The covenant of circumcision, was commanded by G-d to Abraham over 3,700 years ago. The acceptance of this commandment, or mitzvah, established an eternal bond between G-d and the Children of Israel. Its observance today is testimony to the continuity and strength of that relationship which requires us to perform the mitzvah with adherence to the laws and customs prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by our sages. Brit Milah should be performed by a mohel on the infant’s eighth day of life, barring any health risks, and can take place at a synagogue or in someone’s home. It is followed by a seudat mitzvah - celebratory meal. With the fulfillment of the commandment of Milah, G-d changed Abram's name to Abraham, giving him a totally new persona to complement his new role as the "father of a great nation." For this reason, we name a baby boy at his brit.
Baby girls are usually named in synagogue on a day when the Torah is read. There is no time limit, but it is customarily done as soon as possible. Most parents wait until the mother is strong enough to be present so she can hear the prayer which is offered for her speedy and complete recovery and that of her child. It has become popular to celebrate the birth of a girl with a Simchat Bat, usually held at home. This can be scheduled at a convenient time, during the day or in the evening. Parents can write their own ceremony or engage a professional who will bring a service which consists of prayers and English readings. There are opportunities to honor family or close friends. Please contact Rabbi Shron for additional information about the Simchat Bat ceremony which he performs.
According to Jewish tradition, the name of a person describes his or her essence. It provides identity and generational connection. It begins the process of shaping a human being. Choosing a name empowers parents with creativity, just as G-d empowered Adam when He assigned him the first independent human act, the task of naming the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and every living thing. The rabbis tell us that a name can influence the behavior of the person and provides a spiritual connection between the individual and his soul. A name carries enormous potential. It can define the individual or describe his/her personality. It can be a portent for the future or a wish that the person live up to the potential expressed in the meaning of the name. It is important, therefore, to give much thought to a child's shem kodesh, sacred or Hebrew name.
Jews of Ashkenazi background generally do not name after the living. It is their custom to name a child after a deceased male or female relative or someone close to the family. When naming a male child after a female, one should try to use as many of the same letters and vowels as possible or to find a male equivalent with the same meaning. Sephardim often name a child after a grandparent so they might have good fortune and the blessing of continued long life.
The literal meaning of Bar Mitzvah is son of the commandments. When a boy reaches his thirteenth Hebrew birthday, he becomes a Bar Mitzvah and becomes responsible for the observance of the laws of Judaism. Previous to that age, the boy’s parents are responsible for his actions. The Bar Mitzvah boy is now eligible to be counted in the minyan – the quorum on ten men required for a formal prayer service, can be called to the Torah for an Aliyah and can read from the Torah and lead services. It is preferable to mark the occasion on Shabbat morning; however, a Bar Mitzvah ceremony can take place any time the Torah is read.
The literal meaning of Bat Mitzvah is daughter of the commandments. This relatively recent innovation in Jewish life is intended to provide an opportunity for girls who reach the Hebrew age of twelve, to celebrate their acceptance as mature and religiously responsible individuals. There are several options for girls to celebrate this milestone and demonstrate their Hebrew skills and knowledge of our Jewish heritage.
There is a concept that the souls of those people who wanted to accept the Torah at Mount Sinai but did not have the opportunity, eventually come to convert to Judaism. Conversion is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognized as a full member of a Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people and, sometimes, the Land of Israel. Jewish law requires that the potential convert be instructed about how to live as a Jew, agree to live by the commandments, have a brit milah (circumcision for men), and undergo tevilah (immersion in a mikvah [ritual bath]), and that the procedure be supervised by a Beit Din [court] of three people. Note that the members of the Bet Din must be acceptable witnesses, which means that they should be Jewish men who are ritually observant. At the end of the conversion process, the individuals will choose a Hebrew name.
For those interested in undergoing conversion at Kehilath Israel Synagogue, please contact Rabbi Moshe Grussgott to set up a consultation.
G-d defines an ideal marriage in the Torah’s story as it says, “a man should leave his parent’s home and cleave to his wife, and they shall be as one flesh.” A Jewish wedding is the joining together of two souls in a ceremony that follows Jewish law and traditions. While wedding ceremonies vary, common features of a Jewish wedding include a ketubah (marriage contract) which is signed by two kosher witnesses, chuppah (a wedding canopy), a ring owned by the groom that is given to the bride under the canopy, and the breaking of a glass.
Technically, the Jewish wedding process has two distinct stages: kiddushin (sanctification or dedication, also called erusin, betrothal in Hebrew) and nissuin (marriage), when the couple start their life together. The first stage prohibits the woman to all other men, requiring a religious divorce (Get) to dissolve, and the final stage permits the couple to each other. The ceremony that accomplishes nisuin is known as chuppah.
Today, erusin/kiddushin occurs when the groom gives the bride a ring or other object of value with the intent of creating a marriage. There are differing opinions as to which part of the ceremony constitutes nissuin/chuppah; they include standing under the canopy - itself called a chuppah - and being alone together in a room (yichud). While historically these two events could take place as much as a year apart, they are now commonly combined into one ceremony.
Just as there is a way to live as a Jew, there is also a way to die and be buried as a Jew. Jewish burials take place as quickly as possible, following a principle of honoring the dead (k'vod hamet). Only if immediate relatives cannot arrive in time from abroad, or there is not enough time for burial before Shabbat or a holiday, are burials postponed for a day. The chevra kadisha (holy group) is a Jewish burial society usually consisting of volunteers, men and women, who prepare the deceased for proper Jewish burial. Their job is to ensure that the body of the deceased is shown proper respect, ritually cleansed, and shrouded.
The mourners traditionally make a tear (keriah) in an outer garment either before the funeral or immediately after it. The tear should be on the left side for a parent (over the heart and clearly visible) and on the right side for siblings (including half-brothers and half-sisters), children, and spouses (and does not need to be visible).
A hesped is a eulogy, and it is common for several people to speak at the start of the ceremony at the funeral home, as well as prior to burial at the gravesite.
The Jewish funeral consists of a burial, also known as an interment. Cremation is not acceptable. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally, therefore embalming is forbidden, and the displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place. At a Jewish funeral it is the custom for the people attending to fill in the grave. This is considered a high act of gemilut chasadim – acts of kindness. At the end of the interment, the people attending form two parallel lines for the mourners to walk in between and offer words of comfort by reciting, Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim: "The Omnipresent will comfort you (pl.) among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
The first stage of avelut (mourning) is shiva ("seven"), a week-long period of grief and mourning. Observance of shiva is referred to as "sitting shiva". During this period, mourners traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors.
It is considered a great mitzvah (commandment) of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. The mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may, in fact, completely ignore his/her visitors. Visitors will traditionally take on the hosting role when attending a Shiva, often bringing food and serving it to the mourning family and other guests. The mourning family will often avoid any cooking or cleaning during the Shiva period; those responsibilities become those of visitors.