Our planet earth is teeming with living organisms, all inter-connected in a biological web of birth, growth, reproduction and death. We humans are part of the web.
Over the centuries, Judaism has developed life-cycle rituals, which celebrate the biological reality of our lives, but which also insist that the meaning of our lives transcends biology.
When a boy is born, we acknowledge the importance of biology by marking the organ of sexual reproduction; but at the same time, we give the baby (both boys and girls) their name, a sacred word that ushers them into the spiritual realm of language.
A biological event, puberty, marks the beginning of Jewish adulthood. But we celebrate puberty with initiation into Torah, the Tree of Life through which we Jews are able to live on after our own death. The pattern is the same with marriage and with death. In all our rites of passage, Judaism declares that we are of the earth: we live and die and, like all living creatures, we are driven to reproduce.
But at the same time, our life cycle rituals express another truth, which is that within our living and dying bodies, lives an immortal soul.
Inspiration for Your Personal Practice
- Choose a Jewish name for your child or yourself.
- Have your baby boy circumcised by our local mohel.
- Hold a baby-naming for a baby girl.
- Link significant privileges and responsibilities to your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah (e.g. decisions about bedtime, homework, allowance, chores, etc.)
- Have a Jewish wedding (e.g. ketuba, chuppah, breaking glass, bedecken, mikveh, circle dancing at the party)
- If you are not Jewish and are married to a Jew, consider converting to Judaism (the clergy are happy to discuss this)
- If you divorce, go through the Jewish ritual of the get.
- Before death, prepare an Ethical Will (an old Jewish custom of writing down your values for your children and grandchildren)
- When death is approaching, say the vidui (final words) and Shma (family and/or clergy can help with this)
- Follow Jewish burial and mourning practices (shiva seven day mourning, shloshim thirty-day period, yahrzeit anniversary of passing, yizkor memorial prayers recited on festivals, etc.)
On-Line Resources for Jewish Learning about the cycle of life
The following is a tiny selection of the countless good Jewish learning websites