May. 9, 2010
Baby namings, brit milah, weddings, funerals, b'nai mitzvah, divorce, unveilings, mikvah, anniversaries, et al -- the list goes on and on.
As a people, we Jews mark events in our lives with a religious ritual. As humans, we look for ways to mark significant events in our lives.
Most commonly, we tend to celebrate birthdays. Some of us like a fuss made -- others pretend to ignore them. But, most of us want a todo -- if not for ourselves, for our loved ones.
My rabbinic thesis pushed the idea of ritual to a new boundary. I chose an antiquated ritual and attempted to reinvent it, if you will, to make it relevant to our contemporary society.
The ritual is pidyon haben, the Redemption of the first born son.
This occurs on the 30th day after the birth of the first born male through natural childbirth. The parents cannot be a Cohen or Levite and the mother MUST be Israelite (a Jew who is not a Cohen or Levite). Furthermore, the mother must not have had a C-Section, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
So, you can see, those eligible are hardly a dime a dozen!
Seriously, this ritual has the potential to be meaningful with thoughtful changes within Jewish tradition. In my thesis, I wanted to make the ritual accessible. The most obvious change was to include girls; the second to render irrelevant the constraint of C-sections and miscarriages. I also included making it the first child of either parent -- including adoption.
Certainly, this would recognize same-sex couples who chose to create families.
How do we create inclusive and meaningful rituals that celebrate or commemorate important milestones in our lives? Reform Judaism strives for this goal.
Recently, I read an article in Contact Magazine, the Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, entitled "How Women and Girls Revitalized Jewish Ritual." It discusses Bat Mitzvah, Chag haBanot (Festival of the Daughters), which is embedded in Chanukah on Rosh Hodesh (New Moon). Symbols within rituals include Miriam's Cup at the Seder, along with the Orange (symbolizing women in the rabbinate and the gay and lesbian community).
The meaning of the mikvah in liberal communities is changing from women's 'repression' to 'liberation.' It is becoming a place not only for ritual purity immersion, but to acknowledge divorce, abuse or any transition a person is experiencing.
Men, too, are finding ways for ritual expression and spirituality. According to another article in Contact Magazine, "Reinventing the Minyan, Again," there is a resurgence of men's groups, both for study and prayer. In the article, Rabbi Joseph Meszler says, "A new version of the minyan must return, but not on the basis of patriarchal power and hierarchy. Instead, it must represent the need for gendered programming that speaks to men as men and women as women."
One of the 'newish' rituals we have at Peninsula Temple Sholom is the Adult B'nai Mitzvah. On June 11, 19 women and one man will become a B'nai Mitzvah. This evening will be a culmination of nine months of weekly meetings during which students study Hebrew and address and discuss important Judaic issues.
Ritual puts meaningful moments into context, providing a Jewish framework with a sense of holiness and sanctity. Ritual helps define who we are as individuals, families and as a community.
Your clergy is always available to help you celebrate a life cycle. We are only an email, or call, or text away. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook once said, "The old shall become new and the new shall become holy."