Rites of Passage

Many of the customs observed by Jews are stated in the Torah or have been handed down from the past and are marked with religious observances.


1. There are no special birth ceremonies but the naming of a boy is associated with the rite of circumcision which takes place on the 8th day.

2. It is a symbolic act performed according to Abraham’s covenant with God.

3. The physical act is called -‘the circumcision of the heart’ and is an act of obedience and consecration.

4. The rite takes place according to tradition in the presence of Elijah and the chair used is called ‘Elijah’s chair’.

5. It is custom to give the child a Hebrew name but this need only be used for religious or ceremonial occasions.

6. The father recites a prayer of thanksgiving:

’Praised be thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by thy commandments, and hast bidden him enter the covenant of Abraham our father.’

7. It is an initiation into the faith.

8. His father may give a donation of 5 shekels to the synagogue as a sign of the child’s dedication to God.

9. In the case of a girl a blessing may be said for the child and mother over the Torah scroll.


1. This occurs when a boy reaches the age of thirteen – he then becomes a ‘son of the Law’.

2. The boy is called to read the Torah for the first time in the synagogue and at the same time he receives a TALLIT (prayer shawl), and a SIDDUR(prayer book).

3. He now becomes a member of the MINYAN (one of the 10 males required for a synagogue service).

4. He may also wear a TEPHILIN (phylactery).

5. Girls today might have a BAT Mitzvah at the age of 12-13.


1. Rabbis used to teach no Jew should be unmarried after the age of 18.

2. Rabbi Akiba stated ‘He who remains unmarried impairs the divine image’.

3. In theory a Jew can marry after his Bar Mitzvah.

4. It is normally held in the Synagogue and is forbidden on the Sabbath. It is conducted by a Rabbi but any learned Jew may do so.

5. It takes place under a CHUPPAH (Canopy) the symbol of home & stability of marriage. The bride & groom drink a cup of wine (the symbol of plenty), benedictions are said and the groom speaks the words of consecration:

’Behold, you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the laws of Moses’.

6. The bride wears a veil which is not removed until the end of the ceremony. The KETUBAH (Marriage agreement) is read in the presence of 2 witnesses and a glass is broken by the groom showing as a symbol his strength.

7. The 7 Blessings of Marriage are spoken and psalms 100 & 150 may be sung.

8. Marriage in a registry office is disapproved of.

9. Divorce is permitted but a husband has to obtain a document from a BETH DIN (Religious court) signed by two witnesses. In Britain this can only be done once a civil divorce has been given.