Jewish Rituals and Ceremonies

October 19, 2017 Psychology

Running Head: JEWISH RITUALS AND CEREMONIES Coping With Change: Jewish Rituals and Ceremonies Coping With Change: Jewish Rituals and Ceremonies Kenneth Pargament in his book The psychology of religion and coping, states the importance of religious beliefs during times of change, be it a moment of happiness or distress. While applying Pargament’s philosophy, this paper focuses on Judaism and the coping mechanisms offered during those times of change thru rituals and ceremonies.

Although religious practices and levels of observance among the different branches of American Judaism have some variation, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, they all share the same traditions. We will focus on the major traditional ceremonies and the rituals performed throughout the life span: birth, adolescence, adulthood and death. Pargament’s Theory of Coping Pargament says that “perhaps the most dramatic signs of religious life comes from times of stress; making hardship, suffering and conflict the centers of concern for the major religions of the world” (Pargament, 1997).

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Because many people look towards religion as means to cope with adversity and life stressors, religion offers support, and helps them understand and deal with these problems through rituals and practices. It becomes a search for significance in relation to the sacred. He focuses on the process of religious coping behavior with some emphasis on religious appraisals or attributions in response to various life stressors. He says that the ability to make meaning when faced with a stressful event often promotes successful coping, adaptation, and well-being.

The spiritual process of seeking significance in an event can touch on all aspects of life, including work, interpersonal relationships, general philosophy of living, attitudes, and whatever that person’s “God” may be (Pargament, 1997). Overview of Judaism Judaism is a monotheistic religious tradition based on the belief and practice of the Tanakh (Hebrew bible, equivalent to the old testament in Christianity) and Mishnah (written during the second century, is a compilation of the oral traditions and law dating back to the time of Moses) (Neusner, 1975).

But Judaism is not only a religion; it is also a philosophy and way of living. Judaism believes in the covenant between God and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, where God revealed his commandments to Moses. According to the Tanakh, the Jewish (Israelites at that time) are the people chosen by God to witness humanity and live by God’s expectations, as written in the scriptures, a life of high ethical and moral standards. These standards of living are embodied in the Halakhah, which is the Jewish religious law based on the Mitzvoth, or 613 commandments written in the Torah plus the 7 rabbinic commandments.

Through time, Judaism and its followers faced many adversities and atrocities (e. g. exile, persecution, socioeconomic changes and massacre) and Jews scattered to different nations. Despite the fact that Jews maintained their traditional practices and doctrine, their encounter with different cultures influenced changes in thought which led to modern Judaism. In the course of most of the twentieth century, Judaism remained orthodox; it is not until the industrial era that these changes became more obvious, especially due to the socioeconomic changes (Neusner, 1975).

Presently, Judaism has been divided into three main branches: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism, with Reform Judaism having the most liberal view (believes that Jewish law should be regarded as a set of guidelines and not a list of restrictions required of all Jews). For most Jewish denominations, Judaism considers a Jew any person who is born to a Jewish mother, and practices its teaching, or someone who is willing to convert into Judaism. Reform Judaism however, is less strict and some would sate that a child is Jewish if either parent is Jewish and the child is raised according to Jewish customs and traditions.

Life Stages Applying Pargament’s theory of coping, we will see the significance of rituals and ceremonies that guide and support Jewish people through major changes in the continuum of life. Birth For the Jewish parents to conform to their tradition, it is natural to have their new born follow into the same religion. Because Judaism is a patriarchal religion, there has always been more emphasis on the male members of the religion; hence if it is a male newborn, he will undergo circumcision or B’rit Milah. Circumcision is regarded as the reaffirmation of the covenant with God.

It used to be performed during puberty, but now is practiced eight days after birth. Although the newborn will have no understanding of what the ritual means, to the Jewish parent it is a confirmation of faith and belief in tradition, a fulfillment of duties as a member the religion. As coping mechanism, the ritual provides psychological and spiritual relief to the parents by 1) their acceptance and support by God and the congregation, and 2) the reassurance that their child will be recognized and accepted as a member of their community, and ultimately accepted into the kingdom of God.

An example would be the mother shouting in the Kovno ghetto for the circumcision of her child: “Hurry up! Circumcise the child. Don’t you see? They have come to kill us. At least let my child die as a Jew” (Berkovits, 1979). Childhood and Adolescence The importance of education is described in different passages of the Talmud, such as Avot 3:11 “If fear of sin undergirds wisdom, wisdom will endure, if deeds surpass wisdom, wisdom will endure”, and in another passage it says “Is good to combine Torah with a worldly occupation; toil in both casts out.

Torah without worldly work may be a waste and may lead to sin” (Trepp, 1980). Given the emphasis of education, the child is guided into the “world” with a task that will make him or her into a successful citizen accepted by the community as a whole, not just within his religious congregation. Because the importance of education is so embedded in Judaism, most of the childhood years revolve around learning the principles of Torah, and eventually the Talmud. From this emphasis in education and practice of the commandments, that Judaism is so strong and perceived as a way of living than believing.

In classical times before the nineteen hundredths, Judaism required that children attended the yeshiva, or study salon, where a Rabbi would teach a congregation of about 25 students. Their education would start around 6 years of age up until they were old enough to attend the university. Nowadays this instruction is still given at Hebrew school rooms usually adjacent to the synagogue, where they offer instruction of the torah and Hebrew language. Up to the age of 13 for boys and 12 for girls, the minor is considered his or her parents total responsibility and is not accounted for any religious misconduct.

However, once reached that age the child is considered mature enough to account for his own acts. At this point Judaism celebrates the Bar Mitzvah for boys or Bat Mitzvah for girls, or transition from childhood into adulthood. “The transition to responsibility is automatic…Jewish wisdom has seen fit to surround this moment with celebrations that have become fully incorporated in Jewish life” (Trepp, 1980). Bar/ Bat Mitzvah is usually celebrated on Sabbath morning and the teenager or “young adult”, is called to read the Torah, Talmud, and a portion of the sacred scrolls.

After the readings, the teen is presented with blessings and gifts in front of the congregation, and attends a reception after services. Although adolescence can be a very conflictive period in life, full of physiological and psychological changes, Judaism presents it as positive event. The teenage girl or boy may become anxious of these changes and yet look forward to it because of the support and importance given by his community and religion. Adulthood The longest period of our lifespan is adulthood, marked by critical events that go from finishing a career and finding a job, to getting married and ustaining a family. In Judaism perhaps marriage is one of the most important passages of life. According to the Talmud a “Jew is to marry, for only marriage can truly fulfill the Mitzvah of procreation. Yet marriage means more: it is life itself” (Trepp, 1980). Therefore we can say that marriage is seen in two ways: as a sacred sanctification of life; and to fulfill the purpose of companionship and procreation. There are requirements before, during and after the ceremony takes place. For one, it may not take place on Sabbath or any other holyday, and second, both partners must be Jewish.

According to Talmudic law, Kiddushin or betrothal is recognized only between 2 born Jews or a Jew and a converted Jew. In addition to being holy and purposeful, Judaism views marriage as a contractual agreement between two people with legal rights and obligations. The Ketubah is the marriage contract. During the Sabbath prior to the wedding ceremony, the groom is called to the Torah in hopes that Torah will be a guide for the couple in their marriage. It also provides an opportunity for the community to give their blessings and express their excitement about the upcoming wedding.

Once the ceremony has taken place the groom steps on a glass wrapped in a napkin and breaks it as a symbol to expel evil forces with the noise, at which point the assembly cheerfully say mazel tov to congratulate the couple. Then music is played and the couple is showered with rice as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. After the recession is over, the couple is led to a private room where the ritual of Yihud or consummation takes place. In non-orthodox Judaism, Yihud is symbolized by sharing the wedding canopy together, representing oneness under the same roof.

Death Every life ends with the sorrow of death, but even in death the body is God’s property, and should be treated with respect. Such principle is reflected on kavod ha met, or honoring the dead. When a Jew is nearing death the Chevra Kadisha or holy fellowship is called. The Chevra Kadisha is a Jewish burial organization usually consisting of volunteers, men and women, who will prepare the deceased for proper Jewish burial. After death, the body is attended and prepared for burial by members of the Chevra Kadisha.

Men care for the bodies of men and women for those of other women, careful not to leave the body unattended. Because the dead body is considered unclean, The Chevra Kadisha perform the rituals of rechitzah (washing), taharah (ritual purification), and halbashah (dressing). In the case when an infant who lived for 30 days or less dies, there are no formal mourning rituals (Gold, 1988). The body is prepared according to ritual, and is wrapped in a blanket. Out of respect, Jewish belief requests prompt burial, usually within 24 hours. However, it is not allowed to conduct a burial after sundown, or on the Sabbath.

Jewish funerals are simple and it is not suitable to send or accept floral arrangements, although an appropriate way to remember the deceased is through a charity contribution. There is a special time before the funeral known as Aninut. Aninut refers to the period of shock and trauma in which the “bereaved or anen, is incapable of accepting consolation” and may last until after the funeral. Judaism acknowledges this critical period of mourning by requesting the anen to devote all of his or her time and energy to preparations for the funeral.

Since in most cases the person is in such emotional distress, and unable to handle everyday tasks (such as work), being involved in such preparations is therapeutic (Trepp, 1980). After the funeral, the family of the deceased receives visitors at home for a period of 7 days, a process called sitting shivah, which is the deepest period of mourning. The family essentially does not leave the house, but the congregation usually ensures that there is a minyan, or minimum of 10 people, at the house so that daily prayers can be recited. Some Reform Jews elect to receive visitors for a shorter period.

In all cases the family does not receive visitors during the Sabbath, since all public mourning rituals are suspended for the Sabbath or any holy day. Shivah is then followed by another 30 days of mourning called shlohism. During shlohism the mourners practice fewer restrictions, for example they can exchange greetings. But until the end of the mourning period mourners are prohibited from cutting hair or beard, marital relations continue to be forbidden, as well as attending parties or light occasions. The Kaddish Yatom, mourning prayer, is said regularly until the conclusion of the mourning period.

After the 30 days life goes back to its normal routine, although mourning for parents may continue for a whole year. By following all those steps, religious doctrine can direct how an individual will cope with life stress. Conclusion Because Judaism places its major emphasis on behaviors rather than beliefs, it becomes a very functional religion that provides nurture to the believer by connecting the spiritual with the material world. Personal beliefs become intertwined with those of the religious community, and in return they provide both the social support, as well as the social norms that identify roles for the believer to assume.

For example, the boy reading the torah at Bar Mitzvah, and receiving the blessing and support of the congregation as he transitions into adulthood; or in dealing with death, although religious struggle may arise with the loss of a loved one, Judaism provides a set of rules and steps that will help transition from despair to equilibrium. As Pargament said, “At its best, religion can lessen anxiety, provide insight into the self and the world, and create a sense of community with other believers”. References Berkovits, E. 1979). With God in hell: Judaism in the ghettos and death camps. New York: Sanhedrin Press. Gold, M. (1988). And Hannah wept. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. Neusner, J. (1975). Between time and eternity: The essentials of Judaism. Encino, California: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc. Pargament, K. I (1997). The psychology of religion and coping. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Trepp, L. (1980). The complete book of Jewish observance: A practical manual for the modern Jew. New York, NY: Behrman House, Inc.


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