O level Notes : FRS - Judaism - Rites of passage in Judaism

There are various rites of passage in Judaism namely circumcision, naming ceremony, redemption of the first born, rite of adulthood, marriage,death ,just to mention but a few. Jews have a distinct type of dressing which they derived from the Torah.

Their kind of dressing is associated with significance. They also observe sacred days namely the Sabbath, Passover, Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), Feast of Weeks, New moon, Feast of Gedalia among others.


Like IR, Judaism has rites of passage and these include the following;

  1. Circumcision

Circumcision is derived from commandment or mitzvah that Israelite males be circumcised as a way of evolving relationship with Abraham and his descendants. It was presented in Genesis 17. Circumcision is when a Jewish boy removes the foreskin of their male organ and is usually done when they are young. It is preferably done in the first seven or eight days; however, it may be delayed due to medical reasons. There are no special rules about the place in which this ceremony is to take place.

However pious Jews prefer to do it in the synagogue. A god mother or the biological mother must take the baby to the room where circumcision is to take place. The god mother hands the boy to the god father who in turn hands it to the Sandek (grandfather). During the procedure the Sandek may put the baby on his lap. Circumcision is performed by a Mohel(a person who performs the circumcision in Judaism) in three stages, which are the removal of the foreskin (milah), the tearing off and folding back of the mucus membrane to expose the glands (periah) and the suction of the blood from the wound (metsitsah).

More so, a blessing is recited by the Mohel.The words may be the following,

“Blessed are you Oh Lord Our God, King of the Universe…Has given us the command concerning circumcision “. Jews are of the belief that when the foreskin of a child is still on the baby's organ it is easy for urine to be trapped inside and adulterate the baby. No women should be at the ceremony. Celebrations are done at the end where the community is invited to attend.One who is not circumcised is “cut off from the community of Israel in his life and from enjoying his portion in the world to come. He will not experience the anticipated resurrection of the dead at the end of days. Girls are not circumcised in the Jewish tradition.

  1. Naming ceremony

Jews tend to name their baby girl on the first Sabbath after she is born. The new born baby should also be given a good name and so should their whole family. The baby does not need to be named on the seventh day, it may be named before but different scriptures say the maximum number of days taken should be seven. After this ceremony it is important to have a community meal, where relatives, friends and neighbours are invited.

  1. Redemption of the first born (the pidyonhaben)

This is another infancy rite based on Exodus 13: 12-13. It is the redemption of the first born male. It applies only to a male who “opened the womb” of his mother. No such rite is to be done for a male baby born after his mother has given birth to a girl or after she has miscarried. It is an important concept in Judaism. The role of the first born son carries significance in the allocation of a double portion of the inheritance, and in the prophetic application of 'first born' to the nation of Israel. A father redeems his first born son by transferring a sum of money to a person from the Priestly line, and in exchange the son is removed from the category of being holy. A mother is asked to testify that this baby is the first to 'escape' her womb.

Some strict orthodox Jews seek opportunities of carrying out the redemption of firstlings of domestic animals.

  1. Rite of adulthood

The rite of adulthood can be known as Bar Mitzvah for males and Bat Mitzvah for females. At the age of thirteen males must fast on the Day of Atonement, while females fast from the age of twelve. At this stage a Jewish boy or girl becomes responsible for living according to the Jewish Law. They have to accept the Law and its obligations in full and they start taking part in synagogue services. They must both set a good example. The boys take part in the morning prayers and  are counted in a prayer quorum. The year before a boy's 13th birthday was devoted to teaching the boys in the synagogue skills, morals and religious duties. They publicly mark the time when a Jewish boy or girl is old enough to live on the commandments of the Torah and be responsible for his or her own sins.

According to the Jewish Law, boys and girls become eligible to own property and to get married. On the Sabbath day which is nearest to the boy's 13th  birthday he becomes a Bar Mitzvah and he reads aloud part of the Torah and he starts to wear the Tefillin(a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls with verses from the Torah) for the first time. He may also give a talk to the rest of the assembly. The boy's father will then recite a prayer of thanks for his son's coming of age. After the service there will be a party to celebrate. Girls prepare their Bar Mitzvah in a similar way to that of the boys. They mark the time when the boy is able to take part in the synagogue worship and read the Torah.

  1. Marriage

As in many societies, marriage was the occasion of the most elaborate life-cycle rituals among Jews. The biblical blessing to humankind to “be fruitful and multiply” Genesis 1:28 was accomplished through marriage. In pre modern times, weddings and the accompanying celebrations were the first occasion on which a woman was central in public celebration. The Bible and the rabbinic law also portray men as the active partner in initiating and terminating marriage.

Jewish  weddings  include  the  Ketubah(a  special  type  of  Jewish  marriage agreement which outlines rights and responsibilities of the groom and the bride) which is signed by two witnesses under a wedding canopy, a ring owned by the groom that is given to the bride under the canopy and the breaking of the glass, which symbolises the breaking of the hymen, and the irreversibility of the marriage ceremony.

A man acquires rights with regards to a woman, while she agrees to his acquisition of these rights. A woman is 'set aside' for a single sacred purpose, after that no other man may have sexual access to her. A man gives a woman an object of defined minimum value, typically a ring, while he declares his intention to

'consecrate' her and she agrees. Once this occurs, a permanent relationship is established. If there is a decision not to continue with the marriage, a bill of divorce must be written. Divorce is discouraged in Jewish tradition but it has always been a possibility and is mentioned in Deut 24:1. 'A get' is a short document addressed to a woman from her husband, which releases her from commitment to him and makes her 'permissible to any man'.

  1. Ritual bath or mikveh

Mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity. Mikveh or ritual bath pays attention to menstruation with regard to married women and their husband's access to them. Women terminates the menstrual impurity after two weeks by being immensed in a ritual bath or mikveh. Women also use this bath to immerse newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food. It is also used by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity after ejaculation, as part of the traditional procedure for conversion to Judasim and to immerse a corpse as part of preparation for burial (taharah). The existence of a mikveh is considered so important that a Jewish community is required to construct it even before building a synagogue.

  1. Death, mourning and Memory

The Hebrew Bible contains only a few explicit rules concerning death and mourning. Many practices and attributes are reflected throughout the Bible which became models for customs and regulations that were systematised later. There is the renting of garments by a mourner after hearing the word of death. A meal initiating the process of reconciling with loss is made. They expect that friends visit and console the mourner. There are periods of mourning namely, first intense week known as Shivah, thirty days and a year.

During Shivah, one should stay at home and refrain from washing, anointing oneself, wearing shoes and sexual intercourse. Cremation is not permitted by halakhah(the oral and written laws of the Torah) but some Jews have requested to be cremated in order to make their remains potable because they will be no children to visit their graves. A priest should not have contact with the dead except with regards to his immediate family (Lev 21:1-3). A person who is dying is to be considered alive in every respect; nothing should be done to hasten death.

Embalming and other defilements of the body are prohibited. The body should be guarded by somebody of the same gender who is Jewish. With rare exceptions such as Sabbath, certain religious holidays or awaiting arrivals of dignitaries, burial must be accomplished by sundown of the following day. The body must be properly washed and dressed in prescribed burial attire by Jewish community members who are certified to do so.

Caring for the dead, preparing them for burial, watching over them and participating in the burial are all important religious tasks. Mourning is observed for thirty days after burial, very intensely so in the first seven days. Regular remembrances are performed in the years following death. Jewish men are buried in the tallit or fringed prayer-shawl, with one fringe removed to render it unfit for ritual use. Jews are typically buried in a simple pine box with no nails, hinges or decorations. Men are prohibited from shaving during the first thirty days of mourning known as sheloshim. Mourning shows respect for the dead, comforts those left behind, and helps the bereaved to return to normal life.

  1. Conversion

While not an inevitable phase of the life cycle, conversion ritual can be viewed as a rite of passage. The Bible allows the possibility of foreigners joining the Israelites and participating in this ritual but does not provide a single mark of that process. Conversion to Judaism is the conversion of non-Jews to become Jewish members of the Jewish religion and the Jewish ethno-religious community. A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken by individuals whose Jewish ancestry is questioned, even if they were raised Jewish. If anyone wishes to marry into a traditional Jewish community, they must have a formal conversion.   Exodus 12:48 insists that foreigners among the Israelites be circumcised in order to partake of the Passover sacrifice (Deut 21:10-14).