Notes for Religious Studies 369:

Introduction to Judaism

Jewish Life Cycle Events:

Birth, Adulthood, Marriage, Death and Mourning

Birth: Initiation into the Covenant of Abraham

A Circumcision ceremony



Redemption of the Firstborn

  • Because worship was originally supposed to be led by the firstborns, it is required for the parents of firstborn boys (if they are not of priestly or levitical descent) to formally "redeem" the child through the symbolic payment of a quantity of silver to a priest (Kohen).
  • The ceremony is usually performed when the child is thirty days old.

  • Passage to Adulthood:

    Bar Mitzvah / Bat Mitzvah

    "Jewish Wedding in Calgary"-- painting by artist William Kurelek Note the huppah outside the old House of Jacob synagogue.
    Jewish Wedding in Calgary-- painting by artist William Kurelek
Note the huppah outside the old House of Jacob synagogue.


    Death and Mourning

  • Preservation of life overrides all ritual considerations. Euthenasia is not normally permitted (other than certain "passive" types).
  • Participation in a funeral is considered especially pious, because the beneficiary will not be able to reciprocate the kindness.
    People attending the funeral are expected to participate in covering the corpse with earth.
  • It is preferable to hold the funeral as soon as possible after the death. No lying in state.
  • Belief in bodily resurrection requires burial. Cremation and embalming are prohibited.
    Importance of communal burial societies.
    "Purification" (cleansing) of corpse, covering it in simple white shroud.
  • Mourners are required to tear their garments upon hearing of the death.
  • The community is required to offer consolation to the mourners. The standard formula is: May the Almighty comfort you among all the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
  • In ancient times it was common to bury the body temporarily, and afterwards to collect the bones in an ossuary placed in a family burial cave. This is no longer done.
  • Successive phases of mourning, decreasing in intensity:
    1. Until funeral
    2. First seven days (shivah)
    3. First month
    4. First year
  • Annual commemoration of date of death of close relative
  • There are many diverse local customs related to funerals and mourning rites.
    Many morning customs were introduced during the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, and many of these have become widespread.Some examples:
    1. Recitation of "Kaddish, an affirmation of faith in God, by a mourner during the year following the death--believed to lessen the punishments in the afterlife.
    2. Yahrtseit--The anniversary of the death is remembered through the lighting of a candle and recitation of Kaddish.
    3. Yizkor-- Memorial prayers incorporated into the synagogue services on several festivals.

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