235

Agillg, Dying. RellltJllberillg

Aging, Dying, Rcmembering


forced rhese cusrorns emerged in medieval

Germany,

dish and leadiog rhe prayers in the synagogue.

nor in Talmu-

a long-burning

dic tirnes. This practice was already going ori rhere in the thirreemh

Ar home, one lighrs

136

candle, preferably of wax.

cemury, as artesred by Sefer Hasidim, which refers ro cases when a person should nor rake on a privarefasr

when a rown is besieged, when

Kaddisb as 0lpban's Prayer of MOllmillg

the midwife is called for, or when a person rakes care of an aged morher
or farher or a sick person relies

8:' ;~i:11,but

for rhe dead

became a major concern of CLU~C:l leaders, as the powerful

died."I33

wealrhy ordered multiples

accompanying

in fourreenrh-cenrury

German

rhe fifry years of turbulence

Dearh in 1348-50, a new diffusion


rnartyrs of Germany

was transferred

ro remembering

norion of rhe dearh of Moses

Of)

tic,;

of remembering

the

date of their dearh, Jews began to

refer ro thar anniversary by rhe same name, Yahrzeir. Rabbi Moses ben
Isaac Minrz (ca. I420-?), a German Talmudisr,

ta say

and end of every daily and holiday mornservices, a

refleerion of the similar motive ca say it in order ta help or honor

also was the rabbinic

banquer in rhe evening.


rerminology

for a mourner

ing service and ar rhe end of rhe afrernoon arid eveoing

annually one's

became the date for hena qadisha socieries ro fast and (hen hold a

souls of rhe dead annually on

Kaddish: ar the beginning

of rhe

the 7th of Adar. This anniversary

Following rhe German-Chrisrian

of rnasses ro ass ist rhe dead in purgarory,

ish lirurgy roday also offers rnany opporruniries

in the Black

of rhe memorialization

and

a concept rhar developed especially in rhe rwelfth cenrury, The Jew-

riors and massacres

culrninaring

own family who died. Among such precedems

t
...

the dead.
How did chis al! get srarred? The earl iest refereoces
practice was ro be followed is traditionally
usually
Akiva.

abour
'37

rhe great

second-cenrury

grounded

rhar such a

in a srory rold,

Palestinian

sage Rabbi

The accounr is found, ~!rexarn plc, in Mab:or Vitry. rbough

it is preserved in early medieval rexts in many versions.


of the srory is that Rabbi Akiva rnet a person walking

refers ro "yahr zeit,"

1:.8

The core

in a cernerery,

in two words, in rhe context of what ro do when people with differ-

carrying a beavy load of wood, and offered ca help him. The person

em kinds of mourning sraruses each wanr to recite rhe rnourner's Kad-

reveals rhar he is dead and is being punished

dish or lead the services ar rhe same rime. One person is sirrinzD shiva
anorher is in rhe firsr momh of mourning,

been a merciless tax collector when alive. The only way he can be
saved, he tells Rabbi Akiva, would be if he had a son who could srand

and a third is observing

rhe "rwelve rnonrhs" anniversary. Mintz says [har the rnan sirting shiva

up in the congregation

should have prioriry ro say rnourner's

who is blessed" (barekhu er YHWH

Kaddish

for rhe sin of having

'

the whole week, even

congregation

if during rhar week "falls the anniversary of the dearh of anorher rnan's

[as prayer leader} and say, "Blessed be rhe Lord,


ha-rnevorakh),

afrer which rhe

would respond afrer him, "May His great

name be

la,nguage is called 'yahr zeit"

blessed" (yehei shernei rabbah mevorakh). Then he would be released

This practice is recorded as common when Rabbi J acob ben Moses

ar once from his punishmem.


Rabbi Akiva inquires into rhe dead rnari's family and discovers

rnorher or farher, which in rhe German


(two words).'34

Ha-Levi (Maharil) ruled furrher in Mainz thar "one fasts for the anni-

thar his wife, who had beeri pregnant

versary of one's father's or mother's dearh, nor rhe day of rhe burial."

son. And rhough the son had nor been circumcised

This suggesrs

that rhe cusrorn was nor consisrenrly

in his rime. The anniversary

Ages, che mull;I~Lt:~,clon of masses

rnuniry or "fast as a person is accusrorned ro fast on the day one's farher


Reinforced

In rhe Middle

he can fast with rhe corn-

135

being followed

became a day of saying rnourner's

Kad-

ticeJudaism,

when he died, did deliver

and did nor prac-

Rabbi Akiva saw ro it rhar rhe son rerurned ta Judaism,

studied Torah, and "srood before rhe congregation

and said 'Blessed'

Agillg. Dying, Remcmbering


(barekhu)

and was answered,

At rhar very moment,

ciudes rhe narrator

by orphans ta ameliorare

ro Rabbi Akiva in a dream ro rhank

for "saving me fram my punishrnent


in the rwelfrh-cenrury

in Gehenna."

developed

And, con-

norrhern.French

liturgi-

their dead parenrs' suffering,

into rhe rnost well known prarer

wirh cerernonies

ar

connected

the Kaddish

associated

in Judaism

wirh memory of rhe dead, nor just by

minor orphans, but by any mourner, Heoce, rhe mourner's

Vi!ry: "Thar is why people were accusromed

cal compilation\L<;:ni'

Kaddish"

the end of the service. Although barekhu was rhe earlier prayer recited

rhe farher was released from his punishrnenr.

The dead person appeared


hi~

Sabbarh evening service or ta his reciting rhe "orphan's

'Blessed be the Lord, who is blessed."

Kaddish.

ro set before rhe A lk [as Ieader of prayers] an the night afrer rhe Sab-

The word "}-"_clU;sh"means "sanctified" and is wrirren rnainly in

barh a rnan who has no father ar rnorher tO say 'blessed (barekhu) or

Aramaic, wirh some Hebrew, and comains no reference ro rhe dead,

KadJish.'l.W

though its earlier part, as we have seen, was associared with amelio-

In addition

ro basing itself an rhe principle

are the punishrnenra


atter rhe conclusion

of the Sabbarh. In particular,

rhar begins wirh rhe word "barekhu"

(bless) or the "Kaddish"

tO have rhis effecL This practice included


young boy (nor yer rhirreen)
ro ]ewish

rhe recruitmem

is said

even of a

tO lead chis service. In part, chis was


rradirion

rhe evening service (rna'ariv)

was optional (re hur) as a public service.


ary in northern

the opening prarer

BU[

it also became custom-

Lurope, at Ieasr, because of rhe stOr)' about Akiva and

the power ascribed ro the orphan reciring eirher barekhu or Kaddish


prarer as a way ro help offset rhe parenr's punishrnent
Although

in Hell.

rhis special Sabbarh nighr barekhu prayer was associ-

ared with orphans since early medieval tirnes as a way tO ameliorare


rheir dead parenrs' sins, rhe Kaddish prayer became an introduction
ro the barekhu.
distinct,

Ar some poinr, rhe rwo prayers separared inro rwo

independent

undersrood

liturgical

as an inrroducrion

units. The Kaddish


ro the barekhu

was no longer

thing, but as rhe conclusion

II
1

tO some-

ancienr, Ashkenazic, and Sefardic versions and funcrions in rhree pridish de-rabbanan, or scholars' Kaddish); (2) it marks rransirions during
seccions of rhe prayer services, such as before and afrer rhe Shernoneh
Esreh, whicb is the required pIarer of each service; and (3) it carne
ro be recired as rhe prayer of mourners,

rhe Kaddish yatam.

The original line of rhe Kaddish is rhe sborr ancient prayer rhar
probably goes l-.,ck ro rhe days of rhe Temple, before 70

C.E.:

"May

His great narne be blessed for ever and ever" (yehei shemei

rabba

rnevorakh Ie-lolam u-l='olemei 'alrnaya). According


Decarim an Deureronorny,

ro midrash Sifrei

thar line was ro be brokeri inro two parrs

and recired enrirely in Hebrew as an anriphonal

ar responsive

read-

ing berween rhe reader and orhers: "We say, 'May His great Name be
blessed' (yehi shemo ha-gadol rnevorakh), and rhis is ro be followed
by the refrain, 'for ever arid ever' (Ie-lolam u-le-lolemei

'01amim):'141

of what developed inro the Kaddish echoes bib-

Gad be blessed for ever and ever'' (lehevei shemei di-elaha mevarakh
min-ialma ve-Iad 'alrna) (Dan. 2:20) and rhe Hebrew verses "Let the
name of the Lord be blessed now and forever" (yehi sbem YHWH

ro be associared wirh leading rhe prayers an

cial funcrion rhar an orphari's reciring rhe Kaddish-barekhu

It exisrs in

mary ways: (r) it is recired afrer one srudies c1assical ]ewish rexrs (kad-

This origioalline

the opening of the evening service,

Sabbath night well inro early modern times. Simulraneously,

I.jO

lical verses, especially the Aramaic verse in Daniel: '''Ler rhe Name of

of the prayers that preceded it, as today,

The barekhu prayer remained


and orphans continued

prayer and instead

acquired rhe new function of serving, nor as an in.troduction

of the dead in rhe afrerlife. It is a prayer abour

rhe sancriry of God and hopes for Israels redernprion.

farher is suffering in rhe afrerlife, rhe srory indi-

cares rhar rhe rernedy is for an orphan ta lead the evening services

because according

rating rhe punishrnent

thar a son can allevi-

mevorakh mei-arah

rhe spe-

ve-Iad 'olarn) (Ps. II3:2), and '''blessed

name of the Lord" (yehi sheim YHWH

together

rnevorakh) (]ob

These rnorifs are also retlecred in rhe beginning

had enjoyed carne ta be arrached eirher ro an orphan leading rhe post-

239

be rhe

1:2 r ).

of the "Lords

1 '

1
/fgillg, Dying,

Reil/elllDering

Prayer," which begins, "Our Farher who is in heaven, hallowed [i.e.,

By geonic rirnes, ten adult males (rninyan) are necessary for someone

blessed} be Your narne" (Marr. 6:9; cf. Luke II :2). In rhe Gospel of

ro recite it publicly in the synagogue.l+'

Luke, rhe canricle known as rhe Magnificat begins:

.My soul magnifies

tbe Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for the Mighty

Even though

rhere are anciem and medieval

elemems

of saying

some Kaddish text in the lirurgy, the evenrs of 1096 greacly.imensified

One has done great things for me, and boly is His name'" (1 A6-49),

chis, ac least in the German Empire. That culc of the rnarryrs of 1096

Th"" 'vas rhe base text of rhe prayer ro be said for rhe benefic of
rhe elead in the Talmud. Rabbi Joslma ben Levi (rhird-cenrury Pales-

evenrually

tine) claimed rhat rhis short prayer had cosmic powers: "Rabbi Joshua
ben Levi said: He who responds 'Arnen. May His great Name be blessed'
wirh a11his rnighr, rhe senrence decreed for his [sins} is annulled,
it is said, '\Xlhen rerriburion
icate tbemselves-bless
rerriburion

rhe Lord' (J udg. 5 :2). [The verse rneans that]

[was] annulled

because rhey blessed rhe Lord, rhat is, by

saying rhe formula, 'Arnen. May his great name be blessed.


Originally,

as

was annulled in Israel, when people ded-

..q2

Aramaic homily in rhe house of srudy; it was

or elaborared

for the firsr time in rhe Mah:ar

cenrury,

and rhe Maharil wrore that it was permissible

blessed]'

[which is said] afrer srudying

persisrs as rhe "kaddish de-rabbanan"

ro exist: "How can

Exrending

the end of rhe Sabbarh,

pronunciarion

aggadah,"143 This function

YAHRZEIT

(lirerally, Kaddish for aur rab-

AND

KADDISH

is illusrrared

as part of every daily service in

rhe rnorning.
the ancient

pious
formula.

ro rhe prayer was added ro lead up ro

It begins:

will I manifest My greatness

"May his great name be magnified


shernei rabba), based on, "Thus

and holiness"

(ve-nirgadalti

ve-nirqa-

dashri) (Ezek. 38:23) and "his name is holy arid awesorne" (qadosh
ve-nora shemo) (Ps. III:9).
Only in the pOSt- Talmudic i\1asekhet Soferim, on rhe limrgy, do we
service, as opposed ro rhe smdy hall.

rhe context of synagogue

as Rabbi

is parc of the

re is rnentioned

in

prayer, but it is nor a prayer for mourners.

OBLIGA

ro say Kaddish.

TIONS
An extreme case

wirh Glueckl of Harneln's Memairs. She rells us how her

businessman

husband

acred when

"Straighr afrer the seven days of mourning

her farher-in-Iaw
he engaged

died:

ten Talmud

scholars, and firred up a room in our house where services were held;
and he devored his days and nighrs ro rhe Torah. He gave up his business travels rhroughout
miss a single kaddish.
For parenrs,

hear for rhe first tirne rhar a prayer called "Kaddish"


synagogue

of the word barekhu,

'May his grear name [be

Jews made a point of remembering

and sancrified" (yitgadal ve-yirkadash

afrer which

Jews in Ashkenaz believed rhar rhe souls of the dead rerurned ro Hell,

bis), and it srill is recired aher Jews recite or srudy a secrion of rab-

inrroducrion

for someone who was

rhar rhe earlier practice was srill a live option rhar

he had ro oppose.':"

binic reaching, rnost prorninenrly,


The Hebrew

or
l.j5

nor an orphan ro lead rhe Sabbarh nighr services and say Kaddish,

Eleazar of \X'orms nored.':"

[in the response]

Vi:,.y rhe cusrorn of an orphan leadKaddish

rerrcd

...

we find

ing the evening prayers afrer rhe Sabbarh and reciring

involved prolonged

afrer a srudy session, rhe worId conrinues

cult of rernem-

barekhu. It srill was nor accepred cusrorn in the fourreenrh

nor a synagogue prayer ar alI. The power of rhis line is such that when
rhe world endure?

rhe widespread

As we have seen, in rhe first halE of the rwelfrh cemury

again, indicaring

the Kaddish was a shorr Aramaic prayer rhar scholars

recired aher a public

generared

beri::~~ riie dead of every bousehold.

rhe whole rear of mourning,

in order nor ro

"148

mourned

for an entire rwelve monrhs,

Kaddish

recired only for eleven.t+? Rabbi Jacob ben Moses (Maharil)

is

attrib-

utes it ro rhe influence of rhe Mishnaic rule thar the wicked will spend
twelve rnonths in Hell. He also points out that in the Rhineland,
mourners

wore a special poncho-like

hooded

mourning

garment

.1ging, D) IIlg.

Aging, Dying, Remembering

Kellltlll(Xl'wg

known as a mitaron for the full rwelve rnonths for parents and thirtv

wirh srnall lighrs rhar are lir on the Yahrzeir. Tornbsrones wearher,

days for orher close relatives for whom one mourns.

synagogues are sold or dismanded,

I50

One sign ofhow recent were different rites of memorialization


in late medieval
in the synagogue

Gerrnany

is a quesrion

of a cornmuniry

even

mourners

of different

or sheloshim,
Kaddish

responsum

about rhe comperirion

parems areburied.

dish that is recited ourside rhe enrrance

and rhe mourners

ta rhe synagogue,

ularly. One such norice reads: "W!e are updating

Kad-

file. In order thar we may accornmodare

a dis tine-

At firsr he seems ro follow the Talmudic

information

rule that would permit

members

whoever gers rhere firsr ro be able ro recite rhe Kaddish ourside, but

of rhe discussion

[Q

a few days prior ro rhe date, and Jews

che Torah an rhe Sabbarh prior ro the day during the

following week.

is ta be able ro recite it. Priority goes ta rhose

sirring shiva, lf tWO men have rhe same srarus, they draw lors. The
cornplexiry

A Reform temple sends out ro members rerninder cards rhat have


1

a brief descriprion:

suggeses rhar rhere was a grear deal of

tension over who should get precedence.'>'


Eventually, the rabbis ruled that everyone with an obligarion should
be accornrnodared:

those saying Kaddish

should do so rogerher, rhe

The Kaddish, known as "The Orphan's Prayer," is one of rhe oldesr


and rnost high1y cherished prayers of Israel, While originally used in

present practice. Those who lead rhe services are accommodated

dur-

Synagogue and Schoo1as a praise of Gad, it has come ro be associared

ing rhe week in rheir homes, if possible, and on rhe Sabbath,

it was

through rhe cenruries with rhe memory of our beloved dead ... The

nor a problem since mourning

is nor appropriare

for the Sabbath, and

Memorial Kaddish will be read in remembrance of (narne) during rhe


Sabbarh Services an Friday evening, (date) ar

so, someone sirring shiva did nor need a special honor that day, Those
who were marking

rhe anniversary,

morning ar

or Yahrzeir, however, were enri-

8:30 P.M.

and Sarurday

II:OO .-\.M.154

ded ro be ca11ed ro rhe Tarah or ro lead services, and if more rhan one
had such a religious

obligation

(hiyyuv),

rhe spoils were divided

(evening, morning, addirional, afternoon) on the Sabbarh, and so on. '52


The rite of remembering
generation.

The mourning

can, but need not, continue


by grandchildren

the memory of earlier generations

oped rhe cusrorn of erecting

memorial

ro rhe third

is discussed, and sorne

prayer books have formulas ro include grandparenrs


To perpetuare

._}

you with a norice on the

below and send ro rhe Shul office."'53 Synagogues send

regulat reminders

are called up

he decides thar a set of rules of precedence will determine

which of rhe mourners

our Yuhrzeit [sic}

anniversary of the dearh of your loved one, can you please fill out the

rion rhar no Ionger exisrs.

evenrually

who were nor

Synagogues keep records of rhe Yahrzeit file rhar are updated reg-

rhe Yahrzeit. He also refers ro a rnourner's

rhat is said inside rhe synagogue

Despire rhe elaborare cusrorns and rires rhar accom-

rnarryrs.

srarus: natives or visirors; rhose sirring shiva,

or marking

may nor even know where grand-

pany dearh, rhere are limirs ro memory of individuals

among

Families pal'

care" of a parenr's grave, bur children

rhernselves die, and grandchildren

is rhere ar

rhe sarne rime. The rensions over rival claims are alluded ta in Rabbi
Moses ben Isaac Mintz's

rhat no longer exists may be seraside.

rernereries for the "perpetual

about who gers precedence

when more than one kind of rnourner

and wirh rhem memorial plaques

in Yizkor prayers.
synagogues

devel-

plaques inside the synagogue

I
I,

A Conservative

synagogue

sends out a norice as follows about a

rnorirh in advance of rhe date:


Dear ---,

We wish ro inform you rhat yahrzeir for your beloved

farher (narned) will begin on Thursday evening, (date). Evening services begin ar

):30

PM

and rnorning services commence at

We hope that rau can be presem.


243

7:00 AM.

..

l
l
L

l
t
l
l

. -....
')" "c ' ~ -" ........

In addition, the giving of Tzedakah (chariry) ro a worthy Jewish

for rhe service and selecr a coffin. Tradirionally,

this is a simple pine

cause, and lighring a yahrzeit candle at home, are traditional ways of

box. A family mernber calls rhe local newspaper

of record arid places

memorializing our loved ones. Sincerely, (narne) Assistanr Canror,

an obiruary [hac indicares when rhe funeral will rake place. The cernetery is called, rhe ownership of rhe plat verified, and the arrangemems

A MODERN

made for the grave ro be du~ an the day of the funeral.

ORTHODOx/TRADITIONAL

FUNERAL

AND

The funeral is planned as cjuickly as possible. The family will talk

BURIAL

ro the c!Jbi

:lDJ

indicare some special memories

rhey would like him

The family gachers around rhe dying loved one eirher in rhe hospi-

tO include in his remarks or indicare char one or more family mern-

cal or hospice or, as in chis case, ar home. The first rhing is ro call rhe

bers will also be speaking.

rabbi, who will come over and help wirh rhe arrangemenrs.
may ask if rhe family wams ro have a traditional

In rhe Uniced Srares, rhere may be a delay for relarives ro Hy in

The rabbi

funeral. If so, he

from far away, but rime is important.

The funeral rakes place usu-

arid guard-

ally in a funeral chapel, though somecimes in a synagogue. The coffin

ing of rhe body before the funeral, arid he \ViU also call rhe funeral

has been broughr inca the chapel and is draped in a black cloth. The

a family member, as necessary, lf one is aware

narne of the hevra qadisha may be rnarked an it in a decorarive ernbroi-

wil! call rhe hevra qadisha ro arrange for rhe purificacion


director and introduce

of ]ewish cusroms, a family member


an the ground,

doses the eyes, places rhe body

places a lighred candle near rhe head, and opens rhe

windows even before the burial sociery member


The rabbi may also call rhe poli ce deparrmenr

comes over.

holim de-borolugh]

dery such as "hevra qadisha de-hevrar

biqqur

park," one of many such organizarions

just in Brooklyn,

New York,

roday. A candle is lighred arid a member of rhe hevra qadisha is nearby

and indicare rhar

reciting Psalms.
The :.lmily members

he knows rhe farnily and rhat rhey are at such and such an address.

arrive from their houses by lirnousine

arid

\\7hen rhe police come and rake a look, a release is signed rhar per-

are seared in a wairing room ro be greeted

rnirs rhe body ro be removed from the premises

rime ro see rhern before the funeral service. Guesrs sign a book indi-

medical exarniner's

wirhour

(shemirah)

vice. The family members

are seared and

are greeted by rhose who come by.


Ar some poinr, rhe funeral director indicates rhat ali but the rnourn-

(taharah)

that will take place before the funeral ser-

ers and rheir families should rake rheir seats in the chapel, and rhe

check ro see rhar rhey have the deed ro rhe

moumers

burial plat ar make arrangemems


requiring

by guesrs who arrive in

cat ing rhey were rhere ro pay rheir respeers. Mourners


from rhe funeral hali comes over

and removes rhe body ca begin rhe process of purificarion


and guarding

need for a

auwpsy.

The hevra qadisha ar someone

for burial in Israel, a cornplication

plane rickets and international

The details of washing and dressing

155

(qeriyah), Approaching

calls.
who are rrained ro do chis

a. garment

of rhe mourners

each rnourner in turn, rhe rabbi begins a tear

wirh a razor eirher on an indicated

rhe body are done with pre-

cision and respect by a group of volunreers

remain behind wirh the rabbi. In rnosr funerals roday, the

rabbi presides over rhe rire of rearing

garmenr

such as a tie or lapel ar

an a specially arrached black ribbon, and rhe rnourner conrinues

work. After rhe body is dressed, it is guarded by members of rhe hevra

qadisha who are ever present arid recite Psalms round the dock umil

God's jusrice recired afrer hearing abour a dearh, "Blessed are You , ..

1'

the funeral. A special candle is lighred as well near the body.

]udge of trurh."

f:

then, rhey say rhe blessing

rhe

rear by hirn- or herself. Togerher,

over

The mourners are led inro rhe chapel and rake sears in the first

The family members speak ro rhe funeral hall and arrange the rime

245

Aging, Dying, Remembering

Aging, Dying, Remembering

row, dosesr ta rhe body. Except for rhe funerals of his own parents,

help guide rhe body, placed an a movable bier on wheels, out rhe

a Jew who is a Kohen may nor be presem where the body is in rhe

door of the chapel towards rhe hearse. Mourners

same enclosed space, eirher ar the funeral or ar the cernetery. When

rice rhe rradirion of accompanying

the mourners

service, usually rhe family rabbi, begins by reci-ring one or rwo traPsalms rhat menrion

rwenry-rhird

I
I
I
I
I

rhe fragiliry of life. Many consider rhe

Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd," ta be rhe rnost appro-

priate. Others also read any number of other Psalms ta evoke rhe mood
of solernniry

and the impermanence

~'.

"

ro lead

rhe cars gojng ta rhe funeral.

.. ,

Those who wish ta foIlow rhe tradirion,


waik again behind rhe body, sropping

arrive at rhe cernetery and

seven tirnes, ro recite differ-

ent Psalms, before reaching rhe grave sire rhar has been prepared

by

the grave diggers employed by rhe cemetery.


As people crawd around rhe newly dug burial plat, the coffin is

of life.

In rhe past, it was the practice of just the rabbi ro make a eulogy
about rhe deceased based on firschand knowledge

rhe body may go outside and fol-

low the hearse on foor for a while as ir moves inro posirion

emer, rhe guesrs all stand up.

Then everybody is seared, and the person presiding over rhe funeral
ditional

who wish ro prac-

and nores gone over

already lowered inro rhe grave and rhe burial service begins. The rabbi
ar whoever is presiding reads anorher Psalm and rhe mourners

reci re

wirh surviving family members. More recemly, it has become accepred

rogerher eirher rhe special burial Kaddish or rhe usual Kaddish prayer,

for family

depending

members,

sornetirnes

one from each surviving

genera-

rion, ro make such remarks of a more personal kind as well. In some

appropriate,

of rhese cornrnenrs,

rnourner's

individuals

describe the biographical

rnay recall personal

experiences

or

derails of an aged rnorher or grandmother

Toward rhe end of rhe service, a cantor or rhe rabbi or a relarive


cenrury, el mal

written

somerirne

in the sevemeemh

ei rahamim (God, Full of Mercy) and invokes God's

blessing an rhe soul of rhe deparred family member,


memioned

rnany traditional
Kaddish,

is

families prefer ro recire the standard

but others insist on saying the burial Kaddish

when ir is perrnirted. The memorial prayer is recited once again, naming rhe deceased.

and what rheir life meanr ta rhem.


chanrs the mernorialprayer,

on rhe rime of rhe year. Even when rhe burial Kaddish

whose name is

in rhe prayer. The Kaddish prayer usually is nor recired

Ar rhis poinr, rnourners and orher family members and friends rake
turns shoveling dire over the coffin umil it is cornplerely
This practice has become more popular
before, just as family participation

covered.

in the past few years than

in the funeral service has. It is con-

sidered bad luck for one person ro hand rhe shovel ro rhe nexr, and
so as each finishes shoveling some dirt on rhe grave, he ar she puts

ar rhe funeral service.


The person presiding

over the funeral then announces

when and

where rhe burial will rake place and rhar those who are going ta rhe
cernerery should form a cortege behind rhe hearse wirh rheir headIighrs ono This is a modern version of the anciem rorch-Iighred

funeral

rhe shovel into the ground and the next person rakes it up anew umil
enough has been shoveled.
The service ends and people step back frorn rhe grave ta form two
parallellines

facing each other, In between these two lines, the rnourn-

procession to rhe cernetery. He also announces where family members

ers walk, and those present console them with the formula of conso-

will be sirring shiva. Sornerirnes rhis is in more (han one locarion or

lation: "May you be comforted

for differem

Zion and jerusalem,'

numbers

of days, depending

an where survivors live.

The body is then moved our of the funeral chapel and placed inro
the hearse. Sornetirnes

grandchildren

are honored as pallbearers

and

among the rest of the mourners

the same message of consolation

when rhey leave rhe house of mourning


shiva that are about ro begin!56

247

of

rhey will use

during rhe seven days of the

Aging, Dying, Remembering


UNVEILING:

A .MODERN

CUSTOM

The name comes from rhe modern cusrorn of covering


just prior ro a .brief cerernony ar which someone
porary covering or veil and reads the inscription

a rombseone

removes rhe ternfor the firsr rime ro

family arid friends of the deceased who gather for rhis purpose around
rhe grave-ade.

The cusrorn has no Jewish sources,

Apparenrly,

it is

derived Eram the widely praericed cusrorn all over the world ro dedicate

J.

new work of sculprure

covering it and then unveiling


has been taken inro Judaism
In the United

ar a commemorarive

plaque

it ar a special ceremony.

This cusrorn

Srares, rhe erection

of a Euneral monument,
is dane abour

ofren ar rhe end of rhirry

as soon

days, rhe end of mouming

for

sornerirnes even earl ier.

No prescribed
narions

wirh

a year afrer rhe

buriaL In Israel, it is common ro pur up rhe stane monument


all but parenrs,

ceremony

invenred

combi-

Some say rhe Kaddish,

"for

rhe lasr rir.ie"; orhers do nor, since it may nor be rhe end of rhe rnourning period (e.g., for a parent in Israel, afrer rhirry days). In some ways,
brings a measure of "closure" ta rhe period of mourn-

in"o' ar leasr in rhe Unired Srares, though the strict mouming

period

may have beeri over for rnonths if rhe deceased is a relative other rhan
aparent.

That is why the general pracrice in Israel, ro have the mon-

ument erecred by rhe end of sheloshim,

makes lirurgical

sense even

for a parent, but this has nor caughr on in rnost Jewish comrnunities
outside of Israel.

As 11'ebate sem. tbe] eus baue dereloped a ri(h rariety of lift cycle cerenionies.
The ]ewish life cyde conrains

exisrs except recenrly

of Psalrns and words of memorial.

rhe unveiling

Conclusions

in modern tirnes.

the name and dares of the deceased,


as possible,

by first

powerful rires rhar have shaped ]e\v-

ish lived experience for centuries and been modified by it. Some, like
infanr rr.i.le circumcision,
and augrnenred

began in biblical rirnes and were renewed

over rnillennia of ]ewish living. Orhers, like the rire

of bar rnitzvah for a rhirreen-year-old


parion drew

00

earlier precedenrs

boy's onser of ritual parti ci-

but carne into irs own only in early

modern tirnes in central Europe and enjoyed elose ro universal practice only within the last rwo hundred years, surprising

be. \'Veddings and funerals build an biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and


modern reinrerprerarions

of gestures and rerrns and vary from Jew-

ish cornmuniry

ta cornrnuniry,

ognizably]ewish

everywhere.

Alrhough

rhough rbe ourlines of borh are rec-

each life cyele rire has irs own characterisric

some idioms are common

[Q

erare rhe cusrorn of making


rhan one important
rhe newborn

the

rrom danger helped gen-

cireles around the parricipanrs

in more

life cyele rite of passage. A circle is drawn around

boy berween the birrh arid rhe brir; rhe bride circles

three or severi rirnes around

."

vocabulary,

more (han one rire. For example,

belief thar a cirele prorecrs the vulnerable

as rhat may

the groom; and rhe burial sociery or


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..

estival Days
A Historyof
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Ilegend, this river - thought ta be located in Media - was a persistent


barrier to the return of'the lost Ten Tribes'. The river 's special quality,
as indicated by its original name Sabbatyon (the Sabbath stream), was
that it 'rested' an the Sabbath. During the week it flowed too fiercely ta
make any crossing possible. On the 'Sabbath, when it was still, a
.crossing was prohibited because travel beyond a certain distance on the
Sabbath was forbidden by Sabbath law.
':-.
The Ionging among alI J ews for a retum to Zion fed this legend
imrneasurably. It grew during the Middle Ages with accounts given by
many travellers and adventurers, who claimed to have authentic
evidence of the river's existence and of the nature of the J ewish people
settled beyond it, longing for their exile ta be brought ro an end. AII the
stories, and the quasi-messianic adventures that sometimes ftowed
from them, had a lively reference to the role of the river in ultimately
allowing the lost tribes to retum to the community ofIsrael. It is not
far-fetched to see a contemporary resoiution of this ancient legend in
the immigration into the new State ofIsrael of many 'lost' J ews from the
East, living until then in the distant stretches of land beyond the
Sambaiyon.

fi

66

-----------------c-~~-----------------

The Overall Festive Calendar


.
,
,:
~
.
PESACH

~
"

(PASSOVER)

. very festival, as we shalI see, has an individual character that gives it


own validity, yet there is a sense in which, as a key ta J ewish identity,
assover outweighs all the others. The deliverance from slavery in
pt that is celebrated at Passover has always been more than an
portant moment in history; it is the fuIcrum around which theJ ewish
ople has always identified its independence and pride. Ifthejollity at
sover is matched in other festivals, nothing ever measures up ta the
. tarie sense of peoplehood that took shape, under the Jeadership of
oses, during the long, formative years of wandering in the
'ildemess.
The matchless account of this in the Bible has always been rooted
eep inJewish consciousness. The symbol is the statement in the recital
the Haggadali at the eder ceremony on Passover Eve that 'in every
eration every Jew must feel as ifhe himself carne out of Egypt'. It
a feeling that takes astonishingly realistic form, given that the
mentous event it commemorates took place well over 3,000 years
o. The endurance of the feeling becomes understandable
because
uaIly every statement on jewish existence through these millennia
harked back to the Exodus.
The Haggadah itself brings this out by picking lip for exposition the
arkable affirmation set out in four verses of Deuteronomy (26:5-8) in
ich pilgrims ta Jerusalem declared their faith. The story, engraved
ever in J ewish consciousness, leads from the patriarchs ta the
erience of slavery, ending triumphantly with deliverance: 'Arid the

67

Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched 't,
arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders.'
This overwhelming rationale for the celebration ofPassover has been strong enough throughou t the millennia of] ewish history to harmonize ~
all the otherwise divergent facets of the celebration. With bated breath
Jews have relived 'in every generation' the dramas of the Bible story.)
and recreated in the Passover cerernonies an exact echo ofincidents and;
commands through which Moses finally engineered the breakthrough.J
At the heart of the Bible story was the roasting by every family of a iamb ~
to 'be eaten entirely during the night. Blood from the Iamb was to be
smeared on the doorpost of every home to ward off 'the slaying of the l
first-born', the tenth piague on the Egyptians which proved decisive in 'persuading Pharaoh to lei: the Israelites go. We are told that because of
the haste in which the escape was carried out, the bread far the meal','
was baked without yeast, taking the form of a 'biscuit' which has come '"
down to us as matzah. In the Seder ceremony these are two of the three'
essentials to be highlighted: pesach (a bone to represent the Iamb) and:.
matrali (for the bread). The third is maror (bitter herb), to commemorate 'the hard bondage' that is also spelt out in the pilgrirn's]
affirmation.
We have already seen in chapter 3 that each major festival marks an;
important stage in the agricultural year, with an additional rationale
that links it ta a major drama of]ewish history. Each ofthese elemenrsl
enriches the other, with a happy outcome demonstrated in the rules for
the festivals as laid down in the Bible.
For Passover, these rules ordain (Levitieus 23:5-6) that 'the Passover"
itselfis on the night of the fourteenth day - full moon - of the first month
Nisan, with the festival starting on the fifteenth and lasting for seven:
days. The first and last of these days are full holidays with cessation]
frorn work, while the intervening days are hol (secular), a form
workaday festival days. Because] ews in the Diaspora could never be
quite' certain when tn~ new moon had appeared in the sky over]
Palestine, despite all the efforts made ta spread the news, the rabbis
ordained that in the Diaspora the festival should last eight days.iwith]
the fi~~t:two and last two 'holy', and the intervening days as workadays.
This became ingrained in tradition even though the original motivationt
no longer applied after an astronomic ~lendar was devised and knownj
everywhere.
c

<

68

Details ofthe original Pesach in the Bibte paraHel tne :;.l-JlH11S "a.,-uu~~
f alI pastoral people as described by cultural anthropologists. In this
icture, every family slaughtered a first-born Iamb or he-goat on the
ve of the full maon in the first spring month, an ancient tradition by
hich one warded 0fI' illness and plague in the year ahead. A bunch of
yssop was dipped in the blood, which was then daubed on the
oorposts of the home, a ceremony which marked the participation of
e god in the sacrifice. The food had to be consumed in the night 'in
ste' (as in the Bible story) , with anything left over burned to avoid
utrescence. In a book on this subject by T. H. Gaster, 'bitter herb~
e said to have been added as a cathartic against impurity. The ban
n all 'leaven' during the festival was an expression of the same
arding-off of impurity.t"
There was never a hard line between pastoral and agricultural
ople, which explains why the Iamb sacrifice in spring is enlarged in
e Bible story by an offering of grain, natural in spring by a grainowing people. The ancient Hebrews were both. Passover therefore
. lebrates, in addition ta its other roles, the beginning of the grain
rvest, first of barley and then of wheat, the whole period lasting
ven weeks from the full moon ofPassover. In theJewish practice, an
et (sheaf) of the new barley was offered ta the Temple every day
er Passover ta be 'waved' ceremonially by the priest. The Omer
an to be counted daily from the second day of Passover for seven
eks, at which point the festival of Shaouot ('weeks') was celebrated.
ounting the Omer' until the seven weeks were concluded became a
gnizable stretch of] ewish life with its own traditions, as we shall

But if Passover pinpointed this Iively celebration of commonly held


traditions, it was overwhelmingly the festival of freedom, in a way
, ique to the Hebrew people. In the Bible story, this freedom for the
elites to make their way through the Wilderness to a land
mised to their ancestors would be a testing time of dan ger and
dship, crowned at an earIy stage by the receipt of the Tarah at
ount Sinai. With superb drama,
Moses, the agent of this
elation, is not privileged to enter the Promised Land himself but {
y to see it [rom a mountainous peak nearby. It is there that he gives
people his farewel~ mes~age - surviving as .the ~ook of Deuteronomy
er the forty years In which he had been their guide.
.

69

I~

It is no wonder that this momemous SLUry Ul:>1l5r..<,,,~ ~


_
exerted such a unique hold on the people of Israel once they ha
developed an independent life in their land, under their own kings. We
noted earlier the extraordinary
enthusiasm
which generated
acentralized eelebration ofPassover by King Hezekiah, rising to an ev
greater peak of exeitement under a successor king,J osiah. With the Fi
Temple destroyed in the sixth century BCE and in the Exile whic
followed, we must allow for a long period of indeter~inate
purpose in
Jerusalem before a new sense of independence was developed under
Hasmonean leadership, with ultimately a magnificent1y rebuilt Second
Temple.
In populist terms, the founder of this revival was J udah Maccabee,
first in a line of rulers who put an expanded Israel on the world stage; bu
if we are looking for the foree within theJ ewish people that was to restor
the ancient festival ofPassover as a crucial element in Israel's long-term
sense of identity, the creative power lay elsewhere, among th
passionately devoted students ofthe Torah - 'the Scribes and Pharisees'.
Amongmanyotherdevelopments,
it was in their hands that the Passove
we now know was quietly formulated, independently
of the priestly'
dynasties whose power would turn to dust when war with the Roman
overlords ended in the destruction oftheJewish
state in 70 CE.
We know from the Mishnah that long before this happened, the rabbis
- who gave Torah study a greatly expanded shape and logic - had
generated the style of exposition that theJ ews for all generations ta corn
would learn to enjoy in the Seder ceremonies of Passover Eve. It is
satisfying that the Mishnah, edited at the end ofthe second century CE,
describes the celebrations of our current Sederin all its essentials. 27 Much
ofthis ritual goes baek centuries earlier to when the Second Temple stiU
stood. A simple proofis that in discussing the rota ofthe faur cups of wine
at the Seder, the Mishnah quotes authorities and arguments from the time
of the famous rabbis Hillel and Shamai, who taught before the
Destruction. Going bak even further, it has been suggested that passages in the Haggadah, which refer in a denigrating way to 'the Syrian
Laban', reflect the period in which the Syrians were the overlords
(second century BCE), attracting the opprobrium ofthe rabbis.
1t {s ll the more remarkable to find the Sederg()ing back in essentials to
Temple times when the dominant celebrations consisted of public
sacrifices in JerusaIem, in contrast to~what developed later: a private
70

e roots are clearly visible, sa that we can say WllU d:>:>u.a.uvv _- --er ceremonies, with the four questions, the four cups of wine, the
n invitation to all to participate and all the other familiar aspects of
e Seder, are more than 2,000 years old. This is certainly an element in
ir continuing appeal.
The appeal lies also ar a deeper human level, in the power that the
st ancient of Passover prescriptions - the need to abolish 'leaven'
m the household - has exercised in promoting among the J ewish
ple a sense of invigoration at springtime. In b~bl~c.al t~rms, r~e
Iition of'leaven' was linked solely to matzah: In prirmtrve nmes, this
d led in 'renewal'
sacrifices to rule out anything in the food .
hcoming that might ferment and thus be impure. The rabbis
veloped a parallel formula for 'leaven'. In practice this m:an~ an
tensely strict separation of Passover dishes and food, r~sulnn~ In a
ring-cleaning - or invigoration - that was put in hand immediately
er the feast of Purim one month earlier.
This isjust one element in thejoyous rhythm oflife established by the
vish festivals.

LAC BA

OMER

(THIRTY-THIRD

DAY OF THE

OMER)

Ba'Omer is a joyous. one-day festival that is also a non-festival. It


ists, in fact, as a break from the quasi-religious
period between
- sover and Shaouot to give people a day om
The seven-week period from Passover to Shauuot had a ritual in which
eaf of grain from the new harvest was ofTered to the priest every day.
ery offering was counted off daily until the forty-ninth day, after
'ch Shaouot was celebrated (see page 69).
This period of sJzrah (counting) was endowed with a special
racter of 'restraint',
similar in some ways to 'restraint periods'
nd in other religions, as an echo of ancient propitiation of the gods
ore harvest time. (Lent comes to mind as an example.)
_
In the J ewish version, the s'firah. period rules out joyful occasions like
iage, or even minor pleasantries
like hair-cutting.
It is ve~
mon for periods of'restraint'
to allow for a one-day break, and this
pens in the jewish s'firah, when the thirty-third day of counting the
71

Omer is a holiday. It is called Lag Ba'Omer because in Hebrew the


letters L and G stand numerically for thirty and three.
Even though the restraints of the s'firah do nor make it a really sad
time, the permit to drop all restraint on this day gave it a special
fl.avou.~.For children especially it was always a day to Iook forward to.
In the communities ofEastern Europe, school would be closed for th'e
day, with the children free to wander in the woods with bows and
arrows, and to play other gamesof their own devising.
There is a picture ofthis in the vivid childhood memories of shtetllife
in Eastern Europe by theJewish leader Shmarya Levin, drawn on Iater .
(see page 114). To him as a young boy, it was a day on which all .
inhibitions were relaxed, a festive break consisting mostly of youthful
high spirits. With bows and arrows the favoured game, we have ta
consider the theory advanced by anthropologists that a spring holiday
of this kind goes back in origin .to a widespread
folk-custom of
adjourning to the woods an a set day to shoot arrows in alI directions so
as to drive out the witcheshiding
there and thus secure a fertile year.
This, they say, was the origin ofthe Rabin Hood legend in which Robin
and his merrie men disported themselves in the woods around
Nottingham. We are free to doubt whether this had anything to do with
the origin of Lag Ba 'Omer.
The Jews had, in fact, their own legends about the origin of the
celebration. One was that it was the day, four and a half weeks after the
Exodus, on which the manna first appeared iri the Wilderness. Another
tradition sees this day as the anniversary of the death in the second
century CE ofRabbi Simeon ben Yohai, regarded as the founder of the
mysticaI teachings that ultimate1ytook form in the Kabbalah.
It is customary in the Near East for the anniversary ofthe death ofan
outstandingly righteous leader to be celebrated by a joyous pilgrimage ,
to his grave. This has become customary in commemorating
Simeon
ben Yohai, whose grave inthe village of Meron in U pper Galilee is a
focal pointfor Lag Ba'Omercelebrations,
with bonfires at night to round
ofTa day ofpicnics.
v

SUA VUOT (FEAST

OF WEEK~

When the seven weeks of s'firah restraint

72

PENTECqST)

are finally over, the deeply

'.ved summer festival of Shauuot comes into view: a very brief but
traordinarily happy one,
It is presented in the Bibie as a pilgrim festival without a date in
onthly terrns but simply as being held the day after the completion of
e seven-week Omer, whichtakes the date (according ta the rabbis) ta
e sixth of Sivan, the third month. Choosing a date was, in fact,
premely important ta what has become a central theme of Shaouot:
at it is the day on which the wanderers in the Wilderness received the
orah, following the descent of Moses from Mount Sinai. This great
, ccasion is not given as the rationale for Shaouot in the Bible, which says
nly that the momentous Sinai day was in the third month after the
xodus. To assign this to the day in the third month which follows the
nd of 'Counting the Omer' seemed, ta the. rabbis, a satisfying
entification.
What the Bible does select for emphasis is that this, the second ofthe
ree pilgrim festivals, was, above ali, a harvest festival. Completing
e cyele which had begun at Passover with the priestly 'waving' of a
heaf of the barley harvest, Shaouot signalled the closing stage of the
arvesting of wheat, from which two loaves of bread were baked and
resented to the Temple as a sacrifice. More broadly it was the Chag
a-Bikkurim, the festival offirst-ripe fruits of all kinds, a 'green' festival
ever there was one. There is a rhapsodic account in the Mishnah,
uoted earlieron page 22, of the way the processions carrying the first'pe fruits toJerusalem were organized.
In a natural development from this, Shavuot became in time the
estival at which the enjoyment of alI kinds of summer foods gave
tense delight, with a highly decorative background of plants and
owers at home, in the synagogue and in the country generally. The
ible allots only one day to Shauuot, but this was expanded to two in the
iaspora for the reasons of calendar 'certainty' mentioned earlier (page
8). The extra day was always welcorne because ofthe many activities
ammed into Shavuot, partly because of its unique association, even if
ot biblically authorized, with the giving ofthe Torah.
In firmly Orthodox cornrnunities, the celebration ofthis great event
pelled congregants ta stay up alI night, filling their minds with
adings that would express their sense of awe. an the eve of the first
ay they would return to the beth-hammidrasli (study-synagogue)
after
he evening meal to read all night from a book called tikkun, a specially
73

composed anthology containing fragments (the beginnings and the .


ends) of alI the books of the Bible, together with similar illustrative '"
fragments from the Talmud, the Zahar (a mystical book) and the piyyut .
(synagogue poetry). On the eve ofthe secondday, they sat through the ',.
night again, reading this time the Psalms of David, who, as we shall see, "
has a special association with the festival.
"
Spanning Shauuot more' generaIly, an extraordinary ode caU~d.~
Akdamut, describing rhapsodically the days of the Messiah, is studied
and recited.
Akdamut was written in Aramaic by the charan of Worms in the
. eIeventh century. In a special sing-song tune devised for this poem, it
presen,ts a vision of the golden thrones an which the righteous in
Paradise await the Messiah, under canopies of light which turn the
whole into a vis ion ofthe stars. Their imagination has no bounds. They
see the righteous as dancing arrn-in-arrn with God Himself A
mammoth spectac1e is presented showing the legendary combat
between the sea-monster Leviathan and Behemoth, the celestial ox
which will be consumed at the great banquet ofthe Messiah. The text
and a free-ranging commentary offer an awe-struck legend, which
describes how these two gigantic monsters could overpower the whole
world if the messianic force did not save it.
It is no accident that the arrival of the Messiah, 'son of David', is
highlighted at this festivaI,.since the book of Ruth is read, which ends by
showing briefty that King David was descended fi-om her. Ruth is
among the five books ofthe Bible known as the megillat (scrolls), each of .
which is allotted a special time for reading: the Song of Sangs after the
Seder an Passover, Lamentations an the Fast of Au, Ecclesiastes during
Sukkoi, and Esther an Purim. Reading Ruth an Shauuot is enormously
effective as a story set in harvest-time, which builds also an the unique
appeal d Ruth as a character, expressing her loyalty in the famed
words: 'whither thou goest,} will go'. That this Moabite gir! identified ~
with the j ewish people seemed a strong expression ofthe theme ofthe
festival, the giving ofthe Torah on Sinai.
Ruth ends with a brief genealogical list purporting to show that
the marriage of Ruth and Boaz led, over four generations, to the
birth of David; and it is for David, tradition tells, that the Messiah
will come, to be greeted in the rhaps~dic manner described in .'
Akdamut.
I

l'

>

74

. TISHA

BJAV

(NINTH

OF AV:A

TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR

FAST)

.' A festival calendar which mirrorsJewish history has ta accommodate


its tragedies as weU as its joys. It is no surprise, then, to find an
immenseIy sad stretch of three .weeks beginning little more than a
month after Shauuot. The tragedy being commernorated
is the
destruction ofJerusalem and the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in
586 BCE, when a large section of the people of Israel was led into exile
.fi Babylonia.
This hurban (destruction), expressed in a host of moving literary .,..
forms, burrowed itself in to J ewish consciousness wi th immense power,
conditioning an ethos which remained - one might say for all time - as a
mainspringofJewish feeling. The day an which it happened, Tisha B'Au
(the ninth of Au), became a complete fast-day, the only one in the
calendar to match Yom Kipnc: in length: from sunset ta sunset. Bu t a fast
f more restricted length, from morning to sunset, was instituted ahead
f this to commemorate the initial stage in the tragedy, when the
abylonian invaders broke into JerusaIem an the seventeenth day of
e fourth month Tammur. The three-week period between these two
ts became a time of restraint from many familiar joys - no weddings,
o new clothes, no meat meals, and other limitations to normalliving
til the memory culminated in the great twenty-four-hour fast of Tisha
'Au.
The dark mood which enveloped the Jews increasingly during the
ree weeks was - and stil! is - expressed by the pious in rising at dawn
join the throng of 'mourners' in reciting endlessly long kinot (poetic
mentsj- In observing the major fast itself, sorrow takes on an even
ore intense dimension. Of ten the final meal before the fast begins is
ry simple, centring an hard-boiled eggs sprinkied with ashes, as at a
neral. The synagogue is lit very dimly. The worshippers sit on 10w
ts, their feet in slippers. The kinot ftow on, but the central feature of
e day is the unutterably moving recital ofthe book of Lamentations, in a
fi chant used only when this book is read.
Lamentations, usually ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, teIls of the
truction as seen by a survivor, in verses ofimmense simplicity and
erary power. The effect can be felt in translation only if the rhythm is
. en the same terse quality. The first word in Hebrew, Eikhah
How?'), catches the bIeakness ofthe mood and is the title ofthe book
75

in Hebrew. Continuing in the same spirit the opening verses, translated


line by line, would sound like this:
How Ione she si ts;
The city big with people
Is widowed;
Famed ofnations,
Queen of countries,
And now enslaved.
Weeping, she weeps in the night,
Tears on her cheeks,
No comforter of alI her lovers.
AlI her friends betrayed her,
Became her enemies.
Exiled is J udah in pain
And grievous servitude.
She dwells among strangers,
Has found no rest.
AII her pursuers overtook her,
A narrow target.
The roads ofZion mournful,
Bare of pilgrims,
Her gates desolate.
Her priests sigh,
Her maidens grieve,
And she - bitterness.
With equal emotion but also as straight history, Lamentations became
the text, centuries later, for the historical memories ofthe rabbis after the
destruction of the Second Temple. Taking each phrase of Lamentations
individually, they read into'" it a pre-echo of the horrors they had
thernselves experienced, or knew of from participants,
in the second
hutban. The book collecting these memories is called the Midrash an
LamentatiorJ,-and offers a very detailed, graphic picture ofthe period it
describes. It is of special interest in complementing the history books of
josephus,
while offering, at the same ti~,
some valuable source
material for classical historians.
76

But if Tistia ss represenl:; a


a.U'''.Ht'LW'' ---"'--J'
transformed immediately afterwards by the alternating
rhythm of
Jewish history. There is a neat illustration of this in the prophetical
readings prescribed for the Sabbath before Tisha B'Av and for the
Sabbath that follows the fast.
The first ofthese Sabbaths is known as Shabbat Haron ('the Sabbath
ofthe Vision'), because the reading is from the first chapter of Isaiah,
which begins with the words 'Haran Yeshayahu ben Amoz' ('The vision
of Isaiah son of Amoz') and prophesies doom and destruction for the
people ofIsrael because of their sinfulness. The Sabbath following the
fast is called Shabbat Nahmu ('the Sabbath of Comfort'), since the
reading operrs with the famous words of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah:
'Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.'
There is a parallel rebound from depression in other ways once
Tisha B'Av is over. Among other things, there is a rush of weddings,
heId back by the restraint of the three weeks. If time allows for a
ceremony an the Friday after the fast, the wedding festivities, spread
over several days, find a happy ambience in the atmosphere of Shabbat
Nahmu.
A more formal rebound is celebrated only six days after Tisha B'Av
in a minor festival held on the fifteenth of Au. In origin this feast is a
midsummer festival stretching back to early times, with no formalities
and only pleasure the aim. It is paralleled in theJewish calendar by a
rnidwinter festival of a sirr;ilar type an the fifteenth day of Shvat, the
eleventh month.
In the autumn festival, there is a surviving rationale in it being
regarded as the New Year for Trees (Tu B'Shuat, the letters T and U
standing numerically
for ni ne and six). Both these fifteenth-day
festivals are ultimately nature days,which fit happily into the changing rhythm ofthe festive year.
lUlQ.l

ROSH HASHANAH

(NEW YEAR)

With Rosh Hashanalt and Yom Kippur (the New Year and the Day of
Atonement) we come to a ten-day period of deep personal reflection
and self-examination which is different in character and power [rom
any other experience in the festive yeaL

77

""

We noted earlier in discussing the seasonal understructure


(page 38)
that in very ancient times the penitential exercises ofthese ten days may
welJ have had a seasonal rationale as a propitiatory
period, then
universal, to ensure the success of the great harvest festival begnning
five days later. In theJewish calendar, the climax of penitence on Yom
KiPpur, the tenth day ofthe month Tishri, is followed by 'the festival of
ingathering', Sukkot, beginning an the fifteenth. But though a prelimi-.
nary penitential
link would have great interest historically,
it is
overshadowed for J ews by the personal meaning that this period holds
as a unique religious celebration, stretching back continuously in this
spirit ta the pages ofthe Bible.
. The name of this ten-day period in Hebrew is Yamim Noraim, which
translates perfectly nto 'the' Days of Awe'. As with the three-week
mourning for the Destruction discussed earlier, the mood of the ten
days of penitence is initiated ahead of time in very Orthodox
communities before the period begins by synagogue gatherngs starting
before dawn for the recital of piyyut, in this case selichot, prayers for
forgiveness.
Given the profound religious importance which has beeri attached to
Rosh Hashanali for more than 2,000 years, it comes as a surprise to
discover that the Bible is very vague about it. AII it says is that the first
day of the seventh month, Tishri, is to be 'a day of solemn rest, a
memorial proclaimed with the blowing ofhorns, a holy convocation'. If
one went by this evidence alone, one would see the 'convocation'
as
merely an expansion of the celebration of every new moon, on which
trumpets were always blown. One might then see the special religious
mood that now envelops Rosh Hashanah as a flow-back [rom the truly
awesome celebration that the Bible does project for Yom Kippur, on the
tenth of the rnonth. But this would diminish the original meaning of
Rosh Hashanali in a wholly unwarranted
fashien. The many ways in
which Rosh Hashanah has been observed since ancient times reflect the
meaning it~has always had i~ its own right.
We have ro look first at a minor puzzle in that theJewish year seems
to have tW9 beginnings: in spring with Passover (in 'the first month,
Nisan'), and in autumn with Rosb Hashanah (in the seventh month,
Tishri). The puzzle is resolved through history. In ancient Canaan, the
Hebrews followed the pattern around the~ in which the New Year
began in autumn after the end ofthe dry, infertile season. The calendar

was different in Babylonia, where the battle for fertility was celebrated
in the spring. The Jews adopted the Babylonian enumeration of the
months, beginning with Nisan, but they still retained the older tim ing of
New Year in the autumn. As we shall see, Sukkot, the great autumn
harvest festival, is described in the Bible as coming 'at the end of the

78

79

ye;:~e autumn New Ye~r also carried with it, frorn primitive ti~es,

an.

expression of renewal, a tirne when the world is reborn. Among pagan


people, as we saw earlieron page 44, this took the form of a battle
among the gods to defeat destructive gods in 'the year ahead. The J ews,
abandoning
the pagan battles, retained nevertheless the sense of
complete renewal. Rosh Hashanah had become for them, with the world
reborn, a day of moral assessment, by themselves and by God.
That this underlying feeling about New Year was dominant, despite
the vagueness ofthe Bible itself, emerges clearly in the rich treatment of
the festival in rabbinic writings, refiecting its exposition at least two
centuries before the Destruction. In this setting it was decided that the
kedah, the Bible scene in which Abraham comes perilously close ta
sacrificing his son Isaac, was a drama so important to the ernergence of
Israel that it must have taken place on Rosh Hashanah. The passage in
chapter 22 of Genesis describing the Akedalt is, therefore, the Torah
eading on this day.
In more personal terrns, the rabbis built into Rosh Hashanah a
ramatic presentation of how the individual's fate is determined by
rovidence in the year ahead. Symbolically,
they imagined
the
dividual's actions in the past year as having been recorded in 'a book
fmemory", out ofwhich would flow an ultimate verdict for the future
ear: life or death. This verdict would be noted provisionally on Rosti
.ashanah; to be finally decided and 'sealed' on Yom Kippur. There was
oom, then, for remission: 'Repentance, prayer and charity can avert
e dread decree.'
This is a pervading therne throughout Rosh Hashanah, but as with
ther services during the Days of Awe, a moment comes in the
nagogue ritual of Rosh Hashanah which expresses the underlying
ood with particular intensity. The congregants await this moment
.th particular sensitivity, fully aware of its imminence and ready to
pond.
In the synagogue

service,

the Ark of the Tarah

IS

opened,

the

congregants rise, and the cheran, with dramatic intensity, begins


quietly to intone the awaited words: 'Unetaneh tokef ... ' ('We wilI
declare the greatness and holiness of this day .. .').
. In its opening sentences, the prayer acknowledges the power ofGod, ',.
to Whom all is known. It is in this setting that the individual's fate is to
be decided: 'Who is to live and who is to die, who by water and who by
fire, who by the sword and who by h unger ... ' As the 'words move on,
the congregants standing silent before the open Ark are drawn in awe
towards a mystery that no one can salve. One is aware offate, but also
of the sense that it is within one's own power to affect fate by living a
virtuous life.
.The prayer comes to an end and the Ark is closed. With the spelI
broken, the service concludes with more traditional prayers and
hymns. Solemnity gives way to greeting: 'May you be inscribed for a
good year!'
The one-day gathering prescribed in the Bible was lengthened to two
in the Diaspora as with other festivals (see page 68). On each day
(except on the Sabbath) the service breaks offfrom regular passages at
a set point to listen to the primeval call of the shoJar. The notes are
blown to a long-established pattern, with long, short and quavering
blasts alternating to a libretto ofinstructions. It is an old world relived
and sustained with strange power.
With the long service over, home beckons with a festive meal and
New Year gifts in abundance. There is a jar of honey to symbolize the
sweetness hoped for.
In the afternoon, an old custom known as tashlich'(casting) calls for a
promenade by an adjacent river, if one is available, so that one's sins
can be cast into running water and flow out to sea. It is a happy,
carefree ceremony, with all present wearing their New Year clothes.
The greetings never cease: 'Le-shanali tovah!' - 'A Good New Year!'

YOM KIPPUR

(DAY

OF ATONEMENT)

To fast fo~.twenty-four hours from sunset to sunset is so domiriating an


experience that it might be expected to push alI other aspects of Yom
Kippurinto shadow. In the event, however~this 'Day of Atonement', as
founded in the Bible and developed later by the rabbis, is immensely

80

varied and satisfying in the detaus triat surruulIU


momen t of the in trod uctory ritual of Kol Nidrei on the eve of the day to the
farewell of the shofar as night falls twenty-four hours later, it offers a
richly endowed experience ofhistory and faith that is totally engrossing
for the participants.
One begins by asking what is intended by instituting a fast. It may
come as a surprise to discover that the Bible itself never specifies a fast,
saying only that on this day, the tenth ofthe month Tishri, 'ye shall affiict
your souls'. Long before this general instruction was expounded in
voluminous rabbinic writing as a rigorous fast, it must have developed in
this form for many centuries and become deeply embedded in religious
practice. It is with the rabbis, as recorded in the Mishnah, that the fast
carne ta be related indissolubly to forgiveness for all the 'sins' ofthe year
nowended.
An important caveat is called for on this. At no point in the Bible or in
the rabbinic writings is it stated or suggested that the fast is a form of
expiation and that strict adherence to it ensures forgiveness. Very much
to the contrary, the fast dramatizes as nothing else could the act ion one
has to take oneselfif one seeks to be forgiven for past failures. Socially,
one is called on to redress every offence in business and private life that
falIs below the high moral standard ta be observed by every J ew. In
pra yer to God, one confesses every possi ble sin and promises repen tance.
To take these steps within the setting of an immensely long fast
celebrated publicly in common with felIow J ews promotes the corrective
action called for with a force that is never likely to be reached in short
episodes of private contemplation. The mystique of Kippur, with a
variety efceremonies that have been generated over the centuries, offers
a theatre of collective emotion that has no parallel.
If one wonders why this emotional power should be releasedin a fast,
scholars ask us to look back to the role of a fast in very primitive times
when it was an expression of purification by the entire community before
they could be worthy to share the sacrifice 'meal' with their god. Parallels
to this are found widely in many cultures. In this view, Yom Kippur should
be translated as 'A Day ofPurgation' rather than 'A Day of Atonement'.
The sense of comrnuniry participation certainly continued in many
forrns as we shalI see, most notably in the mysterious episode of the
scapegoat which was to carry away the sins of the community into the
wilderness; but though this has immense historical interest, it can never
LHu

81

.
."

u~

lessen the individual's experience .ot rom Kippur as a aay OI Imense


personal cross-examination.
The memory that it recalls of archaic
Temple ceremonies does speak to one's sense of history as a Jew; but
one receives this as transmuted by the historic prayers and poetry that
have moulded memory throughoutJewish
history. In this form, the fast
is dorninantly the experience of an individual.

Kol Nidrei

'1

We shall see in a moment that in Bible terms the central feature of Yom
Kipiur was the awesome entry ofthe High Priest into God's presence in
the Holy of Holies. This has been magically recaptured in a ceremony
that takes place in synagogue during the day's worship. But before this
point is reached, the congregants will have participated on the eve of
the fast in a gathering called Kol Nidrei ('AII vows .. .'), which will
always remain for many the most haunting evocation of the fast.
The name is taken from the opening words of a long statement - not a
prayer - that precedes the formal beginning of the fast and sounds at
first like a self-protecting renunciation of responsibility for vows or
obligations unfulfilled in the year ahead. It is, of course, far more than
this.
If it were merely a protective formula, it would be strange that it
should have acquired the significance it has. It is certainly different
from the usual instructions ofrabbinic law and was, in fact, not known
in the early rabbinic centuries, being first heard of among the sages of
the Gaonic era, in the seventh to eleventh centuries. At one time, some
scholars thought that the words might be a form of self-absolution for
Jews who had been forced publidy to accept Christianity or Islam.
This idea no longer holds the field, and. some now see the formula as a
reflection of the deepest purpose o(Yom Kippur in social terms: a time in
which one must put things right, repairing damage, forgiving hurt and
thus accepting blame in advance for vows that might be unfulfilled by
force majeur.28
This would not in itself have given the Kol Nidrei statementsuch
abiding selemnity amongJews, and one therefore puts weight on other
reasons, two in particular. The first is that the impact of the fast is so
serious that a profound sense of awe ~overns
the moment of its
inception. Any statement made at this moment attracts the awe ofthe
82

l'C:::!)llVa.1,

u..J..l\.~

" ...6

.....

-~

r---

: - presentation has been devised.


.
,
This is precisely what happens in this case. Th~ haunt~n~ nature ~f
".. the recitallies not so much in its subject matter as In a plaintive tune in
; which the words are sung amongJews of European (Ashkenazi) origin.
The tune - a slow lament in a minor key - seems to have appeared
towards the end ofthe fifteenth century amongJews of Central Europe.
Musical scholars see it as a folk-tune, drawn on later from. the same
general background by Beethoven and other composers.
.
In synagogues today, the appeal of the tune has come ~o b.e
heightened by its theatrical presentation, with the
ch~Ii.tm~ it
first slowly and softly, and subsequently
repeating It twice with
mounting tenorial bravado to its climax. During this, the Ark has been
opened and the Torah scrolls carried with great solernnity ta the dais to

=:

flank the charan as he sings.


.
For all these reasons, Kol Nidrei, by far the most important evenmg
assembly in the festive year, asserts and maintains its hold in a way that
is alI its own. With the inexpressibly sad notes ftoating in the air, the
fast is now under way, promising an absorbing mystery of religious
experience in the twenty-four hours that lie ahead.

The Temple Echoes


The central moment during the daytime services of Yom Kippur is the
" evocation, with great power, of the mood of a Temple ceremony that
was unique in the whole year.
With the destruction ofthe'Temple
always vibrant in Jewish minds,
the Yom'Kippur ritual that had taken place there had immense appeal.
The moment oftruth, it might be said, was the entry ofthe High Priest
on this day into the inner sanctum ofthe Temple, the Holy ofHolies, t.o
plead for forgiveness for the sins of his people. By highlighting this
event during the synagogue service, a sense ofidentification
is aroused,
with the benediction of the High Priest brought vividly to life in the
solemn mood of the synagogue.
An important aspect of the original entry of the High Priest into the
inner sanctum was that for this purpose he assumed the most modest
possible style. Whereas he normally left routine Temple duties .to
ordinary priests and appeared in public only in golden cerernonial
83

robes, on Yom Kippur he carried out the entire service personally and
prepared himselffor the entry into the Holy of Holies by being robed
simply in a white gown.
It was in carrying out the routine sacrifices himselfthat he prayed to
God in a way never heard otherwise: by pronouncing God's name
explicitly according to the Ietters in which it is written in the Bible.
Hearing this Ineffable Naine, the masses who had garhered. in the .
Temple courtyard prostrated themselves in ecstasy, crying, 'Blessed be
the Name and the Glory ofHis Kingdom for ever and ever.'
This first prayer and sacrifice centred on a plea for forgiveness ofhis
own sins. After a long pause for purification, the prayer was repeated a
second time, with the same pronunciation ofGod's name, in a plea for
forgiveness for the priests. Finally it was repeated a third time, when he
prayed for forgiveness for the entire people. It was for this that he
entered the sanctum. The populace.inow stunned irrto reverence, burst
into fervour as they saw him emerge from an encounter which had
carried with it a mysterious sense of danger.

'No Happier Day'


The recreation ofthis mood in the synagogue service is, it must be said,
only one of the long succession of varied experiences that fill the day. AII
supplement, in one way or another, the basic forms of worship that
appear at set times during ordinary days, but one is never in any doubt
of the special underlying theme of sin and forgiveness. Sometimes this
takes very intensive forms, as in the recital of endless lists .of mea eulpas,
calling to mind the relentless pleas of John Donne's 'poem, Batter A{y
Heart. At other times the theme is explored more gently in terms of a
Bible story, most notably in the reading, during the afternoon, of the
book ofJonah.
The original Temple background is never far from the minds of the
congregants. The echoes are always strong except in the case of one
archaic ritual described in the Bible: the dispatch ofthe scapegoat. The
story as related in the Bible obviously goes back to dim antiquity. Two
goats are set-before the High Priest. One, chosen by lot, wifl be 'for God'
and sacrificed as a sin offering; the other, identified as 'for Azazel', will
be led into the wilderness, carrying with it ~mbolically the sins of the
entire people. The goat will meet his death in falling over a cliff. No one
84

- has determined what 'for Azazel' meant, but as described it must have
been a primitive ritual ofvery great power. We are told that when the
news of the scapegoat's death was brought back to Jerusalem,
it
- released agreat ftood of relief.
And here, i~ this mobile picture of the primitive and the joyous, we
get an insight into how Yom Kippur developed the way it did. Solernnity,
however intense, would give way, when its meaning had been
absorbed, to corrimunaljoy.
We have noted this more than once in discussing the festive year; and
Yom Kippur, the most solemn of alI the celebrations, is a prime example
historically of this human process at work.
There is a passage in the Mishnah which talks of the particular
happiness oftwo festivals, th~ fifteenth of Au and Yom Kippur. 29 We noted
above (page 77) that the fifteenth of Au is a midsummer
festival
- devoted to the enjoyment of Nature. It seems odd to find Yom Kippur
listed with it so firmly; but the clue lies in the huge happiness that
moved the people when the solemnities were completed. There had
_ been a feeling of danger when the High Priest entered the Holy of
Holies. The mood continued while the scapegoat was on his fateful
journey; and suddenly, with the news ofits ending, one could rejoice.
The Mishnah (as mentioned earlier on page 2) describes the joyous
mood with engaging detail:
o

..

Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel said: 'There were no happier days for
Israel than the 15th of Au and the Day of Atonement, for on them the
daughters ofJerusalem used to go forth in white raiments to dance in
the vineyards. And what did they say? 'Y oung man, lift up thine eyes
and see who thou wouldst choose for thyself.'
The Mishnah passage continues with Rabbi Simeon advising the
young men not to concentrate solelyon beauty. They should think also
offamily and the qualities offaith that willlead to true gladness. This is
the gladness that will be crowned one day by the rebuilding of the
Temple. 'May it be built speedily in our days,' he concludes. 'Amen!'

SUKKOT(TABERNACLES)
The festival of Sukkot, beginning five days after the great fast, has, Iike

85

f'

l'
f
r
I

Yom Kipiur, a central theme that might seem to dominate everything


but doesn't. With Sukkot it is, of course, the dwelling in tabernacles or
booths; but this feature is, in a full sense, only one element in a multi- layered festival of extraordinary richness.
The real key ta Sukkot is that itis, as described in the Bible, the major
harvest festival ofthe year: Chag He'asif, 'the F east ofIngathering'.
In
this it was so important as to be known 'quite sirnplyasthe
Chag, the
festival par excellence. Expressing this, it offered a number of days of
continuous, almost wild, celebration in a variety of forms. But in
religious terms it was at the same time linked closely to the period of
penitence immediately before it. In this respect it developed a whole
range of celebrations which extended the original seven-day festival
and vastly deepened its impact.
The rejoicing and prayers carne together in Bible tirnes as part of the
absorption with fertility. There are many references in the Bible which
show that before Jerusalem
became the unique centre of festival
pilgrimage, the harvest rejoicing took place at local sanctuaries like
Shiloh and Bethel that could be as orgiastic in style as those of the
Canaanites thernselves. Once Jerusalem was dominant, the formal
grandeur of the Temple transformed the primi tive style. We see this in
action in the detailed accounts of Sukkot celebrations and dramas in the
days of the Second Temple provided in the historical writings of
Josephus and the absorbing descriptions, legal and anecdotal, which
proliferate in the Mishnah.
Both these sources show how strongly the Bible's instructions on
Sukkot observance
remained
the authoritative
base. Dwelling in
'booths' - a natural convenience at harvest time - had been given
specific Bible authority as a memorial to the temporary huts used
during the forty years of'wandering'
after the Exodus. In this respect it
was transposed into a symbol of the Exodus, the perennial element in
Jewish identity. But side by side with this rationale, a fertility symbol
of lasting power is defined in the passage (Leviticus 23:40) caII ing on
celebrants ro bring together four species of natural products for this
purpose:.These are 'the Iruit of a goodly tree, leaves from the date palm,
branchesfrorn a tree and willows from a stream'. Ifthis began, as some
think, as decorations for the Sukkah (as told in Nehemiah. 8: 15), they were
transformed as time went on into elemenes of elaborate ceremony. The
quiet rituals involved in displaying 'the four species' during Sukkot

86

services grew into a mighty cornmunal surge OI rtosannas \HCUICVV.


Hosha'anah, 'Save us') on oneofthe festival days to express the prayer
for rain in the growth period that Iay ahead.
At the formal level, the original Bible instructions
on 'the four
species' carne ta mean that every Jew had ta deploy, for the festival, a
collection [owned or borrowed) of a palm and citron, together with
sprigs of myrtle and willow, ali to. be 'shaken" and blessed at vari~us
points in the service. This became so entrenched that, as no~ed earh:r,
the rebelleader Bar Kokhba, holding offRoman attacks on his dornains
(132-5 CE), sen t urgent letters to his comm~nders in the ~eld ordering
them to ensure that products for these ntuals were dispatched to
headquarters in time for Sukkot.
But it was in a special celebration at a formallevel that this ritual was
dominant. It became established (though no one knows when) that
from the first day of Sukkot these 'bouquets'
would be carried by
worshippers in repeated circuits of the synagogue, at a certain point in
th~ service, to the sound of repeated cries of Hosha'anab in a sustained
prayer for rain. r'his ritual builds up in a crescendo of exciternent to the
seventh day of Sukkot on which there are seven circuits ofthe synagogue
in this way. For this re as an the day became known as Hosha 'anah Rabbah
- 'the great Hosha 'anah'.
The intensity ofthe prayers on Hosha'anali Rabbali recaptured to some
degree the religious fervour ofYom Kippur. This was even stronger when
a special eighth day of Sukkot was added with the name: Shemini Atrereth.
(the Eighth Day ofConvocation).
By the eighth day, the gaiety ofthe
basic festival- expressed in the Sukkali and palm 'bouquet' - had come
to an ~d; and the added eighth day had a different atmosphere
altogether, dramatizing for the last time the reverence instilled by the
Days of Awe. For services on this day, the charan wears the white kittel of
Yom Kippur, intoning melodies that bring back the sadness of the
penitential period, as if pleading finally for the purity ofheart that had
been the aim ofthe fast.
Yet joy is in the wings, to emerge with even greater power in the
ceremony of Simchat Torali (Rejoicing of the Tarah), ceiebrated widely
as a ninth day to round offthe festival, though in Israel and some other
places the eighth and ninth days are merged.
Simchat To rah , when celebrated in the fully traditional
way, introduces into the synagogue a joyous free-for-all that has no parallel. In
87

:r
form, the day marks the completion of the annual read-through of the "
Torah scroll (the Pentateuch), followed by the seroll being rewound in .
order to allow an immediate reading of its beginning. The spirit
generated is both reverential and rollicking. Two selected congregants.]
are honoured respectively as 'Bridegrooms' ofthe Torah at its end and ~
reeommencement. In the jollity which ensues, the worshippers dance .
around with the scroll in their hands. In Orthodox synagcgues, women
sitting normally in a separate gallery join the main throng. Drink is' ..
often served in this kind of setting - traditionally whisky with salt ,.
herring - ta enhanee the fun.
In Israel and the other plaees where the eighth and ninth days are
merged, the joy is still unlirnited; but though in this respect the spirit of
the Chag is kept thoroughly ali ve, the original celebration of Sukkot ;
included agreat range of folk-cerernonies that are no longer eehoed,
except in prayer.
The theme ofmany prayers and hymns is still thatof water, the source
of ali fertility; but without the Temple, the relevant folk-cerernonies
have ended, one in particular. At some point while the Second Temple
was still standing - perhaps in the third or second centuries BCE - the
Pharisees had instituted a water eeremony which called for a libation of
water on the altar, foHowing the wine libation which was a daily ritual
after the sacrifice ofthe day. The link is clearly with the very primitive
ritual of pouring a little water an the ground or on an altar as a form of
what is called 'sympathetic magic'; but when dramatized in the Sukkot
ceremonies, it had become a rnuch-loved celebration in its own right.
The water for the libation was drawn in a special procession from the
Temple to the Spring of Shiloah. There, a priest filled a golden laver
with thewater for the ceremony. The populace, waiting at the Temple,
grew angry if the ceremony was not performed according to the form on
which they now insisted. When in one such ceremony the priest-king
Alexander Yannai, diliking the Pharisees, poured the water conternptuously over his feet, the crowd of worshippers (as was noted
earlier) pelted hirn with the citrons they were carrying for Sukkot.
But. this libation was far outshadowed by another Sukkot folkcelebration which is also nowIost: a dance by torchlight every evening
in the Temple are a called 'the Court of the Women'. This dance was
described by participants as the uItima'1e iri festivity. It was perhaps by
mistake that the water theme carne into the title of the celebration:
ea

88

Simchat Beth Ha'Sho'evah - 'the Rejoicing of the Water-well'. The


tradition, as described in the Mishnah and by Josephus, concentrates
more on the massive illumination of the area by huge, golden, multibranched menorahs (lamps). Torches carried by dancing men intensified)
the brilliance. Psalms were sung constantly as the dancing and torchthrawing went on through the night.
It is no wo~der that thegreat Chag drew pilgrims to Jerusalem on a
- scale that outweighed all the other pilgrimages. All the dangers ofthe
journey - vividly described by Josephus - were worth enduring for
sights like these. Yet in the end, the abiding symbol of the festieel
remained the Sukkalt itse1f, as happy a setting for festival joy today as it
was in ancient times.

CHANUKA.H

(FEAST

OF DEDICATION)

With the feast of Chanukah, as with Sukkot, an abiding symbol- in this


case the eight-branched menorah - dominates the foreground, with a
mass of accompanying history and folk-custom that gradually unfolds
around it.
The'menorah has become thefestival's symbol because the traditional
story of Chanukah's origin centres an the relighting of the holy lamp
when the Temple was won back in 165 BCE after its desecration by the
Syrian overlord Antiochus. The date of the rededication was the
twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month Kislev, whieh oecurs in
midwinter. The story as told in the Talmud says that the festivallasts
for eight days because, by a miracle, a tiny vial ofholy oil needed for the
lamp kept it alight for eightdays. The winning back offreedom joins the
miracle of the lamp in the celebration of Chanukah. A menorah is lit in
every home daily for eight days, starting with one candle on the first
night and working up to eight on the last.
Around this traditional story, Chanukah has been celebrated over the
centuries in both a re1igious and patriotic spirit. After the return ofthe
Jews from exile in Babylonia, their land had fallen under Egyptian and
then Syrian rule. The Syrian ruler in the middle of the second century
BCE set out to make religious worship in Hellenistic style universal in
his empire. As part ofthis he installed the worship ofGreek gods in the
Temple ofJerusalem, in flagrant disregard of the ewish faith. A revolt ,
89

..

turning into a military struggle, was led by an aged priest


!'1atathias, whose valiant son Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrians
In battle. The first religious task of the victors was to cleanse the
Temple from its desecration, with the lighting of the menoral: as its
crowning glory.
In these terms, Chanukah has been for 2,000 year~ a triumphant
expres sion of the J ewish will to live in freedom. By thesarne token it.
became, as time went on, a festival of unbridled joy and fun. The
underlying religious meaning comes through in the reciting ofthe Hallel
psalms and other special blessings. The jollity takes the form of parties
and present-giving, with card-playing smiled on as one form of
pleasure, and with chi1dren particularly favoured by schoo1 holidays,
money gifts and many traditional games. Like the Passover Seder,
Chanukah has a special appeal because it comes alive at home, where the
glowing candles and the singing of a very popular Chanukali hymn,
Ma'o; TSUT, generates a particularly happy mood.

Was Omission Deliberate?


Nothing disturbs this ~ood when one looks more closely into the
history of Chanukah and confronts some unexpected question marks.
The first is that the story of the great rebellion was not included as a
book of the official Hebrew Bible, and became familiar among Jews
only through two 'Books of the Maccabees', one written in Greek, the
other in Hebrew, which survived in translation by the Christians. They
are included today in a miscellany known as the Apocrypha (hidden
writings), usually printed in English as an Appendix to the Bible, a
haphazard collection ofwritings rather than documents central to the
survival of the J ewish people.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, there are only a few spare references
to the festival in the MishnafJ, which we have looked to repeatedly here
for its graphic detail on the festivals. This is surprising because while
'official' history writing in Bible style had virtually disappeared among
J ews after.he Exile, the discussions of social arid religious issues in the
Mishnah andother writings was constantly expanding.
.Chanukah was certainly ce!e~rated in pop~lar terms, as o~e sees fro~
bnefreferences here and there In the first century.A rough list from this
period ofjoyous days on which fasung is prohibited (Megillat Ta'anit
90

includes it", and there is the mention in the New Testament (john 10:22)
of Jesus being in Jerusalem at 'the feast of dedication, and it was
winter'. One knows also of the engaging argument between the two
famed first-century rabbis, Hillel and Shamai, on how to light the
candles. Hillel thought that they should be lit in progres sion daily from
one to eight, while Shamai thought the opposite. (As so often, it was
Hillel's view which prevailed.)
:
Given the Chanukab detail that was certainly known when the
Mishnah. was edited at the end ofthe second century CE, one has to think
of its omission as deliberate. The editing was carried out by Rabbi
Judah Ha-Nasi, and it is generally held that he must have wanted ta
minimize talk of Chanukah because (as mentioned earlieron page 30) he
had very good relations with the Roman authorities, the current rulers
of Palestine, and was not keen to revive memories of rebellion
against an earlier overlord.
.
In general, it must be said that the rabbis always tended to be
pacifists. The central interest of life was to study the Torah, not to
disturb the peace which made this possible. This is a point overlooked
by almost all historians when they present the great Rabbi Akiba as
giving his moralblessing to the courageous rebel Bar Kokhba, quoting
an alleged remark that he must be the Messiah. Akiba could, in fact,
never have believed that a leader as ruthless as Bar Kokhba was a kind
of Messiah, despite a jovialremark relating to Bar Kokhba's unbelievable feats of strength.
The virtual omission of Chanukah from the Mishnah reflects not only
pacifism but also the rabbis' general dislike ofthe Hasmonean dynasty
of priest-kings who had established themselves, under Roman protection, in succession to the early Maccabee rulers. That the
Maccabees became heroic to the world at large in later years - the
subject of dramas and music of imrriense range - is largely due to the
lively account of their story in the books of Josephus, whose presentations of Jewish history became imrnensely popular in the Middle
Ages. Josephus was, in fact, the first to talk of the festival as 'a feast of
lights', though without any reference to the story now traditional ofthe
relighting of the Temple menorah. His account of the Temple's
rededication puts the emphasis on the resumption of sacrifices, a
triurnph to be celebrated for eight days. In trying to explain the
festival's name 'lights', he says, rather lamely: '1 suppose the reason
91

..

was because this liberty appeared to us beyond our hopes, and that this
was why the name "lights" was given to the festival. ,30

A Link with Sukkot


There are other oddities which scholars have examined, including
some links of Chanukah with the preceding Sukkot in the accounts ofthe
Temple's rededication. One such (II Maccabees 1:18) tells theJews of
Egypt, to whom the account is addressed, that they can celebrate a
Feast of Tabemacles at Chanukali time. Another (10:6-8) says that
during the preceding Sukkot theJews ofIsrael had been wandering in
. the mountains like beasts, unable to celebrare the festival. In consequence 'of this, it had now 'been decreed that Chanukali should offer.
'eight days of gladness as in the Feast of Sukkot'; to celebrate which they
should bring palms and sing psalms. To some, this suggests that the
eight days of Chanukali were a replacement for the 'lost' Sukkot. Another
suggestion is that the formal rededication ofthe Temple was carried out
in the seventh month (the Sukkot month) like that of Solornon's Temple
(1 Kings 8:2).
There is no mention in this that the eight days refers to the eight-day
miracle of the menorah, or that the festival is known, as J osephus says, as
'lights'. Yet this name and the candles have a strong air of ancient
origin, which has led some scholars to link this aspect of the festival to
the widespread practice of a 'lights' festival in ancient times around the
.shortest day of the year ~The Sukkot reference may suggest alternatively
that if Chanukali was a 'postponed' Sukkot (with its palms and booths), it
might have included the torch dancing of the Sukkot 'water-drawing'
festivities mentioned above (page 88).
But if there may never be a completeanswer
to the origin of the
'lights' name, there is a perenniaI interest in noting the myriad forms in
which the old instructionjto publicize' the miracle was - and is carried out, In some periods, caution dictated that a very public display
of Chanukah'lights should give way to keeping the.candles burning only
within the ..home, but fashions and security receive different emphasis at
different times. In our own day, it has become cornmon (partly under
the infiuence of the Lubavich movement) to erect a huge public
candelabrum for Chanukali in are as with 't substantial Jewish popu'larion, but if this is effective in dramatic terms, it is not as charming or
92

romantic as the scene in medieval Venice in which the Chanukah lights


were carried around on the canaIs. The English scholar Israel
Abrahams described this in his book on the festivals: 'TheJews would
on gondolas and row through their district, greeting each
em bark
. .
,31
illuminated house with a benediction and a merry Hebrew chorus. .
PresumabIy in the intervals of singing they had fu~ with the Chanu~ah
dreidel (spipning top), and enjoyed the consumpuon of the Venetian
equivalent of Chanukalt latkes (potato cakes).

,1
PURIM

(THE FESTIVAL

OF LOTS)

The Jewish festival calendar ends with Purim, a one-day c~rnival in


Adar, the twelfth month. It is as joyous as Chanukah but In a ,:ery
different style. Unlike Chanukah, it is based on a book of the Bible,
Esther, which tells how this beautiful Jewish gir! saves her people.
Chosen as the wife ofthe Persian king, she is then able, with her unele
Mordecai, to foil the plot ofthe villainous Haman to have all theJews
assassinated on a day he has chosen 'by lot'. For further documentation, there is a whole tractate of the Mishnali devoted to it.
Despite this documented background, Purim is in practice a festival
of joyous abandon. U nexpectedly this emerges in the most ~ormal of
settings, when Esthet is read in synagogue on the eve of,the festival. The
book is read from its scroll, with reverential devotion, but at the same
time with a continuous cacophony ofinterruptions, including laughter,
jeering and applause. Everyone knows the story, but everyone is on
tip-toe awaiting the next twist.
..
The celebrations outside the synagogue are equally familiar and
joyous, but behind alI this there is an abiding mystery. As a good read,
the book of Esther is totaHy absorbing, but one still wants to know
afterwards if one has to take it literally. This is in no way to question the
reality in Jewish life of the star characters, Mordecai and Esther, or
indeed of the villainous Haman ?ver whom they ultimately triumph. As
with any good novel, Esther is enjoyed at many levels. Most directly we
share the excitement ofthe action, suffering with our heroes in danger,
sighing with relief when all is well; but through alI this w: are a~so
aware of the story as a paradigm of Jewish history for an urne, with
hatred of the Jews being generated for no reason, and with immense
93

tragedies Iying in wait as a result. In this sense, Esther is totally 'true'


and is felt as such.
But this in a way irnpedes another kind of questioning. Where does
the story come from?What
is its real setting? What indeed is the
meaning of the riame Purim? On the Persian setting, the seholars are
very sceptical of what is a key element in the story, that the king
Ahasuen.is (Xerxes) took a J ewish girl Esther as a conort. Another
puzzle is that the names of our heroes are obviously drawn from the
names of the Babylonian gods Marduk arid Ishtar, though these
names may also have spread to Persia. There is also doubt on the
derivation of the name 'Purim' from a word meaning 'lots'. It is
. explained in the book as reealling that Haman drew lots ta determine
on what day he sbould order his 'pogrom' ta exterminate all theJews,
but this seems an unlikely origin. Mueh ingenuity has been expended
in looking for a more likely derivation.
On this, the timing of the festival may be relevant. It is celebrated
on the fourteenth (in some places the fifteenth) day of Adar, falling
usually In mid-March, exactly a month before Passover. A suggestion
by T. H. Gaster in his book on Old Testament folklore is that the
name may carne from an old Persian word phur meaning 'first', so that
the name - a parallel to primauera - signalled the approach of spring.
On the Babylonian location, he mentions that the carnival spirit of the
festival may echo the triumph in Babylonia oftheir gods Marduk and
Ishtar over their rival gods 'Hammam
and Kisrisha'
(Vashti in
Esther)'.

Purim as a Camioal

I
r

Looking beyond these speculations, it is the linking of incidents in


Esther to folk-patterns found widely at carnival time that suggests a ,
background ta this festival 'in the annual role-reversal - a brief
momentof power by a slve or clown or some other version of 'the
Lord of Misrule"- that is the key to the way the festival developed.
Folklore offers many versions of a commoner appointed as temporary
king between the end of one year and the beginning of the next, with a
triumpharit ride on horseback foreshadowing doom of execution, as
happens to Haman in Esther. This wa~ertainly
alI lived out with
tremendous
enthusiasm
in the parodies and role-reversals
that
94

burgeoned

in Jewish

carnival

nte on trns aay

aruurru

lJlC

L.C,HL":'"

characters of the festival story.


At one level, Esther is, of course, full of echoes of stories told in A
Thousand and One Nights; but if the romantic elements of.tw~ separate
themes - Vashti and Esther - are rather mixed up, the significance of
the central ]ewish theme emerges with masterly power. This is a:l the
more remarkable since it is the one book of the Bible with no mennon of
Gad. What emerges instead is an untrammeiled sense ofthe]e~s
~s a
people, owing totalloyalty
ta their heritage, but without spellmg out
the constituent elements oftheir faith.
The only 'instruction' in the book is to celebrate a holiday an th.iS"'"
day. Though all celebrations include the reading of the seroll of Est.her in
synagogue on Purim Eve and often on the next day too, the an.Clllary
festivities, including many forms ofrich Purim food, are very vaned. In
some communities, especially ofSephardim, the holiday spirit inclu.d~s
cessation from work and the closing of shops, but more generally It is
the sense oftheatre which receives the greatest expression.
Most obviously, the story of Esther is itself dramatized,
either
straight or in the hands of comic' Purim players'. There is certa.inly ~o
shortage ofscenes and characters, with court dramas, private nvalnes
and agreat range of major and minor heroes and villains ta draw ono
But side by side with this, Purim became the occasion for an extraordinary display of intellectual wit, thro~gh a r?llicking freedo.m ta
parody all authority on this one day. This even mcluded par~dles .of
Torah study, by the creation of mock Talmud passages of mfin.lte
subtlety. 1t was a process helped by a general permission ta be fre~ with
the drink on this occasion. There was a hearty welcome for the saymg of
a third-century
Babylonian teacher called Rava that on Purim one
should drink wine until one does not know the difference between
'blessed be Mordecai and cursed be Haman'. In the original, 'until one
doesn't know' is ad-lo-yada; and this phrase was adopted as the mott~ for
the first Purim carnival held in the new town of Tel Aviv in 1912. Since
that day, the hugely expanded carnivals of Tel Aviv and throughou t
Israel are known by this name.

A North African Purim


As a change from the voluminous

accounts of Purimjollity
95

that emerged

from Eastern Europe, it is rewarding - but not surprising - to find the


identical mood portrayed in a book about Jewish life in a small
Sephardi community of North Africa. An artist called Rafael Uzan,
who emerged from this background and now lives in Safed, has had his
vivid childhood memories recorded by the writer Irene Awret in a book
" called Days of Honey, with Purim high in"the list,32
"Early in February.ihe recalls, the teacher asked the ~hildren to open"
their Bible to the first page of Esther. Word by word they struggled ta
decipher the Hebrew text, their hatred for Haman growing with every
moment. Exactly a week before Purim, the teacher, his arms overflowing with rolls of coloured paper and a box of scissors, pushed open the
-door ofthe classroom with one elbow, to reveal the surprise:

blue lime, the first step an the arduous

ta a clean,

xosner

Passover'.
For us, too, the story of the individual festivals has now come fuU
circle, with Purim leading us back once again ta Pesach.

Playfully, aur ordin_arily caustic teacher held up the shiny sheets of


paper, bright yellow, grass-green, blue, purple and scarlet, destined
ta be cut into the main characters of aur Persian adventure. Older
boys taught us the trick: fald, cut, unfold, and a paper miracle took
place. Haman the scoundrel and his ten beturbaned sons stood up
before me, each with one mean eye in the middle of his head, their
little arms stretched heavenward to implore mercy.
From here an, the excitement mounted. Running through the village
to carry his mother's cakes to innumerable aunts, the coins he got
began to mount untii he and his friends could bargain with Ahmed, the
Arab horse-cart owner, for a pre-Purim drive through the streets. Still to
come was the great moment on Purim itself when the children
assembled in the school courtyard ta, set an fire with fiendish delight alI
the paper cages they had built to hold Haman and his family.
The pattern is universal, and with one additiona( factor that is
relevant to the subject of this book as a whole. In every Jewish
community, the delight of Purim was a marker that now they were free
to begin. work on the w-assive task of house-cleaning
and other
preparations
for the feast of Passover, exactly one month ahead."
Passover was the renewal oflife after the travails of the year now over.
What Rafael remembered from the little village in Tunisia would
apply everywhere: 'Passover preparations
got under way the very
moment Purim Hickered out. There was so much to be done if we wanted
to celebrate our feast of freedom properly ~ If the money would stretch,
the Arab house-painter would be hired 'to daub everything with sky-

96

road

97

Sabbath Eve

It is told that God said to Israel, "H you accept my Torah


and observe my Laws, 1 will giveyou for all eterniry the most
precious thing that 1have in my possession."
"And what," asked Israel, "is that precious thing Thou wilt
give us if we abey Thy Tarah?"
Gad: "The future world."
Israel: "But even in this world should we have a foretaste of
that other?"
Gad: "The Sabbath will give you this foretaste."

Sabbath brings the joy of the future life into the shtetl. This
the climax of the week, "a different wor1d, no worry, no
work."?" One lives from Sabbath to Sabbath, working an week
to earn for it. The days of the week fall into place around the
Sabbath. Wednesday, Thursday arid Friday are "before Sabbath,"
and they draw haliness Irom the Sabbath that is coming. Sunday,
Manday and Tuesday are "after Sabbath," and they draw holiness from the Sabbath that is past. Any delicacy that one finds
during the week should be bought and kept, if possible, "for
lS

Sabbath.'

The Sabbath is a day of rest, joy and devotion ta God. None


must work, none must mourn, none must worry, none must
hunger on that day. Any Jew who lacks a Sabbath meal should be
helped by those who have more than he. But of course one hopes
not to need help, for DO matter how poor a man may be he counts
As noted in the Preface, direct quotations rrom interviews are folIowed
by a . For other quotations the usual marks are used.
37

38

REMEMBER

THE SABBATH

an the Lord ta provide for the Sabbath meal. Some stroke of


Iuck, some sudden opportunity
to earn the price of a fish and a
fowl will surely turn up at the last moment-if
only one :goes after
it hard enough, Many stories and legends describe miracles by
which God at the last moment provided Sabbath fare for a devout
Jew who lacked means to "make Sabbath."
Sabbath is a Queen and a Bride; and an the Sabbath, "every
Jew is a king."
Perhaps not every Sabbath in every shtetl was alike for alI
the Jews of Eastern Europe. Perhaps everyone did not aiways enjoy a happy Sabbath. Yet the memories that live through the
years have a glowing uniformity.
On no point is there more
unanimity
than on the significance and the feeling of Sabbath in
the shtetl. It is remembered
as a tirne of ecstasy-father
in a
silken caftan and velvet skullcap, mother in black silk and pearls;
the glow of candles, the waves of peace and joy, the glad sense
that it is good to be a Jew, the distant pity for those who have
been denied this foretaste of heaven.
Friday is the day of the eve of Sabbath, Ereu Shabbes. It is
set apart from other days because, although it is not a holiday, it
is the day on which one makes ready ta greet the Sabbath. The
shtetl housewife wakes up earlier than usual with the thought,
"Today is Erev Shabbes-I
must hurryl" Even if she usually works
at the shop ar market, an this day she will try ta stay home ta
prepare for the reception of the Queen Sabbath. First of all she
pours over her hands the ..fingernail water" -the water that stood
by her bed ovemight in a glass ar a cup ta be at hand for the
ritual ablution
that must start each day, and says the short
morning prayer with which each day must begin. Then she puts
on her oldest dress, her work apron, ties a kerchief over her head,
and rolIs up her sleeves.
Before the others are awake she "fires the oven" with logs
50 that it will be ready for use. She feeds the family as they appear, as quickly as possible, and bundles the boys off to schoo1.
Meanwhile she inspects the dough that she set ta rise last night
for the Sabbath Ioaf, the hallah, She begins to clean the chicken
that she bought
yesterday,
watching
anxiously-"it
shouldn't
happenl't=-Ior any forbidden flecks of blood, blister on the giz-

SABBATH

EVE

zard or other calamity


that would raise
chicken was kosher-ritually
fit to eat.

doubts

whether

1:
-]

If it did happeri, someone would have ta hurry to the raP--'


asking breathlessly, "Is it kosher?" and waiting in painful susper ,
unril the rabbi, after studying the chicken arid the relevant 1awsl
declared, "Kosherl"
o

The fish, also purchased


on Thursday,
must be cleane
chopped, seasoned, prepared
for cooking. "Without
fish," tuJ
saying goes, "there is no Sabbath." AlI the rest of the SabbatK
f?od must be prepared as well, for after sundown no fire may
Iit, no work may be done. There will be noodles, that the
wife kne~ds ~n~ H~ttens out, rolling the thin sheet into a Ion
floury cod, slicing It and spreading
the fine slivers to dry on
elean eloth.

hou~i

Next she braids the dough into "twists" ready for bakinJ
Before the loaves are placed on the hot bricks she thraws a bit
d~ugh into the ~re saying, "Blessed be Thou, Oh Lord our GOI(
Klllg of the Universs, who hast hallowed us by His command
ments and commanded
to take of the hallah."
/
I

. This .is one of the three rituals known as the "womanly


~utles. Without this offering, hallah would not be fir for its pa
III the Sabbath
feast. Jf by mischance she forgets it, however, sh"
can "take hallah" when she removes the loaves frorn the oven,
From sunrise to sunset the day is a race with rime. The whoi
house must be cleaned, the floors swept and sanded, the wooL
work washed, the kitchen
tabies and benches scrubbed,
th
towels changed. The housewife darts from broom ta oven ani
back again,peering,
stirring, prodding, dusting, giving commanL
ta her daughters and ordering all rnales ta keep Erom underfoo:
The day whir1s an; the hallah has been lifted out Withj
long-~andied
~hoveI, and gIazed with white of egg. The Ioa v
are high and I~ght-God has answered the prayer whispered whil.
she was kneadmg the dough, and she will not be ashamed bef0l
her husband, her family and the neighbors.
o

Ta fit. each ~ask i.n with all the


of domestic engmeenng,
especially
from schooI at noon on Friday and
snack=perhaps
with a smack. Of

others requires a high ordei


since the boys come ho .
must be disposed of with
a wornan who has troubr-

40

REMEMBER

THE

SABBi_TH

coping with the domestic routine and runs a confused house, it is


"For her every day is Erev Shabbes.'
Meanwhile the beggars make the rounds of houses and stores,
for in most places Friday is the beggars' day. Each beggar has his
regular beat and each household has its pile
coins ready, probably presided over by one of the children. Each beggar is known,
and in turn knows the amount he may expect from each household. If he is given two kopeks where three are the rule, there
will be no end to his rage and complaints.
Sometimes food will
be given instead of money, and a privileged beggar may be given
both.

said scornfully,

of

Each Friday

are do ne in the same order and


that Sabbath may arrive before alI is ready. A woman knows the tasks and their order from
long experience,
reaching
back to childhood
n her mother's
house; and from her mother's house she also knows the Friday
fear that the sun may set too soon. The fear is sharpest when the
whole routine must be fitted into the "short Friday" of midwinter.

'1 f

I
1

the same duties

i.

After the house is cleaned she turns ta the children,


who
must be washed from the tops of their crowns ta the tips of their
toes, and dressed in dean dothes from inside out. Their heads
must be doused, soaped and finally rinsed with kerosene and the
odor of their de anli ness is an aur a about them. After they are
dressed they are stiff with the command
ta keep their dothes
dean for the Sabbath.
A pile of dean clothes must be prepared for each of the men
and oider boys. Carefully folded an top of the bundle is the talis
koton that they must always wear, and wear in such a way that it
is visible. It is a large square of white wool with black stripes
along two edges and with a hole in the middle sa that it can be
slipped over the head. At each corner are knotted fringes, and

I
t

the knots must be the correet kind and number. It is also called
"Iour corners," arba han/os.

f-

even in bed. A blessing must always be said when it is put on and


although almost no womenwear
it, the regulations stipulare that
a woman who does sa must say the blessing.
When the men return from their shops and market stalls, or
from' their journeying,
-the bundles will be ready for them.
Wherever one is, he will try
reach home in time to greet the
Sabbath with his own family. The peddler traveling from village
to village, the itinerant
tailor, shoemaker, cobbler, the merchant
off on a rrip, all will plan, push, hurry, trying to reach home before sunset an Friday evening.
As they pres5 homeward
the shammes calls through
the
streets of the shtetl, "Jews to the bathhouse!" A functionary
of
the 5ynagogue, the shammes is a combination
of sex ton and
beadle. He speaks with an authority more than his OW11, for when
he calls "jews ta the bathhouse" he is summoning them to a cornmandment.
All who can, respond. The women are usually so caught in
the tangle of their preparations
that they must perform their
ablutions at home. But the men and boys seize their clean clothing and from all the streets they bear down on the bathhouse,
their bundles under their arms. There they will be cleansed in
the bath and purified by three ceremonial immersions in the pa oI
of "living water" known as the mikva. Meanwhile,
they will be
entertained
by the conversation of their peers. The bath is like a
Turkish bath and those who are prosperous enough ta stop work
early can plan to linger chatting in the steam, slapping themselves with "broorns" made of supple twigs, and basking. For the
others the ceremony must be brisk, since Sabbath is almost here.
Coming home from the bathhouse,
dressed in their dean
clothes, they put away the soiled garments and cover themselves
with the carefuIly cherished Sabbath caftan, tying in its fullness
with a silken girdle. The Sabbath caftan is usually of "ailk." It
may be sateen if the man is very poor, and the black fa brie, whatever it is, may be green with age, frayed and mended. But the
Sabbath caftan is made of "silk" and is a very special garment,
stored away during the week with the rest of the Sabbath and
holiday clothes, There is a Sabbath cap too, also of a precious

ta

each Friday brings the same anxiety

1'

41

SABBATH EVE

A male Jew wears it rrom the time he begins ta walk, and is


forbidden ta move about without the ta lis koton. A child cannot
wear it before he is trained ta be "clean," however, for there
would be dan ger that it might be defiled. Some men wear it

fabric-satin

ar velvet perhaps

for the opulent,

The coat pockets

42

REMEMBER

THE SABBATH

SABBATH

EVE

. 43

must be emptied of all money, since none may be touched ar


carried on the Sabbath. If by any chance the coat is put an after

treasured Sabbath candlesticks. If a family should have ta leave


"Gad Iorbid," whatever else may be abandoned,
the candlestick

children will happily perform the duty of emptying


Iather's poekets, rewarded by the privilege of keeping for thernselves any stray coins they may find.
.

will be kept.
The woman of the house lights the candles, praying as she
does sa, "Blessed art Thou,: oh Lord our. God, King of the Universe, who hast hallowed us by His Commandments and cornmanded us ta kindle the Sabbath Iightl" She says the prayer in
Hebrew, which she may ar may not understand,
for Hebrew is the
language of religion. Her prayer is alrnost inaudible
ta earthly
ears. Men say some prayers alo ud but a woman usually moves
her lips and barely murmurs
the words. Having lighted ilie
candles she moves her arms over them in a gesture of embrace,
drawing to her the holiness that rises Eram their flames. She
draws the holiness ta herself, but not for herself only, for she
represents her household.
In the glow of the flames and of their sanctity she covers her
eyes with her hands, and now she says her own prayer, dictated
by her heart. This prayer is not in the language of ritual but in
Yiddish, her own vernacular.
She is free ta pray as she wilI, but
she will probably repeat one of the familiar forms that have been
used through the years, begging for the welfare of each member
of her household, adding only the few special phrases and pleas
that mark the prayer as her own.
Of ten she weeps as she prays and it would be hard ta say ta
what extent the tears themselves are part of the ritual. For sa
many generations
women have wept as they prayed over the
Sabbath candles, te ars of grief or of gratitude, of hope ar of Iear,
tears for themselves, for their families, for their people. Through
the years littIe girl5 have seen their mothers standing rapt and
the tears between their fingers shining in the candle light, seeming
ta be part of the prayer.
Lighting the candles is another of the three commandments
special ta women. The third is the ritual purification
at. the
mikva aher menstruation.
If a woman performs her three corn.
mandments
without fail, she may feel secure about her future
life.
Orice the candles have been Iighted, Sabbath is within the
home, AlI is ready. The race is won, anxiety vanishes, the breath~

sundown,

The boys, down ta the very srnallest, are dressed like 'their
fathers in long black caftan and black cap ar hat. The very .little
ones may have short trousers underneath,
and childish socks peeking out from under the hem of the dignified eoat.
.
At Iast the housewife, with house and family furbished for
the taste of heaven on earth, turns to preparing
herself. By the
time she is .ready the men ha ve returned frorn the bathhouse, stiH
racing against time-for
they must be at the synagogue by sundown. They depart quickly whiIe she puts the last touches an her
own costume. The kerchief is replaeed by the wig or sheytl that
covers her cropped hair, and her splashed and rumpled cotton
dress is replaced by the Sabbath dress of black silk, enriched with
whatever
jewelry she has ta mark her dignity as a wife and
mother.
.
For many women a Sabbath without jewelry would be almost like a Sabbath without ehicken ar fish. The ideal Sabbath
jewel is a necklace of pearIs. It is said that even if hard times
forced one ta pawn her pearls, she might hope to have them back
for the Sabbath.
"an Monday morning,
mother returned
her
pearIs (ta the pawnbroker)
and then on Friday night he would
bring them ta her again."o
As the sun sets, Queen Sabbath
enters the shtetl, "ta be
greeted by the men and boys at the synagogue, by the women and
girls at home. The precise moment when each Sabbath begins is
noted an the official calendar and is announced
by the shammes.
Then the mother in her sheytl, her Sabbath dress and pearls, performs the ritual of lighting the candles. No household will have
less than two and those that can afford it will have one for each
living member of the home Iarnily, in a five ar seven braneh
candlestick
of silver or brass-with
additional
holders if they are
needed. Probably
the candlestick
is a family heirloom
handed
down from mother ta daughter
through the generations.
There
are few heirlooms in the shtetl, but most households
have their

44

less rush of the day changes ta slow serenity which wi1l continue
until the new week begins. The table is prepared, with its white
cloth, two Sabbath loaves set out an it and covered with a nap\ kin=-if possible,
an embroidered
one. The housewife herself ~is
Iressed and ready, no work need be done nor is any permitted,
Therefore on Friday evening in the first peace of Sabbath she mav
it at ease with no sense of guilt for idleness, and open her book.
This is the special prayer book for wornen, containing the prayers
: women need to know, with Yiddish rranslations
of the ones that
,re in Hebrew. In the book also are legends, sermons and homilies
o help her fulfill her duties as a Jewish wife and mother. So
i she may sit quietIy reading-if
she knows how to read-until
the
, rnen return Eram the synagogue.
She will not have long to wait, for the F:riday evening service
at the synagogue is short. Its main feature is the welcoming by the
Chosen People of the Sabbath, their Bride. "Come, oh Cherished
)ne, and meet the Bridel Let us welcome the face of Sab_athl ... "
There is little time for musing and reading before the men
, etum, the head of the household and his sons, and perhaps the
yrekh, the guest for the Sabbath meal. If the household can
afford it there will surely be an oyrekh, for wirhout a guest no
I "abbath is truly complete. He may be a stranger from sorne other
nmuniry who was unable to get home for the Sabbath. He may
: be a delega te, traveling ro collect funds for some educational
in,"itution.
He may be, poor fellow, a Jewish conscript posted in
rwn, Or he may be a rabbinical student studying day and night,
' and Ied by. different households in turn so that in a sense his
'o ard consntutes a community fellowship.
Whoever he is, any stranger in need will come to the synagogue an Friday evening and at the end of the service he will ex-ect tohbe invited to some home. Frst rights of hospitality usually
) to t e more prosperous. The shamrnes may bustle up to a rich
:..uan and tell him, "I have a guest." Or the rich man may ask the
! "'lammes,
"Anyone for the Sabbath?"
I
There is a legend that every Sabbath
Gad sends the prophet
--lFh, dressed as a needy stranger, ta visit the Jews and observe
tl:le way they are fulfilling Ris Commandments.
Accordingly the

\
I

1
'

i,

l
J.

1
!

1~

REMEMBER THE SABBATH

1:

SABBATH EVE

45

stranger one brings home may be the prophet. No legend is required, however, to stimulare Sabbath hospitality. :rop~et
or
beggar, to feed the hungry is a "good deed," especlally if the
stranger is a Jew who cari eat onlykosher food. Therefore it is a
privi lege to share the Sabbath feast, even if -by ill luck it is a
meager one.
The first words as the men and boys enter are "Gui Shabbes]'
the weekly greeting exchanged with all the holiday zest of an
annual Happy New Year, The man of the house recites his greeting to the Sabbath Angels, "Peace be unto you, ye ministering
Angels, rnessengers of the most High ... " He does net murmur
as did his wife, but speaks audibly, slowly pacing the room as he
prays, with his head bent slightly and his hands behind his back.
Little boys imitate their father's words, his posture, his gait, and
the oyrekh joins them. When the small boy becomes a father and
his little sister a housewife, the words of the prayers, the gestures,
the intonations will already have become part of them.
The father says a second prayer, the chapter "in praise of the
virtuous wife" from the Proverbs of Solomon. HA woman of
worth-who
can find .her? For her price is far above rubies. The
heart of her husband trusteth in her ... "
Now the head of the famiIy fills the ceremonial goblet with
wine, takes it into his hands, and chants the kiddush-the prayer
consecrating the Sabbath-and
the blessing over wine. Re fills the
cup to the brim, symbolizing abundance, and all stand while he
"makes kiddush."
When the father finishes he takes a sip from the gob1et and
hands it to his wife. The wife, daughters and younger children
say the blessing over wine, but not the kiddush, and each takes a
sip. .The older boys and the ovrekh say kiddush aher the Iarher,
also over a full cup of wine. If a very honored guest is presenta grandfather or a learned man-he is given the privilege of saying kiddush first. The word kiddush means consecration. Theritual establishes the presence of the Queen Sabbath in the family
and the participation
of all its members in the Sabbath holiness.
The Sabbath rneal, like every rneal, is preceded by the ceremonial washing of the hands, pouring water over them three
times as the blessing is said. Before sitting

down the father

re-

46

REMEMBER

THE

SABBATH

moves the hat in which he returned from the synagogue and almost with the same gesture substitutes a skullcap from his pocket,
since it is commanded that his head be covered at alI times. Then
at last the family gather around the table set with the best linen
and the best dishes. During the week, meals may be hurried and
irregular, eaten in snatches and in solitude, whenever one has
time or feels hungry, During the week the mother may never find
time to sit at the table. But on Sabbath all sit down together, men
and boys on one side, women and girls an the other. The father
sits at the head, the mother at his right. The festive table is set in
the best room-if they have one-which during the week is Iittle
used except as a retreat in which the father can study,
I
The lengthy meal begins with the blessing of the hallah. The
father silently and deliberately rernoves the napkin, lifts the two
loaves, holding them together, then sets them down again. He
passes the knife over one of thern, then cuts the other in hali and
gives each person a slice. Each one breaks a bit from his slice, dips
it in salt, and "makes the blessing" for bread. All blessings are
in Hebrew and while they are being pronounced no word of a
profane language must be spoken. Theref.ore during the ritual
prologue of the meal the only words uttered are in Hebrew, and
-except for the kiddush-are murmured rather than spoken
alo ud.
The ruIe against breaking into the sacred Ianguage with the
vernacular may Iead ta embarrassment, If the father suddenly
finds there is no towel ta wipe his hands aher the hand washing,
ar no knife for the blessing of the hail ah, ar no salt for it, he cannot ask in Yiddish for the missing article, and even if he knows
the word in Hebrew his wife may not. Therefore he must resort
to dumb show, gesticulation and inarticulate grunts to announce
the emergency.
When the ritual proIogue 1S finished, the mother brings in
the fish, spiced and perhaps sweetened, and gives each one a piece.
The Iather receives the head in deference to his Iarnily status and
he may then present it to his wife in token of her excellence and
his esteem. The fish is followed by chicken broth "clear Iike
amber" with the finely cut noodles, aher which comes boiled beef
ar chicken, or both.

SABBATH

EVE

47

The delicacies of Sabbath are enjoyed slowly, with time to


appreciate each mouthful, and with pames between each course.
The mother's hard work is rewarded by admiring comments about
her skill=-the fiavor of the fish gravy. the golden color of the fat
an the soup, the tenderness of the fowl-."it faIls apart inyour
mouth." This is the time when she receives her weekly recompense
of praise.
The waits between courses give time for learned conversation between father and sons, for comments an community
affairs, or for plying the oyrekh with questions about his own
shtetl, and about what he has seen and heard on his travels. As
the men converse the girls and women listen eagerly, their eyes
active and their tongues still.
At the end of the meal a11pour a few drops of water an their
hands. Knives, symbolic of bloody weapons, are covered ar taken
away and zmiros are sung-a series of songs praising Gad and
celebrating good cheer. The placid zmiros melodies, associated
with the happy, peaceful afterglow of the Sabbath rneal, are
among the favorite Jewish tunes and the ones most apt to be
hummed during hours of work or meditation,
The Sabbath candles burn lower as the meal comes ta an
end. No member of the family may blow them out or move the
candle holders because an the Sabbath a Jew must avoid all contact with fire or with anything related to it. Therefore at bedtime
all lights will be extinguished and alI fires taken care of by someone who is net subject to the severe Sabbath regulations. Often
some non-Jew, a shabbes goy, is pa.id by the comrnuniry for this
service. As he goes from house to house, he may also be rewarded
by the individual families with a piece of hallah, different in appearance and taste from the dark bread of his everyday menu.
As the family go to bed, they know that every other Jewish
household in the shtetl has enjoyed the prescribed observances in
the same way. They know too that all are enjoying release from
care. Not only weekday acts but even weekday thoughts are forbidden on the Sabbath. One must put aside alI concern about
business, money, family problema, and think only of God and .
His Law; for Sabbath is a foretaste of the fu ture Iife in which

_)

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48

REMEMBER THE SABBATH

there will be ilO worry, but only happiness and the pleasure of
studying the Holy Words.
Even the saul is different, for an Sabbath an additional saul,
nshomeh veseyreh, is joined to it. AiI week this saul is with Gad
but on the Sabbath nshomeh yeseyreh is added ta each man,
woman and child; and while it is present no cares or worries can
spoi! the joy that is a foretaste of the fu ture.
Not only does each ]ew know that an those in the shterl are
sharing his Sabbath experience. He feels, beyond that, a cornmunity with ]ews who are celebrating the Sabbath all over the
world. This is a major strand in the Sabbath feeling-a sense of
proud and joyous identification with the tradirion, the past, the
ancestors, with al] the ]ewish world living ar gone. On the
Sabbath the shtetl feels most strongly and most gladly that "it is
good ta be a ] ew."

Sabbath Dar

According to tradition, the synagogue is a House of Study,


a House of Prayer and a House of Assembly, On Sabbath morning
it is chiefiy a House of Prayer.
After the morning rituals=the "fingernail water," the blessings,-and perhaps a glass of sweetened tea, the Jews of the shtetl
move in family groups to attend the Sabbath services. An are
wearing their Sabbath best, although it appears uniform and
somber as compared ta the brilliance and variety of the Sunday
best the neighboring peasants will wear ta church the next day
for their Sabbath.
The father comes first in the family group. Men usually wear
a black caftan reaching at least ta the knees but in some regions
to the ankles, and girdled for prayer with a black silk cord
knotted around the waist-to separate the gadly part of the body,
the mind and the heart, from the lower part. Most of the men
wear beards and the pious have earlocks, for both the beard and
the Iocks growing over their ears should be left untouched by
scissors ar by blade fram infancy. The men must have their heads
covered at an times, with a hat ar the small skullcap called
yarmelkeh. On the way ta the synagogue, the Sabbath yarmelkeh
is replaced ar covered by a hat, perhaps one with a fur brim
araund which are set small fur tails.
The wornen, walking a little behind their husbands, are also
dressed in black or dark colors, brightened by their best jewelry
and perhaps a lace scarf thrown over the matron's wig. If their
daughters were with them the pastel blues and pinks of the
girls' dresses would brighten the Sabbath parade ta the synagogue,
but young girls usually stay at home ta sleep ar play or gassip
49

50

REMEMBER

TI-IE SABBA TH

ar tend the babies while the grownups and the boys are at the
Sabbath services.
The family gToupSmoving toward the synagogue proceed at
a. Sabbath pace=slow, measured, dignified, in contrast ta the
weekday rush. The sons clustering araund their parents look like
smaii beardless editions of the father. Some of the little boys may
praudly carry the mother's prayer book, perhaps decorated with
silver clasps and velvet covers, probably handed down from her
own mother. And one of them may carry the Iather's praying
shawl, his talis, Iolded in the case his wife embroidered for him
as a wedding gift. The white talis, striped in black and fringed
at the corners, is the garment that clothes the man in the folds of
his faith. It enfolds him while he prays, perhaps even while he
studies the Holy Law, and it is wrapped about him when he is
buried. Ris Iathers talis was wrapped about him when as a tiny
child he was carried ta school for the first time, and when for the
first time he was "called to the Tarah"; and he wraps rus talis
about his own son for the same occasions. Each morning before
his first prayers, he must examine the fringes of his talis ta make
sure that they are kosher-that is, ritually fit for use--that all the
knots are in order and none of the tassels is torn.
If a child does not carry the father's talis, the man will wear
it over his shoulders, for an Sabbath it is forbidden ta carry anything outside one's own home, For the same reason, a handkerchief will be tied around the wrist ar tucked into the belt rather
than carried in the pocket. A little boy is less strictly govemed
by this prohibition, although he also must observe the Sabbath
regulations within appropriate limits.
Only under one condition may a pious man carry his own
talis or prayer book an Sabbath. If a "fence" has been constructed
around a group of houses, the area enclosed may be regarded
as one's home, and objects may be carried in it. The "ferice,"
eyruv, is a cord ar a wire, stretched around the shtetl, under the
supervision of the rabbi, who concludes the ritual by declaring
that "this is no lan ger a public domain, but the domain of an
individual." There is always the danger, however, that-despite
the weekly inspection-the "Ience" may have been braken at some
point, in which case carrying would no longer be permissible,

SABBATH

DAY

51

Therefore it is safer not ta carry even the ritual objects. Moreover, fuIl observance of the Sabbath prohibitions is more in
keeping with the well-beloved and much enjoyed feeling of the
Sabbath, the feeling that it is another world, another life, another set of customs.
The family may attend services at the main synagogue, the
shul, open only an Sabbath ar holidays. Or they may go ta the
besmedresli which, unlike the shul, is open aIways for prayer and
study. If the shtetl is veri small indeed, the shul and the besrnedresh may be one. As a rule, however, a shtetl wilI be more rich
in congregations than the size of its population would suggest. If
it is big enough it may have a number of guild syuagogues-one
for tailors, one for shoemakers, one for butchers. If the family
belong ta the Hassidim they will go ta the services of their chosen
Hassidic congregation.
It would be possible, though not usual, ta go ta no synagogue,
but to join a minyan ar quorum of ten adult male Jews. Any
room can serve as a place for prayer, provided it holds the Holy
Scrolls and has an its doorpost a mezuzah, The mezuzah is a small
box ar tube in which is sealed a piece of parchment bearing stipuIated passages from the Bible written in twenty-two lines. Its
presence an the doorpost makes a raom ar a house Jewish, for
it has been commanded, "Thou shalt bind the words of the Law
for a sign . . . upon thy door." The mezuzah is "kissed" an entering and on Ieavmg the house,
The main synagogue, the real shul, is more elabora te than
the other houses of worship in the shtetl, yet it lacks the splendor
associated with a church. The exterior conforms ta whatever style
of architecture prevails in the locality. The interior is apt ta be
comparatively nondescript. Long benches, facing the East, support wooden racks that serve as "reading desks" for the bench behind. In the center is a railed-off platform, the bimah, an which
stands a table where the scrolls are unrolled for reading. From J
the birnah, also, sermons are preached, important community .
announcements are made, Iunds for community services are
raised, and individual grievances are expressed.
j
Only at one point is there elaborare decoration. At the center of the Eastern Wall, the mizrakh, is the Ark of the Tarah, a

),
52

l'
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REMEMBER

THE

cabinet of wood omamented


with carving. Before its carved doors
is hung a rich curtain of velvet or satin, heavily embroidered.
Each of the Holy Scrol1s within the Ark contains the full text
of the: Torah-the
five books of the Pentateuch.
The scrolls are
encased in sumptuous
covers of satin or velvet=white,
red, bright
blue, yellow-embroidered
with gald or silver, perhaps
with
spangles, The six-pointed star of David is usually a prominent
part of the design. Other favorite themes are lions of Judah, the
tablets of the ten commandments,
and the doves that symbolize
peace.
The Holy Scroll is wound on two handsome wooden rollers
and covered with its splendid cloak, which is of ten replaced by a
special holiday mantle for great occasions. It is further adorned
with a crown of wrought silver in which are set bells that tinkle
when it is earried Irom the Ark where it reposes ta the bimah
where it is read, In the drab surroundings,
the richness of the
Torah's setting is as pronounced
an oasis as is the brightness of
Sabbath itse1f against the humdrum
weekday round. There may
be numerous scroIls in the Ark, for to present a Torah to the
shul is a favorite and mandatory
form of visible piety.
vVhen the family enters the synagogue, the women and men
separa te. The women go ta ezras noshim, the women's 'sectiona separa te upstairs room, with windows through which they can
hear the service and see a little of it. The men pass through an
outer room or Iobby to the main assembly room. At the entrance
is a basin and a pitcher from which they pour water over their
hands three times, repeating the blessing that always aeeompanies
this act. Before praying ar eating, the hands must be wet three
times with "living"-that
is, not stagnant-water,
and the correct
blessing must be "made."
Then the man proeeeds to the seat he has bought or inherited from his father. It he is a man of high status, a leader in
the community, it wi1l be at the Eastern Wall, the mizrakh, toward which all faces are turned when prayers are said, A man of
sornewhat less exalted standing
will sit in the front row-"the
minor" -facing the mizrakh, while behind him are the common
people, and at the very rear, around a Iarge bare table near the
entrance, are seated the beggars and the strangers. The rabbi and

53

SA..BBATH DAY

SABBATH

his assistant, as the most honored

1
t

t
I

II
I
t

members of the community,


are nearest to the Ark an the Eastern Wall,
Before beginning
h1S Sabbath pr.ayers the man covers his
head with his talis, 50 that he is completely enveloped
by the
great white shawl whieh falIs down to his ankles on all sides, but
under no circumstances
must be alIowed ta drag an the floor ar
ta be stepped an. As he puts it on, he pronounces the blessing for
the talis. Like all the ritual blessings it begins with the words,
"Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our Gad, Ring of the U niverse .... "
A minimum
of one hundred blessings should be said each day.
They are uttered whenever a ritual garment is put on, before eating ar drinking, on seeing a learned man, in connection with any
strange or unusual event and also with sueh life activities as
going to bed, putting an new clothes, bodily elimination.
The
blessing for putting on the ta lis ends, " ...
and who hast cornmanded us to enwrap ourselves in the fringed garment.'
Having pronouneed
the blessing, one puts the talis around
his shoulders and is ready to begin his Sabbath morning prayers.
They are a composite of paeans ta God, blessings, thanksgivings
and pl:eas, drawn from Bible chapters or psalms and from prayers
composed in different periods of Jewish history. Their order is
fixed, and though most men know most of the prayers, each one
keepshis
prayer book open throughout,
to avoid error. The ignorant have ta folIow the text word by word and although many
of them understand
the Hebrew, a few-and most of the womendo not.
Prayers

are

accompanied

by a roeking

movement

of the

body, from the waist or from the toes. The motion varies from an

I
r

almost impereeptible
swaying through
the more pronounced
roeking of the very orthodox,
ta the violent movements of the
Hassidim. Some prayers are chanted with a special melody, some
are said aloud and slowly, some are murmured
at great speed.
Some are' said in sitting position, some standing. Some are read,
chanted ar sung by the cantor who stands behind a pulpit near
the Ark, and the congregation repeats or responds.
When one comes in late, as some do, he must go through the
prayers in their proper order until he catehes up with the cantor
and the congregation,
which is done with incredible speed. The

I
J

SABBATH
REMEMBER

THE

DAY

55

SABBATH

54
whole room is aswaying
mass of black and white, filled with a
tangle of murmur
and low chantings,
above which the vibrant
voice of the cantor rises and Ialls, implores and exults, elaborating
the traditional
melodies with repetitions
and modulation5
that
are his own. The congregation
prays as one, while within that
unity each man as an individual speaks directly ta God.
The most important
prayer of all=on Sabbath as on weekdays-is the silent prayer, the Eighteen Blessings, which must be
read silently. not swaying but standing still, facing the East. No
word rnay be said and no interruption
allowed during the Eighteen BlessingsThe women upstairs
are also going through
the Sabbath
prayers. Like the men, they are seated in order of descending
status from front ta rear. There is rustling of Sabbath silks and
silent comparing
of Sabbath jewels, as they repeat the ~rayer5
aher the zogerkeh-a woman who, unlike rnost of thern, 15 able
to read and understand
Hebrew. She reads the prayer and they
repeat it aher her, following each syllable and intonation.
When
she says, "women, now you must weep,' the women weep. Her
service is rewarded,
not by money, but by the gratification
of
performing
a "good deed."
At a certain poin t the cantor interrupts
the prayers for the
reading of the Torah-the
five books of the Pentateuch.
The entire text is divided into weekly sections so that in the course of
ane year the whole of the Tarah will be read. Every weekly section is followed by the reading
of a small partion
from the
Prophets, called Haftorah.
The Holy Seroll is carried with jingling bells and due ceremony. from the Ark to the bimah, where it is carefully unrolled
ta the proper passage and placed on the table. Each week sever al
members of the congregation
are honored by the aliyah, that is
by being "called ta the reading" of part of the section for that
day, The one who is called does not actually pronounce
the
sacred words, sin ce that would entail too great a risk for himself
and the community.
If he should make a single slip some rnisfartune might faU upan the shtetl. Therefore
it is necessary ta
have a professional
"Master of reading" who has been trained ta

chant the text without an error. This expert, moreover, must read
each syllable and not depend on his memory for it, even thouzh
he undoubtedly. knows i~ well. He points out 'Nord by word, widt
a decoratedpomter
of IVOry or lacquered wood shap d Iik
.'
..
.
'
eLe
a
hand with a pomtmg index finger-since
the holy text must not
be touched with the "naked hand." The pointer must not be
made of metal, for metal is used in weapons that shed blood,
As he reads, the man who has been called stands at his rizht
silently moving his lips. But at the end, as at the beginning t:I'o,ne'
pronounces
a blessing m a sure, ringing
voice ,--each tim e kilsslng
.
O.
the edge of his talis with which he has touched the holy text.
!hen h~ moves ta the left si de, where he stands during the Iollowmg section, at the end of which he returns ta his seat and is succeeded by the one who was called after hirn.
T.o be called at all is an honor, but certain passages are more
hononfic. than others and are cherished rewards of service to the
c~mmulllty.
One of these is the enurneration
of the blessings
gIv~n by Moses ta the Jews before his death. But most choice OI
all . 15 the. first. chapter of Genesis ' and the privilege of" rea dimg "
this sectl~n 1S a~ctioned off each year, the proceeds going ta the
con:mumty services through which the shtetl protects the welfare
of its mernbers. The weekly prize is ta be matir, that is ta be
called ta the reading of the Haftorah.
AlI readings are marked by some donation ta the communit .
Whe~ arnan is "called up' he will whisper into the ear of t~~
gaba!, ar manager of the synagogue, the arnount he plans t
.
thi
.
o gIve,
:m d
is will be .ann~unced
ta the congregation.
Each man gives
m ac~ordance with h1S means, and if he is too poor ta give at all
he will offer a tokerr donation of a penny. If, on the other hand
a ma.n of substance has lagged in his contributions
ta the corn:
:nUlllty we~fare, one way of prompting
hirn to open his pocket
is to call him to the reading of the Torah. No one can refuse a
call ta the Tarah which is really a call by the Torah; an the contrary,
. .he must ."rise quickly and carne with swift steps . lf , h owever,
he 15 infirm with age ar illness, it is permissible for him to move
slowly, leaning
an a cane il need be-despite
the Sabbath
prascription
against carrying-or
assisted by some other person.

56

REMEl\fBER

SABBATH DAY

THE SABBATH

oyrekh enjoys the hospitaliry of his host throughout the Sabbath.


As the family groups return through the unpaved shtetl
streets, they see about them the other rnernbers of the community,
the non-jews, goyim, going about their business as usual, the
children running barefoot through the mud. And as they see, they
pity the barefoot goyim, deprived OI the Covenant, the Law, and
the joy of Sabbath. True, they will have their own kind of Sabbath an the fallowing day. But it i5 a different kind, "something
else again." Moreover, for the devout members of the shtetl, Sunday is part of the week and no true Sabbath at all. "We thought
they were very unfortunate.
They had no enjoyment ...
no
Sabbath ...
no holidays ...
no fun ... "0 "They'd drink a
lot and you couldn't blame them, their lives were sa miserable.l'"
The Saturday meal is eaten at once so that the "delight of .
Sabbath," oneg Shabbes, which follows the meal, may be as long
as possible. The cholent is taken rrom the oven where it has been
kept since the day before. It is a hearty dish that may contain a
variety of ingredients in addition to fat and potatoes or groats,
eaten with the cold remains of last night's chicken and with
draughts of vodka ar brandy for the men. There will be kugel
also, a baked pudding made of noodles, brown and sweet, with
raisins and cinnamon,
Now the real Sabbath peace, menukhas Shabbes, descends.
After the long, arduous week comes the Sabbath rest. Quiet falls
over the shtetl, as in every house the father sleeps, perhaps with
a handkerchief over his face ta keep off the flies, and the mother
who never rests all week Iies sleeping while the sun shines.
Throughout
the shtetl, alI obey the command to banish thoughts
of daily problema, ta enjoy and ta rest. It is commanded ta forget
alI cares and therefore one is at peace. The children, who soon
have enough of resting, play quietly 50 that their sleeping elders
will not be disturbed.
Theyawaken
ta a new phase of Sabbath. an Saturday afternoon, after the nap and a reviving glass of tea-brewed
from the
kettle that has been kept hot since yesterday-the
Sabbath "hearings" are in order. In an the more literate households,
the
Iathers test their sons ta discover what progress is being made at

Severi men are called ta read each week. The first twa must

57

always be members of the two known surviving tribes of Israel:


the Kohanim, ar priests: and the Levites. A bridegroom is called
both before and after his wedding. A new Iather is called "even
if the baby is a female," a boy is called when he ."becomes a man"
at the age of thirteen. One who wishes ta thank Gad for escape
from danger, one who leaves ar retums ta the community, one
who presents a Tarah ta the synagogue, is given the opportuniry
ta celebra te the occasion by "reading" the Law and by making a
contribution
ta the welfare of the shtetl. If two men have equal
rights ta be called for a certain reading, the more learned of the
two has first clairn: and if the two are equal in learning, they cast
lots for the privi lege.
The reading is a lengthy process and few stay through the
whole of it. Children swann out when it begins, ta play ar ta
lis ten ta their elders. Knots of men gather in the outer room ta
debate points of the Law ar current events, leaning forward attentively with a hand cupped over one ear ta catch the fine points
of the discussion. Of ten a little boy will be seen at the edge of
such a group, his hand at his ear, straining forward in exact imitati an of his father's stance. Meanwhile,
the women also talk
among themselves and some may go home ta set the Sabbath
table.
The cam ing and going, the murmur of voices rrom outside,
are not felt as disrespect ta the Law. As long as the minyan, ten
adult male Jews, is present for the beginning of the reading and
six are there at the end, the requirements have been satisfied. The
synagogue is Iiterally the Home of Prayer, and one moves freely
there as in the home of his Father.
When the Tarah has been restored ta the Ark with a jingling
of bells and a reverent kiss, the second half of the prayers is said,
At the end, an exchange greetings, "Gut Shabbes." The men fald
up their prayer shawls ar drape them about their shoulders again
and all go out, pausing for more talk in the outer ro om ar the
yard of the synagogue-all
with the deliberate, leisurely pace that
marks the Sabbath. If any oyrek.h remains ta be cared for, some
householder will hale him home, but usually the Friday night

58

SABBATH DAY

REMEMBER THE SABBATH

God of Abraham, Isaac and ] acob


The Holy Sabbath passes away;
May the new week carne ta us
For health, Iife and all good;
May it bring us sustenance, good tidings,
Deliverance arid consolations, Amen.

sehool. The boy's teaeher is likely ta drop in for this exercise,


sitting tensely with his glass of tea, for his reputation
and his in. come hang an his pupil's performanee. From time ta time he may
try ta prompt the boy. The mother sits by quietly, in pained suspense if things go badly, beaming if the performance is gaod. She
may not understand
the Hebrew words and the fine shades of
meaning, but she comprehends fully the frown ar the smile an
her husband's face.
If the boy does badly he will endure the consequences at
school tomorrow. If he does well he will be rewarded with fruits
ar cookies-not
with money, for mat is untouchable
in the Sabbath world.
As the afternoon continues, neighbors, relatives, friends, drop
in ta sip a glass of sweetened tea, ta nibble a cookie ar a piece of
cake ar ta enjoy some "Sabbath Iruit," and ta talk, the women
apart discussing their affairs, the men conversing abou.t points
of the Law, the rabbi's latest sermon-but
not about business for
all thoughts of business are in exile,
Before sundown another light meal will be eaten-for
there
must be three an the Sabbath. The "third meal" is preceded by
a short afternoon service at the synagogue, and Iollowed by the
eveninz service there.
vVhen the men re turn from evening prayers, the Sabbath is
almost over. and it is time for the havdolah,
the ritual of the
separation which marks its end. The father says a prayer over a
goblet of wine, Iull ta overflowing, ~hen t~kes a silver box, tre.asured Iike the candlesticks as a Iarnily helrloom, and filled with
aroma tic spices. A daughter holds the special havdo1ah candle
made of braided wax. He looks in ta the wine, then drinks of it,
leavinz only enough ta quench the candle. The sons, too, "rnake
havdolah" but if a girl should drink of the sanctified wine she
would grow whiskers. The father looks at his fingernails, dips his
fingers in the remaining drops of wine, passes them li~htly over. his
eyes and behind his ears, then quenches the candle with the wme.
He ends the havdolah with a greeting ta all, "A gute ookh;"
a good week. The mother with downcast face silently moves her
lips in a prayer for protection
during the week ta carne-ilie
prayer

of women,

"God of Abraham":

.I

Like her greeting ta the Sabbath this farewell is in Yiddish, bl.../


more than that prayer, it is filled with concern for the daily problems of making a living. Like the Iather, at the end of her praye;
she wishes to all "a gute vokh."
.
With the melancholy words "gute vokh" the charm of Sabbath is broken. The Queen-Bride, wha transformed every Je,
into a King for a da)', is leaving the shtetl, Children lend her
symbolic escort by going far out ta the edge of the village with
her, sorrowfully watching her depart.
Some Hassidic J ews try ta retain her late in ta the night
through the mlaveh inalkeh, "escorting the Queen." As long asi
the candles are not lit, they maintain, the Sabbath has not ended
and sometimes they will sit in darkness-sometimes
umil mid
night-holding
off its departure. Gathered at their meeting placel
or at the home of some prominent Hassid, they eat hallah, symboI
of. Sabbath, and herring, symbol of the weekday world. Thej
drink deep of cheering liquor, praying, singing, dancing in praisJ
of God. To prolong Sabbath is a boon not only for thernselvesj
for as long as it lasts the souls in hell can rest and only when the
week begins must they return to their tortures.
For the rest of the shtetl, Sabbath has ended. The famii
moves from the "better" room back iuta the kitchen. The silver
candlesticks, spice box, and wine goblet are back in the cupboard!
the embroidered
napkin is taken oII the table, the Sabbat]
clothes laid away until next week. The business man turns from
the Holy Books ta his bookkeeping and the artisan goes back ti
tooIs, ta use the last few hours before sleep, With a deep sig]
the women, the men, the children begin the "vokh" -ilie week,
I

rus

The word vokh with its adjective uokhendik,


ta descri9
everything c~nnect:.d wi~h everyday life, means ta the shtetl muc)
more than
week. This word has the meaning of earthly as

160

REMEMBER THE SABBATH

oposed to heavenly, sadness as opposed ta joy, humiliation as


opposed to pride. The symbol of Sabbath is the white, "beautiful
hallah," the symbol of the vokhis the dark heavy rye bread of
lery day. The skilfully seasoned, cost1y fish is the main Sabbath
~ish, a piece of salt herring is the everyday food. The content of
Sabbath is rest, devotion ta God and one's fellow man-the con.nt of vokh is hard work and the breathless "chase after
" zrnosseh," a livelihood. Vokh means for the shtetl the return
from the high citadel of faith to the world where one is misunderood, despised, and often hated,
The Sabbath duties are hard. The countless regulations, prohibitions and commandments reduce to a minimum the freedom
movement and activity. The Sabbath rest is a prescribed duty
rd to violate it is an unforgivable sin. "One who does not fulfill
the commandments of Sabbath, sins against the entire Law." But
. ''te gratification of Sabbath, the oppartunity ta escape the
/okh," to devote a full day ta the family, ta the community, and
. ro the most beloved activity, study of the Law, exalts the devout
"ew of the shtetl. It fills his heart with jay and pride, and also
ith pity for his neighbor, the peasant, who-free from the anxJ.vus burden of Sabbath prohibitions-is
alsa deprived of en;oying the blessed contrast between Sabbath and vokh.

'7

After Sabbath

. C

The chief focus of the Sabbath worId is within the faur walls
of the home, The focus of the vokh is the shtetl itself, the shtetl
of the teeming market place, the unpaved streets, the shabby
wooden buildings. In summer the dust piles in thiek layers which
the rain changes ta mud so deep that wagon wheels stick fast and
must be pried loose by the sweating driver, with the assistance of
helpful bystanders. After a rain, streams and puddles of muddy
water invite the children ta splashing and wading from which
they emerge streaked and smeared. When the mud gets too bad,
boards are put down over the black slush so that people can
cross the street.
The thirsty dust is further moistened by the dishwasher and
other liquid refuse of the shtetl which is ernptied out in the
streets. "By the smell of the street water," it is said, "you can tell
what day of the week it is."
The main street of a large shtetl may be paved with jagged
stones, set in as they are found, with no attempt ta shape ar
smooth them. The pointed stones are called "cat's heads" and
when a cart drives over them the bang and clatter of its wheels
shout aloud the news of .its passage.
The houses of the rich are in the center of the town, around
the market place. A few buildings may have two stories, the others
will be shabby, unadorned, one-story structures, some with a yard
and perhaps a small vegetable garden surrounded by a fence,
often broken down.
There is no "Jewish" architecture. The characteristic features of the buildings are their age and their shabbiness. Cornparison of their state with the better grooming of the peasant
61

,
~

.f
'.,!

~
s

l1

1
1

62

REMEMBER

THE SABBATH

houses is a reminder of the usual contrast between urban and


rural dwellings in poverty-stricken areas of Eastern Europe. The
poorest peasant spends his spare time ,puttering about his home,
repairing
the door, the ferice, the whitewashed
walls, The impoverished city dweller accepts the condition of his house as part
of ilie state of things, beyond his jurisdiction.
The general appearance
of neglect declares in addition ilie
fact that the house 1S viewed as a temporary shell. "My shtetl" is
the people who live in it, not ilie place ar the buildings ar ilie
street. "My home" is ilie family and the family activities, not ilie
walls or the yard ar the broken-down
fence. A shtetl family that
has lived in ilie same house for generations
would detest and
resist the idea of moving away. Yet, essentially, the house remains
a temporary
dwelling, inhabited
for a brief moment of history.
It is not part of ilie family entity, to be cherished and tended.
Doctrine teaches that only the mind and the spirit endure-"life
is a hallway to heaven"-and
even the least soulful Jews of ilie
shtetl, through force of circumstance
if not of conviction, treat
their physical dwelling places in accordance with this teaching.
A long history of exile and eviction strengthens ilie tendency
to re gard the dwelling place as a husk. True, it is not unheard of
or even uncommon
for a shtetl family to inhabit the sarne house
for a hundred
years. Yet at any moment the fatal decree may
strike, and they may be tossed from ilie homestead into the deep
dust of the road. Daily activities are pursued as if today's condition would continue forever; but the setting in which they are
placed is slighted as if it would be snatched away tomorrow.
In a small shtetl the Jews and the peasants may be close
neighbors. In a large one, most of the JeV;s live in the center a?d
the peasants on the outskirts,
near their fie1ds. The other IDhabitants
are the animals who share the streets, the yards. and on
occasion the houses. Many families have chickens, geese, perhaps
a goat or even a cow. The peasants in addition ha ve numbers of
highly domesticated
pigs which roam the streets, enjoying the
"kosher" garbage of the Jews to whom the pig is a forbidden animal, wandering
into a yard through a broken fence and rooting
about there until the children chase them out. A large, dignified
sow, followed by her trotting piglets, can find good hunting in a

_ AFTER SABBATH

shtetI and ":iIl wander happily until her master calls her by nan
and she dutIfuIIy waddles hame, with her little ones trailing after
through ilie congenial mire of the unpaved streets.

No shtetl is. complete wit~out a cemetery, a House of Pray,


-or at least a mmyan, and a rnikva. A few very small ones are nor
complete, however, and severe effort is required
to compensat"
for the deficiencies. If there is no cemetery, a funeral means carr
ing ilie body to another shtetl, perhaps a w~lk of miles-with
the
shrouded, black-palled corpse on the shoulders of the bearers, followed by the funeral procession, the wailing women bringing u
~re~
If the community is sa very small that there is no shul. the
whole population
must move to a larger shtetl for the great hol
days kn~wn as the Days of Awe. Food, holiday clothing and othC/
n~cessanes are prepared in advance, loaded onto carts and wagons
with th: 'peop.le, and trundled over sharp stones or deep mud fo
ilie eXCltmg eI~ht-day pe~iod o~ pra.yer and festivity. The ViSitoL!
thoroughly enjoy the brief penod m a "real" town, while their
hosts are entertained
by the awkward rustic behavior of thei
guests.
If ilie communityis
too small ta supporr a rabbi, it is neces
sary
to
go
ta
a
neighboring
shtetl for judgmenr
on matters o
.
o

hi~1

nt~al propriety, civil right, ar personal dispute. The rabbi or


assistanr, t~e dayal:,. must be. accessible at any time toany Jew
for at any tune a cnsis may anse that requires immediate decision
The heart of the weekday shtetl is the large open markel
place, surrounded
by the "better" houses-many
with stores i~
them. The stores of the large shtetl are of ten specialized, while in
ilie smaller ones are found the "general" stores crammed with
medley of merchandise calculated to appeal to the taste and nee~
of the peasant customer. The whole contents of many of the
"
"
Id be b
se
stores cou
.e _ought for "a bit of cash." On market day th
~tores co.me to life, The ?wner sta~ds in front of
doar callin!
In and, if need be, pulImg potential customers in by their coat
sleeves-for
this may be ilie one day when he can earn what hneeds for ilie week and for Sabbath. Re may even hire a boy ti

rus

stand in the street and persuade

customers,

by words re~enforced

I
l'

i4

REMEMBER

THE SABBATH

th a persuasive hand on the elbow, to corne in and see how


much better and cheaper his employer's wares are than any
vhers,

in

Market day is the antithesis of Sabbath


many respects, inciuding its tempo. Even the morning
prayers are said at tap'
.1 .oeed, though none of the required
observances
is actually
ipped over. First of alI on awakening,
for every man, woman
a.,d child, comes the "fingernail
water," because one must not
'valk four steps in the morning before pouring it over the hands
rd saying the blessing.
Every morning except Sabbath, men and boys over thirteen
bind on the phylacteries,
tefillim, containing
small pieces of
.rchmenr on which are written
pertinent
passages from the
orah. One of the srnall leather cases is bound on the forehead
-"they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes"-and
one on the
-ft arm, which does less work than the right-"thou
shalt bind
.ern rar a sign upon thy hand." A left-handed
man would bind
the phylactery on his right arm, It must be done in standing
-osition and no interruption
by word or by act is permitted while
,e long, narrow black straps are adjusted
and the blessing is
oeing said, The phylacteries must be handled with extreme care,
"or anvone who allowed them to fall on the fioor would have to
st during the entire day.
They are worn, with the talis, while the series of morning
T"Jrayersis said. An extremely pious Jew wears his tefillim, as well
, his ta lis, while he studies the books of the Law, carefully re.oving them when he must put his book aside for some less lofty
activiry, and pronouncing
the blessing each time he puts them
1. again.
.
A man about to rush to market hurries through his morning
prayers asquickly
as possible, then puts the phy1acteries away in
1 embroidered
case, as handsome
as his circumstances
permit.
I doing 50 he must make sure that they lie next to-not
on top
of-each other, with the head phylactery at the right in tribute
) its superior position.
Breakfast is likely to be only a piece of black bread with an
onion, finished quickly sa that he may be on his way ta market,
"here those who come first fare best.
I

AFTER

SABBATH

65

The large open market place is divided into sections where


. different commodities
or services are oifered for sale, and each
section has its characteristic
odor that mingles with the prevailing
blend of people and of animals. In the dairy section the vendors
have their sweet butter wrapped in cool Ieaves, well covered over,
their sour cream in eartheriware pots, their vats of milk and
buttermilk.
Whatever one sells in the shtetl is measured out carefully arid then a bit added "for a good measure.'
In the fish
section, live fish swim about in tubs while the "sleeping fisfi." are
laid out in boxes with ice and salt, waiting for customers.
Here each salesman acts as his own barker, crying aloud the
special virtues of his wares. Groups of women crowd around the
peasants who have brought their farm produce for sale, jostling
each other in the attempt to get first choice. Bargaining
is raised
ta a fine art. For Jew and peasant alike, ta pay the price asked or
to refuse ta modify the first price named would be contrary to
custom. If it is an important
negotiation -berween men, like the
sale of a cow or a horse, the ceremonial of transaction involves the
stretching out and withdrawing
of hands, the seller striking his
palm against the palm of the buyer, the buyer pulling away until agreement is reached when they shake hands and thus seal the
bargain.
When the buyer ar seller is a woman, which is of ten the case,
the procedure is more verbal and much more vivacious. The acquisition
of a Sabbath fish may take on all the suspense of a
pitched battle, with onlookers cheering and participants
thoroughly enjoying the mutual barrage of insults and exhortations.
Points are scored through technique and finesse, and the process
of bargaining has as much interest and zest as the final result ..
In the early morning the market place with its stalls and
clearings is comparatively
quiet. The best bargains can be found
then, before the prices for the day are set. There are late bargains
too, when everyone is ea ger ta get rid of his merchandise
and go
home. The middle of the day is the time of "the real scream and
noise.""
AlI sales are for money, there is no barter in kind; and
there is a turnover not only in goods but also in role. The se1ler
of the morning becomes the buyer of the afternoon. Having dis-

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66

REMEMBER

THE

SABBATH

posed of his farm and dairy produce, the peasant uses his receipts
ta stock up on the more urban products offered by the Jew.
The crowds in the rnarket place are predominantly womeflthose who come to buy and those who come ta sell. AlI are dressed
in their weekday clothes, drab mended dresses, a shawl over the
shoulders, and each one carries a basket an her arrn. Some will
have a purse but more of ten a woman will keep her coins in a
corner of her large handkerchief, tied in a knot, ImiPpl. For protection against pickpockets, the knippl is carried in a pocket of
her petticoat and in order ta reach it or to put it back she hauls
up her outer skirt and digs deep into the pocket.
There are a good number of men also, peasants who bring
their produce, rnerchants and peddIers from the neighborhood,
artisans with their tools, selling their wares or making repairs in
the market place, and receiving orders for work outside.
The uniformity of the meri's Sabbath day dress is brokeri by
the addition of such practica! Ieatures as high boots, like those
ilie peasants wear. Some of them even Iay aside their long bIack
caftans for strenuous labor, but the talis koton is always retained.
Their weekday gait is quick, the expression of their faces is tense,
for during ilie vokh one is always "chasing after parnosseh," a
livelihood.
The market represents the chief contact between the Jew and
the non-jew, who for the shtetl is primarily the peasant. Aside
, from ilie market and scattered business negotiations, they inhabit
different worlds. And in the deaIings that bring them together
they represent different aspects of ilie econorny. The non-Jew,
ilie gol', is a farmer. The Jew, officially proscribed from owning
farmland, is urban.
The seeds of all their relations are in this market-place contact. They need each other, as customer and as source of supply.
They are able to do business with each other, for the most part
in friendly fashion. The peasant will have his special peddler for
small purchases, his special customer for eggs ar potatoes. Re
wilI give first preference ta this Jew, loyally repulsing other offers.
The Jew will try to buy his grain regularIy of one peasant. A
sturdy business relationship is built up between them.
At ilie same time, each distrusts and fears ilie other. It is not

AFTER

SABBATH

67

that each knows the other will try ta cheat him in bargaining, for
this is merely a part of the market game, a game that beIongs ta
Eastern Europe and is as native to the peasant as ta the J ew. "The
Polish ar Ukrainian peasant wouldn't like ta buy without bargaining with ilie custorner. The peasant has to feel that he gat a
bargain. SA ilie storekeeper asks twice as much because he knows
he will bargain ilie price down. The' customer may leave ilie
stare five times, and carne back, and bargain and bargain.""
There is beyond this surface dealing, however, an underlying
sense of difference and danger. SecretIy each feels superior ta the
other, the Jew in intellect and spirit, ilie "goy" in physical forcehis own and that of his group. By the same token each feels at a
disadvantage opposite ilie other, the peasant uneasy at ilie intellectuality he attributes to the Jew, the Jew oppressed by ilie
physical power he attributes ta the goy.
It is no rare occurrence for the market day ta end with
violence. The peasant, having sold his wares, will celebrate his
profits-and perhaps drink thern all away-at a Jewish inn. When
he can no longer pay for liquor and still insists an more, he will
be thrown out, whereupon if he is already infl.amed by drinking
he sets up a cry, "The Jew has cheated me!" If a group of cornrades who have shared the activities of the day should join him,
a token riot may follow. The pattern is familiar ta Jew and ta
peasant and it exists behind their consdousness through ilie
friendliest of dealings.
As ilie economic center of the shtetl, the scene of buying, selling and mingling, ilie market place epitomizes the interdependence, ilie reciprocity, ilie ambivalence that exist between
Jew and Gentile. The 'tensions produced by their relations and
mutual attitudes resuIt in a working equilibrium which prevails
until some accident upsets it. The area directly affected by this
equilibrium is limited ta the are a of contact between the two
groups, and each withdraws from it ta lead his own separare life.
When ilie equilibrium is upset, however, the consequences may
invade any home in the shtetl. .
As much as possible, ilie shtetI of the vokh is thrust o~tside
the Sabbath world. Yet in the world of the market place the
values of the Sabbath world persist, and the structure of the

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REMEMBER

THE

SABBA TH

synagogue has set its imprint. The structure >'of the community
ia, in fact, the structure of the synagogue.
This is not because the secular order is carried into the
synagogue, but because it would be impossible ta separare the
religious from the secular=they are fused into one whole. Every
act of the weekday world falls within the jurisdiction of divine
Law and none is too trifiing ta be considered in relation ta the
Law. Every Jewish boy who plays among the market stalls has
been consecrated ta the Law, and its commandments are upon
him every hour of every day. During the week, as on the Sabbath,
his activities are conditioned by the solemn dedication with
which, as an infant, he was inducted into the ]ewish community:
"Ma)' he enter into Tarah, into marriage and into good deeds."

PART II
II

May

Re Enter

Into Tarah ...