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Biblical History:
The Patriarchs
Hebrew Monarchy
Second Temple
Sacred Texts (Rabbinic Judaism)
Medieval Judaism
Modern Judaism
Jewish Practice in Synagogue & Home
Life Cycle Events
Jewish-Christian Relations

Life Cycle events


Celebrations of individual life (Handout: Life Cycle Events)


Birth: Bris, ritual circumcision, most ancient of Jewish practices originating with Abraham, a sign of the covenant and official entrance into the faith [see Gen. 17:10-14, 23-27]; a naming ceremony is also held, within the first year, for both boys and girls in which they receive a Hebrew name.


Coming of age:

  • Bar- Bat Mitzvah (son- daughter of the commandments): automatic at age 13, taking adult responsibilities of the faith, signaled by first reading of torah in Sabbath service, celebratory party with friends and family follows. The Bar Mitzvah itself is the religious ceremony during service, not the party! (Orthodox: only for boys, girls do not read from Torah but have an equivalent "coming of age" ceremony at age 12)

  • Confirmation: contemporary addition in reform and conservative synagogues, takes place around 10th grade as the childís intentional commitment to the faith and conclusion of childhood religious education. Involves the entire confirmation class participating in service around the time of the late spring festival of Shavuot


Marriage: sealed by a religious legal document (ketubah) signed by each spouse before the Rabbi and witness (who also sign it); Rabbi officiates over the ceremony held under a canopy (chupah); breaking of the wine glass by groom at end of ceremony symbolizes the destruction of the ancient Temple - even in times of personal happiness (e.g., marriage) the sorrows of the Jewish people are remembered.

  • Divorce is permitted but is taken seriously; a religious legal document (get) is required to break the ketubah agreement.



  • Burial: ideally takes place within 24 hours, in a plain pine box with the body is wrapped in plain linen shroud (equality of economic classes), "mournerís kaddish" prayer is recited at graveside by immediate survivors - this prayer says nothing about death but expresses hope for the future even in the face of death (a prayer found in the Jewish prayer book and recited at the end of every worship service).

  • Mourning: immediate next-of-kin sit shiva for seven days, not leaving the house with friends and other relatives visiting for consolation and fond remembering of the departed, they usually bear food (the mourners ought not have to concern themselves with mundane chores e.g. preparing meals), it is considered a mitzvot (good deed) to visit the bereaved; a memorial (yahrziet) candle is lit to last throughout the 7 day mourning period; a black ribbon is cut and worn for 30 day period symbolizing oneís sorrow; less harsh mourning continues for 11 months by which time a monument should be placed on the grave; visitors to the grave site do not leave cut flowers (they are dead) - often one will see stones placed on the monument indicating that someone has visited.

  • Yahrziet: anniversary of the death is remembered with a 24 hour yahrziet candle and special recitation of the "mournerís kaddish" prayer during worship; the memory candle is also lit during certain festival holidays.

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Created by Laura Ellen Shulman 
Last updated: June 2002