The Life Spiral of a Jew

A Bat Mitzvah follows a similar pattern in the liberal movements of Judaism. In Orthodoxy, the Bat Mitzvah will not lead the congregation in worship, as that is not a Mitzvah for women according to them. She might give a teaching after services in the tradition of the Maid of Ludmir (Hanna Rachel Werbermacher, 1805-1892), who was a learned scholar and teacher. In many cases, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is followed by a large party that, unfortunately, overshadows the power of the teachings.

In liberal circles the next step in the cycle of life is confirmation. This is a direct take off of the Christian custom and is a way to encourage Jewish children to stay in religious school. There is a ceremony at the end of one or two years of study in which the group leads services for the congregation.

My Wedding: Photo courtesy of Justinoberman via C.C. License at FlickrThe next in the cycle is a ceremony of joining, the wedding ceremony. A couple is joined together by a contract filled with promise, called a Ketubah. Their ceremony is held under a Hupah or canopy that represents their new life together. They break a glass as if to say, 'into every life some rain must fall' and the friends and family respond "Mazal Tov," which is a mixture of congratulations and wishes for G's good fortune upon them. They spend some time alone, which in ancient times was for consummation of the wedding, while today it is a private moment for them to catch their breath and nosh before the festivities.

In some cases there is the unfortunate need for the ceremony of divorce. This is the process of a Gett. A Gett is a writ of divorce. Guys give Getts; gals get Getts. In a Gett the man frees the woman from the contract of marriage. Again, as we have grown as a tribe, liberals have added an aspect to the ceremony. Now gals give Getts as well and guys get Getts too. They free each other. In some cases, if the couple is wise they will seek 'Gett counseling' so that they may soften the pain of the dissolution.

The Chabad Rebbe's grave in NYC: Photo courtesy of אבגד via Wikimedia CCThe last formal ceremony of this cycle of Life is death and burial and bereavement. I do not know of any culture, tribe, or faith that frames this process in such a compassionate and psychologically sound manner. From the moment of death, there are rituals to guide those who have lost a loved one. When the passing comes, the body is immediately removed from the bed and placed on something other than the furniture of the living. The body is bathed and prepared by friends with appropriate prayers and words of comfort for the ones who are doing the preparation as well as to the body of the one who has passed.

The funeral takes place as fast as possible, allowing for all who may attend to be in attendance. Even in this day and age, in most traditional burials the people in attendance at the funeral do the actual burying. Shovel after shovel of earth is poured down upon the coffin (where allowed, no coffin is used so that the body may return to the earth as soon as possible). In liberal circles everyone places at least some dirt into the grave. The sound of the dirt hitting the coffin has the effect of jolting us into the reality of that which we would rather not accept.

The first week is called Shiva, meaning seven. During that time the mourner mourns. Traditionally s/he does not bathe or wear perfumes or sit on comfortable furniture. People do not knock on the door or greet, they simply enter and do what they can for the people mourning. After the week is up, coverings for the mirrors are removed and mourners go back to work but do not involve themselves in merrymaking for a month. After a month they begin to put their normal lives back together while refraining from major events such as getting married or celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. At the end of a year, the headstone is set on the grave. Kaddish, a special prayer of praise for G, which has been said daily, will no longer be said except on the anniversary of the passing. The official mourning process is at an end. This is a guide for the mourner to allow all feelings of loss to move from being central in the mourners' every moment to a place deep in their hearts where memory can bring laughter and joy rather than just pain and sorrow.

This is the cycle of Jewish life. But it does not end there. For our tradition speaks of an afterlife of which we know nothing. It is all a matter of faith. Some in our tribe speak of a form of reincarnation. In all aspects of our tribe, an afterlife is discussed, referred to as the Olam HaBah, the World To Come. In any event, it is a tribal belief that there is life after death and that the circle of life never ends. A newborn child is often given the name of an ancestor who has passed and the Spiral of Life continues.

6/1/2010 4:00:00 AM