Rite of Passages: Separation of Sexes

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Rites of passage in the Jewish religion and culture vary between families and society. These rituals mark the transitions of a person throughout their lives, integrating cultural experiences with biological destiny. There are three phases in accordance to the few rites of passage, separation or the preliminary phase that signifies removal from the past and is the beginning of the passage.

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The second is transition or the threshold in which there is a ceremony and reaction from the individual that is going through the passage. The third is incorporation or inclusion in ceremonies or rituals in the synagogue. Most of these rituals have altered over the centuries and have become more distinct within different denominations of Judaism. They are performed within a group or societal setting to strengthen ties with the temple. Specific aspects of some rituals have influenced other religious ceremonies around the world. The life events covered include birth, naming, bar/bat mitzvah or societal introduction, marriage and death. In this paper, only the life cycle rites of passage that pertain to society will be argued and compared.

        The first defining rite of passage is birth as it is also the beginning of life biologically. In order emphasize the beginning of life religiously, there are ceremonies that occur shortly after birth. For a male, circumcision is one of the most defining rituals as it is meant to initiate the son into the Covenant of Abraham. This occurs on the eighth day after birth in the presence of friends and family and is accompanied by a celebration or feast. There is no parallel for daughters when it comes to circumcision or an introduction to the world. In order to start a tradition, two women of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College created the Brit B’not Yisrael which translates roughly to a covenant ceremony for the Daughters of Israel. It began in the 1970’s during the women’s rights and liberation movement and was designed as a home-centered celebration. It still was not held in the same regard as circumcision ceremonies held for sons in the Jewish faith and culture. Another ritual that corresponds with birth is the naming ceremonies. When named, it is individualized and incorporated into society. A prevailing question posed is with whom does the authority to name lie? Although naming ceremonies are used to separate those who are inside and those who are outside of the culture, the act of naming has historically been reserved mainly for the men (Leissner 140). The Hebrew Bible mentions naming by outsiders such as God, prophets or even neighbors and later on reverts to the parents. There is also much discussion on which parent reserves the right to name the child first. For this honor, there are many circumstances and scenarios of which an individual parent or both may name the child.

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