Skip to main content

Full text of "The Lifetime Of A Jew Throughout The Ages Of Jewish History"

See other formats



Cifetime of a Jevo 






lifetime of 





AUTHOR OF The Jewish Festivals 



12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 



the mcrnorg of 


Editor's Introduction 

The present work on The Lifetime of a Je*w discusses the 
significant aspects in the life of the individual Jew from birth 
to death. The treatment followed in this book is the same so 
successfully achieved by the author in his previous volume on 
The Jewish Festivals. 

To the best of our knowledge this is the first book in which 
a writer not only gives the historical and ceremonial signifi- 
cance of each of the great events of birth, bar mitsvo, educa- 
tion, marriage, and death, but also traces the observances con- 
nected with these events through the centuries and in various 
lands. The book therefore is a unique contribution to the story 
of Jewish life. 

The author who is steeped in Jewish life and lore ap- 
proaches his subject critically, yet with warmth, sympathy, 
and enthusiasm. This twofold treatment is indeed a significant 
achievement. As a result, the book will serve as a popular 
reader for young people and adults, as well as a book of study 
for all those who are interested in the subject. 

A word should be said concerning the plan of transliteration 
followed in this book. Usually schemes of transliteration fol- 
low the S'fardic pronunciation. In view of the fact that the 
Jews in America use mainly the Ashk'nazic pronunciation, 
many of the Hebrew terms when transliterated in accordance 
with S'fardic practice strike them as strange, even when these 
terms are familiar to them in the form commonly employed in 
conversation among Jews. The plan we have followed is there- 
fore largely popular and phonetic and in accordance with the 
Ashk'nazic pronunciation with very few exceptions. Where 
words and phrases have become familiar in the S'fardic form, 
we have retained them. We hope therefore that the average 



layman interested in the subject will find the book more read- 

Mention should be made concerning the notes presented by 
the author in the back of the book. They will be of special in- 
terest to students of the subject. They contain important 
source material, references to scientific literature, comments, 
and explanations. These should be helpful, as should also the 
bibliography and glossary there appended. 

We trust that an intelligent and sympathetic understanding 
of the ceremonies connected with the great events in the life 
of the individual Jew will help our people to appreciate the 
spiritual ideals that constitute the central thread of that life. 



This book was written as a companion volume to The Jewish 
Festivals, first published in 1938, following its general style 
and pattern. 

The study of the lifetime of a Jew throughout the ages is 
based on original research into primary sources. The descrip- 
tion, however, of the joyous occasions and celebrations of 
Jewish family life in Eastern Europe is, with few exceptions, 
derived from the personal observation of the author as a child 
in his native town in Lithuania which, together with all other 
Jewish communities in that land of deeply rooted Jewish life 
and learning, was destroyed and wiped off the earth by the 
Germans in 1941. Barring some minor details the description 
in this book holds true of every Jewish community in Eastern 
Europe a generation ago. 

The author desires to express his acknowledgment and 
thanks to all who were helpful to him in preparing the book: 
to Professor Louis Ginzberg of the Jewish Theological Semi- 
nary, New York City, for many scholarly remarks on some of 
the topics treated; to Dr. William G. Braude, Rabbi Leon 
Fram, and Dr. Solomon B. Freehof of the Commission on Jew- 
ish Education for reading the manuscript and making many 
valuable suggestions; to Mr. M. Myer Singer for the splendid 
typography and physical make-up of the book; to Dr. Franz 
Landsberger, Curator of the Museum, and Mr. Isaac Goldberg, 
Administrative Secretary of the Library, of the Hebrew 
Union College; and to Mrs. Philip Dreifus and Mrs. M. Myer 
Singer for many important changes in language and style and 
for their help in preparing the manuscript for the printer. His 
boundless gratitude is due to Dr. Emanuel Gamoran who 
worked hard and painstakingly in editing the book and with- 



out whose extended friendship the book would not have been 

The writer mentions with deep sorrow the late Rabbi Louis 
Feinberg who read the manuscript in its final revision and 
made a number of helpful suggestions. He is also grateful to 
the librarians of the Jewish division of the New York Public 
Library and of the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary 
of America for help rendered in the course of his writing. 

He regrets that limits of space made it necessary for him to 
be selective in his references to sources and to scientific litera- 

H. S. 





































NOTES 305 


INDEX 327 


Between pages 144 and 145 

Palestinian Lamps 

Coin of the Second Revolt 

Circumcision Knives 

Chair of Elijah 

Paper Amulet to Ward Off Evil Spirits at Childbirth 

Platter for the Redemption of the First-Born 



Kiddush Cup 

~Bimo of the Wooden Synagogue at G t wod%iec i z 

"A Difficult Passage" by Isidor Kaufmann 

"Examination in Hebrew" by Moritz Oppenheim 

Silver M*zu<zo 

Wedding Rings 

Silver T'filin Cases 

"Carrying the Law" by William Rothenstein 

"Wedding under the Chupo" by Moritz Oppenheim 

Fragment from the Book of Sira 

K'subo (Marriage Contract) 

Tombs in the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem 

The Get (Bill of Divorcement) 

Sefer Ha-Chasidim (Title Page) 


illustrations FOR THIS VOLUME 




tte lifetime of a 


A Panorama of Jewish Life ... In these pages we shall pre- 
sent a panorama of Jewish life throughout the ages of Jewish 
history. It is not the life of the Jewish people as a whole that 
will be depicted, but the life of the individual Jew, of the aver- 
age individual within the circle of his family and of the com- 
munity in which he lived, commencing with his birth and 
concluding with the memorial services and prayers for him 
after his death. Between birth and death, we shall be concerned 
with the solemn moments which mark the milestones in his 
life. All these occasions in man's career on earth are marked 
by symbolic rites and religious ceremonies. They have, since 
ancient times, been surrounded by popular customs intended 
to bring good luck to the individual and to safeguard his wel- 
fare. These rites and ceremonies, customs and beliefs, which 
lend form and color to the Jewish way of life, will be traced 
through tHe various epochs of Jewish history, and in the light 
of the non-Jewish environment in which the Jews lived. 

Popular Customs and Beliefs . . . The customs which we 
shall discuss are not all of one kind, nor of the same origin. 
A great many of them are just details of the Jewish ritual. 
They grew out of Jewish religious life, and need no special 
introduction to the reader. They were, from the very outset, 
part and parcel of the Jewish ritual. But there were some 
spurious customs in Jewish life which Jews had observed in 
common with other peoples, and which, in the course of cen- 
turies, had been spiritualized and Judaized. Originally they 
were charms and safeguards based on ancient, primitive be- 
liefs. They stemmed from pre-historic times, when the fore- 
bears of the Jews were still worshipping many gods; or they 



came to the Jews later by way of the heathen peoples among 
whom they lived, beginning with the Canaanites, the pre- 
Israelitic inhabitants of Palestine. 

But the Jews evolved a religious faith based on ethical mono- 
theism, on the belief in a universe ruled by one supreme ethical 
being. This religious faith demanded that its adherents lead a 
sanctified life. It was in sharp contrast to the nature worship 
and the way of life of all other polytheistic nations. It made of 
the Jews "a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be 
reckoned among the nations" (Num. 23:9). 

A monotheistic religion, in which the one and only God is 
the sole cause of all phenomena in nature as well as in human 
life, is bound to be hostile to heathen superstition, and to frown 
upon all usages based on the belief in evil spirits and witch- 
craft. The teachers and preachers of the Jewish monotheistic 
religion were, therefore, battling vehemently against the cus- 
toms which the Jews had in common with their heathen neigh- 
bors. The Mosaic Law exhorts the people against defilement 
by the ways of the heathens. "After the doings of the land of 
Egypt, where ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings 
of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; 
neither shall ye walk in their statutes . . . And ye shall not 
walk in the customs of the nation, which I am casting out be- 
fore you; for they did all these things, and therefore I abhorred 
them . . . Turn ye not unto the ghosts, nor unto familiar 
spirits; seek them not out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord 
your God" (Lev. 18:3; 19:31; 20:23). 

But people seldom recognize the inconsistencies of their be- 
liefs and religious practices. The masses of the Jewish people, 
notwithstanding their adherence to the God of Israel, clung 
tenaciously to the spurious customs so rooted in their life. 
This led to a struggle between the laws of the official Jewish 
religion and the customs of the people. In the long run the folk 
prevailed. The rabbis continued to yield to them, and to give 
sanction to customs which were originally not at all in the 
spirit of the Jewish monotheistic faith. However, this struggle 


became a historic process of mutual adaptation. The question- 
able customs were reinterpreted by the teachers of the Torah, 
and filled with Jewish content, so that they fitted into the 
colorful picture of Jewish life. 

The attitude of the rabbis toward popular beliefs was not 
stable nor uniform. Some of the rabbis were more, some less 
amenable to them. Apparently the attitude of each rabbi de- 
pended in great measure upon the environment in which he 
had grown up, whether it was among the learned classes or 
among superstitious peasant folk. The attitude varied also in 
the different periods of Jewish history. In Biblical times the 
Jewish monotheistic religion was in danger of being submerged 
by the polytheistic and idolatrous nature cults of the heathen 
nations. The Jewish religious leaders in those times were there- 
fore adamant in their refusal to accept anything that savored 
of heathenism. The Mosaic Law is replete with interdictions 
against the practicing of customs used in foreign cults. In post- 
Biblical times, however, the situation changed. The Jewish 
monotheistic faith had become strongly entrenched among all 
classes of the Jewish people and Jewish leaders were no longer 
so fearful of foreign usages. In those days many customs of 
heathen origin gained admittance among Jews, and were ap- 
proved by the religious leaders. However, even then the gates 
were not wide open to all popular customs and beliefs. In the 
Talmud and the Midrash we have, on the one hand, lists of ap- 
proved customs and, on the other, of forbidden customs which 
are designated by the special term for all heathen practices, 
midarchei ho-Emori (of the ways of the Amorites). 1 

The Arnorites were not the only ones from whom the 
Jews had taken over numerous observances. A great many 
popular beliefs and folkways were derived from various other 
peoples in whose midst they lived: the Greco-Romans, the 
Babylonians, the Germans, and the Slavs. In the following 
chapters we shall meet with copious instances of these customs. 

Many Jewish customs were, in time, incorporated into the 
Jewish ritual code, some as ritual laws obligatory on all Jews, 


and others not as binding laws, but merely as current usages. 
A great many customs were not even recorded in the ritual 
code. Certain superstitious practices and beliefs spread pro- 
fusely among Jews in the Middle Ages under the impact of 
the superstitious non- Jewish environment. Many religious 
authorities protested against the practicing of certain customs 
as darchei ho-Emori. But the protests of the rabbis were in 
vain. The folk would not discard any customs that appealed to 
the popular mind. In time the origin of these spurious customs 
faded from memory. People forgot that they were based on 
superstition. Not from magic powers but from the One and 
Only God in heaven did the Jew now expect aid and support 
in the critical moments of his life. So many ordinary customs, 
not religious in origin, were reinterpreted and elevated to serve 
spiritual ends. To the mind of the pious Jew all these customs 
were practiced "for the sake of heaven." 

Epochs in Jewish Life ... A few words must be said here 
regarding the epochs in Jewish history into which the chapters 
of this book are subdivided. 

We begin in each case with Biblical times, referring fre- 
quently to various passages in Biblical books. The Bible is an 
extensive literature, reflecting all phases of Jewish life for 
nearly a thousand years. It is the source not only of Jewish 
religious ideals and Biblical history; but it is also our main 
source book for Jewish life in ancient days. Many of the cus- 
toms and traditions, many of the rites and folk-beliefs which 
regulate the life of the individual, from birth to death, may be 
studied in the Bible. 

On leaving Biblical times we enter the epoch of the Second 
Temple, by which is meant the last 200-250 years of that 
epoch in Jewish history. Although the Second Temple was 
finished in the year 516 B.C.E. and was destroyed by the Ro- 
mans in the year 70 C.E., we know little of Jewish life in this 
era until the year 166 B.C.E., which marked the beginning of 
the Maccabean revolt. In these last two centuries of the Second 


Temple many changes took place in Jewish life, owing to the 
contact with the Greco-Roman world. In this period, too, the 
foundations of the Talmud were laid, and it may therefore also 
be called the Early Talmudic period. 

When we reach the beginning of the Common Era, the 
picture of Jewish life becomes more vivid and colorful, owing 
to the rich material available in the Talmud and kindred litera- 
ture. From the third century on, the center of Jewish life was 
shifted from Palestine to Babylonia, and we have to deal, in 
that period, with Jewish life in two different environments. 
The Balylonian Talmud was concluded at the end of the fifth 
century. The post-Talmudic time, until the eleventh century, 
is called G'onic, after the religious authorities who ruled Jew- 
ish life in that epoch of Jewish history. The two heads of the 
two Talmudic academies in Babylonia, in Sura and in Pumbe- 
ditha, who were then recognized by all Jewish communities as 
the supreme judges and religious leaders, bore the title Gaon 
(pride, alluding probably to "the pride of Jacob" in Psalm 


From the eleventh century onward the hegemony of Jewish 

life was shifted from the Orient to the European continent. 
In the course of the following centuries, centers of Jewish life 
developed in many European lands. The dispersion of the Jews 
became more wide-spread in the Middle Ages, and local cus- 
toms in the Jewish communities more varied. There was a 
great discrepancy in custom between the Ashk'nazim (Ger- 
man and Polish Jews) and the S'fardim (Spanish and Portu- 
guese Jews). But there were numerous differences in rites and 
customs also within the communities of the Ashk'nazim. 

In recent centuries the main center of Jewish life had shifted 
from Western to Eastern Europe. Until the Second World 
War, Eastern Europe continued to be the reservoir of Jewish 
life, Jewish traditions, Jewish learning, and all Jewish creative 
activities. It was there that the Jewish way of life with all its 
peculiarities, with all its rites, customs, and folkways, had 
reached its fullest growth. Owing to the extensive area of 


Eastern Europe, Jewish customs and modes of life in its com- 
ponent parts were not identical. But the account in this book 
of Jewish life in Eastern Europe is, in general, descriptive of 
all the Jewish communities there. 

These communities, alas, are gone. The Germans, with sav- 
age cruelty, exterminated the Jews of Eastern Europe in 
World War II. The Jewish life in an East European com- 
munity, which the author describes from memories of child- 
hood, is no more. It belongs to the past, to history. 


Jetoisii Child Is JBorn 


In Ancient Times 

In the various books of the Bible there are many passages re- 
ferring to the birth of a Jewish child. They give us the follow- 
ing picture. 

The Birth of a Child . . . The woman in travail was probably 
placed on a birth-stool in a half-sitting, half-lying posture. 2 
A few women, relatives and neighbors, stood near her. There 
was also a midwife present. Jewish women had a reputation 
for natural strength and vitality. For the most part they were 
delivered easily and quickly, like the Bedouin women, often 
"ere the midwife came unto them." 3 

However, the life of the woman was endangered, especially 
when her first child was delivered. At times, however, the de- 
livery ^vas so painful that the woman died in labor. The mid- 
wife and the other women tried to calm and encourage her 
by holding out the prospect of a son. 4 People believed that the 
pain of the delivery of a child was a curse from God. He had 
punished Eve by his decree that woman would bring forth 
children in pain. 

As soon as the woman was delivered of a son, someone was 
sent quickly to bring the good tidings to the father: "A man- 
child is born unto you!" 5 The heart of the father was filled 
with joy, for "a heritage of the Lord are sons." It was a great 
misfortune not to have a son who could "raise his name upon 
his inheritance." But a woman was not happy with only one 
son. Even when she had borne four sons and she "left off bear- 
ing," she was unhappy. This unhappiness is described in the 
story of Leah. A large family was the greatest blessing. The 



ideal life was one in which "one eats the labor of his hands, his 
wife is a fruitful vine, and his children are like olive plants 
round about his table." 6 

The new-born babe was immediately bathed in warm water, 
rubbed with salt and wrapped in swaddling clothes. 7 It was 
then given to the mother to be nursed. Immediately, the news 
spread through the entire neighborhood. The women of the 
town carried the news from one to another, and soon a num- 
ber of them gathered at the house of the confined woman to 
bless her in the name of God. 8 

Naming the Child . . . The child was given a name as soon 
as it was born. Sometimes the father chose the name, some- 
times the mother; often a name was suggested by relatives and 
friends. 9 

The present accepted custom of naming children after de- 
ceased relatives, especially grandparents, did not exist among 
Jews prior to the Babylonian exile. There is no record of the 
same name repeated in the genealogy of a family, as in later 
epochs of Jewish history. In pre-Exilic times we have the 
genealogy of the dynasty of King David, with the names of 
twenty-one kings of Judah, none of whom bears the name of 
an ancestor. None is named after David, the founder of the 
dynasty. There is not the slightest suggestion of such a cus- 
tom anywhere in the Biblical records of pre-Exilic days. Every 
Jew ardently desired to have his name remembered and firmly 
fixed in regard to his children and his property. The greatest 
curse was to have one's name "blotted out of Israel." But this 
did not imply that a man's descendants should be named after 
him. It only meant that he had to have a son who would inherit 
his property. In a levirate marriage, when a man died without 
issue and the brother had to marry the widow, the first-born 
of this marriage was recognized as the son of the deceased, but 
did not bear his name. 10 

In those days a child's name expressed a definite idea, as in 
Gen. 4:25, "And Adam . . . called his name Seth: 'for God 


hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel.' " Or it might 
have expressed a hope aroused by the birth of the child, as in 
Gen. 30:24, "And she called his name Joseph, saying: The 
Lord add to me another son/ " Sometimes the name was chosen 
because of an important event or a certain condition that pre- 
vailed at the time of birth, as in Gen. 10:25, "the name of the 
one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided." Often 
the name expressed devotion to God, and was compounded 
with E1 9 the general name for God, as in Bezalel and Ezekiel; 
or with Jah, the name of the God of Israel, as in Isaiah and 
Jeremiah. Children were named also after animals and plants 
(Rachel ewe, Jonah dove, Shaphan cony, Deborah bee, 
Tamar palm-tree). Whatever the origin of these names, in 
historical times it apparently expressed love for animals and 
plants or a desire that the child should have characteristics 
similar to those of the respective animal or plant such as 
strength, nimbleness or grace. 

Circumcision ... If the baby was a boy, he was circumcised 
on the eighth day after his birth. Usually the father performed 
the operation, but in an exigency it was also done by tKe 
mother. The operation was performed with a sharp knife of 
polished stone. 11 

Circumcision is not an exclusively Jewish rite. It was, and 
still is practiced also among peoples and tribes all over the 
world in Asia, Africa, Australia, the islands of the Pacific 
Ocean, and, sporadically, among the Indian tribes of North, 
Central, and South America. Today, many European and 
American Christians practice circumcision for reasons of 
health. Roughly estimated, between two hundred and three 
hundred million people, one-seventh of the world's population, 
are practicing circumcision at present. In ancient times the 
Jews practiced it in common with many of their neighbors 
the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Ammonites, the Moabites, 
the Edomites, and the Arabs. (The Philistines, the Syrians, 
and the Canaanites of Palestine were not circumcised.) How- 


ever, it was only among Jews that circumcision became a 
wholly religious rite, a sign of a covenant between God and 

The origin of circumcision, like the origins of many rites 
and customs, is obscure. A great many theories, widely diver- 
gent but all well grounded, have been advanced by scholars. 
Some have explained the custom on hygienic grounds. These 
scholars follow the Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century 
B.C.E.), according to whom the Egyptians practiced circum- 
cision for reasons of health. In the time of Herodotus it might 
have been only the opinion of the Egyptians, for by that time 
the origin of the rite must have been completely forgotten. 
Present scientific authorities believe it unlikely that the sani- 
tary motive played an important part in the origin of ancient 
rites which date back to the pre-historic period of the race. 

Much more at present in favor in the scientific world are 
the theories that connect the origin of circumcision with cer- 
tain religious ideas of primitive man. They are considered re- 
ligious because, in primitive times, almost all ideas, including 
medicine and science, were in the domain of religion. One of 
these theories explains the origin of circumcision as a rite of 
initiation in the tribe. According to another theory, it was 
originally a rite observed at puberty as a preliminary to mar- 
riage. All of the theories cannot be enumerated and discussed 
here because they are not in the scope of this chapter, which 
deals with the history of circumcision as a Jewish rite. We 
may only say that the origin of circumcision among the various 
peoples and tribes must not be attributed exclusively to any 
single motive. Besides, it is not so much the origin of a rite or 
custom that concerns us, as the significance which it attained 
and the role which it played in life long after its origin had 
been forgotten. 12 

As a Jewish rite, circumcision dates back to the pre-historic 
period of Jewish life. The Jews began to settle in Palestine at 
the beginning of the Iron Age, but circumcision goes back to 
the Stone Age. This explains the fact that much later, in his- 


toric times, Jews performed the operation with a knife of 
stone. People are very conservative in performing religious 
rites and ceremonies. They are reluctant to change and to 
adopt the innovations of technical progress. In various cere- 
monies dim candles are still used in place of the brilliant elec- 
tric bulb. The Sacred Scriptures and all passages of the Scrip- 
tures used in religious services must still be written on 
parchment with a quill or a reed. In the same manner, the 
knife of polished stone was employed in the rite of circum- 
cision even in the Iron Age; and only in the course of time 
did the iron knife eventually replace one of stone. 

Even as far back as the ancient days of the independent 
Jewish kingdom, the origin of circumcision as a Jewish rite 
had been forgotten, and legendary tales were told about it. 

One story connects it with Moses and his Midianite wife, 
Zipporah. It is a short story, fragmentary, obscure, and puz^ 
zling to modern readers. Here is the full text: 

And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that the 
Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint 
and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she 
said: "Surely, a bridegroom of blood art thou to me." So He let 
him alone. Then she said: "A bridegroom of blood in regard of the 
circumcision." EXOD. 4:24-26. 

Many Biblical scholars interpret this story as ascribing the in- 
troduction of circumcision among the Jews to Zipporah, the 
Midianite. It was she who first performed the rite, in order to 
assuage the wrath of God. Other scholars interpret this story 
to mean that originally the Jews, like many other peoples, per- 
formed the rite of circumcision as a preliminary to marriage. 
Only later was the rite transferred to the early childhood, and 
this story attributes the transfer to Zipporah. Although these 
interpretations are plausible, they are mere hypotheses. 13 

Another legendary story in the Bible ascribes to Joshua the 
circumcising of all the children of Israel with knives of flint in 
order to "roll away the reproach of Egypt from off them" 


(chap. 5). That spot, according to this story, was therefore 
called "the hill of foreskins." The story implies that the Egyp- 
tians reproached and shamed those who were not circumcised. 
There is little support given to the theory of some scholars 
that the Jews adopted circumcision under the Egyptian in- 
fluence. However, from the name, "hill of the foreskins," we 
may assume that it was highly probable that there was a time 
in ancient Jewish history when all the children of one approxi- 
mate age were circumcised together at a certain spot. Later, 
however (in which period of ancient Jewish history we do not 
know) , the eighth day after birth was fixed as the date for cir- 
cumcising each male child, individually. 14 

At any rate, these older traditions, which link the beginning 
of circumcision among the Jews with the names of Moses and 
Joshua, clearly show the obscurity of the origin of this rite in 
the minds of the Jews, even in the ancient Biblical times when 
these stories were told. 

In the Ten Commandments, as well as in the other codes of 
law in the Pentateuch, circumcision is not enjoined. Probably 
it was taken for granted as an ancient rite which must not be 
abandoned. It was the first prerequisite for inclusion in the 
community of Israel, as it is evident from the Biblical story of 
Dinah and Shechem. To be uncircumcised was synonymous 
with being unclean. The Israelites disdainfully called the Phi- 
listines "the uncircumcised." 15 

The four great prophets of the Assyrian epoch (Amos, 
Hosea, Isaiah, Micah) never mentioned circumcision. Jeremiah 
was the first great prophet to mention it. He saw a symbolical 
significance in circumcision, for to him the rite signified re- 
moving the coarseness of the heart. He, therefore, exhorts the 
people: "Circumcise yourself to the Lord and take away the 
foreskins of your heart." According to Jeremiah, a man with 
a rude heart retained, so to say, the foreskin of his heart, even 
though he was circumcised. Thus he said briefly and point- 
edly: "All the nations are uncircumcised, but all of the house 
of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart." We find this same 


idea in some other places in the Bible, and therefore we cannot 
be sure whether or not Jeremiah originated it. 16 

This first phase of circumcision as a Jewish rite ended with 
the Babylonian exile. In Palestine, where the Jews practiced 
circumcision in common with several neighboring peoples, the 
practice could not attain any great significance as 'a particular 
Jewish rite. This situation changed during the Babylonian ex- 
ile. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia did not know circum- 
cision. Therefore it became there a mark that distinguished the 
Jews from their heathen neighbors. Ezekiel, the prophet who 
lived among the Babylonian exiles, spoke scornfully of the 
uncircumcised. According to Ezekiel, the distinction between 
circumcised and uncircumcised is continued even after death, 
In the description given by Ezekiel, there is no Valhalla (the 
abode of the dead) reserved in the nether world for heroes of 
war, but there are two separate divisions, one for the circum- 
cised and one for the uncircumcised. 17 

Circumcision attained its greatest importance in the Priestly 
Writing which, according to modern critical study of the Bi- 
ble, was one of the various sources or documents from which 
the Pentateuch was composed. The Priestly Writing is recog- 
nizable by its chronological precision, uniformity of style, and 
omission of all folk-tales and popular conceptions. It divides 
the history of the world into four periods: from Adam to 
Noah; from Noah to Abraham; from Abraham to Moses; and 
from Moses to the end of the world. In the first period, there 
was no covenant between God and man; therefore God de- 
stroyed the world in a flood. The second period was inaugu- 
rated by a covenant between God and Noah, the token of 
which was the rainbow in the sky. The third period was in- 
augurated by a covenant between God and Abraham, the 
token of which was the circumcision of all males. The fourth 
period was inaugurated by a covenant with Israel through 
Moses at Mount Sinai, the token of which was the observance 
of the Sabbath. 18 

Thus circumcision was declared to be the outward sign, in 


the flesh, of a covenant which bound Abraham and his children 
to "walk before God Almighty and be whole-hearted." The 
circumcision of a child or a proselyte meant his reception into 
the community of the nation which separated itself from its 
heathen neighbors and consecrated itself to the one true God. 
This implied the observance of the divine commandments 
which were binding upon all the members of the community. 

As the sign of the covenant of Abraham, circumcision as- 
sumed a deep spiritual meaning, and still is the outward mark 
of belonging to the Jewish community. 

The Hebrew word for covenant is Vris. Hence, circum- 
cision is called, by Jews, tfris milo (the covenant of circum- 
cision) or, for short, b'ris. 

We do not read anywhere in the Bible of anyone having 
celebrated the birth or the circumcision of a child. In Biblical 
times, it was neither the birth nor the circumcision, but the 
weaning of the child that was marked by a joyous feast. 19 

Pidyon ha-ben (Redemption of the First-Born) ... If the 
boy was the first-born child of his mother, he had to be re- 
deemed from the kohen (priest) for five shekels of silver. After 
he had become at least a month old and had thus proved his 
vitality, he was brought to the sanctuary, and there he was 
redeemed. 20 

An old Mosaic Law decreed that the first-born of the mother 
belonged to God, and the father must therefore redeem him. 21 
But it must not be assumed that originally pidyon ha-ben had 
to do with human sacrifices. The sacredness of the first-born 
son of the mother never implied, among Jews, that he be of- 
fered to the deity on the altar, but that he had a priestly char- 
acter and was to be a servant in the sanctuary. Hence he had 
to be redeemed from the priest in order that he might be re- 
lieved of priestly duties and lead an ordinary life. 22 

Rising -from Childbed . . . The Mosaic Law prescribes that 
for seven days after giving birth to a son, the mother is ritually 


unclean, and for thirty-three days, excluded from the sanctu- 
ary. If the child is a daughter, the time of her defilement is 
double (fourteen and sixty-six days). Only after these days 
had passed and the mother of the new-born child had offered 
a burnt offering and a sin offering in the sanctuary, is she de- 
clared ritually clean, and allowed to participate in all sacred 
ceremonies. 23 

The notion that giving birth to a child defiles the mother 
was common to all nations of antiquity, and is prevalent today 
among many peoples and tribes. In certain regions it is still 
customary to completely isolate a woman in childbed for a 
certain number of days in a separate house or hut, in the belief 
that everything with which she comes in contact becomes un- 
clean. The distinction made in the Pentateuchal law, which 
regulates the number of days that the mother is defiled accord- 
ing to the sex of the child, is also common to many peoples. 

It is the opinion of modern scholars that this notion had its 
origin in the primitive conception that a woman, in giving 
birth to a child, is under the influence of certain demons, and 
must therefore be kept away from everything that is sacred. 
However, we shall see later how the demonic origin of the 
idea that a woman was defiled by childbed was forgotten in 
later times and new interpretations given to it. 2 * 


In the First Centuries C.E. 

The picture of the birth of a Jewish child becomes more de- 
tailed and colorful when, leaving behind Biblical times and 
proceeding onward in Jewish history, we arrive at the be- 
ginning of the common era, the age of the Tannaim, as the 
Talmudic sages of the first two centuries of the common era 
were called. The main source for the study of Jewish life in 
this period is the Talmud and cognate literature. In Talmudic 
literature , we find, in connection with the birth of a child, 
many interesting facts of which we have no Biblical record. 
Some of these facts originated at this time because of the more 
advanced stage of Jewish civilization and the further develop- 
ment of religious and social institutions among Jews. Some 
may have been old customs and modes of life which have not 
been recorded in the writings of previous ages. 

The Birth of a Child ... In the period a.t which we have now 
arrived, we have definite knowledge that the woman in labor 
was placed on a birth-stool which was probably the property 
of the midwife. The latter was called Chayo (the one that 
brings life a name which was applied also to a woman in 
childbed) and also chachomo (the wise or skillful one). She 
was paid for assisting in the delivery, for her skill had become 
a vocation transmitted usually from mother to daughter or to 
daughter-in-law. If no midwife was available in the locality, 
one of the many women who were present in the house made 
herself helpful. A physician was sent for in an emergency. 25 

As soon as the child was born, even before it was bathed, the 
women who were standing about seized it and held it in their 



arms, and hugged and kissed it, especially when the child was 
a boy. Then the midwife cleansed the babe, rubbed it with 
salt, and bathed it in warm water. Next, she anointed the child 
with warm oil and powdered it with powder made of pulver- 
ized leaves of myrtle. She then straightened the limbs of the 
babe and swaddled it from belly to feet. In regions infested 
by mosquitoes a mixture of unripened grapes was prepared 
and applied on the skull of the child in order to keep away 
gnats and mosquitoes. 26 

In this period the Jews, like their neighboring nations, sur- 
rounded the bed of the mother with various safeguards and 
charms to protect her and the child from evil spirits and witch- 
craft. The rabbis of the Talmud were hostile to these magic 
folk-practices. However, they had to accede to the popular 
demand and sanction some of them. 27 

A new feature in this period was the cradle. Among the 
poorer classes the kneading trough was used as a cradle. The 
same word, arisoh, is used for both. Among the richer classes, 
the cradle was an adorned carriage on wheels, with bells at- 
tached to it. The ringing of the bells lulled the child to sleep, 
and also acted as a charm to keep away evil spirits. 28 

Planting a Tree ... As in Biblical times, the birth of a child 
was not celebrated with a feast. Among the Palestinian Jews, 
however, it was customary to plant a tree in the garden to 
commemorate the birth. For a son, a cedar was planted; for a 
daughter, a pine. At the wedding, the bridal chamber was 
built from the wood of the pine and the cedar trees which the 
parents had planted. 

Planting of a tree at the birth of a child was believed to act 
as a charm to insure that he would grow and thrive like the 
tree. In the popular belief, there was a mysterious relation be- 
tween the life of a person and the growth of a tree. The cus- 
tom of planting a tree to celebrate the birth of a child was not 
original with the Jews, but was adopted from the Romans and 
other foreign nations, among whom they lived. 29 


The Jeiv among the Uncircumcised . . . When in the last 
centuries of the Second Temple, Antiochus Epiphanes pro- 
hibited circumcision under penalty of death, the rite gained in 
importance among Jews. They became martyrs for circum- 
cising their new-born males, Mothers were executed with their 
circumcised children. To the Jews, the blood of the martyrs 
enhanced the religious importance of the "emblem in the flesh" 
carried by the children of Abraham. 30 

Soon the political situation changed, and when it did, the 
significance of circumcision underwent a temporary change. 
Antiochus' persecution incited the Jews to revolt against the 
Syrian oppression. The leaders of the rebellion, the Macca- 
beans or Hasmoneans, were victorious in their protracted 
struggle, and ultimately succeeded in founding a new, inde- 
pendent Jewish kingdom which comprised nearly the whole 
of Palestine. The Hasmonean princes conquered many non- 
Jewish regions of the land and Judaized their inhabitants. In 
that period, circumcision became the physical means of Juda- 
izing the new non-Jewish subjects of the Jewish theocratic 
state. It became an outer mark of the subjection to the rule of 
the Hasmoneans. 

But Judaization as a means of political expansion did not last 
long. Rome soon conquered Judea, and the independent state 
of the Hasmoneans came to an end. However, the end of the 
Jewish state did not halt the wide-spread diffusion of Judaism 
in the pagan world. The problem of circumcision loomed 
large in the religious propaganda of the Jews. 

In that period of early imperial Rome, the Jews were dis- 
persed over almost the entire civilized world, and they carried 
on extensive propaganda for their faith, and made countless 
proselytes. Hundreds of thousands in higher circles of pagan 
society cherished a strong admiration for the Jewish religion 
and the Jewish way of life. 

However, it was no easy task for a pagan to completely em- 
brace Judaism, This entailed the severance of all intimate re- 
lations with friends and relatives. For men especially, circum- 


cision was a great obstacle to the adoption of the Jewish 
religion. There were, therefore, proselytes of various grades. 
Many were satisfied with only a minimum of Jewishness. They 
visited the synagogue occasionally on the Sabbath or on a 
Jewish festival, and observed this or that bit of Jewish religious 
life, but persisted in most of their pagan practices. On the other 
hand, some underwent circumcision, and became full-fledged 
Jews. Between these two extremes there were, of course, many 
intermediate stages of conversion to Judaism. 81 

In those days, not all Jewish missionaries who made prose- 
lytes insisted upon circumcision in every case. The following 
story is told by Josephus Flavius concerning the conversion 
to Judaism of the royal house of Adiabene, a kingdom in 
northern Mesopotamia. 

A certain Jew by the name of Ananias succeeded in convert- 
ing to the Jewish faith many women of the highest rank in the 
royal court, among them the queen, Helena. She became an 
ardent Jewess. The king, Monobazus, showed much sympathy 
for the Jewish religion, but he did not embrace it. But their 
son, Izates, heir to the throne, completely adopted the Jewish 
religion, with the exception of circumcision. This he was 
dissuaded from doing lest he estrange himself from his sub- 
jects, most of whom regarded the Jewish religion as peculiar. 
But when Izates ascended the throne, he resolved to complete 
his conversion by being circumcised. Ananias argued with 
Izates that he could be a Jew and worship God even though 
he omitted circumcision. But when another learned Galilean 
Jew convinced the king that one who is uncircumcised breaks 
the laws of Moses, the king carried out his determination to 
complete his conversion, and his act was emulated by many of 
the princes of the royal family. 82 

In Conflict 'with the Outside World ... In the Greco- 
Roman world, circumcision was mistakenly regarded as an 
exclusively Jewish rite, and the Jews were ridiculed for being 
circumcised. The Greco-Roman writers had little understand- 


ing of the Jewish way of life, as glaringly shown by the fact 
that they derided the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. The 
Greco-Roman slave-holders regarded the institution of a 
weekly day of rest for all toilers as a manifestation of laziness 
on the part of the Jews. 33 

Circumcision separated the Jews from the Greco-Roman 
world and, later, from the Christians too, after the latter had 
repudiated the rite together with the entire ceremonial law 
of the Pentateuch. 

But the sneers of the Greco-Roman world and the casuistic 
arguments of the Christian church against circumcision only 
intensified in the Jews their zeal for the "indelible covenant in 
the flesh" of the children of Abraham. This feeling was 
strengthened by the persecution of Hadrian, the Roman Em- 
peror, who, like Antiochus, three hundred years before, pro- 
hibited circumcision as one of the fundamental practices of 
Judaism, under penalty of death. In those years of religious 
persecution, circumcision was performed secretly. It was not 
divulged in the neighborhood. Indirectly one discovered that 
a circumcision ceremony would take place the following day 
when, on the preceding evening, he noticed the preparations 
for the feast. 

This persecution did not last long. Antoninus Pius, Hadrian's 
successor, rescinded the decrees against Judaism. Circumcision 
was again permitted, but only for born Jews, not for prose- 
lytes. Because the Jews had suffered for circumcision, it grew 
in importance. A generation after the persecution, Judah the 
Patriarch declared that circumcision was more important than 
all other precepts of the Jewish religion put together, possibly 
reflecting the thought that the unity of a people in exile must 
be maintained and strengthened- 84 

The Circumcision Ceremony . . . Circumcision had thus be- 
come a religious ceremony of great significance. It was at- 
tended by benedictions, and celebrated with joy and feasting. 
On the eve of the occasion, the house was full of activity oil 


lamps were burning, the handmill was clattering, grinding 
wheat into flour, in preparation for the important and joyous 
ceremony. On the next day a large company gathered to wit- 
ness the rite. 

The operation was no longer performed by the father, but 
by a special mohel (one who performs the circumcision opera- 
tion) who used an iron knife. The stone knife of Biblical times 
had been discarded. The version of the benedictions recited at 
the ceremony had already been fixed by this period. The 
mohel said: "Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the 
Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and 
enjoined upon us the circumcision." The father followed with: 
"Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, 
who sanctified us with His commandments and enjoined upon 
us to initiate our sons into the covenant of our father Abra- 
ham." The assembled people responded: "As he has entered 
the covenant, so shall he also enter into the study of the Torah, 
into the chupo and into good deeds." 35 

A Circumcision Feast in Jerusalem ... In a Midrashic tale 
we have a vivid description of a circumcision feast in Jerusalem 
shortly before the second destruction of that city. The father 
of the child in this tale was Avuyo, one of the wealthy nobles 
of the Holy City. A son was born to him, who was named 
Elisha. All the celebrities of Jerusalem were invited to the 
joyous ceremony, among them the famous sages, Rabbi Eliezer 
and Rabbi Joshua, the two great disciples of Rabbon Jochanan 
ben Zakkai. 

A description of the festive occasion in the house of this 
wealthy dignitary in Jerusalem follows: 

First the circumcision is performed, followed by a sumptu- 
ous feast. There is eating and drinking in profusion. After the 
banquet, the guests amuse themselves in joy and merriment. In 
one room the people of high rank are gathering. They clap 
their hands and dance; they sing psalms and recite Greek 
acrostics. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua sit in another room, 


surrounded by pious and learned people, whose festive joy is 
more spiritual in character. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua 
begin to discourse on the Torah. They start with the Penta- 
teuch and proceed to the Prophets; from the Prophets they 
proceed to the Writings. The words of the Torah are spoken 
by them with such clarity and brilliance that to the people 
listening it seems that not words but a stream of light fills the 
room. The father, Avuyo, stands nearby and listens. He notices 
the tremendous effect of their words on the listeners, and 
Avuyo makes a solemn vow that when little Elisha grows up 
he will devote his life to the study of the Torah. 36 

Avuyo fulfilled his vow. Elisha became one of the great 
Jewish sages of that epoch. Later, however, he deviated from 
the path of Jewish Orthodoxy, and was shunned by his col- 
leagues and condemned by them as a heretic. 

In general, the circumcision of a child in Jerusalem was a 
great festive occasion in which many people participated. 
Whether the father of the child was rich or poor, a large com- 
pany assembled at the home whenever a circumcision cere- 
mony was to take place. In Jerusalem there were special 
brotherhoods for the purpose of attending to important reli- 
gious duties. There was a brotherhood to participate in cir- 
cumcision ceremonies; a brotherhood to attend weddings; and 
a brotherhood to console mourners. 37 

A Circumcision Feast in Galilee ... In another Midrashic 
tale we have a description of a circumcision feast which took 
place more than a hundred years later than the one just de- 
scribed. Catastrophic and far-reaching changes in Jewish life 
had occurred during these 150 years. Jerusalem and the Tem- 
ple had been destoyed, and sixty-five years after that disaster 
came the revolt of Bar Kochba. In the bloody suppression 
of that revolt, Judea, the southern part of Palestine, had been 
entirely devastated, and the center of Jewish life and Jewish 
learning had shifted to Galilee, the northern part of the land. 
The greatest city in Galilee, and the center of the administra- 


tion of the Jewish community, was Sepphoris. Here the lead- 
ers and representatives of the Jewish community resided, and 
it was in the house of one of the wealthy leaders of Sepphoris 
that the circumcision ceremony took place. 

The father invited many people from neighboring towns 
and villages. Some guests came from En-Teenah, a small town 
near by. Among them was the famous Tanna, Rabbi Simeon 
ben Chalaphta, an older contemporary of Rabbi Judah the 
Patriarch, the compiler of the Mishnah. The wealthy father 
treated his guests with seven-year-old wine, and at the feast 
he said: "I pray the Lord in Heaven that I may give you from 
this same wine at the wedding of my son." After the father 
had spoken, the throng in the house responded in unison: "As 
you have initiated him into the covenant so you shall initiate 
him into the study of the Torah and into the chupo." We are 
told in the Midrashic tale that the feasting and banqueting 
lasted until midnight. 38 

Naming the Child . . . A girl was still named soon after birth, 
but the naming of a boy occurred at the circumcision cere- 
mony. 39 

After the Babylonian exile, a great change took place in the 
naming of children. The custom of naming a son after his 
grandfather, which prevailed among the ancient Egyptians 
and Greeks, was now adopted by the Jews. We first hear of it 
in the fifth century (B.C.E.) among the Jews of Elephantine 
and Assuan, on the southern border of Egypt. The existence 
of a community of Jewish soldier colonists there, hundreds 
of years before the conquests of Alexander, is a newly dis- 
covered chapter in the history of the Jewish dispersion (see 
pp. 1 39-41 ) . The archives of this Jewish community were un- 
earthed at the threshold of our century. They contained many 
papyri written in Aramaic, among which we find the first 
records of Jewish children named after grandparents. 

Later we find this custom also prevalent among the Pales- 
tinian Jews. In the high-priestly family we find the names of 


Onias and Simon succeeding one another. In the Hasmonean 
dynasty, Hyrcanus 11 bears the name of his grandfather John 
Hyrcanus. Still later we find the genealogy of the famous 
Hillel with only a few names in it, mostly those of the grand- 

Children were also named after the brothers of their father. 
Two sons of Simon the Hasmonean, Judah and John, bore the 
names of their father's brothers, apparently after the decease 
of the latter. Occasionally the child was named in honor of the 
living. A child might be named for his father or grandfather 
who was still alive. 40 

A more striking innovation was the use of foreign names, 
first found in the later books of the Bible. According to mod- 
ern scholars, Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Belteshazzar, Shenazzar, 
Mordecai, and Esther are Babylonian names. In Daniel-Belte- 
shazzar and in Esther-Hadassah we have the first use of two 
names for one person, one Jewish and the other non-Jewish. 

This tendency became more pronounced in the Greek pe- 
riod, when Greek or Grecianized names were favored. We 
find Greek names in the aristocratic circles sympathetic to 
Greek culture (the high priests and the Maccabean and Hero- 
dian princes and princesses). Great religious teachers of the 
Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of the people, bore the names 
Antigonus, Symachus, and Tarphon (Tryphon). Latin names 
also came into vogue. Jews called their children Marcus or 
Justus, and did not even hesitate to name them Titus. Double 
names, one Jewish and the other Grecian, became popular, as 
Judah-Aristobul, Salome-Alexandra, Simon-Peter, Saul-Paul. 
The purists among Palestinian Jews in the centuries following 
the second destruction of Jerusalem considered it meritorious 
to bear a genuinely Hebrew name. But outside of Palestine 
names were mostly non-Jewish. 41 

This was not the only innovation regarding names in the 
days of the Second Temple. The common pre-Exilic custom 
of compounding names with that of God was abandoned al- 
together, or so shortened that only one letter remained of His 


name. Thus Jehoiadah became Jaddua; Hananiah became 
Honi; and Mattathiah became Mattai. 

The Biblical names, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David, 
were avoided in Talmudic times. Only in the post-Talmudic 
era did they become popular among all Jewish groups. Biblical 
names, unheard of in the days of the Second Temple and in 
subsequent Talmudic times, became popular in G'onic times. 
We find Jehiel, Joel, Jehoram, Enoch, Obadiah, and many 

The first record of a form of prayer for naming a boy is 
found in G'onic times. It was written in Aramaic. This was 
later changed to Hebrew among European Jews, who did not 
speak Aramaic; and the Hebrew version is still used today. 42 

Pidyonha-ben . . . At this period the original meaning of the 
redemption of the first-born had been almost forgotten, and 
it was observed merely as a symbol of devotion to God. Many 
kohanim, especially if they were rich, returned the money to 
the father. Such instances are mentioned as early as the end of 
the first century (C.E.). This practice of returning the five 
shekels became still more popular in later times. 43 

The observance of pidyon ha-ben had also begun to be 
marked in Talmudic times by the reciting of benedictions and 
by a feast. The father recited two benedictions: one "over the 
redemption of the first-born" and the other, the benediction 
"Shehecheyonu" ("Who has kept us in life and preserved us 
and permitted us to reach this season" a benediction on the 
arrival of a new season or of any joyous event in one's life). 44 

Rising from Childbed . . . The belief that a woman was de- 
filed by childbirth because she was under the influence of 
demons was forgotten, and new interpretations were given. It 
was explained that on arising from childbed, she must bring a 
sin-offering because she then breaks the vow made in labor, 
under the spontaneous reaction of pain, to be forever sepa- 
rated from her husband. Explanations were also given for the 


belief that a woman was unclean twice as long after the birth 
of a girl as in the case of a boy. One explanation refers to the 
story of creation, and says it is because Adam was brought by 
the angels into the Garden of Eden forty days after he was 
created, whereas Eve was brought eighty days after her crea- 

tion. 45 

Arising from childbed was observed in Temple days by the 
offering of two sacrifices. The mother was not obliged to 
appear personally in the Temple. There was a special chest in 
the Second Temple for receiving money for these offerings, 
and it was arranged that the money for the two offerings be 
placed in this chest on a particular day. The two sacrifices 
were then offered on the altar, and the woman, wherever she 
lived, was ritually clean by evening. 46 

fr + 


In the Middle Ages 

In the Middle Ages more and more of the festival occasions in 
the family were exalted by religious rites, mostly performed 
at the synagogue, with the participation of the whole com- 
munity. Thus the Jew, with his religious devotion, created 
for himself in his community and his synagogue a haven of 
refuge in a surging sea of hatred and persecution. The abun- 
dance of his religious life compensated him for the meager- 
ness and deficiency of material conditions in the ghetto. That 
this life was a powerful influence may be seen from the fact 
that it was able to overcome to some extent the superstitions of 
medieval days, and to modify them to the point where the 
Jew felt he was in the domain of religion. 

Watching Mother and Child . . . From the moment of birth 
until the circumcision ceremony was over, mother and child 
were surrounded by various charms and talismans. They were 
to guard against Lilith, the female demon who, in the belief 
of the folk, sought to kill the child as well as the mother in 
childbed. On the walls of the room where the mother lay, 
there were amulets inscribed with conjurations against Lilith 
and her whole clique. It was a general custom in the Middle 
Ages, as it still is among the Jews of the Caucasus and Mo- 
rocco, to close the windows of the room at night. The magic 
circle was also employed. As soon as the woman was delivered 
of the child, a circle was drawn with chalk or charcoal on 
the floor of the room. The circle was circumscribed with such 
weighty names as Lilith, Adam, and Eve, and three tongue- 
twisting names of angels who, in the popular belief, were 

3 1 


feared and shunned by Lilith. The woman in childbed was 
prohibited from leaving the house before the fourth Sabbath 
after the birth of the child. 47 

The most efficacious means of exorcising demons was, of 
course, to recite the monotheistic credo of the Jewish religion, 
"Sh'ma Yisroel." The "reading of Sh'ma" (Hear, O Israel: 
The Lord Our God, the Lord is One), therefore, took place 
in the room of a woman in childbed every night, particularly 
on the eve of the b'ris. This was called "Watch Night" 
(Wachnacht) by the German Jews. Relatives and friends 
gathered in the house and studied Torah all night so that the 
child might not be "benumen" (bewitched), as the German 
Jews called it* 

Watch Night . . . The observance of the eve of the b'ris was 
already mentioned by Jewish writers in the twelfth century. 
Scholars are of the opinion that its origin is not Jewish. It 
sprang up under foreign influences, and later adapted itself to 
the Jewish way of life. In the popular belief of the Jews, the 
b'ris ended the power of the evil spirits, and therefore the eve 
of circumcision was regarded as the most dangerous time of 
all, when the demons exerted themselves to the utmost to seize 
their last chance to injure the mother and the child. We find 
an exact duplication of this belief in the folk ideas of the 
Germans, except that, according to the German belief, it was 
baptism which ended the power of the evil spirits. 

In the popular belief, evil spirits shunned the light. In the 
dark and gruesome hours of the night they spread their terror; 
hence the extremely dangerous character of the night pre- 
ceding the b'ris, and the various magic precautions taken for 
the safety of the mother and the child: the numerous lighted 
candles, the iron knife which the mohel placed under the 
pillow of the mother, and the many other safeguards and 
charms employed. 

The main feature of the night, from which its name was 
derived, was the vigil kept by the mother and the people who 


gathered in the house. To a person who might possibly be the 
prey of evil spirits, sleeping was regarded as very dangerous, 
because in the primitive belief, the soul remained outside of 
the body during sleep, and could easily be seized. In some 
parts of Germany it was customary among the Jews to keep 
vigil the whole night preceding circumcision. 48 

In the course of time, the observance of the eve of the b'ris 
was, to a great extent, divested of its original magic character, 
and invested with a Jewish religious garb. It was declared to 
be merely a prelude to the circumcision ceremony. For this 
purpose it was hermeneutically linked with certain passages 
of the Bible. Thus the joyous observance of this night of vigil 
was declared to be the joy of a mitsvo, of fulfilling a religious 
precept, and it was regarded as a religious act to partake of 
the feast. The main feature of the observance had become the 
reciting of a prayer, and the reading of certain portions of 
the Bible and the Talmud and Midrashim that dealt with the 
precept of circumcision. With its magic background nearly 
forgotten, the Watch Night or Night of Vigil persisted to 
our own day as a prelude to the b'ris. 49 

Circumcision ... In following the circumcision ceremony 
through the ages, we notice that it continually gained in im- 
portance and, from a family affair, became a festival for the 
whole community. This process had already begun in the days 
of the Second Temple. However, it was not until the G'onic 
period (from the seventh to the eleventh centuries) that the 
b'ris became a festival for the community in the full sense of 
the word. It was then (about the ninth century) that the 
celebration of the ceremony was transferred from the home 
to the synagogue. 

Long before that time it had been customary to perform the 
ceremony early in the morning, for a mitsvo, a religious act, 
must not be delayed. When the ceremony was transferred to 
the synagogue, it was performed immediately after the morn- 
ing prayers. The entire congregation remained in the syna- 


gogue in order that each one might attain the religious merit 
attached to his presence at the ceremony. 

As long as the circumcision ceremony was performed at 
home it had no connection with the services of the synagogue. 
Performance in the synagogue associated it with the services, 
and all the people assembled in the synagogue felt that it was a 
joyous day a festival. Certain passages in the services, which 
are not recited at festival or semi-festival days, were also 
omitted on that day. On the other hand, certain passages in 
the morning prayers were recited with a special chant. In 
addition, the worshippers in the synagogue recited and chanted 
special poetic insertions which the Faitonim the liturgical 
poets of the Middle Ages had composed for the joyous oc- 
casion of a b'ris. At the meal of a b'ris, also, z'mros (liturgical 
table songs) appropriate to the occasion were sung. These 
z'miros described the Jews as surrounded with God's pre- 
cepts as by a fortress. On their heads and arms they wore 
phylacteries. On the door-posts they placed m'zuzos. Their 
garments were hung with tsitsis (fringes), and their bodies 
bore the sign of the covenant. 50 

Other new features were added, which embellished and 
enriched the ceremony of the b'ris. 

The Chair of Elijah . . . The most important feature added 
to the ceremonial of the b'ris in post-Talmudic times was the 
custom of placing a chair for the prophet Elijah. In the ninth 
century, when the b'ris was transferred from the home to the 
synagogue, the chair of Elijah is mentioned not as an innova- 
tion but as a well-established custom. 

In order to explain the meaning of this custom, it was linked 
with certain passages of the Bible. In the First Book of Kings, 
it is related that Elijah complained to God that "the children 
of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant" (19:10, 14) . The Jew- 
ish homiletical interpreters of the Scriptures in the Middle 
Ages explained this to mean that Elijah complained that the 
children of Israel had discarded circumcision. Therefore God 


said to Elijah: "Because of excessive zeal for Me you have 
brought charges against Israel that they have forsaken My 
covenant, therefore you shall have to be present at every cir- 
cumcision ceremony." In addition, "the messenger of the 
covenant," who is spoken of in the Book of Malachi (3:1), 
was identified with the prophet Elijah, and it was only proper 
that this angel of the covenant should be present whenever a 
Jewish child entered the covenant of Abraham. 51 

As in all similar cases, the custom did not grow out of these 
citations. The citations were quoted later in order to explain 
an established custom. For this reason we must seek the origin 
of a custom, not in the interpretation and meaning later read 
into it, after the origin itself had been almost forgotten, but in 
the character of the rite, in the practice itself. We must com- 
pare it with similar rites and practices among Jews and also 
among other peoples. 

The essential feature in the custom of using Elijah's chair 
was the placing of a seat of honor, a throne, for a guardian 
angel who was believed to guard and protect the child. First 
there was the belief in a guardian angel for the new-born 
child. It was only later that this guardian angel came to be 
identified with the prophet Elijah. We thus have to trace the 
origin and development of this belief. 

As long ago as in Biblical times it was a popular Jewish 
custom to set up in the home a table, bedecked with food and 
drink, and dedicated to Gad and M*ni, two ancient Ca- 
naanitic deities of fortune, originally a god and a goddess. The 
prophet denounces those "that prepare a table for Gad and 
that offer mingled wine in fuU measure unto M'ni" (Isa. 
65:11). We hear a great deal more of Gad in post-Biblical 
times. In the Talmud, "the bed of Gad" was a familiar piece of 
furniture in the Jewish household. It was called in Aramaic 
arso cTgado. No one was allowed to sleep or sit on this bed or 
in this chair. Some even invoked this deity of fate with the 
formula: "Be lucky, my Gad, and cease not!" The rabbis of 
the Talmud forbade this invocation as a heathenish practice. 


They also prohibited the custom of leaving crumbs on the 
table after each meal as an offering to Gad. But notwithstand- 
ing the prohibition of the rabbis, leaving crumbs on the table 
for good luck was still a popular custom as late as the six- 
teenth century. 52 

In Talmudic times, the "table for Gad," originally meant 
for the luck of the household, had been brought into close 
relation to the birth of a child. As far back as the second 
century C.E., it was a popular custom among the Jews in 
Palestine to set a table with food before a woman in child- 
bed. The sages of the Talmud considered it a heathenish prac- 
tice. Yet it persisted in a certain form until modern times. In 
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we hear of a table or 
bed set, on the eve of the b'ris, with all kinds of foods for the 
mazol (good luck) of the new-born child. For the origin of 
this particular custom we must look in another direction. 
Among the Romans it was customary at the birth of a child, 
to set a meal in the court of the house, dedicating it to the 
deity who was believed to protect children from sickness. 
Jews apparently accepted this belief that there was a guardian 
deity of the home and the child, for whom a table should be 
set with food. Among Jews, however, the belief was com- 
pletely changed. The guardian deity was superseded by the 
prophet Elijah who, already in Talmudic times, was regarded 
as the guardian angel of the Jews. It was only natural to iden- 
tify him as the guardian angel of the Jewish child. The story 
in the Bible which tells how Elijah revived the child of the 
widow may have been a factor. We also meet Elijah as the 
protector of the child in the legend inscribed on the amulets 
against Lilith which will be dealt with in a subsequent chap- 

ter. 53 

Since the role of the non- Jewish guardian deity of the child 
was given to the prophet Elijah, the bedecked table, too, 
should have been dedicated to him. In fact, there were Jews 
here and there in the Orient, even as late as the eighteenth 
century, who, on the eve of the b'ris, dedicated to Elijah a 


table with food. However, this custom had not become wide- 
spread. Among the Jews of Europe a table or bed was set 
with food on the eve of the b'ris for the mazol of the child, 
without associating it with the prophet Elijah. But this, too, 
smacked of "preparing a table to Gad," and the rabbis inter- 
dicted it. 54 

Eventually the custom lost all of its ancient heathen char- 
acter. The table was decked with food on the Watch Night, 
not for the good luck of the child, but for the invited guests 
as a prelude to the feast of the b'ris. As for the prophet Elijah, 
only a chair on which he might sit, without any offering of 
food, was set apart for him at the b'ris. Thus the chair of 
Elijah proves the spiritual vitality of the Jewish religion in fill- 
ing an originally non- Jewish rite with genuine Jewish con- 
tent and transforming it into a highly religious symbol the 
prophet Elijah as the "messenger of the covenant" and the 
guardian of the Jewish child. 

In the later Middle Ages Elijah was thought of as omni- 
present, and it was believed he attended such occasions in 
person. Legends were current about saintly rabbis who, hold- 
ing the child on their knees, saw Elijah sitting on the chair 
dedicated to him. It was told of Rabbi Judah the Pious, the 
famous Jewish mystic who flourished at Regensburg in the 
twelfth century, that once, when he officiated as sandek, he 
delayed the circumcision because he did not see Elijah come 
in and sit on the chair which had been prepared for him. 
When people in the synagogue asked him the reason for the 
delay, he told them that Elijah stayed away because he fore- 
saw that the child, in his maturity, would be inclined to 
abandon the faith of his ancestors. 55 

The Sandek . . . During the period when the b'ris was trans- 
ferred to the synagogue, a new leading personage was intro- 
duced into the ceremonial. Before, there had been only two, 
the father and the mohel. Now a third was added the assist- 
ant of the mohel, who held the child on his knees during the 


operation. He was named sandek, a title derived from a Greek 
word meaning godfather. 

The people of the Orient use their knees as we use a table, 
and holding the child on the knees during the operation was 
taken as a matter of course, without any special religious sig- 
nificance. It was not until the ninth or tenth century that this 
assistance became a religious function. Since the name is de- 
rived from Greek, scholars attribute to a Byzantine influence 
the importance given to the sandek. 

Great religious merit was attached to the function of the 
sandek. To begin with, the sandek had a share in causing a 
child to enter into the covenant of Abraham. In addition, the 
sandek had his seat right near the chair of Elijah, implying, in 
the belief and imagination of the people, that he sat by the 
side of the great prophet. The sandek, therefore, had to be a 
pious, God-fearing man, worthy to sit near the prophet 
Elijah. The sandek also shared, with the father and the mohel, 
the privilege of being called to the bimo, the central platform 
of the synagogue, to recite the benediction over the reading of 
the Torah, if the b'ris fell on a day on which the Torah was 
read. Moreover, the sandek was preferred to the mohel, and 
preceded him in being called up to the reading of the Torah. 
Besides, officiating as sandek was believed by the people to 
bring good fortune and wealth. Small wonder then that, in ap- 
preciation of the privilege accorded to him, it became the 
general custom for the sandek to defray the expenses of the 

Soon the function of assisting the mohel was divided be- 
tween a man and a woman. It was usually the sandek's wife 
who brought the child from the mother's room to the entrance 
of the synagogue. Still later, the sandek was given two assist- 
ants, usually a man and wife, brother and sister, and so forth. 
In our own day, among East European Jews, these assistants 
of the sandek were called kvater and kvaterin, the equivalent 
of a medieval German word which, in modern German, is 
Gevatter (godfather). 


In the Middle Ages it was customary among German Jews 
not to let the same sandek perform his duties for two brothers. 
Though various explanations were given for it, this custom 
has not persisted. In Eastern Europe the reverse became the 
accepted usage. Usually one man, the rabbi of the community, 
officiated as sandek at every circumcision ceremony. An ex- 
planation was even evolved that children grow to resemble 
the sandek, and of course all parents wish their sons to bear 
an intellectual and moral resemblance to the rabbi. 66 

A B'ris in Rome ... It is Rome in the thirteenth century. A 
boy has been born into a Jewish family and on the eighth day 
the b'ris is announced in all the synagogues of the Jewish 
community. A box of spices is carried from synagogue to 
synagogue. When worshippers at the morning services recog- 
nize the odor, they know that in one of the synagogues a child 
is to enter the Covenant of Abraham. The synagogue where 
the circumcision takes place is brightly illuminated with many 
candles, one of which is extraordinarily large. A ribbon is 
hung on the door of the synagogue. Two richly adorned, 
covered chairs are placed near the door, one for the prophet 
Elijah and one for the sandek. A festive feeling pervades the 
worshippers during the morning services. They recite the 
prayers up to Qlenu. Then the b'ris ceremony begins, and 
at its conclusion Olenu is recited. 

Meanwhile the little boy has been bathed in warm water 
and dressed in a linen shirt and tunic, and a pretty little cap, 
and adorned like a bridegroom going to his wedding. 

When the baby is carried with great pomp into the syna- 
gogue, the father calls loudly, "Blessed be they who are sit- 
ting here!" And the congregation responds, "Blessed be he 
who is coming here!" With his right hand the father delivers 
the child to the sandek. The sandek receives the child with his 
right hand and places him on his lap. The mohel stands near 
the father to indicate that he has been appointed his deputy to 
circumcise his son. All the people in the synagogue rise when 


the father hands the child to the sandek and remain standing 
during the ceremony. 

After the operation, the mohel takes the child from the 
sandek and hands him to the father. The father in turn hands 
the baby to another man who assists the sandek by holding 
the child on his lap while the benedictions are recited antipho- 
nally. The blesser says "So and so, the little fellow" and the 
assembled answer "may he grow big." The blesser says "May 
the child live" and the assembled answer "to bring joy to his 
father and mother." The blesser says "May he be a brother to 
seven" and the assembled answer "and father of eight." The 
blesser says "As he entered unto the covenant, so may he enter 
unto Torah, chupo and good deeds." 57 

A B'ra at Mayence - . . Marching on in time from the thir- 
teenth to the fifteenth century, and traveling a little north- 
ward from Rome to the Rhineland, we arrive at Mayence. 
Mayence was worth visiting at that period, just to meet the 
greatest religious authority of his time, the famous Rabbi Jacob 
ben Moshe Halevi, known universally by his abbreviated 
name, MahariL He was the rabbi of the community and also 
head of the y'shivo, the Talmudic academy at Mayence. Mak- 
ing a living from matchmaking, this great rabbi contributed 
his income from the rabbinate to the maintenance of the 

Maharil himself did not write any books. However, an ad- 
mirer and disciple of his, R. Zalrnon of St. Goar, a small town 
on the Rhine, wrote a "Maharil Book" which consists mostly 
of ritual customs and ceremonial regulations according to the 
decisions and ritual practice of Maharil. But here and there 
R. Zalmon interrupts the ritual regulations and pious homilies 
of his great master to describe minutely and vividly a cere- 
mony at which the latter officiated a b'ris, a pidyon ha-ben, 
or a wedding. For us today the book is a veritable historic 
treasure, as it furnishes us a faithful picture of the life of the 
German Jews in the fifteenth century. We shall draw exten- 


sively upon this abundant source of information on Jewish 
life in the Middle Ages, and shall become acquainted with 
Maharil in his role as rabbi at various functions, beginning 
with the ceremonial of a b'ris. 

When a b'ris occurred in Mayence, Maharil himself often 
served as the sandek. He prepared for this ceremony by first 
immersing himself in a mlkve (ritual pool of purification). 

In the synagogue where the b'ris took place, twelve candles 
were lighted to signify the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition, 
one large candle burned. A large chair, draped with a rich 
cover, was provided for the prophet Elijah. After the morning 
prayers had been recited as far as Olenu, the sandek's wife 
took the child from his mother and carried him as far as the 
door of the synagogue. She did not enter the men's section of 
the synagogue where the ceremony took place, for a woman 
might not mingle with men in a synagogue. Sometimes the 
sandek himself went to the mother's house to receive the child. 
Maharil frowned upon this. It was regarded as much a mis- 
demeanor for a man to walk amidst women as for a woman to 
intrude among men. 

In this source book we have a description of a b'ris for twin 
brothers in the synagogue of Mayence. There was only one 
ceremony but everything was done in duplicate. Instead of 
twelve smaller candles and one large candle, twenty-four 
smaller candles and two large ones illuminated the synagogue. 
The twin boys were carried into the synagogue together and 
two mohalim, assisted by two sandeks, performed the opera- 
tions simultaneously. But the benedictions were recited only 
once. One mohel recited the benediction before the operation, 
and the second mohel responded "Amen" and performed the 
operation. The benediction which followed was recited by the 
second mohel and the Hebrew word "ha-yeled" (the child) 
was changed to "ha-y'lodim" (the children). 

A B'ris in Worms . . . We proceed to another Jewish com- 
munity in the Rhineland. It is the ghetto of Worms in the 


seventeenth century, two hundred years after the time of 
Maharil. We "are again fortunate in having a rich source upon 
which to draw. It is a book about the customs of the Jews of 
Worms written by Juspa Shamosh, the secretary of the com- 
munity and the shamos (sexton) of the synagogue at Worms. 
In some respects Juspa Shamosh is even superior as a writer to 
R. Zalrnon, as he depicts life in general, the folkways of the 
people, as well as the hustle and bustle preceding and following 
religious ceremonies. 

There were several mohalim in Worms, and as soon as a 
woman gave birth to a boy, one mohel after another paid a 
visit to the parents, offering his services. The wives of the 
mohalim also visited the mother, in order to have this honor 
accorded to their husbands. As they were not remunerated for 
their services, they competed for the privilege of performing 
a mitsvo. 

On the Friday night following the birth of a boy, relatives 
and friends visited the parents, and were served with fruit and 
wine. This celebration was called ben zochor (a male child, a 
phrase from Jer. 20: 15). 

Three days before the b'ris, the beadle of the synagogue 
would stride through the streets of the ghetto, crying aloud: 
"Zu der yiddish kertz!" (to the circumcision candle, "kertz" 
for candle and "yiddish" for Yiddishen, i.e., to Judaize by 
circumcision) . Thereupon the women gathered at the house 
of the parents to make the one large and the twelve small 
candles which were to burn in the synagogue at the b'ris. 

During the days immediately before the b'ris, women 
friends visited the mother. They helped her bathe the child 
and before departing they left coins for the woman who took 
care of the mother during her childbed. 

The b'ris took place at the synagogue if the weather per- 
mitted. The sandek's wife, accompanied by the most eminent 
women of the community, brought the child into the women's 
section of the synagogue. There was a special door there, 
made for the occasion of a b'ris. It was called "Yiddish Tir" 


(circumcision door) . At the threshold of this door the sandek's 
wife delivered the child to her husband. After the b'ris the 
father invited all the people who witnessed the ceremony to 
partake of a festive meal at his house. On this occasion z'miros 
(table songs) were sung and a discourse on Torah was de- 
livered. The wine for the meal was provided by the sandek. 
On the third day following the b'ris, when the child could 
again be bathed, there was a little celebration in the home. It 
was a kind of a sequel to the b'ris, and in this the mother, too, 
participated. 58 

Naming the Child ... A boy was named during the cere- 
mony of the b'ris in the synagogue. A girl was named in the 
synagogue on the fourth Sabbath after birth, when the 
mother, rising from childbed, visited the synagogue. On this 
Sabbath, the father was called to the bimo to witness the read- 
ing from the scroll of the Torah. After the father had finished 
the benediction over the Torah, the chazan (cantor) named 
the girl in accordance with the prescribed Hebrew formula. 
In southern France, in some parts of Hungary, and in Belgium, 
it was customary to bring the baby girl into the synagogue on 
this occasion. 59 

In the later Middle Ages, the custom of naming children 
after their deceased ancestors gained in importance, and was 
observed with religious reverence. It was considered a prime 
duty toward the deceased. On the other hand, in that period, 
naming a child after a parent or grandparent who was still 
alive was prohibited, regarded as un-Jewish, and surrounded 
by superstitious fear. 60 

However, this notion prevailed only among the Ashk'nazim. 
The S'fardic Jews continued to name children after living 
grandparents. In rare cases, even the son and the father had 
the same name. Today, even among the Ashk'nazim, the cus- 
tom of not naming a child after a living ancestor prevails only 
among Orthodox Jews. Among Reform Jews, the son often 
bears the father's name with the addition of junior, as among 


the Christians. Among the Jews of Yemen, in families where 
children had met untimely deaths, long life for the new-born 
child is supposedly safeguarded by calling him by the father's 

name. 61 

The tendency to give children names of non-Jewish neigh- 
bors, which began as far back as the time of the Babylonian 
exile, has continued through the Middle Ages to the present 
day. We have referred above to Jews bearing Babylonian and 
Greco-Roman names. Later they were called by Aramaic, 
Persian, and Arabic names; the Jews in Europe bearing Ger- 
manic, Romanic, and Slavic names. Hebrew names were ab- 
sorbed into other languages (Baruch, the blessed, became 
Benedict) , and foreign names were sometimes translated into 
Hebrew or Aramaic (Fabius-Phoebus was translated to 
Shrago, which is Aramaic and means light, and in Yiddish 
it became Feive or Feivel). But of all languages Jews have 
spoken, none has produced so many adaptations and transfor- 
mations of Hebrew names as Yiddish. 

Dual Names and Holekreisoh (also pronounced Holkrasch 
and Cholkreisch) . . . Jews in the Orient were content with 
one name. They used a non-Jewish name even in religious 
ceremonials. Among European Jews, however, a child was 
given a second Hebrew name. For all religious affairs and 
Hebrew documents one had a special Jewish name of Biblical- 
Talmudic origin, which was given to the boy at the b'ris. The 
non-Jewish name, adopted from non-Jewish neighbors, was 
for civic life. This dualism in names among European Jews 
can be traced as far back as the thirteenth century and pre- 
vails to this day also in America. One's civic name, for in- 
stance, is Morris or Max, but he is called up to the reading of 
the Torah with the name Moshe or Mordecai; or his civic 
name is George, but he is called up to the reading of the Torah 
by the name Gedaliah. 

Parents were not so interested in giving a daughter an addi- 
tional Hebrew name, since a girl participated very little in 


religious ceremonies where a genuine Jewish name was more 

Among the German Jews, and partly also among the Polish 
Jews, a child was named twice. The Hebrew name was be- 
stowed at the b'ris in the synagogue, and the ordinary name 
was given on the fourth Sabbath after birth, at the home of 
the parents. This giving of the civic name was marked by a 
strange ceremony which the German Jews called Holekreisch. 

On this Sabbath there was a family festival. The mother, 
arising from childbed, visited the synagogue to attend the 
morning services. She was dressed in her best attire and was 
accompanied by the rebitsin (the wife of the rabbi) and a 
group of eminent women of the community. The father was 
called to witness the reading of the Torah. While he was 
standing on the bimo, a wrapper for the Torah scroll, with 
the name of the child embroidered on it, was handed to him. 
It was sent to him by the mother. He placed it on the table of 
the bimo near the Torah scroll, as the first gift of the child to 
the synagogue. The wrapper had been used as a swaddle at the 
b'ris, and was provided by the sandek. After the services, in- 
vited guests gathered in the home for the ceremony of Hole- 
kreisch. In Worms, in the seventeenth century, the ceremony 
took place after the noon meal, the beadle of the synagogue 
first striding through the narrow streets of the ghetto and 
calling loudly: "Zu der Holekreisch!" 

First the guests were treated with delicacies. Thereupon 
they were arrayed in a circle around the cradle in which the 
child was lying. In the case of a boy, a Pentateuch and a 
praying-shawl were put in the cradle. The principal part was 
played by boys of pre-bar mitsvo age in the case of a boy, 
and by girls in the case of a girl. The children lifted the cradle 
containing the child three times, calling out loudly each time: 

Holekreisch, Holekreisch, 
Wie soil das Kindchen heissen? 
(What shall the little child be called?) 


Each time they answered with the non-Jewish name which 
had been given to the child. Thus the ordinary name given to 
the child while lying in the cradle was called "the cradle name" 
(shem ho-ariso). 

The origin of the custom of Holekreisch is very obscure. 
The etymology of its name had been lost as far back as the 
fourteenth century. The second half of the term, Kreisch, 
was easily recognized as the German word Kreischen, mean- 
ing to shriek or scream. Difficulty in derivation lay with the 
first half of the name, Hole, which became distorted into 
Chole. Some famous rabbis in the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries tried to trace it to the Hebrew word Choi, which 
means profane, not sacred. Consequently they interpreted 
Holekreisch to mean loudly calling out the every-day name of 
the child. 

Modern Jewish scholars have discarded this far-fetched ex- 
planation of the term Holekreisch as untenable. They identify 
Hole with the old Teutonic goddess, Dame Holle or Holda 
who, in German mythology, played the roles of both Lilith 
and Venus. Accordingly, this strange ceremony of the Jews 
in medieval Germany might be traced to an ancient pre- 
Christian Teutonic custom. In pagan times, when naming a 
child, the Germans apparently performed the ceremony with 
shouting and noise to drive away Dame Lilith-Holle. This 
heathen practice was doomed to extinction among the Ger- 
mans in Christian times, when the child was baptized in the 
church. Among Jews, this custom, derived from German 
neighbors in the early Middle Ages, was preserved through- 
out the ages because giving the child a secular name was not 
a religious observance associated with the synagogue, but 
merely a home celebration. 

In time, Holekreisch assumed a Jewish significance when 
the chazan recited verses of the Bible before the cradle was 
lifted. In some communities the chazan, not the children lift- 
ed the cradle. In Worms, the children themselves, before 
lifting the cradle, recited in a chorus the verses of the Bible. 


Holekreisch was not a generally accepted custom among the 
Jews of Germany and Poland. Regarding boys, the Hole- 
kreisch ceremony was confined to South Germany, where it 
still prevailed as late as the second half of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. In Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland, Holekreisch 
was not performed for boys at all, and rarely for girls. 62 

Double Names . . . The dualism in names was not the only 
reason for giving a child two names. In the late Middle Ages, 
it became customary to give a child two genuinely Jewish 
names. We first hear of this custom in the fifteenth century, 
but as late as the seventeenth century it was still rare to give 
two Jewish names to a child at the circumcision ceremonial. 
Later, the custom spread, and in modern times probably more 
double names than single names are given to Jewish children. 63 

The chief motive in giving children double names was the 
desire of the parents to do reverence to two deceased relatives, 
particularly when these relatives belonged to the two different 
lines of the families of both parents. 

This desire of the father and mother to name the child after 
his or after her deceased relative quite often caused family 
quarrels, though a belief prevailed that quarreling over the 
name endangered the life of the child. In time, certain regula- 
tions settled the quarrels over the name. The name of the first 
child belonged to the father, that of the second child to the 
mother. Another compromise stipulated that one parent be 
permitted to give the child the sacred name, and the other 
parent the ordinary name. If this was not satisfactory, the 
child was called by two Jewish names derived from the two 
families. In this case, it was usually agreed that the name which 
belonged to the father came first. 64 

There was another reason for giving a child two Jewish 
names. If a child died, the next born to the family was named 
after him. But it was considered inauspicious to bear the name 
of a departed brother or sister unless it was preceded by an- 
other name. This added name was usually Chayim (life or the 


living ones, male plural) for a boy, and Chayo (the living one, 
female singular) for a girl. 

There were also many cases in which a child was given a 
single name at the outset, and a second name later, as a charm 
against sickness. The added name was usually Chayim or 
Chayo. Another method of selecting a second name in the 
case of sickness was to open a Scroll of the Torah, and bestow 
the name of the first Biblical character that caught the eye. 

All these reasons for giving a child a double name were 
needed only for one time. Once a double name appeared, the 
descendants perpetuated it in its entirety. 

The Mutual Conversion of Male and Female Names ... In 
naming children after dead relatives, great difficulties arose 
(and still do) when the dead relative, whose name was to be 
perpetuated, was a male, and the new-born child a female, or 
vice versa. In such cases the name had to be converted, if pos- 
sible, from male into female, or from female into male. Often 
the change was made with little difficulty. There are certain 
names common to both sexes, like Simchoh or Sishe. Some 
names have two forms for male and female, as Chayirn-Chayo, 
Moshe-Mashe. Others can easily be converted because of simi- 
larity in sound, like Dinah-Dan. When the situation arose, 
many devices were thought of to change the gender of a name. 
In a great many cases, ingenuity failed, making it impossible 
to do justice to the names of certain deceased relatives. 65 

Pidyon ha-ben ... In the G'onic period, when new features 
were added to the ceremonial of the b'ris, the ceremony of 
pidyon ha-ben was made more impressive by the introduction 
of a dialogue between the father and the kohen. This is used 
to this day. The father presents his son to the kohen and intro- 
duces him as the first-born of the mother. The kohen asks the 
father whether he wishes to give him his son, or whether he 
prefers to redeem him for five shekels. The father replies that 
he chooses to redeem him and hands the money to the kohen. 


The latter receives the money, and returns the child to the 
father who then recites the two benedictions mentioned previ- 
ously: "over pidyon ha-ben" and "shehecheyonu" (see p. 29). 
The kohen thereupon bestows his blessing upon the father and 
the child. 66 

In instances where the father died or for any other reason 
neglected the duty of redeeming his son, it was customary, in 
the Middle Ages, to hang a medallion with the Hebrew letter 
H (which stands for five) around the son's neck. This was a 
reminder that it was incumbent upon him to redeem himself 
when he reached maturity. Later this proved to be imprac- 
ticable, because, quite often, the medallion was lost. So the 
device of the medallion was discarded, and some relative or 
the community as a whole redeemed the child. 67 

In the late Middle Ages there were religious authorities who 
decreed that the kohanim return the money, because it was no 
longer possible for any kohen to prove his priestly descent 
from the children of Aaron. 

As time passed, the valuation of the five Biblical shekels 
proved a complication for religious authorities. Usually the 
equivalent monetary unit of the country concerned was sub- 
stituted for the shekel. Thus in Russia, the sum of five rubles; 
in Germany, five thalers, and in America, five dollars was 
given to the kohen. But nowadays it is taken for granted that 
the kohen will return the money. However, the father, ac- 
cording to the ritual law, has not fulfilled his duty if he has in 
mind that he will get the money back. 

In the above mentioned "Maharil Book" we have a descrip- 
tion of a celebration of a pidyon ha-ben in Mayence in the 
fifteenth century, which took place in the absence of the 
child. The father of the child was a resident of Erfurt. A 
month after the birth of his son he happened to be in Mayence. 
He performed the ceremony of pidyon ha-ben in the house 
of Maharil with his participation, and according to his instruc- 

First of all, the father placed money in a silver dish and 


asked Maharil if this really amounted to five shekels. Maharil 
told the father that according to his calculation more money 
must be added. The father did this, and then all guests seated 
themselves at the table. 

All tasted a slice of bread, reciting the benediction over it. 
Thereupon the ceremony of pidyon ha-ben was performed 
by reciting the dialogue between the father and the kohen. 
After the ceremony was over, the kohen took a goblet of wine 
in his hand, blessing the "One who creates die fruit of the 
vine," drank a little from the cup, and passed it to the father to 

Then the people who had gathered in the house ate and 
drank and made merry. 

Rising from Childbed . , After the destruction of the Sec- 
ond Temple no substitute was advanced for the mother's offer- 
ings at the end of her defilement, and arising from childbed 
was not observed by any ritual. Only as late as the fifteenth 
century did the custom originate in which the mother visited 
the synagogue on the Sabbath after arising from childbed, and 
the father witnessed the reading of the Torah on the binio on 
that Sabbath. This custom, mentioned previously in connec- 
tion with the naming of a girl, still prevailed until recent days 
(see p. 43). 

It is the opinion of modern scholars that this custom of the 
mother's visit to the synagogue after she arose from childbed 
sprang up in the fifteenth century under the influence of the 
Christian custom which decreed that the mother visit the 
church on this occasion. The Christian custom, however, de- 
veloped under the influence of the Mosaic Law, as a substitute 
for the offerings in the Temple. 

Thus, we have a custom that came from the Jews to the 
Christians, and reverted from the Christians to the Jews. 68 


In Modern Times 

Circumcision . . . Since the Babylonian exile, both circum- 
cision and the Sabbath attained high significance as the two 
fundamentals of Judaism, representing the symbols of worship 
of the one and true God, and the acceptance of the Jewish 
faith. But while the strict observance of the Sabbath declined 
with the development of the new economic and cultural life 
of the Jews in nineteenth century Western Europe and Amer- 
ica, the circumcision rite has remained fixed to our own day. 
Controversy raged over the custom among Reform Jews in 
Western Europe and America, but it weathered the storm. 
Among the Reform Jews in Western Europe, circumcision is 
universal. Among Reform Jews in America circumcision has 
been retained for the born Jew and discarded only for the 

Today even Jews who are indifferent to all religious rites 
practice circumcision without the traditional ceremony. At 
times the operation is performed by a surgeon and the blessings 
are recited by a rabbi. 

The custom of performing the b'ris at the synagogue was 
still practiced here and there in the first half of the previous 
century. However, it was on the wane. The circumcision cere- 
mony reverted then to its original quarters, the home. An ex- 
ception was made when the b'ris came on Yom Kippur. In 
that case, the ceremony took place at the synagogue even as 
late as a generation ago. 

Naming the Child ... In later periods Jews were not always 
named after deceased relatives. Even in very recent times Jews 


occasionally named children for a special occasion occurring 
at the time of birth. When a boy was born on a Sabbath, or 
the circumcision fell on that day, he was sometimes called 
Shabbatai. If it occurred on a holiday, he was named Yomtov 
(Hebrew for holiday) ; if it happened on the ninth day of the 
Jewish month of Ov, the day of mourning over the destruc- 
tion of the Temple and Jerusalem, he was called Menachem 
(comforter), one of the alleged names of the Messiah. Oc- 
casionally a girl born on Purim was named Esther. A boy 
born on Purim was called Mordecai. If born on Pesach, he was 
called Pesach. Sometimes a name was taken from the portion 
of the Pentateuch read during that week. 

Among the Chasidim, the sect that arose in eighteenth cen- 
tury Poland and included nearly half of the Jewish people a 
century ago, it was customary to name the boy after a deceased 
tsadik, a Chasidic rabbi. 

As to the date of naming a girl, it has become customary in 
recent times to do it on the first Sabbath after birth, or sooner; 
if possible on the Monday or Thursday following birth. On 
these two week-days a portion of the Pentateuch is read in 
the synagogue before the congregation, giving the father a 
chance to witness the reading of the Torah on the bimo, and 
to have the child named by the chazan or sexton. 

After Biblical times, the creation of new Hebrew names had 
ceased. Only a limited number of the names recorded in the 
Bible were in vogue. In recent years, with the spread of the 
Zionist movement, the list of Biblical names has increased, and 
in the new State of Israel new Hebrew names are constantly 
devised; to mention only a few: Yigdal, Arnon, Raanan, 
Sharon, Amikam, for men; Aviva, Zahava, Sharona, Galila, for 

There were times when Jews did not enjoy the right to 
choose names for their children. Some governments in Chris- 
tian countries forbade them the use of non-Jewish names in 
every-day life, and forced them to bear Jewish names exclu- 
sively. In Prussia and Bohemia such restrictive measures were 


still in force in the first half of the previous century. In Russia 
a law to that effect was issued in the year 1893. 

This medieval restriction in regard to Jewish names was re- 
vived by the Nazi Government in Germany together with 
the other medieval laws restricting and persecuting the Jews, 

In Eastern Europe . . . We visit now a Jewish community in 
Eastern Europe in the last decades of the nineteenth century, 
at approximately the period when the mass emigration to 
America began. 

A Jewish woman is in labor. The husband goes to call the 
midwife. If it is night, he does not go alone; an elderly woman 
usually accompanies him. Only the midwife and several eld- 
erly women are present at the delivery. The few who know 
that the woman is in labor keep the fact secret, for it is believed 
that the more the people who knew of the confinement, the 
harder the delivery. 

As the pangs become severe, various charms are employed 
to ease the delivery. The woman is led around the table three 
rimes, making three complete encirclings. She may also be led 
over the threshold of her room three times. All chests, closets, 
and doors in' the house are opened. All knots, ties, and buttons 
in the garments of the woman are undone. It is also a popu- 
lar practice to chant before the woman, using the melody of 
the Haftoro, the first chapter of the First Book of Samuel. 
This chapter tells the story of Hannah, who had been barren 
for a long time until God hearkened to her prayer and gave 
her a son, and is read on the first day of Rosh Ha-shono. It is 
believed to be more effective for the woman in labor if the 
chapter is chanted by the man who was called up to witness the 
reading of this Haftoro on the preceding Rosh Ha-shono. 

If these customs and charms are without effect, many more 
are practiced. The key of the synagogue is fetched and placed 
in the hand of the woman. She may be girded with the band 
of a Torah Scroll brought from the synagogue. Sometimes 
female relatives run to the synagogue where they put their 


heads in the Holy Ark where the Scrolls of the Torah are kept, 
wailing and praying for the suffering woman. Women rela- 
tives hurry to the cemetery to pray at the graves of pious dead 
of the family that they intercede in heaven on behalf of the 
expectant mother and her innocent child. Sometimes these 
women relatives "measure the field," which means spanning 
the ground of the cemetery with a ball of thread which they 
unroll. This thread is then taken to the candle-maker, who 
uses it for candle wicks which are donated to the synagogue. 
The shofor may be blown or the magic practice of kaporos 
performed in the room where the woman is in labor. If it is 
available, she is given a piece left over from the afikomon (the 
half matso hidden at the start of the seder on Pesach night and 
eaten at the end of it), or the blossom-end (pitum) of the 
esrog. She may chew, but not swallow this. 

Mazol Tov! (good luck). The woman is over it! There is 
great joy over the increase in the family, particularly when it 
is a boy. No one wants a small family. "May God guard against 
having one child and one undershirt" is a proverb of the peo- 
ple; another, "One more child one more loaf of bread" (i.e., 
the expense will be increased only by the cost of another loaf) . 

The babe is bathed soon after birth. The father and other 
relatives throw coins in the tub, as an omen that the child will 
be rich. This money, however, goes to the midwife. The tub 
must be an old one, usually a borrowed one in which children 
were bathed who grew up strong and healthy. The baby's 
first swaddles are made of an old shirt. It is not considered 
lucky for an expectant mother to prepare anything for the 
baby in advance. Some use swaddles made from old shirts for 
a whole year, as a charm to prevent the child from developing 
into a tearer of clothes. 

If it is night, the midwife must not return home alone. The 
father of the child accompanies her, taking someone with him 
so that he will not have to return alone. Not only the mother 
and the child, but also the father and the midwife are guarded 
at night against evil spirits. 


Let us look into the home on the next day. 

The dwelling usually consists of two rooms. In the inner- 
most corner of the back room the mother lies in a tent-bed, 
which resembles a canopy. Four poles at the corners support a 
spread over the top. Curtains are hung around the bed to iso- 
late the mother and child as protection against evil spirits. 

The mother, with a pale and contented face, lies dressed in a 
white bed-jacket and cap. At her feet lies the baby, swathed 
so tightly that it looks like a little living mummy. 

The caretaker, a Jewish woman, hired to care for the mother 
during the weeks of her confinement and to do all the work in 
the house, moves about the room, pampering the woman in 
confinement. She continually gives her preserves, egg-nogs, 
and many other delicacies, but most of all, soup and meat of 
chicken. The bones of the chickens are put in a sieve, and 
kept. For it is believed that until the sieve is filled with bones, 
the woman in childbed has not recuperated. 

The mother and the child are guarded against evil spirits by 
various charms and amulets. On the wall above the head of 
the bed, under the head pillow, over the door and windows, 
and over all the walls, printed amulets are pasted or hung on 
every available vacant space. The first and most important line 
of the amulet reads: "Adam and Eve barring Lilith." Written 
on it are the names of the three angels, Sannui, Sansannui and 
Samangaluf, whom Lilith dreads. There is also a legend on the 
amulet that tells how the prophet Elijah once met Lilith and 
her clique, how she told him that she was going to kill a woman 
in childbed and her new-born child. Elijah, wishing to trans- 
form her into stone on the spot, desisted only after she revealed 
to him the means by which she and her clique could be kept 
away from a woman in childbed: by hanging a sheet of paper 
on the wall on which all her seventeen names are enumerated. 
These various names of Lilith follow on the amulet, and at the 
very end there is the Song of Ascents, Psalm 121. These amu- 
lets are thus called Shir Hamaalos (Song of Ascents) . 

If the baby is a boy, a m'lamed (teacher in a primary Jewish 


school) with a quorum of ten pupils comes to the mother every 
evening to recite the Sh'ma (the declaration of the unity of 
God). This is a safeguard to keep demons from the room. 
After the recitation is over, the pupils receive raisins, nuts, 
apples, and cake. The m'lamed receives some money for his 
trouble when the week is over. 

The first celebration of the birth of a boy takes place on the 
following Friday night. It is called ben zochor (see p. 42). 
At the synagogue the sexton stands on the bimo and, in behalf 
of the new father, invites the people to the ben zochor. After 
the Friday night meal, relatives and friends gather in the house 
to offer Mazol Tov (good luck) to the parents. The guests are 
treated to cider, beer, apples, cooked beans and peas. 
Among the visitors is also the chazan, who leads in the singing 
of z'miros. 

There is another celebration on the next day, after the morn- 
ing services. Relatives and friends again gather in the home of 
the parents to visit the new-born boy. B'rocho (benediction) 
is recited over wine and brandy, and various delicacies are 
served. This celebration is called sholom zochor (peace of 
the male child, an allusion to the Talmud which says that with 
the birth of a male child peace comes to the world 89 ). 

Watch Night is a festive occasion. Many candles glow 
throughout the house, and a great number of people partici- 
pate in the ceremony. After a festive meal, prayers are recited 
and the Torah studied until after midnight. Among the guests 
is the mohel who leaves his circumcision knife under the 
mother's pillow over night. Before departing, all recite aloud 
K'rias Sh'ma near the mother. 

The name for the child has already been decided upon, usu- 
ally not one name, but two. The father has many deceased 
relatives in his family, and the mother has many in hers, and 
they desire to name their child for all of the deceased. A com- 
promise is reached in most cases. The child is given two names, 
one for a deceased relative in the father's family and one for 
the mother's family. 


The b'ris takes place in the parents' home immediately after 
the morning services. Preparations for bathing the child begin 
very early in the morning. Many elderly women take part in 
bathing the child. It is regarded as a mitsvo, a religious act, to 
help prepare the child for the b'ris. Every one of the women 
pours two handfuls of water on the child and everyone leaves 
a silver coin in the tub for the midwife. 

At the synagogue, the people are still reciting the morning 
prayers, chanting in a special way certain parts of the prayers, 
and omitting certain prayers that are left out on semi-festival 
days. There is a general atmosphere of semi-festivity. 

Between nine and ten the services are over, and people 
gather at the house. In the front room, where the b'ris takes 
place, two huge candles burn in silver or brass candlesticks. 
Numerous smaller candles light the room. On a special table 
are laid the ceremonial necessities for circumcision: a bottle of 
wine, a goblet, a plate of sand, a box of old, pulverized wood. 
Two large chairs are placed nearby, one for the sandek and 
another, covered with a white sheet, for the prophet Elijah. 
The honor of sandek is usually awarded to the rabbi of the 

When all have gathered, the ceremonial begins. The mohel 
issues the order for wrapping the child, and this is done accord- 
ing to a fixed method, on the mother's bed. With a little cap 
on his head, the boy lies covered on a pillow, while the mother 
looks on with concern. 

The midwife takes the boy from the mother and hands him 
to the oldest woman standing near the bed. She fondles and 
rocks him for a minute, then gives him over to the next 
woman, who does the same and then presents him to another 

The boy thus passes from hand to hand until he ultimately 
reaches the kvaterin (godmother) who carries him as far as 
the threshold of the front room. As soon as the child appears, 
the guests call out loudly: Boruch habo! (Blessed be the one 
who comes!) The kvater (godfather) takes the child and 


hands him to the mohel, who recites certain verses from the 
Bible. He or a member of the family who is honored thereby 
then places the child on Elijah's chair, announcing "This is the 
chair of the prophet Elijah, be he remembered for good!" and 
recites a prayer directed partly to God, partly to Elijah. 

Now the actual circumcision begins. All people in the audi- 
ence stand except the sandek. Wrapped in a large prayer- 
shawl, he sits in an armchair, with a footstool under his feet. 
The mohel stands near Elijah's chair with the father close 
behind him. The mohel or another who is assigned the honor 
of standing near the sandek (Yad ha-Sandek) then takes the 
child from Elijah's chair and places him on the knees of the 
sandek. The mohel then recites the benediction that precedes 
the operation. After the operation, the father recites the bene- 
diction over the "bringing the child into the covenant of Abra- 
ham, our father." The audience responds, "As he has entered 
into the covenant, so may he enter into the study of the Torah, 
into the chupo and into good deeds." 

During a long benediction over a goblet of wine, the mohel 
names the child and moistens the boy's lips with the wine. 

Meanwhile, men and women in the room hold and rock the 
whimpering child on the pillow. The child becomes a little 
calmer when the mohel wets his lips with the wine. 

When the benedictions and prayers are over, all who have 
attended the ceremony wash their hands and seat themselves at 
the table to eat. Between courses, the chazan, in a sonorous 
voice, addresses greetings to the mother and the child on behalf 
of the guests, particularly the relatives. It is the conventional 
greeting in religious ceremonies, called after its first two 
words, MiSheberach (The o$e who blessed, etc.). Time after 
time the chazan repeats the Mi Sheberach. For each Mi She- 
berach the sexton helps the chazan by whispering the name of 
one of the relatives in his ear. As a matter of course, each one 
gives the chazan a coin. 

After the meal grace is recited, interspersed with special 
liturgical poems for a b'ris. 


Then the sexton announces: "The Ba-al-Wris (master of the 
circumcision, the father) begs the guests not to be displeased 
if the meal was not satisfactory. With God's will, at the bar 
mitsvo (or at the wedding) it will be greatly improved." 

As the guests leave, they bless the father and from afar, the 
mother with the wish that they may bring up the child "to 
the study of the Torah, to the chupo and to good deeds." 

After the b'ris, when the child has been circumcised and 
carries in his flesh the sign of the Holy Covenant, the amulets 
are removed from the room of childbed, for there is no longer 
any fear of Lilith and her demons. 

When a girl is born, there are no ceremonials or feasts. On 
the first Sabbath the father is called to the bimo in the 
synagogue to witness the reading of a portion of the Penta- 
teuch, and to pronounce the benediction over it. Following 
this, the chazan, or the sexton, pronounces the Mi Sheberach 
on behalf of the father, and names the girl. 

The same afternoon, female relatives, neighbors, and friends 
visit the mother to wish her "Mazol Tov." They are served 
with cake, wine, and preserves. This is called "gehn oif 
kichlech" (to go and partake of cakes) . 

In the case of a girl, it is believed that there is no limit to the 
time during which Lilith and the evil spirits threaten mother 
and child. Accordingly, the amulets remain on the walls much 
longer, usually for about four weeks, until the mother has 
arisen from childbed. 

On the Sabbath on which the mother arises from childbed, 
there is festivity in the house, whether the child is a boy or a 
girl. Women relatives and the midwife escort the mother from 
the home to the synagogue. Before leaving, the women are 
served with cake, pastries, and preserves. In the women's sec- 
tion of the synagogue all offer "Mazol Tov" to the mother, 
and in the men's section, the father is called to the bimo to 
witness the reading of a portion of the Torah. The chazan or 
the sexton, at the father's behest, pronounces the Mi Sheberach, 
blessing mother and child. 


Among the Oriental Jews . . . The Karaites, the Jewish sect 
which came into existence in the eighth century, and gained 
new adherents through the eighth and ninth centuries, adopted 
the custom of performing the b'ris at the synagogue. As to the 
operation of circumcision it is forbidden among the Karaites to 
perform it with any type of knife, but to use instead a pair of 
scissors. They took literally the expression "knives of flint" 
(knives in plural) found in the Book of Joshua (chap. 5:2). 

The Karaites abolished the ceremony of pidyon ha-ben 
altogether. They regarded it as one of the rewards accorded 
to the kohanim for their service in the Temple. Hence, after 
the destruction of the Temple, the kohanim were not entitled 
to it. 

In Palestine, among S'fardim as well as among Ashk'nazim, 
circumcision, up to the present day, is performed in the syna- 
gogue or in the House of Study (Beis ha-Midrosh). Among 
the S'fardim in Palestine it is customary to distribute fragrant 
herbs among the assembled people, at the close of the circum- 
cision ceremony. When the guests leave the synagogue with 
the child, the sexton sprinkles them with rose-water from a 
vessel pierced with little holes, made especially for this oc- 

The S'fardim also make the eve of the b'ris a special oc- 
casion. Unlike the Ashk'nazim, the S'fardim do not call it by 
the magic name "Watch Night," but by a genuinely Jewish 
name, Midrash (study) . Guests are invited, and the following 
communal functionaries gather in the house: the chacham 
(rabbi) , the Hebrew teacher, the cantor, and the sexton of the 
synagogue. The close relatives of the sandek bring an oil- 
burning menorah to the house where the woman is in child- 
bed. The menorah is wreathed with flowers and fragrant 
leaves. Beating a drum, and singing joyously, the guests carry 
the menorah through the streets of the town until they reach 
the house. When all are present, the father calls on the cha- 
cham to deliver a discourse on the portion of the Pentateuch 
read that week. After the lecture, the chazan recites Kaddish 


and the guests are served with a preserve made of poppy-seed 
and honey, and small cups of coffee. The chacham receives 
money gifts from the guests at their departure. 

Among the S'fardic Jews in the Orient, a girl is named only 
in the home. The parents invite guests to a meal and announce 
the name of their daughter. 

The Jews of the Caucasus still perform the b'ris in the 
synagogue, but they do not observe the eve of the b'ris. This 
proves that in the early Middle Ages, when the ancestors of 
the present day Caucasian Jews adopted the Jewish faith, 
Watch Night was not yet observed. 

The Oriental Jews of Asia and North Africa generally per- 
form the circumcision rite in the synagogue. This is done in 
the morning, but the joyous feast is not held until evening. 
In the meantime, in the home of the parents, the women dance 
and sing to the accompaniment of musical instruments. 70 

In America . . . Many Jewish customs and folkways, insep- 
arable from Jewish Mfe through long epochs of Jewish history, 
assumed new forms, disintegrated, or were completely dis- 
carded by the Jews in America. The observances and practices 
in connection with the birth of a child which, for the most 
part, had been an integral part of the home atmosphere, fell 
prey to the new environment. Only in rare cases is a woman 
now confined in her home. As a rule she has the care of a 
modern physician and goes to a maternity hospital, provided 
with the latest medical equipment. Under such conditions, 
there is no opportunity to apply magic means to ease the de- 
livery of the child, nor is the maternity hospital a fitting place 
to employ Lilith amulets to insure safety after the babe is born, 
The terror of Lilith, which withstood the vicissitudes of so 
many ages, has completely vanished in modern American life. 
The observance of the Watch Night has also been discarded 
because the mother and the babe are no longer in the home. 
Here and there the ben zochor is still observed on the first 
Friday night, but only in rare cases. 


The b'ris now performed in a special room in the hospital, 
reserved for the ceremony, lacks the home atmosphere of 
previous times. On the other hand, the pidyon ha-ben, ob- 
served in the home where both mother and child are, is quite 
a popular celebration, with all the atmosphere of a joyous 
family party. At the observance of this ceremony, the kohen 
receives five dollars which, as a rule, he either returns to the 
father or donates to charity. 

Among Orthodox Jews in this country, if the child is a girl, 
it is still customary for the father to be called to the reading 
of the Torah on the first Sabbath when the chazan or sexton 
names the child. 

The observance of arising from childbed has been discarded 
in America. 

Beliefs Concerning Birth 

Belief in Prenatal Existence ... In Talmudic times (the first 
centuries of the Common Era) the belief was current among 
Jews that man's soul was independent of his body, existing 
eternally in the past and in the future. Only for a short, limited 
time is it placed in the body of a certain human being. All the 
souls of the world preexist in heaven in a kind of a spiritual 
reservoir, and at first have no desire to enter the human bodies 
on earth. They do it only by force. God decrees that a certain 
soul shall enter a certain body, and God also decrees the mo- 
ment when the soul shall leave the body. 

In this realm of belief, the vanishing mortal body plays an in- 
significant role in comparison with the pure and eternal soul. 
Accordingly, man attains the highest stage in his spiritual life 
not after the full growth of his body, but before he is projected 
in the form of a human being into the light of the world. In 
his prenatal existence in his mother's womb, a light burns over 
his head, and he sees from one end of the world to the other. 
He sees there much more than a human being is capable of 
seeing during the course of his entire life. 

According to this belief, a special angel is appointed to 
supervise the souls. He receives an order from God to place a 
certain soul in a certain child at the time of its conception. At 
first the pure soul recoils from entering the foul body. It yields 
only to the force of God's decree. The angel brings the soul 
into the womb and joins it with the embryo. He places it un- 
der the good care of two angels who place the burning light 
over his head. 

The next morning the supervising angel pays a visit to the 


soul and takes it for a promenade through Paradise. There he 
shows it the saints in their full glory seated on golden thrones 
with crowns on their heads. He asks it: "Do you know to 
whom that soul belonged?" The soul answers, "No," and the 
angel says, "The saint whom you see in such glory was also 
created, like you, in his mother's womb. This is true of all the 
other saints whom you see here. They were pious and kept the 
commandments of God. If you will do the same, after your 
death you will share in this great glory. Otherwise, after death, 
you will descend to a place which I shall show you later." 

In the evening, the angel takes the soul for a visit into the 
Gehenna to show it how the angels of destruction torment the 
wicked souls and flog them with whips of fire. The wicked 
ones groan and cry, "Ah!" and "Woe!" but no one sympa- 
thizes with them. The angel says to the soul: "Do you know 
that these were created like you, in their mothers' wombs, and 
came forth afterwards into the world? But they did not ob- 
serve God's commandments. Therefore this terrible shame has 
come upon them. And now you should know, my son, that 
you are also destined to come forth into the world and to die 
afterward. Be not wicked, therefore, but righteous and you 
will have a share in the world to come." 

Thus the prenatal man goes about under the guardianship 
and tutelage of the angel. In the morning he visits Paradise, in 
the evening, Gehenna, and in between, the angel shows him 
every nook and corner that his foot will tread, every place 
where he will dwell, the place where he will die, and the place 
where he will be buried. In the evening he brings him back 
into his mother's womb. 

When the moment arrives for the child to leave the mother's 
womb, that same angel comes and tells him: "The time has 
arrived for you to emerge." But the child is not willing to go 
out into the world. He does it under compulsion, and starts to 
cry. In the moment of coming forth from the womb, the angel 
strikes the child on the upper lip just under the nose, making 
a dent on that spot. Thereby the angel extinguishes the light 


and causes the child to forget all that he has seen and learned in 
the womb of his mother. That which the child learns there- 
after is merely a recollection of the knowledge acquired dur- 
ing his prenatal life. 71 

Some scholars think that this Jewish belief is an echo of the 
Platonic idea of man's soul knowing everything before birth. 
Others assume that both the Jewish belief and the Platonic 
ideas of the preexistence of man's soul are derived from a 
common source the mythology of ancient Egypt. Another 
group thinks that the common source of the belief in the pre- 
existence of the soul is to be found in the religion of the an- 
cient Persians. 72 

Magic Means to Ease Delivery . . . Primitive man attributed 
every illness, every physical and mental disorder, to witchcraft 
and demons. He did not ascribe the difficulty of the delivery 
of a child to anatomic factors, but to the spell of sorcerers and 
the working of evil spirits. When a woman in labor suffered 
unbearable anguish and her life was imperiled, the explanation 
given was that she was bewitched by sorcerers or beset by 
demons. 73 Since very ancient times, Jews as well as other peo- 
ples employed various means and charms to ease the delivery. 

There were three kinds of safeguards and charms which 
primitive people employed in the grave moments when it was 
considered imperative to combat the evil spirits. First, pre- 
cautions were taken to shut them out, so that they could not 
harm anyone. Second, there were numerous means by which 
the demons could be frightened and put to flight. Third, the 
devils could be bribed by certain gifts, or be confounded by 
certain devices -and tricks which induced them to leave vol- 

It is impossible to enumerate the huge variety of these prac- 
tices, which were popularly supposed to have a magic effect. 
Nor do they lend themselves to a historical treatment which 
would follow their evolution from age to age. A great many of 
them are confined only to one land or to one period of Jewish 


history, and we know of them merely from books. Many of 
them were in vogue in various lands where Jews lived, and a 
considerable number of them persist, even to our own day. 

One of the most popular means employed to keep the devils 
away was the circle, which is still known as the "magic ring." 
People believed the devil feared a closed circle, for if he en- 
tered a ring, he became entirely helpless. A magician, when he 
wanted to prove his power over the evil spirits, first drew a 
circle about himself and sat in it. Inside the magic ring, he was 
as safe as in a fortress, because the spirits could not reach him, 
and he could do with them as he pleased. This explains the cus- 
tom of leading the woman in labor around a table. It also ex- 
plains the practice of kaporos, swinging a hen in circles around 
the head of the woman. There were two additional motives for 
this latter practice. The hen was sacrificed in expiation of the 
sins of the suffering woman. Besides, a rooster or a hen was 
believed not only to placate the evil spirits, but also to frighten 
them. According to the popular belief, evil spirits shunned the 
light, and the rooster frightened them away when he crowed 
in the morning to announce the first light of day. As the 
rooster had magic power, this was also, as a matter of course, 
transferred to the hen. 

In like manner, and in spite of the later interpretations at- 
tached to the custom, the shofor, the ritual horn of the ram, 
was blown in the room of the woman in labor. The primitive 
idea of frightening away demons with a loud noise gave the 
origin to this custom. 7 * 

Among a great number of peoples in olden times, the thresh- 
old, like the door-posts, was a sacred spot in the home. Many 
curious beliefs centered around it, both in ancient and in mod- 
ern times. No wonder, therefore, that the woman in labor was 
led to and fro over the threshold as a means to ease delivery. 75 

Sympathetic or imitative magic has played a great role in 
these practices, for in the primitive belief every activity called 
forth its counterpart. Everything that opened was a magic 
means of easing the delivery of the child. We meet this wide- 


spread practice among the Jews of Eastern Europe as well as 
among the Jews of the Caucasus. In Lithuania, one who en- 
tered a house and found the chests and drawers open, would 
usually ask jestingly, "Is anyone in labor here?" 76 

A great many of these ancient magic practices persisted 
throughout the ages. They adapted themselves more or less to 
the higher religious beliefs, and then new means and practices 
of a different aspect associated with the higher spheres of re- 
ligion evolved in the course of time, and mingled with them. 
Certain psalms were recited, and the Holy Ark with its Scroll 
of the Torah was drawn into this domain. A custom arose at 
which the Scroll itself was brought to the woman in labor. 
This practice was frowned upon by the rabbis, and did not 
become popular. Usually, only the band which girded the 
Scroll was brought to the woman and was bound about her. 
It was also customary to spin a long thread from the Holy Ark 
in the synagogue to the bed of the woman. In like manner, a 
mysterious power was believed to reside in the key of the 
synagogue, because the key was an opener, and suggested the 
opening of the womb and the easing of the delivery. The key 
also opened a sacred place, the synagogue, and that, the people 
believed, enhanced its efficacy. In accordance with the Tal- 
mud, there is a "key of birth" which is held in the hands of the 
Almighty Himself. 

The custom of chanting aloud passages from the Holy 
Scriptures about a barren woman whom God remembered and 
gave a child was also colored with religious meaning. 

Also associated with the realm of religion was the custom 
of giving the woman a piece left over from the afikomon and 
the blossom-end of the esrog to chew. In this, as in the above 
mentioned practices connected with the synagogue, it is ob- 
viously the direct touch with things essential in religious cere- 
monials which was expected to arouse divine assistance. 

In Terror of Lilith ... In the folk-belief, the woman in 
childbed and her new-born babe, even more than the woman 


in labor, were exposed to the dangers of witchcraft and evil 
spirits. Primitive man saw countless young mothers die of fever 
in childbed. He heard babies crying bitterly without any ob- 
vious reason, saw them wasting away and dying an untimely 
death. People stood helpless against this vast destruction of 
human life. They explained it according to their outlook on 
the world and on nature, regarding it as the work of sorcerers 
and demons. They imagined hosts of evil spirits prowling 
around in their effort to destroy the mother and the child. 

Primitive man personified all forces of nature, the good as 
well as the evil, and he personified this destructive force, about 
which he created a horrible myth. In his vivid imagination he 
saw a particular female demon whose function was to steal, 
to bewitch, to change into freaks, and to kill the child as well 
as the mother in childbed. This most dangerous and most 
popular of all demons was called Lilith. She is known among 
many nations under various names. She is known among Jews 
under different names, but for the most part by the name of 
Lilith. For several thousand years mankind has lived in fear 
of Lilith, and the fear has not yet vanished. Here is the best 
example of a primitive superstition persisting in our own days. 

Origin of the Lilitb Myth . . . The Lilith myth is not of 
Jewish origin, but originated in ancient Babylonia. Long be- 
fore Lilith entered the realm of Jewish folk-belief, she played 
a prominent role among the demons of Babylonia and Assyria. 
Excavations in southern Mesopotamia prove that the Jews of 
Mesopotamia, the homeland of the Lilith myth, were devout 
worshippers of Lilith as late as the Middle Ages. 

The religion of ancient Babylonia developed into triads of 
gods, and Lilith also became one of a triad of demons. In the 
popular beliefs of the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians is 
found a male demon named Lilu, a female demon Lilith, and 
also a maid Ardat LilL However, it was one Lilith, one female 
demon who, in the frightened imagination of the people, per- 
sonified horror for all times. 


It is certain that the belief in Lilith came down to the Jews 
from the ancient Babylonians. We are not certain about the 
original etymology of the name Lilith. Many great authorities 
on this subject assert that Lilith had originally no relation to 
the word layil, night. Originally, it is maintained by these 
scholars, Lilith signified the demon of the storm, and only 
later, through a false etymology of the people (who derived 
it from layil) , the name was interpreted and conceived as mean- 
ing the demon of the night. It would appear that the Lilith 
myth was a fusion of three different motifs. At first Lilith 
personified the storm, the hot wind that blows over the desert 
and brings heat and drought in its wake. As such, it also per- 
sonified the internal heat of the body, a fever that kills 
women in childbed. Subsequently, when Lilith was thought of 
as the night demon, she became, in addition, the personification 
of the nightmare, the ghostly paramour of unmarried men, 
who aroused their passions without gratifying them. As a de- 
mon who killed women in childbed and exasperated men in 
their sleep, Lilith, as a matter of course, could not help hating 
children. It was only natural then to identify her with La- 
bartu, a female demon of the Babylonians and Assyrians, 
whose special function was the killing of children. 

The Lilith myth, which passed through these three phases 
before it reached the folk-belief of the Jews, had become a 
threefold monster in the morbid phantasy of the people: the 
personification of the cause of fever; the nightmare; and the 
untimely death of children. 

Among the ancient nations of the East, Lilith played the 
role counterpart to Ishtar (called by the ancient Canaanites 
Astarte, in the Bible: Ashtoroth and Ashtoreth). The ancient 
Babylonians and many other peoples of the ancient East orig- 
inally had two goddesses in their mythology, who counter- 
acted one another one good and benign, the other evil and 
malicious. The good goddess was Ishtar and the malicious and 
destructive goddess was Lilith, who in time was degraded to 
a demon. Ishtar was the goddess of love and fertility and, in 


the belief of the people, she protected and assisted women in 
labor and childbed. Lilith, on the contrary, sought to kill the 
mothers and their new-born babes. In the mythology of the 
Ancient East, Ishtar, the Great Mother, the Queen of Heaven, 
represented the good woman, who is a good wife and a good 
mother. Lilith typified the neurotic woman, without a hus- 
band, who detests men and hates the offspring of human wed- 
lock. 77 

It may be worth while to remark that ultimately Ishtar 
suffered the same fate as Lilith degradation to a demon. After 
she was identified for thousands of years with the Venus 
Planet and worshipped as the Great Mother and Great God- 
dess, she was, in the Christian belief of the Middle Ages, 
finally degraded to the status of a demon and witch who 
dwelt in the hill of Venus and seduced pious knights. The 
well-known Teutonic legend of Tannhauser tells this tale. 

Lilith in Jewish Folklore ... In the Bible, Lilith is men- 
tioned only once (Isaiah 34). She is described as a demon 
who, like all the evil spirits, is found in desolate and unclean 
places. There she dwells in the company of the S'irim, the 
satyrs, demons in the shape of goats. Azazel, to whom the 
scapegoat, loaded with all the sins of the children of Israel, was 
sent on the Day of Atonement, obviously belonged to this 
company. We do not know the Jewish concept of Lilith in 
Biblical times. 

We hear a great deal more about Lilith in post-Biblical 
times. In Talmudic literature she is represented in the likeness 
of a woman with long hair and wings. This is quite under- 
standable, for as the nightmare, the ghostly paramour of men, 
she should have the likeness of a pretty woman, and as a de- 
mon of the wind she was furnished with wings. When a man 
slept alone in a house, he was in danger of being seized by 
LiUth. According to the Jewish folk-belief in those times a 
woman could even bear a child in the likeness of Lilith. The 
Jews in Babylonia lived under Persian domination, and the 


Lilith myth took on some additional traits of the Persian re- 
ligion. Lilith was thought of as the mother of Ahriman, who, 
in the religion of the ancient Persians, was the chief of the 
devils, the king of evil, darkness, and death. Lilith was thus 
regarded as the queen of the female demons, just as Ashmedai 
was regarded as the king of the male demons. 78 

In medieval Jewish lore the Lilith myth spread far and wide. 
It was interwoven with the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve, 
and Lilith became, in the fantastic folklore, the demoniac 
first wife of Adam. She was called the First Eve, a name which 
she still retains on the amulets of the present day. 

The Lilith myth fitted in very nicely with the story of 
Adam and Eve. Since Lilith sought to kill Eve's daughters 
and their human offspring, it was proper to explain that her 
desire was motivated by jealousy and rivalry. Lilith hated the 
daughters of Eve because she hated Eve, and she hated Eve 
as the woman who superseded her as Adam's wife. Besides, 
from the point of view of Biblical interpretation, the Lilith 
myth was a good supplement to the story of Adam and Eve. 
How God created the first man and wife is told twice and in 
two divergent versions in the Bible. The first chapter of 
Genesis tells how God created a male and a female simultane- 
ously. In the second chapter God first created man, and later 
created woman from man's rib. Therefore, this could be in- 
terpreted to mean that God created a wife for Adam twice, 
because the first one was a failure. It substantiated and ampli- 
fied the exclamation of Adam, in the second chapter of Gene- 
sis, that here at last was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. 
This passage invited the amplification that Adam formerly had 
a first Eve who was not a good mate. 

This motif of rivalry and hatred between Lilith and Eve 
was elaborated in various versions. The most popular of them 
is the following: 

When God created Adam, he also created a wife for him out 
of the earth. This first woman was Lilith. However, they 
were not a happy couple. Because they were both of the same 


origin, she considered herself his equal and refused to obey 
him. They quarreled with one another until in a moment of 
rage, with the help of the ineffable name of God which she 
uttered, she flew away from Adam and vanished into the air. 
Adam complained to God that the wife He had given him 
had deserted him. God sent three angels to bring her back. 
The angels found her in the Red Sea, in the spot where the 
Jews later passed in the Exodus from Egypt. They tried to 
make her return by holding over her the dire threat that 
if she would not return, hundreds of her demon children 
would die daily. Lilith preferred this punishment to return- 
ing to Adam. They then threatened to drown her in the sea. 
She implored them to spare her, and in return she granted 
them a concession. She told fhem that she was made for the 
purpose of injuring babies, boys until the eighth day, and girls 
until the twentieth day, and she swore that wherever she saw 
the names of these three angels written in a home, she would 
keep away from the child and the mother, and would not in- 
jure them. 

The story ends with the three angels releasing Lilith after 
she had taken that oath. For this reason the names of these 
three angels are written on amulets and hung upon the walls 
of the room where a woman lies in childbed. 

According to another version, the prophet Elijah encount- 
ered Lilith, and she swore that she would keep away from 
every woman in childbed if a sheet of paper was hung on the 
wall with all her seventeen names written on it (see p. 55) . 

In Mohammedan lore, Lilith bears the name Karina, and the 
role of the three angels or the prophet Elijah who struggle 
with her is played by King Solomon. In the European- 
Christian legends, the role of the benevolent actor is played 
by the Holy Mother Mary, by the archangel Michael, or by 
a certain saint whose name is similar to the names of the three 
dreaded angels in Jewish legends. 

The Lilith myth grew and spread in Jewish lore through- 
out the ages, assuming its greatest proportion in the later Mid- 


die Ages. Its growth was partly an amplification of older 
traditions and beliefs, and partly due to the general spread of 
the belief in demons and witchcraft in Europe at that time. 
Superstitious beliefs pass from generation to generation, from 
race to race, and from land to land. In the Jewish popular be- 
lief of those times, Lilith, the Queen of Sheba, Venus in her 
degraded state as a seductive witch, and the German goddess 
Dame Holle, in her dark and dreaded aspect as an ugly old 
woman, were all fused together. 79 

Charms against Lilitb . . . The fear of Lilith and her de- 
moniac troop was very old among Jews, but the application 
of inscribed amulets as a protection against Lilith appeared 
later. In general, written amulets represent a later develop- 
ment than oral conjurations. First the words were uttered, 
and later these words were written down. First the conjuror 
orally narrated the story of the encounter between the three 
dreaded angels and Lilith, or between the prophet Elijah and 
Lilith, and it was believed that this spoken account drove 
away the evil spirits. Later, the spoken recital was put into 
writing, and became an amulet. People evidently considered 
the written amulet just as effective as the spoken words of the 
conjuror. 80 Authoritative knowledge of the use of written 
amulets against Lilith goes back only as far as post-Talmudic 
times. But we may assume that oral conjurations against de- 
moniac powers in the room of a woman in childbed were em- 
ployed in much earlier times. 

The amulet was not the only safeguard employed against 
Lilith. There were many more, e.g., the magic circle and the 
shutting of the windows which have already been described. 
Two more of these safeguards need special explanations. On 
the eve of the b'ris, the mohePs knife was placed under the 
mother's head-pillow. Among many peoples, iron was a popu- 
lar and wide-spread safeguard against demons. The belief in 
demons stems from the Stone Age, which explains why the 
new metal was hateful to them, and kept them out. At the 


celebration of the ben zochor on the Friday night preceding 
the b'ris and also on the Watch Night, cooked beans and peas 
were eaten. Legumes were considered by Jews as weU as by 
many other peoples as a sort of an offering to appease the 
demons. 81 

The Magic Power of Names ... In the primitive stage of 
culture, names played an important part in the magic beliefs 
and practices of the people. A name, according to popular be- 
lief, could be used as a charm. It could be used as a remedy in 
the case of sickness or as a safeguard to ward off illness and 

To begin with, it was believed that there was a charm in 
keeping the name secret for some time. It was a popular prac- 
tice, even in recent times, not to disclose the name of a boy 
before the b'ris. As we have previously pointed out, people 
believed that the days preceding the b'ris were critical, be- 
cause the danger of Lilith and her clique of evil spirits hovered 
over the child. If they could not identify the babe by name, 
they might be defeated in their purpose. 

It was not unusual to permanently conceal the name of the 
child, and to call it instead by a special charm-name. This was 
a popular practice in families which had lost children by un- 
timely death. The parents, worried lest the same fate overtake 
the new-born child, gave it a charm-name to ward off the 
Angel of Death. Calling a child by a special name was believed 
to confound and delude the ministering angels as well as the 
evil spirits. 

The simplest way was not to name the child at all or to keep 
the name completely secret. But it was not easy to rear a child 
without calling him by a given name. A scheme was devised 
whereby the true name given to the child was not pronounced 
by anyone. Instead, the child was called by a substitute name 
throughout his life. There was a certain trick even in regard 
to the substitute name. The child was nicknamed Alter, or if 
a girl, the feminine, Alte (old one). A boy was called Zeidl 


(Little Grandfather) and a girl Eabke or Eabtche (Little 
Grandmother). The Angel of Death, receiving a decree in 
heaven to take the life of a child with this or that (real) 
name, would be entirely confused and unable to identify his 
would-be victim. 

However, there are some genuine names which served as 
a safeguard to insure the life of a child. One is the name men- 
tioned heretofore, Chayim or Chayo, a name which means 
life. Another safeguard against death is the name Ben-Zion. 
It is the only Hebrew name that begins with ben as a separate 
word. (In Benjamin, ben is merely a syllable, not a word.) 
Ben means son in Hebrew. The Angel of Death, who sup- 
posedly takes names literally, is thus confused in identifying 
the child. To him Ben-Zion was not the name of the child, 
merely implying that the name of the father was 'Lion, and 
the child was the son of Zion. 

In case it might have been the sin of the mother that caused 
her children's death, another stratagem was devised which 
could be used only if there was a grandmother in the house. 
The grandmother was called "Mama" and the mother by her 
given name. This, however, did not take into consideration 
the father. Perhaps the sins of both parents caused the death 
of their children. In that case, more drastic measures were 
taken. A mock sale was staged in which the child was formally 
sold to other parents. Sometimes the child was not sold but 
given away as a gift. Of course, the new parents who were 
selected were chosen because they had reared many healthy 

All these practices were safeguards to forestall sickness and 
death. Sometimes a name was used as a therapeutic measure. In 
the case of a severe illness a new special name was added to the 
old one. This custom has previously been described (p. 48). 
A more drastic measure was to discard the old name altogether. 
This practice of changing the name of a person as a charm 
against demoniac powers was wide-spread among all peoples, 
and in the Middle Ages it became popular among Jews also. 


The instances in the Bible where a person's name is changed 
have no relation to the belief in the magic power of names. 
This kind of change is based on the ancient belief in the 
identity of the person with the name he bears. When a change 
took place in the fortune of an individual, and his name no 
longer suited his new station, the name had to be changed. 

In Talmudic times a custom prevailed among Palestinian 
Jews for husband and wife to exchange their names at night, 
he calling himself by her name and she by his name. It was 
considered an effective protection against demons. The rabbis 
of the Talmud forbade it as a heathenish practice. On the 
other hand, the belief gained favor among Jews in those times 
that a change in name, like a change in place, rendered void 
the evil decree issued in heaven against a person. 82 However, it 
is not recorded in the Talmud that this theoretical belief was 
ever put into practice in a case of sickness. In post-Talmudic 
times, this practice of changing the name as a remedy in the 
case of a sickness became popular among the Franco-German 
Jews and, in time, became a universal Jewish custom. Even a 
special ritual was evolved for effecting the change of the name. 

A ritual quorum of ten assembled in the synagogue or the 
house of study. The Holy Ark, containing the Scrolls of the 
Torah, was opened. One man, who sometimes held in his hand 
a Scroll of the Torah, recited a special prayer in which he 
emphatically notified the heavenly authorities of the change 
in the name of the person who was ill and requested them to no 
longer identify the person bearing the old name with the per- 
son bearing the new name. Everyone present gave something 
to charity in behalf of the sick person because "charity de- 
livereth from death." 83 


Itte UH 6rotos 


In the Jewish family every stage in the child's life was an ii, 
portant event and observed as a joyous occasion with symbolic 
rites and religious ceremonies. 


"Cradling" the Child . . . After the b'ris, the first event in 
the life of the child was the occasion on which he was placed 
in the cradle for the first time. Mention of the cradle is first 
made in Talmudic sources (see p. 21). We hear more about 
it in the Middle Ages. 

In that period, the first "cradling" of a boy after the b'ris 
was a religious ceremony attended by a ritual quorum of ten 
men. The little boy was placed in the cradle, dressed in the 
fine clothes he wore on the day of his circumcision. Then a 
copy of the Five Books of Moses was placed on him, and the 
people standing about said: "May this child fulfill what is 
written in this book! " In addition, the quill of a goose, used as a 
pen, and an ink bottle, were placed in his hand as an omen that 
when he grew up he should be worthy of being a scribe and 
writing a Scroll of God's Torah with his own hand. The peo- 
ple who were gathered in the house then recited certain ex- 
cerpts from the Bible, beginning with "So God give thee of the 
dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty 
of corn and wine" (Gen. ly-.zS). 84 

This attractive observance has been discontinued, and to* 
day there remain only some magic practices connected with 
"cradling" a child. In Eastern Europe, it was customary to 
throw dainties sugar, raisins, cake, and also coins into the 
cradle before the child was placed in it, as omens for a sweet 



and abundant life. This practice is still observed in America. 
Sometimes a living creature was rocked in the cradle before 
the child was placed in it. In the case of a boy, a little rooster 
was rocked; in the case of a girl, a little hen. Occasionally, a 
cat or a dog also served this purpose. It was believed that if the 
cradle held any mishap for the child, the danger would be 
transferred to the animal or fowl. 

Jews as well as other peoples believed that a cradle should 
not be rocked when empty. 85 

Lullabies ... No Jewish cradle songs of ancient or medieval 
times have been preserved, nor are they quoted in the Jewish 
literature of those periods. In the Middle Ages, some religious 
authorities disapproved of lulling a Jewish child to sleep with 
non-Jewish lullabies. 86 But this does not prove that genuinely 
Jewish lullabies did not exist in those times. Recently, many 
of them, popular in Eastern Europe, have been published in 
Yiddish. The motif of the most popular Jewish cradle song was 
Jewish piety and the love of the Torah. The song told of a 
little white kid who stood behind the cradle. The little goat 
went out to trade in raisins and almonds, but the child would 
go forth to learn Torah and would be a faithful and pious 
Jew throughout his entire life. 87 

Weighing the Child . . . In Talmudic times there was a very 
interesting Jewish custom in connection with the growth of a 
child. Jewish mothers weighed their children and donated the 
equivalent in money of the increase in weight to charity. Men- 
tion is made in the Talmud of a certain mother who weighed 
her only son every day and donated gold proportionate to the 
increase in weight to the Temple. 88 

This custom prevailed until recent days in certain forms. In 
some regions of Eastern Europe, it was customary to weigh 
the child every year on his birthday, and give the equivalent 
of his weight in bread to the poor. There was also a custom 
(to be described in detail in a subsequent chapter) of giving 


the equivalent of the weight of the child's hair to the poor. 
When a child was sick, one of the popular remedies was giving 
the equivalent of his weight in bread to the poor. After the 
birth of a child, some Jewish mothers vowed to give an extra 
loaf of the white Sabbath bread to the poor; and every Friday 
morning when the Sabbath loaves were taken from the oven, 
the promised loaf was sent to a poor family. In the case of a 
boy, the vow was kept until his bar-mitsvo; in the case of a 
girl, until her wedding. 

Weaning the Child ... In Biblical and Talmudic times, the 
child was nursed at the breast for from two to three years, and 
this practice still persists among the Arab peasants of Pales- 

tine. 89 

In Biblical times, though the circumcision was not marked 
by a feast, weaning the child was the occasion for a joyous 
feasting. Later, however, this was reversed, and the celebration 
of weaning the child was discarded. 90 

Among the Jews in Eastern Europe, weaning a child was 
marked by certain symbolic acts. The first food that the child 
received after weaning was not the mother's, but was usually 
procured from a neighbor. When the child took the food from 
the other woman, the mother announced that it would be the 
last time that the boy or girl would be supported by others. A 
second parallel custom placed a tiny bag around the child's 
neck, into which coins might be dropped. This also signified 
that the child had received donations for the last time in his or 
her life. 

The First Steps . . . Among the Jews in Eastern Europe, 
there were some curious customs and beliefs connected with 
aiding a child to walk. The child was placed on the threshold 
and a knife was drawn three times under the soles of his feet. 
The knife was supposed to cut the fetter which prevented the 
child from walking. Some made a cut with the knife on the 
spot where the child stood. 


If the child stumbled and fell, water was immediately poured 
on that spot and the spot was perforated with a knife. Believing 
that the earth drew the child toward itself, certain means were 
employed to counteract that effect. There was a saying among 
women that if children fall and are not hurt, they fall on 
invisible pillows that angels place under them. 

The First Hair-Cut . . . Primitive people believed that the 
hair of a man was permeated with a living force, containing 
his strength and vitality. Small wonder, therefore, that the first 
hair-cut of a child was linked with many primitive notions, 
and was an occasion for impressive ceremonies among various 
peoples all over the world. 91 

It was not permitted to cut the hair of the child before he 
reached a certain age, because his health would be impaired if 
he lost the living force which the hair was believed to contain. 
The age differed among various peoples. The Jews of Eastern 
Europe did not cut the hair of a child until the child was able 
to speak; otherwise he might remain dumb. The Jews shared 
this notion with the Poles from whom they apparently learned 


Among the Jews of Eastern Europe, usually a boy was three 
years old before he had his hair cut for the first time. In some 
regions, guests were invited to a feast on this occasion. The 
honor of cutting off the first lock was awarded to the oldest 
guest. The ceremony was enhanced if this oldest guest hap- 
pened to be a kohen. The hair was weighed, and its equivalent 
given in metal coins to the poor. 

Even more impressive is the observance of the first hair- 
cutting among the Jews in Israel. The ceremonial is per- 
formed when the boy is four years old, usually taking place 
on the day of Lag Bo-omer, the semi-festival on the eighteenth 
day of Ivor. On Lag Bo-omer the Jews of Saf ed and Tiberias 
perform the ceremony of the first hair-cutting in the court- 
yard around the grave of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai (second 
century C.E.), at the nearby village of Meron. This famous 


Jewish sage, a disciple of Rabbi Akiba, became the legendary- 
father of Jewish mysticism, and on Lag Bo-omer a fire cele* 
bration (hadlakah) is held annually in his honor at Meron. 

It is a strange festival of tumultuous joy and religious fervor. 
The court of the sacred grave is packed with thousands of 
people, old and young, men, women and children, coming 
from all parts of Palestine and Syria to the grave of the holy 
disciple of Rabbi Akiba. They dance sacred dances and, in 
religious songs, they hail the Son of Yochai and work them- 
selves up to the highest pitch of exaltation. 

The ecstatic crowd is surrounded by the intense light of a 
huge blazing flame continuously fed by rags and oil. An old 
S'fardic Jew, with an iron rod in his hand, is busy feeding the 
flames with the fuel handed to him by the pilgrims. One pil- 
grim hands him a coat, the other a dress, the third a kerchief. 
One woman gives him a white silk dress for fuel and the other 
hands him a bottle full of oil. 

In the midst of this ecstatic throng, carrying flags, sword* 
and Scrolls of the Torah, and playing flutes and harps and beat- 
ing drums, many fathers assemble, carrying their little sons in 
their arms. The three-year-old boys are dressed in their best 
clothes. On their heads they wear round caps adorned with 
gilded brims. From under each cap a thatch of unkempt hair 
and ear-locks protrude. The parents distribute wine and deli- 
cacies to all who pass by. One of the gabo-im (men in charge) , 
with a pair of scissors in his hand, approaches a boy and, speak- 
ing conciliatory words, begins shearing off the ends of the 
ear-locks. The little boy, astonished and frightened, bursts out 
crying, but the hair of his ear-locks is already scattered on the 

The performance goes on, ear-lock after ear-lock dropping 
to the ground. The regular barber, who finishes the hair- 
cutting afterwards, blesses each father, expressing the hope 
that God may help his son to grow up a worthy and God- 
fearing Jew. 

Only the Jews of Saf ed and Tiberias perform the ceremony 


of the first hair-cutting at the grave of Rabbi Simeon ben 
Yochai. In other parts of the land on Lag Bo-omer, the cere- 
mony is performed in the home of the parents. Relatives and 
friends are invited and each receives the honor of snipping off 
a few hairs until all of the hair except the ear-locks is cut. The 
ear-locks, they are forbidden to cut. 92 The guests then partake 
of a light meal. Many S'fardic Jews in Palestine perform the 
ceremony of the first hair-cutting at the synagogue during the 
semi-festival days of Pesach (Passover) . It is considered more 
meritorious to have the hair cut by a poor Jewish barber. In 
the synagogue this observance is accompanied by great joy 
and merriment. 93 


The Belief in the Evil Eye 

In primitive days, men regarded death and sickness as un- 
natural, believing that they were caused by supernatural hos- 
tile forces. In a later, higher stage of culture and religion, the 
wrath of God or the gods was believed to be the cause of all 
calamities. But in pre-historic times, before men evolved the 
belief in individual gods, they attributed death and sickness to 
witchcraft and evil spirits. This primitive belief in magic per- 
sists today even among peoples in the most advanced stage of 

According to the primitive belief in magic there were two 
ways of bewitching, one deliberate, the other unintentional. 
People believed in the existence of sorcerers and witches who 
had both the power and malice to do harm by means of their 
witchcraft. Thfcy also believed that certain persons were en- 
dowed with an evil eye, which enabled them to injure another 
merely by looking at him with envy or admiration. A person 
endowed with this evil power unconsciously could harm or 
bewitch another. Everything was subject to the evil eye 
people, animals, plants, fruits, and even lifeless objects. But 
more than all these, children were in great danger of being in- 
jured by the evil eye, because they were frail and often suf- 
fered from sickness or accident. When a naked child slum- 
bered in a cradle, he was in most imminent danger. A boy was 
believed to be more vulnerable to the evil eye than a girl. 

There were two ways to bewitch unintentionally with the 
evil eye by a tacit glance, or by a look coupled with a word 
in praise of beauty, health, strength or any other deskable 
quality. This type of bewitchment was called "spellbound by 



being called" (barufn) or "spellbound by being shouted at" 
(baschrien) . 

Since ancient times, belief in the evil eye has existed among 
almost all of the peoples of the world, persisting to the present 
day. It was, and still is, particularly prevalent in the Orient, 
the ancient home of all magic. 94 

The Evil Eye among Jews . . . The evil eye, in its magic 
sense, is not mentioned in the Bible. The term was used in Bib- 
lical reference to signify envy or covetousness and did not re- 
fer to the magic power; for example, in the Book of Proverbs: 
"He that hath an evil eye hasteneth after riches, and knoweth 
not that want shall come upon him" (28:22). Nor is the magic 
belief in the evil eye mentioned in the Mishnah, which is a 
product of the second century (C.E.). We may assume that the 
Palestinian Jews who had the hegemony in Jewish life to the 
third century frowned upon this magic belief, which they 
regarded as incompatible with the Jewish religion. They 
shunned all references to it. 

From the third century on, especially in Babylonia, the be- 
lief in the magic power of the eye played an important part in 
Jewish literature. Rab (Abba Aricha) who died about the mid- 
dle of the third century (C.E.), one of the greatest religious 
authorities among the Babylonian Jews, asserted that ninety- 
nine deaths out of a hundred were caused by an evil eye. 95 
The spread of the belief in the evil eye might have been due 
to the influence of the environment, for at that time the center 
of Jewish life shifted to Babylonia, a land of magic and super- 

In the Middle Ages, the center of Jewish life shifted to the 
European countries where witchcraft, credulity, and crass 
superstition held sway. There the belief in the evil eye in- 
creased among the Jews, and with it there was an increase in 
the variety of magic safeguards against it. Among the Jews of 
Eastern Europe, and even more among the Jews of the Orient, 
the belief in the evil eye still prevails. 96 


Safeguards against an Evil Eye . . . Since ancient times, 
among Jews as well as among other peoples, two kinds of 
magic were used as a protection against an evil eye. One con- 
sisted of preventives, the other of cures. According to popular 
belief there were numerous ways of preventing the evil eye 
from doing harm and there were also numerous forms of magic 
to cure the harm already inflicted. 

Here are a few of the preventives: 

In Talmudic times, a child was not taken to weddings and 
feasts in order to escape exposure to an evil eye. 97 

In the Middle Ages, in the time of Rashi, parents called a 
comely child "blackie." 98 

In Eastern Europe, parents were reluctant to show their 
handsome children to a person who had never before seen 

In Eastern Europe one who saw a good-looking child for 
the first time exclaimed: "Without an evil eye" or "An evil 
eye shall not injure him" (or her) or "umbarufn" or "um- 
baschrien." Some even regarded the utterance of the words 
"an evil eye" as dangerous. They said instead "a good eye 
shall not injure him" (or her). In addition, the person who 
spoke expectorated three times. 

The Use of Amulets . . . Among the preventives against an 
evil eye the amulet played the most prominent part. 

Amulets were in vogue among Jews even in Biblical times. 
A great number of amulets dating back to those times was 
excavated recently in the mounds of Palestine. Small perfo- 
rated pieces of stone, blue pearls, small hands made of silver, 
and many more ornaments were extracted from the ancient 
mounds in the Holy Land. Scholars have agreed that these 
ornaments were amulets worn as a protection against the evil 
eye. Ornaments in general were originally a protection against 
an evil eye because their glitter attracted the gaze of the on- 
looker and distracted it from the person who wore them. The 
Orientals who were addicted to the belief in the evil eye were 


therefore extravagant in their use of glittering ornaments. 

Jewish children wore amulets in Talmudic times, and 
throughout the Middle Ages. They still wore them in recent 
days in some locales in Eastern Europe and even more often 
in the Orient. The amulets served as a "safeguard" not only 
against an evil eye, but against witchcraft and demons in gen- 

Jewish children wore various types of amulets. In Talmudic 
times they wore little bells and threads with knots. In Egypt 
in the twelfth century, they wore around their necks little 
tablets of silver and gold, containing certain inscriptions. 
Among the German Jews in the Middle Ages, they wore 
red or blue beads and pearls. In Eastern Europe and the 
Orient, Jewish children wore a little "hand" made of gold 
or silver, or a red ribbon or a string of red beads as amulets 
against witchcraft. They also wore a piece of quicksilver, or 
amber, or a piece of garlic or a little bag containing salt. Garlic 
was the most popular of all these safeguards. A mother, wor- 
ried about the welfare of her handsome or distinguished child, 
placed a piece of garlic in his pocket. Sometimes a piece of the 
afikomon was placed there, too, or in a pocket of the ritual 
four-cornered garment to which the show-fringes are attached 
(Eastern Europe.) " 

Treatment for an Evil Eye . . . There were very many symp- 
toms of injury by an evil eye, e.g., pallor, fever, emaciation, 
and excessive yawning. If a child yawned more than usual 
when there was no other indication of any ailment, he or she 
had evidently been stricken by an evil eye. The first aid given 
was fumigation. A piece of the garment of the person sus- 
pected of having employed witchcraft was put on glowing 
coals with a piece of incense or devil's dung and a little dirt 
gathered from the four corners of the room. This was placed 
under the cradle around which a large sheet was hung so that 
the smoke blew into the child's face. 
This charm, popular among Jews in Eastern Europe a gen- 


eration ago, is easily understood in the light of the belief in 
magic of the peoples of the world. From ancient times, fumi- 
gation had been employed as a magic means for the expulsion 
of evil spirits because demons were supposed to be unable to 
stand the smoke of acrid incense. In order to choke the demons 
with the smoke, they had to be caught, and they could best be 
reached in the heaps of dirt gathered in the corners of the 
room. According to the popular belief, dirt-heaps were favor- 
ite abodes of the evil spirits. Fumigating with the dirt of the 
room mixed with incense and a piece of the garment of the 
one suspected of bewitching the child was thus regarded as an 
effective charm against the harm caused by an evil eye. 

The most efficacious remedy for injuries caused by an evil 
eye was the whispered charm. A generation ago, in every 
Jewish community in Eastern Europe, there was one man or 
woman or several who knew how to "whisper off an evil eye." 
When a child was not feeling well and was believed "eaten 
up by an evil eye," someone in the house took a small kerchief 
or a baby cap to the conjuror who whispered the conjuration 
on the kerchief or the cap, holding it close to his or her mouth. 
The kerchief was then wrapped around the neck of the child 
or the cap placed on its head. In carrying the kerchief from 
the conjuror to the child, the messenger had to keep his mouth 
tightly closed and not utter a word to anyone until the ker- 
chief was placed on the child's neck; otherwise, the whispered 
charm lost its power. This practice was repeated three times 
on three successive days. 

Perils to the Child . . . The evil eye was not the only danger 
to which a child was exposed. In Eastern Europe there were 
many other perils, of which we shall mention only a few. 

Before an infant cut his first tooth, he or she could not be 
exposed to moonlight. Even the swaddles drying in the out- 
side air were brought back into the house before the moon 
was visible. Many people believed the moon was the cause of 
illness. 100 


Nor could a child be carried through a window without 
danger. If this was done by mistake, the child had to be carried 
back through the same window; otherwise he would not grow. 
To step over a child was dangerous, and if anyone did it, the 
same person had to step back in the opposite direction (if he 
stepped from east to west, he had to step from west to east) . 

Remedies of Jewish Popular Medicine ... As antidote to the 
superstitious belief in certain dangers to the child, we find the 
cures and remedies of Jewish popular medicine. A few East 
European examples will be given here. 

At the time of an epidemic, children wore red ribbons on 
the wrist or neck. 

At the end of every month, mothers gave their children 
worm-herbs or worm-cakes, because every child's illness was 
believed to be caused by worms, if not symptomatic of an 
evil eye. 

Various remedies in Jewish popular medicine were em- 
ployed for a child who had been frightened, most popular of 
which was the whispering charm. The "fright" was "whis- 
pered off." 

When a child was seriously ill, he or she was measured with 
a thread. The thread was taken to the candle-maker who used 
it in making wicks for candles which were donated to the 

The number of years of the age of the sick child was multi- 
plied by eighteen and given in money to charity (eighteen is 
the numerical value of the two Hebrew letters Ches and Yud 
which together form a word meaning "living"). 

Some customs practiced in the case of a sickness have al- 
ready been described the custom of weighing a sick child 
and giving the equivalent of the weight in bread or money to 
the poor; the custom of selling the sick child in a mock sale 
to other parents, and the custom of adding one more special 
name or of discarding the old name altogether (see pp. 74-76 
and 81). 

* *** 


The Child in Home and Synagogue 

Throughout the ages of Jewish history, the home has always 
been the main citadel of Jewish faith and piety. There, in the 
intimate atmosphere of Jewish family life, the child received 
his first impressions of the Jewish way of life. 

The child sensed the flavor of the sacred Sabbath rest and 
the festive spirit of the Jewish holidays even before he realized 
their real significance. Together with the mother and the other 
adults in the house, he listened with pious attention when the 
father recited kiddush and kavdolo on the Sabbath and festi- 
vals, and ardently responded with "Amen." He looked won- 
deringly at the candles burning in the Chanuko lamp, he 
observed the seder, the ceremony on Pesach night, and little 
by little he absorbed the spirit of piety permeating the home. 

Nor were these impressions confined for long to the home. 
Soon he began to visit the synagogue and a new horizon 
opened for him. 

Even before the child began to attend the cheder (elemen- 
tary Hebrew school) he was taken by his father to the syna- 
gogue. Although he was not yet able to read in the siddur, 
nevertheless he enjoyed carrying father's siddur from the 
home to the synagogue or the beis ha-midrosh. 

In the Middle Ages, among the S'fardim, it was customary 
for the father who took his son for the first time to the syna- 
gogue, to bring a waxen candle as a donation to the syna- 
gogue. 101 

Among the German Jews, the custom of bringing a boy to 
the synagogue on the Sabbath at the end of the first year of 
his life prevailed until our own day. In his hands he held a 


wimpel, a new girdle for the Scroll of the Torah, with his 
name and date of birth on it. His father was called up as the 
last of the seven to witness the reading of the Torah. Then he 
guided the hands of his little son in placing the new girdle on 
the Scroll of the Torah. The chazan or sexton recited the Mi 
Sheberach, blessing the child to enter into the study of the 
Torah, into the chupo and into good deeds. This custom pre- 
vailed only among German Jews. In other regions the child 
was not brought to the synagogue until he was a few years old 
and could walk to the holy dwelling with his father. 

In the synagogue, the little boy learned to respond with a 
loud and fervent "Amen" to the benedictions pronounced by 
the precentor. When the precentor carried the Scroll of the 
Torah from his praying desk near the Holy Ark to the bimo, 
the reading-dais in the center of the synagogue, the father 
lifted up his little son to give him the same opportunity as the 
adults have to kiss the Scroll of the Torah. On the eve of 
the Sabbath and the holidays, and on their departure, when 
the precentor recited, respectively, kiddush and havdolo 
over a cup of wine, the little boys gathered around him and 
each one was treated with a sip of wine, a custom prevailing 
to this day. At the conclusion of the services they received the 
blessing of the rabbi of the congregation. 

There were many ceremonies in the synagogue in which 
the little boy participated, although he could not yet recite 
the prayers. On Purim during the public reading of the Book 
of Esther, he joined the big lads in "beating" Haman when- 
ever his name was mentioned. On Simchas Torah, the last day 
of the Sukos festival, he took part in the procession in which 
the Torah Scrolls were carried seven times around the bimo. 
Mounted on the shoulder of his father or his older brother, he 
marched around the bimo, carrying a flag with a Hebrew in- 
scription in his hand, amidst the exuberant joy and merriment 
of the whole assemblage. He also ascended the bimo on Sim- 
chas Torah morning to witness the reading of the Torah when 
"all the lads" were called up. 


Visiting the synagogue at this tender age was a great asset to 
the religious upbringing of children, but from the point of 
view of silence and order during the services, children were a 
great liability and embarrassment. The Jews in Spain solved 
this problem by segregating the youngsters in a separate cor- 
ner, where they were sternly restrained and silenced by an 
overseer especially appointed for this purpose. 102 

Beginning Torab in the Home . , . In his tender childhood, 
before school age, the Jewish child received in the home not 
only his first impressions of Jewish religious life but also his 
first lessons in Jewish lore. As far back as early Talmudic 
times, the child began to be taught as soon as he could speak. 
His father taught him to recite the Sh'ma, the declaration of 
his faith; also the Biblical verse, "Moses commanded us a law, 
an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4), 
and other verses of this type. The child learned to sing some 
of the sacred songs sung not only in the temple, but also in 
the synagogues and in the homes. He was told Biblical stories, 
and learned of the lives of the great Jews of olden times in 
vivid and colorful tales. He was surrounded by various re- 
ligious symbols and sacred rites. He noticed the three most 
important outward signs of adherence to the precepts of the 
Torah; the nfzuzo on the door-post, the phylacteries on the 
head and the arm, and the tsitsis on the corners of the garment. 
He was curious to know why one thread of the tsitsis was blue 
(as it was in olden times) and his father explained that it was 
a sign to remember the commandments of God in order that 
one should not go stray "after his own heart and after his own 
eyes" (Num. 15: 3 9 ). 103 

This intensely religious atmosphere of the Jewish home 
persisted to our own days in Eastern Europe, in certain parts 
of Central Europe, in the Orient, and even here and there in 

As soon as the little boy was able to speak, at approximately 
the age of three, his mother made the ritual four-cornered 


garment with "show-fringes" for him. He was taught to recite 
the benediction over the fringes, to kiss them immediately 
after the benediction. He wore the four-cornered garment and 
also peos, ear-locks of his hair on the temples. He already knew 
that these two adornments were religious commandments and 
that they applied only to boys. 

The child was taught that as soon as he opened his eyes in 
the morning, he should recite from memory the short prayer: 
"I thank Thee, O Living and eternal King, that Thou hast 
graciously restored my soul to me; great is Thy faithfulness." 
Then the added words: "Moses commanded us a law, an in- 
heritance of the congregation of Jacob." These verses were 
carefully chosen so as not to include divine names, because 
they were recited with hands unwashed. 

After he arose, he poured water alternately three times over 
his hands. If he was unable to do this for himself, he held out 
his hands and someone else poured the water over them. He 
washed his face, too, but this was done voluntarily, whereas 
washing the hands in the morning was a precept, called 
"finger-nails water." Many beliefs involved the hair and the 
nails, the extraneous parts of the human body. According to 
popular belief, the evil spirits, who held their natural sway at 
night, clung to the nails even in the light of the morning, and 
did not depart until water was applied to them. Jews, as well 
as many other peoples, regarded water as a charm for pro- 
tection against evil spirits. 104 

These morning precepts which the child learned applied to 
girls as well as to boys. 

At this tender age the child was also taught to recite from 
memory the several benedictions prescribed for various kinds 
of foods and beverages. Of course, the little boy or girl did 
not yet know which benediction applied to this or that food. 
An adult usually recited slowly the Hebrew words of the 
benediction, and the child repeated them, word for word. 


Going to School 

The Elementary Jewish School ... In the Bible, no mention 
is made of schools. The father was commanded diligently to 
teach the words of the Torah to his own children. From all 
that we know of life and letters in Israel in Biblical times, we 
gather that, even prior to the Babylonian exile, there were some 
schools for children. In the Biblical writings stemming from 
the days of the kings and prophets, we hear of men who could 
read and even write. There flourished in ancient Israel a writ- 
ten literature of which the books of the Bible are a mere rem- 
nant. Certainly not all the writers and readers of vhis literature 
learned to read and to write from their fathers' home instruc- 

tion. 105 

However, those schools were not the concern of the com- 
munity and did not deal with popular education. Apparently 
they were the concern only of certain individuals. Probably 
these schools were attached to the large sanctuaries, and the 
priests were the teachers, for in ancient days the priests were 
the learned men and spiritual leaders of the community. 

In the centuries following the Babylonian exile and the re- 
building of the new community in Jerusalem under the leader- 
ship of Ezra, Nehemiah and their associates, this situation 
changed. The Torah, the will of God embodied in the Five 
Books of Moses, then became the main content of Jewish re- 
ligious life. Piety expressed itself primarily in observing, in all 
minute details, the precepts of the Torah. Since a knowledge 
of the Torah was the first prerequisite, popular education be- 
came an urgent necessity. It was the beginning of the age of 
the scribes, the rabbis, the learned men, the teachers of the 



Torah, who superseded the kings and the prophets as the 
leaders and guides of the people. 

To meet the needs of the time, new institutions developed, 
whose purpose it was to spread the knowledge and under- 
standing of the Torah among the people. 

The first new religious institution we find in this period was 
the synagogue (beis ha-kneses, house of assembly or of the 
community), which probably sprang up in the Babylonian 
exile. Originally it was not so much a house of worship as a 
house where the people assembled on certain days, especially 
on the Sabbath and the festivals, to receive religious instruc- 
tion, to hear the Torah and the Prophets read and expounded. 
Somewhat later, we find a second institution for fostering the 
knowledge of the Torah: the beis ha-midrosh (house of study, 
of interpretation), the higher academy of Jewish learning. 
Both institutions were for adults, the beis ha-kneses for the 
masses of the people and the beis ha-midrash for the circles of 
higher learning; but neither provided adequately for popular 
education. The small children depended exclusively on the 
instruction of their fathers in the home. Hence the beis ha- 
midrash was later followed by the establishment of the beis 
ha-sefer (the house of the Book), as the elementary Jewish 
school has been called. 106 

According to Talmudic tradition of the third century (C.E.) , 
the spread of popular education among Jews was a long proc- 
ess which passed through many stages. In ancient days every 
Jewish father taught his own son. The fatherless child or the 
child of an ignorant father received no instruction. Later, 
schools were established in Jerusalem to which boys were 
sent from all over the country. When these proved inade- 
quate, schools for youths of sixteen or seventeen were opened 
in the largest town of every district. Because it proved diffi- 
cult to discipline these adolescent youths, schools were finally 
established in every community for children of six or seven. 
These schools were called botei sefer where children learned 
the Sacred Writings. 107 


In the last years preceding, and in the first few centuries 
following the destruction of the Second Temple, the network 
of elementary Jewish schools for male children spread until it 
became universal in Palestine as well as in Babylonia. No Jew- 
ish community, however small, was without a primary school 
for children. The community cared for its upkeep. All the 
fathers in the locale who sent their children to the school con- 
tributed to the maintenance of the teacher. Even bachelors 
generously contributed to the upkeep of the school. Not all 
schools were communal institutions. There were also many 
private schools, and some well-to-do families engaged private 
teachers in their homes. 108 

Thus, by sheer moral force without any state authority, the 
Jews succeeded in establishing a system of universal popular 
education in the early centuries of the Common Era. In ancient 
times Jews could not conceive of a Jewish child growing up 
without learning Torah. According to the Talmud, God him- 
self taught Torah to children who died before reaching school 
age. 109 

The Early Jewish Primary School , . . The child began to 
go to the beis ha-sefer at the age of six. Some attended at the 
age of five. The school was usually attached to the synagogue. 
If a special teacher was not available, the chazan taught the 
children. In that period, the chazan was the sexton of the 
synagogue, not the cantor, as the term is used today. There 
were also many private schools held at the residence of private 

The Jews, like the Greeks, did not send girls to school. 
Schools were for boys only, and all teachers were married 
men. An unmarried man was not allowed to teach in a primary 
school. One teacher was Allowed only twenty-five students in 
his class. If the number exceeded twenty-five, he was obliged 
to keep an assistant. If the number of the children reached 
fifty, they were divided into two separate classes under two 
teachers. 110 


Let us make a tour of a few primary schools in Palestine in 
that period and observe their appearance and methods. 

As soon as we approach the school, even before we enter, 
we are met by a chorus of resounding children's voices repeat- 
ing and rehearsing the words and passages of the Bible which 
the teacher recites to them. The teacher makes the children 
repeat everything at the top of their voices. The advantage of 
learning aloud was valued highly, first, because it was advan- 
tageous for the memory, and secondly, a kind of mystic power 
was ascribed to the words of the Torah distinctly pronounced 
by the mouths of the innocent children. The verse of the Bible, 
"The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands 
of Esau," was interpreted to mean that as long as Jewish chil- 
dren learned to loudly recite Torah, the hands of the enemies 
of the Jews would not have power over them. The noise 
emanating from a schoolroom was not an asset for the neigh- 
borhood. Sometimes neighbors sought judicial means to keep 
a teacher from establishing himself in their vicinity. 111 

Some schools were completely unfurnished. The school- 
room was almost empty and the walls were bare. The pupils 
put their coats on the floor and sat on them. In some schools, 
the children sat on a matting of reeds which covered the floor; 
some were furnished with benches arranged in rows. The 
benches had bases provided with holes to hold the feet. The 
teacher's seat depended upon the furnishings of the school. 
In schools provided with good seats for the pupils, the teacher 
might be seated on a soft armchair. The schools were provided 
with a writing tablet on which the teacher wrote the letters 
of the alphabet, which the children learned to copy. A copy 
of the Torah was a requisite of all schools. 112 

The pupils were seated in rows, apparently in a semi-circle, 
looking straight into the teacher's face. The teacher empha- 
sized the fact that his pupils must remember correctly every 
word, and even every letter of the Torah. In order to accom- 
plish this feat, the children repeated and rehearsed countless 


The beginners' curriculum consisted of only one subject, 
learning to read and write Hebrew, the language of the Holy 
Writings. This was not easy, for Hebrew was still an un- 
vocalized language, consisting exclusively of consonants. Nor 
was Hebrew the spoken language of most of the pupils. The 
broad masses of the people spoke Aramaic. Hebrew as a spoken 
language was confined only to the higher circles of learned 
men, making it difficult for the children to learn to read an 
unvocalized Hebrew Bible. 

In teaching the children to write, certain pedagogical de- 
vices were applied. First, they learned to write the simple let- 
ters, the yud and the vov (the tenth and sixth letters of the 
alphabet); afterwards, the more difficult letters. The teacher 
drew the letter on a tablet of wax or a piece of papyrus. The 
pupil then retraced it, the teacher holding the pupil's hand and 
guiding it over the tablet or the papyrus. The requisites needed 
for writing were on sale in the market among all other mer- 
chandise and the children brought them from their homes 
to the schoolroom. Among the school requisites were small 
parchment rolls for the special use of children. These "read- 
ers" contained only certain portions of the Holy Writings 
which were studied by the children, as the Sh'ma, the Hallel 
Psalms, and the Ten Commandments. 113 

The teacher, in order to keep his attention, pointed with a 
stylus to the copy which the child read. In the beginning, the 
teacher cared little whether the pupil was capable of grasping 
the subject matter. First, the pupil had to be "fed" with the 
lesson to know it exactly. Only later, when the pupil had 
memorized the text, did the teacher try to explain it. The 
teacher was eager to provoke the pupils to ask questions. 
Clever pupils asked clever questions. If a pupil was dull and 
did not know how to ask questions, the teacher "opened his 
mouth," i.e., he put the question in his mouth. 

The pupils were rated according to their abilities, and were 
thus divided into four categories: those who were quick to 
understand and quick to forget, those who were slow to un- 


derstand and slow to forget, those who were quick to under- 
stand and slow to forget, and those who were slow to under- 
stand and quick to forget. 

Teaching the Holy Writings began with Leviticus, the 
third of the Five Books of the Torah. In the course of the 
years, the children learned all the books of the Bible. The main 
subject which engrossed their attention was the Pentateuch, 
the first section of the Bible, containing the laws of the 
Torah. 114 

The children went to school very early in the morning. 
With great love and care the mother washed her child and 
dressed him neatly. Sometimes a father led his son to school 
before he (the father) had breakfasted or even before he had 
finished his toilet. In the hot summer months, the children 
began their schooling at six o'clock in the morning, and at ten, 
they returned home. In the other seasons of the year, the 
school hours were longer. In the evening, the children re- 
turned to school for two hours of study. No occasion was 
considered sufficiently important to disturb the child's learning 
of the Torah. The school season lasted throughout the entire 
year. Even on Friday night the children went to school to 
review the lessons which they learned during the week. Only 
on holidays, on the days preceding the holidays, and on fast 
days, no school was held. 

The teacher stood in very high esteem. He ranked higher 
than the father. If the pupil had tasks to do for both of them 
and could not do these tasks simultaneously, he attended first 
to the demands of his teacher and afterwards to his father's, 
because it was said: his father brought him merely into the 
physical life of this world whereas his teacher brought him 
into the eternal life of the world to come. 

The teacher was forbidden to hit a child with a rod. He 
punished bad children with a leather strap. There were 
naughty children who were punished with the strap nearly 
every day. 116 

The pupil usually attended the beis sefer, the Bible School, 


until he was thirteen years of age and had reached the age of 
majority. When he left the beis sefer, he had an adequate 
knowledge of the religion, the history, the sacred language 
and the literary heritage of his people. At that age the boy 
began to undertake practical work and become a farmer, a 
craftsman, or a merchant. 116 

But not all boys were content with the knowledge of the 
Sacred Writings which they acquired in the primary school. 
After finishing the beis sefer many of them continued study- 
ing. They went to the beis midrosh where they delved into 
Jewish traditional learning and became versed in its various 
branches. Some of these boys attained a high proficiency in 
Jewish lore, and in their later years belonged to the chacho- 
mim, wise and learned men, the masters in the knowledge 
of the Torah, the legitimate leaders of the Jewish people. 

In the Middle Ages ... In the Middle Ages, the elementary 
Jewish school was an old established institution behind which 
was a history and tradition of over a thousand years. Every 
boy began school at the age of five or a little later, depending 
on the health of the child. Among the Franco-German Jews, 
the day on which the boy began school was celebrated as a 
great event in his life. 

The little boy was washed and dressed in his best clothes. 
Three eggs were cooked for him, and three honey cakes were 
baked, the dough kneaded by an innocent virgin. Apples and 
other fruits were brought to him. In some communities school 
began on the New Moon of the month of Nison. In other 
communities this great event took place on Shovuos. 

The festival of the giving of the Torah was selected as the 
day when the child should begin his study of the Torah. 

At daybreak, the child was taken to the synagogue or to the 
house of the nflctmed, the teacher, by a pious and learned man 
of the community, who hid him under the skirts of his coat in 
order that an evil eye should not injure him. The teacher who 
was in charge of his instruction handed him a slate on which 


the Hebrew alphabet was written forward, from aleph to tov, 
and backward from tov to aleph. The following verses were 
also written on the slate: "The law which Moses commanded 
us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." "The 
Torah will be my occupation." "And the Lord called unto 
Moses and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying." 
As the teacher read the words and letters on the slate, the little 
pupil repeated them after him. Then a little honey was spread 
on the slate, which the child licked off. The custom was based 
upon the verse in Ezekiel in which the prophet states he felt 
God's words in his mouth "as honey for sweetness." Next, a 
honey cake was brought, on which were inscribed several sen- 
tences of the Prophets and the Psalms, the import of which 
was the praise of God's words and His precepts. The teacher 
read, and the little boy repeated after him each word of these 
verses. Following the cake, a cooked egg was brought, on the 
shell of which was inscribed the verses: "From all my teachers 
have I learned wisdom," and "How sweet are Thy words unto 
my palate! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" 117 These 
verses were also read by the teacher and repeated by the child. 

The lesson was now finished and the child was given the 
cake, the egg and the fruit to eat. Then he was led back home 
again, concealed under the skirts of the coat of an adult. 

That night, at home, the parents of the boy entertained 
many guests at a festive meal in honor of the occasion. 118 It 
was the custom for everyone participating in the celebration 
to bless the child with the words "May God enlighten thine 
eyes with His Torah." 

In the earlier Middle Ages, names of angels were inscribed 
upon the honey cakes, and amulets attached to them, but this 
custom was later discarded. 119 

The Cheder in Eastern Europe ... A generation or two ago, 
there was little modern secularism in the Jewish life of the 
small towns in Eastern Europe. The cheder remained a con- 
tinuation of the cheder of the Middle Ages, and was not a 


special house used only as a school. A special house, called 
Talmud Torah y a communal free Hebrew school, was attended 
only by the poorest children of the community. The cheder 
was a private school in the home of the m'lamed, the Hebrew 
teacher. There were several schools of this kind in every 
community, and there was strong competition among the 
m'lamdim, especially at the beginning of the term, in spring 
and in autumn. 

The little house of the m'lamed which accommodated the 
cheder usually consisted of two or three rooms. One or two 
rooms constituted the private residence of the m'lamed and 
his family, where the rebitsin, the m'lamed's wife, was in 
charge. (The m'lamed was addressed by the title rebe [rabbi] 
and his wife was called rebitsin. These were the same terms 
that applied to the rabbi of the community and his wife.) The 
school consisted of one room, usually the front room, which 
was equipped with one or two tables with a long bench on 
each side of the table. The only other school equipment was 
the taitl, the pointer, used by the m'lamed to point to the letter 
or the passage in the siddur where a beginner was reading. 
There was no blackboard in the room because writing was not 
a part of the cheder curriculum. For writing there was a spe- 
cial teacher in town, who was an expert in penmanship. To 
him children went for an hour or two each day, a few days a 
week, for two or three years, to learn writing and arithmetic. 
Without exception all children attended cheder, but not all of 
them went to the teacher to learn writing. One could do with- 
out writing, for someone else could be asked to read or write a 
letter if the exigency arose. 

The children in the cheder were divided into groups, called 
by the Talmudic term, kitos. There was a kito for reading in 
the prayer book, the siddur. The next higher kito was for the 
Chumosh, the Five Books of Moses. Still higher was the kito 
that studied the books of the Bible which follow the Penta- 
teuch. The highest kito studied the Talmud. Each of these 
kitos was divided into grades or sub-kitos. At the same time 


that the m'lamed taught a higher kito at one table, the behelfer, 
the assistant, taught the little boys "reading" at the other table. 
When all of the children recited aloud some passage in the 
siddur or in the Bible, there was general tumult and confusion. 
There were communities in which children of the afore- 
mentioned various grades did not attend one and the same 
cheder but a special cheder for each grade. A certain m'lamed 
held a cheder for beginners in reading only. When a child 
graduated from that cheder, he was promoted to a cheder of 
Chumosh (Pentateuch) and then to the cheder of Talmud. 

The behelfer, usually a young unmarried lad, was a well- 
known figure in the life of the Jewish communities in Poland. 
He called for the little children, the beginners, at their homes, 
and brought them back home after cheder was over. The little 
boys, who had just begun to attend cheder, he carried to and 
from school on his back, sometimes several of them at one 
time. During the lunch hour, he procured a basket of lunch 
from each mother for her child. This was a complicated task, 
because the behelfer had to see to it that each child received 
the particular snack which his mother provided. One of the 
duties of the behelfer was to provide the children with enter- 
tainment and recreation. He carved bows and arrows for Lag 
Bo-omer, wooden swords for Tisho B'Ov, manufactured flags 
for Simchas Torah, tops for Chanuko and noise-makers for 
Purim. The behelfer was paid by the m'lamed, who was paid 
by the parents of the children. 

The children spent the whole day in the cheder, from early 
morning until sunset. In the short winter days, the children 
went back to the cheder after ma-ariv (evening services). 
With lanterns in their hands, the little ones, accompanied by 
the behelfer, made their way to the cheder for another two or 
three hours of study. Even on the Sabbath, the children went 
to the cheder for one or two hours to review the lessons of 
the week, or to learn some special Sabbath lesson. This was 
done, not on Friday night, as in Talmudic times, but on Satur- 
day afternoon. Saturday was also the time when the father 


tested the son to see how much he knew of the lessons he had 
learned during the week. In some locales it was customary to 
test the son on the Sabbath in the presence of the m 'lamed, 
who went to the homes of the parents for this purpose. If the 
father was a man of learning, he did the testing himself. Other- 
wise, he brought the child to an uncle or to one of his friends 
who was well versed in the Torah. Only on holidays and the 
days preceding the holidays was the cheder closed. On many 
semi-holidays, the children attended cheder for only half a 
day. On Friday, too, the cheder was open for only half of the 
day, and most of the time was devoted to chanting the section 
of the Pentateuch and the portion of the Prophets for that 

The children did not study their lessons all day long. There 
were many intermissions. When the m'lamed was teaching one 
kito, the children of the other kitos played games in the yard. 
On cold and rainy days they played their games in the rebe's 
private room where their freedom of action depended largely 
upon the good will and forbearance of the rebitsin. There 
were many games which engaged the children's leisure in 
cheder. Among the most popular were those played with 
buttons. Almost the whole year round there was heavy traffic 
in buttons. Mischievous boys, in their enthusiasm for the 
game, tore good buttons from their clothes, and were pun- 
ished by their sharp-eyed mothers. There was also some sea- 
sonal trading in the cheder. A couple of weeks before Tisho 
B'Ov, the children traded the "burrs" which they threw at 
each other in the synagogue. In the weeks preceding Pesach, 
nuts were the popular merchandise bartered in the cheder. 

For centuries the cheder was the home of the Jewish child. 
Here he spent most of his time, from the age of five or six 
until several years after his bar mitsvo. It was in the cheder 
that every Jew spent the days of his childhood and his adoles- 
cence; there he acquired his knowledge of the world as con- 
ceived by the child of the ghetto; there his intellect developed 
and his phantasy unfolded. 


The rebe, as the m'lamed was called, was not content with 
translating the Bible. The literal meaning of the words was 
not of major importance. The rebe had to amplify and in- 
terpret the words according to the explanations of the Agada 
of the Talmud and the Midrashim. He discussed with the chil- 
dren the legendary and historical figures of the Bible as if he 
had known them personally. He described in minute detail 
every incident of the Biblical narratives as if he were recount- 
ing his personal recollections. 

Occasionally, the rebe told the children various stories and 
fabulous tales not directly connected with the Bible and the 
Talmud. Many a rebe was a veritable treasure trove of stories 
about saints and miracle men, of fables about ghosts and de- 
mons, goblins and evil spirits. He depicted Gan Eden (Para- 
dise), where the saints, seated on golden thrones, enjoyed the 
Divine Glory. He also depicted the blazing fire of Gehenna, 
and the frightful tortures which afflicted the sinful for the 
transgressions they had committed during their earthly lives. 

The rebe was not the only story-teller in the cheder. Some- 
times during hours when the children were at leisure, the 
rebitsin also told them stories of ghosts and goblins which she 
had heard from her mother, who had heard them from her 
grandmother, and so on. Some of the children of the higher 
grades were proficient in telling wonderful stories which they 
had heard from their fathers and older brothers, stories of the 
prophet Elijah, of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, of Alex- 
ander the Great, of Napoleon, and others. 

Every subject studied in the cheder was recited with its 
peculiar melody. There was a particular tune for reading in 
the prayer book, another tune for reading the Pentateuch and 
the Early Prophets, another for reading the Later Prophets, a 
special chant for the M'gilos (Scrolls), and still another tune 
for the Talmud. The peculiar melodies, the fantastic tales, and 
the age-old curriculum blended into a special harmony which 
remained a part of the child of the ghetto throughout the days 
of his life. 


All of this applied to boys only. Girls were taught by a 
special m'lamed, a man or a woman. Usually, the m'lamed for 
the girls went to their homes to teach them for a little while 
every day. There was a special curriculum for the girls. They 
all learned to read in the siddur, but few of them were taught 
to translate the Bible. Instead, they read religious books in 
Yiddish. A rich religious ethical literature in Yiddish, intended 
for women, and for the less learned folk in general, flourished 
in the later Middle Ages. This literature was still very popular 
among mothers of the present generation of East European 
Jews, and almost every girl was taught to read it. 

Beginning Chumosh . . . The beautiful ceremonial that was 
observed in the Middle Ages on the day the child entered the 
cheder has been discarded. Only some features still persisted a 
generation ago. In some regions of Eastern Europe, it was cus- 
tomary, when bringing the child to the cheder for the first 
time, to wrap him in a praying-shawl. The father carried the 
child and the mother accompanied them, carrying cake and 
brandy. In some communities a honey cake was still given to 
the child on this occasion. When the child entered the cheder, 
the rebe usually stretched his arm high above the child's head, 
dropping a penny on the table and saying, "Here, the angel 
threw down a penny for you for learning well." 

Until a short time ago, an elaborate family celebration was 
held on the occasion of beginning the study of the Chumosh, 
which was characterized by a ceremony studied and rehearsed 
by two actors. One actor was the boy who was to begin to 
study the Chumosh, and who had to answer a long series of 
questions on this occasion, the other was a boy of the higher 
grades, selected to play the role of the questioner. For several 
weeks in advance, the rebe rehearsed the two boys in their 
parts. In some communities, the rebe himself questioned the 
boy. In others, instead of one older boy who acted as ques- 
tioner, three boys were selected as "blessers." Each boy blessed 
the child with a different blessing, all three of them being un- 


der the cover of one praying-shawl, which was spread over 
their heads. 

The great celebration took place on a Sabbath in the home 
of the parents. The rebe sat at a table set with cake, nuts, 
brandy, and various other delicacies. The father sat on his 
right side, and the guests were seated around the table. The 
women and the mother of the lad stood a little apart from the 
men, glowing with inner contentment and joy. 

On a table or a chair in the midst of all the people stood the 
hero of the day, dressed in his best holiday clothes and adorned 
with a golden watch and chain, and other pieces of jewelry 
borrowed for the occasion. He was ready to perform his role, 
which consisted of answering questions and, in some com- 
munities, of delivering a discourse on a topic of the Torah. 
Here are some specimens of the Midrashic discourse deliv- 
ered by a Chumosh candidate: 

"Why does the Torah begin with a beis (B'reshis), the sec- 
ond letter of the alphabet, and not with aleph, the first letter? " 
"Because God blessed the world when He created it and beis 
is the first letter of the word boruch (blessed), whereas aleph 
is the first letter of the word orur (cursed)." 

"Why did God give the Torah to Moses and not to Abra- 
ham?" "Because if God had given the Torah to Abraham, the 
Jews would have forgotten it during the time they were slaves 
in Egypt." 

The following is one version of a dialogue that took place 
between the questioner and the boy. 

"What is your name, nice child?" 

"I am not a child any more. I am a big boy who, in a lucky 
hour, is going to begin to study Chumosh." 

"What does Chumosh mean?" 


"Five buns for a penny?" 

"No, the Five Books of the Torah which God gave to 

"What are their names?" 


"B'reshis is one, SWmos is two, Vayikro is three, Eamidbor 
is four, D'vorim is five." 

"And which of these will you now begin to learn?" 

"I will begin with the third book, Vayikro" 

"What does Vayikro mean?" 

"And he called." 

"Who called? The beadle into the synagogue?" 

"No, God called Moses, and told him the laws concerning 

"And why do you have to learn the laws of the sacrifices?" 

"Because the sacrifices were pure, and I am a pure Jewish 

"And why is the aleph in the word Vayikro small?" 

"Because the translation of aleph is 'to learn,' and one who 
is learned must consider himself small and not pride himself on 
his learning." 

"So why are you proud? " 

"Oh, no, I am not proud." 

"Then why are you standing on the table?" 

"I'll obey you and come down." 

The boy would then climb off the table, and read and trans- 
late, word for word, the first verses of Leviticus, repeating 
each word after the "rebe." Then he received gifts from his 
parents and relatives, and all the people in the house ate and 
drank with great joy and merriment. 

It was to observe an old custom that the boy learned from 
the book of Leviticus that day. On the following day he 
joined the Chumosh-class and learned the weekly portion of 
the Pentateuch. Each week he studied another section. At first, 
he learned only to translate each word separately. Later, he 
was promoted to a higher kito where he learned Chumosh 
with the amplifications and interpretations of the Midrash, 
found, for the most part, in the popular commentary, Rashi. 120 

The Cheder in Recent Years . . . The cheder, with its age- 
old curriculum, its characteristic atmosphere, and its numer- 


ous physical and pedagogical shortcomings, remained almost 
unchanged in Eastern Europe to the very threshold of this 
century. The Haskalab, the movement of enlightenment, 
which did not bring emancipation to the East European Jews, 
touched only the upper circles, influencing very slightly the 
masses of the people. The cheder withstood all the attacks 
made upon it by the spokesman of the Haskalah who, in an 
exaggerated manner, repeatedly exposed its unpleasant fea- 

Only with the growth of the new nationalistic movement 
among Jews at the end of the past century did modernization 
and secularization of the elementary Jewish school begin to 
make progress. In many communities the cheder, under the 
new name Cheder M'sukon (improved cheder), became mod- 
ernized and secularized in many respects. The emphasis on 
Jewish subjects shifted from teaching of the Talmud to teach- 
ing of the Bible, Jewish history, Hebrew as a spoken language, 
and modern Hebrew literature. Amidst the working class, 
which followed the socialist movement, the process of secular- 
izing the Jewish primary school reached its extreme. A new 
type of Jewish elementary school was established, completely 
secular in character, with Yiddish and modern Yiddish litera- 
ture as its main subjects. 

In Western Europe and America ... In Western Europe, 
where the Haskalah movement went hand in hand with a 
gradual emancipation of the Jews, the old forms of Jewish life 
were shaken to their very foundations. With the advent of 
the nineteenth century, the cheder was gradually discontin- 
ued. Modern Jewish schools began to be established here and 
there. When the German school became universal and com- 
pulsory, the results were disastrous for Jewish education. 

Here in America, where Jewish education is merely sup- 
plementary to the public school, its status is nevertheless better 
than in Western Europe. On the whole, because of the new 
adjustment of immigrants to a new environment and new con- 


ditions of life, Jewish education in this country is still in a 
state of flux. Several types of Jewish schools have assumed 
definite tendencies. There are Orthodox, Reform, and Con- 
servative schools where emphasis is laid upon the religious 
aspect of Jewish education. There are schools of the Zionist 
circles where the main emphasis is laid upon teaching of He- 
brew as a living language. There are also a few types of secular 
Yiddish schools, where the Yiddish language and literature are 
taught as the main subjects in national Jewish culture. There 
are week-day schools where the children are taught in the 
afternoon hours, as well as Sabbath and Sunday schools, con- 
gregational and non-congregational schools. East European 
immigrants have established private Hebrew schools, and nu- 
merous private teachers teach the children in their homes. 
There are also some Jewish parochial schools. But many Jew- 
ish children in this country do not even have a smattering of 
Jewish education, a thing unheard of since the days when the 
Jewish primary school became universal. 

Bar Mitsvo 

The Name . . . Bar Mitsvo (son of commandment, man of 
duty) is a Hebrew- Aramaic term, signifying a person who is 
obliged to observe the precepts of the Jewish religion. In this 
general sense bar mitsvo is an old term in Jewish literature. We 
find it in the Talmud where a minor and a non-Jewish slave in 
the household of a Jew were described as not being bar mitsvo, 
since they were not obliged to fulfill the commandments of the 
Torah. 121 

In its present application to the attainment of religious ma- 
jority at the age of thirteen, the term "bar rnitsvo" has been 
used only since the late Middle Ages. Previously, other desig- 
nations were applied to a boy's coming of age. He was called 
godol (big, adult, of age) or bar onshin (punishable, respon- 
sible), but he was not called bar mitsvo. In present day Jewish 
life bar mitsvo has a twofold meaning. It is used to designate 
both the boy, who reaching the age of thirteen, has attained his 
religious majority, and the ceremony marking that occasion. 

In its present sense, the term "bar mitsvo" is only about 
seven hundred years old. The observances marking the occa- 
sion when a boy becomes bar mitsvo are more recent. How- 
ever, the age of thirteen as the actual age of majority is an old 
institution in Jewish life which we shall follow from its very 

In Ancient Times ... In the Bible, a man attained his ma- 
jority at the age of twenty. In Biblical times, from twenty 
years and upward, one was able "to go out to war in Israel," 
and at the same age, every man was obliged to pay an annual 
tax of half a shekel for the sanctuary. 122 



At about the beginning of the Common Era, attainment of 
majority was fixed at thirteen years for a boy, and twelve for 
a girl. 123 We must not assume that the outside influences of the 
post-Biblical period were responsible for the transfer of ma- 
jority from the age of manhood to the age of adolescence. On 
the contrary, in primitive society, a child attained his social 
majority immediately upon reaching adolescence. This en- 
abled him to participate in the ritual and social activities of 
the group, but in a more advanced society, with a mature legal 
system, the child was considered a minor until he reached 

The age of twenty, stated in the Bible as the age of majority 
in military and financial matters, apparently represents a later 
development, when a more advanced legal system was in force 
among the Jews. This advanced stage was presumably pre- 
ceded by an older and more primitive stage of social life in 
which a boy was initiated into his social and religious duties at 
the age of transition from childhood to adolescence, between 
twelve and fourteen years. The initiation into the tribe at this 
age was, and still is, celebrated among primitive peoples with 
an elaborate ceremonial which sometimes exceeds in pomp and 
grandeur the celebration of a wedding. Among Jews, too, in 
the ancient past, a celebration of this kind probably took place 
when a boy was initiated into the tribe at the age of thirteen. 
Apparently the age of thirteen was fixed for the attainment of 
majority because thirteen was a sacred number among the 
Jews in ancient times. 124 

In Talmudic and Early Medieval Times . . . The age of thir- 
teen years for the attainment of religious majority was thus 
not an innovation of post-Biblical times, but the preservation 
or revival of an old social custom. In the highly developed 
religious life of the Jews in post-Biblical times, the custom was 
entirely divested of its primitive character, and invested with a 
religious and moral significance. The boy was now initiated 
into a religious community which was animated by sublime 


religious ideas and a lofty moral standard. The attainment of 
majority had become a religious experience. 

We have stated in a previous chapter that a great educa- 
tional movement was developing in the Jewish life of those 
days. At five years of age, the normal child began to read the 
Bible, at ten years he was expected to begin the study of the 
oral laws and traditions; and "at thirteen years, he was bound 
to the commandments" and became a responsible member of 
the community. 125 Until he reached the age of thirteen, his 
father was under obligation to personally teach him Torah, or 
to send him to the beis sefer, the primary school. After thir- 
teen years, his father was no longer responsible for his re- 
ligious education. He could, of his own volition, continue his 
studies at the beis midrash, the higher academy. The father, 
on the occasion of his son's attainment of religious majority, 
pronounced a benediction in which he praised God for re- 
lieving him of responsibility for his son's conduct. 126 

In the Jewish literature of that time we do not read of any 
celebration marking the attainment of religious majority. 
However, it seems that on this day the boy was presented to 
the oldest men of the community who blessed him and prayed 
that he should acquire the merit of learning Torah and doing 
good deeds. 127 

No ceremonial to celebrate the attainment of majority could 
have evolved in Talmudic and early medieval times because, 
according to the Talmud, a minor was permitted to partici- 
pate in all religious observances as soon as he was considered 
mentally fit. He was called up to witness the reading of the 
Torah on the bimo and was supposed to wear t'filin, phylac- 
teries. The minor was even inured to fast on Yom Kippur. 
Two years before he attained his majority, a child fasted until 
noon, and a year before his majority, he fasted the whole 
day. 128 The distinction between a minor and one who had 
obtained his majority was theoretical. The latter did as a re- 
ligious duty what a minor did optionally. The majority was 
not distinguished by additional religious duties and privileges, 


and therefore the attainment of majority could not be marked 
by any special observances. Until late in the Middle Ages, the 
attainment of majority was an uneventful date in the life of 
the Jew. 

At the Threshold of Modern Times . . . Gradually, during 
the later Middle Ages, this situation underwent a change. The 
religious rights which the Talmud accorded to the minor were 
now restricted. He was deprived of the right to be "called up" 
to the reading of the Torah. He was no longer permitted to 
wear t'filin. The attainment of majority gained new impor- 
tance as an attainment of new religious rights and the ground 
was prepared for a ceremonial around the bar mitsvo, as a boy 
thirteen years old was beginning to be called. 

A demand to restrict the right of minors to don t'filin was 
made by one religious authority as far back as the twelfth 
century, but it did not meet with approval In the fourteenth 
century, notwithstanding the objections of some religious au- 
thorities, a minor was still usually taught by his father to put 
on t'filin as soon as he knew how to take care of them. How- 
ever, the objections grew, and in the sixteenth century, among 
the Jews of Germany and Poland, it was the accepted custom 
that a boy could not begin to wear t'filin before the day fol- 
lowing his thirteenth birthday. This custom was modified in 
the seventeenth century. The boy began wearing t'filin two 
or three months before he became bar mitsvo, so that by the 
time he reached his majority he was well acquainted with the 
practice and rules of laying t'filin. 129 

The right of a minor to be called up to the bimo for the 
reading of the Torah underwent a similar development among 
the Ashk'nazim (German and Polish Jews). As far back as 
the thirteenth century, among the Franco-German Jews, the 
privilege of being called up for the reading of the Torah was 
withdrawn from minors. Only on Simchas Torah, the last day 
of the Sukos festival, could minors enjoy this right. The attain- 
ment of religious majority signified the attainment of the right 


to witness the reading of the Torah on the bimo and to recite 
the benedictions over it. 

These two religious rights, laying t'filin and being called up 
to the Torah, became the most essential features of the bar 
mitsvo observance. In the sixteenth century it was obligatory 
to call up the bar mitsvo lad to the reading of the Torah on the 
Sabbath coinciding with or following his thirteenth birthday. 
In very cautious, pious circles the elders watched lest the bar 
mitsvo lad be called up to the reading of the Torah before he 
had attained the full age of thirteen years. This might be the 
case if the boy's thirteenth birthday fell on the Sabbath. 130 For 
safety's sake, the custom arose which still prevails today, that 
even on the bar mitsvo Sabbath, the boy was not among the 
seven men called on every Sabbath to the reading of the Torah, 
but after them. He was called to the reading of the last para- 
graph of the portion of the Pentateuch read on the Sabbath, 
and of the Haftoro, the portion of the Prophets which is read 
after the week's portion of the Pentateuch. In regard to the 
Haftoro, the right of the minor was never restricted except on 
a few special Sabbaths. 

The bar mitsvo ceremonial was not confined to the syna- 
gogue. New features were added which shifted the center of 
the celebration from the synagogue to the home of the parents, 
such as the bar mitsvo feast and the bar mitsvo drosho (dis- 
course). The party held on the bar mitsvo Sabbath was re- 
garded as a religious feast. The religious aspect of the bar 
mitsvo feast was enhanced in Poland where the drosho was 
introduced. In Poland, the center of Talmudic learning in the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were precocious 
and highly gifted boys of bar mitsvo age, who were capable 
of delivering an original casuistic discourse in Talmudic law. 
Naturally, these boys were the exceptions, but there were 
many others who could with the assistance of their teacher 
accomplish this feat of learning. It was a test and display of 
Talmudic knowledge. In many cases, the teacher prepared the 
drosho and the boy learned it by rote, and then delivered it. 181 


In Germany as well as in Poland, the bar mitsvo was cele- 
brated with great pomp, both at the synagogue and in the 
home. Source material gives many interesting details about bar 
mitsvo celebrations in the seventeenth century among the Ger- 
man Jews in Worms. 

The lad was dressed in new clothes bought especially for 
this occasion. On the Sabbath of his bar mitsvo he chanted the 
entire portion of the Pentateuch from the Scroll of the Torah 
at the synagogue. If he happened to have a pleasant voice, he 
also recited all the prayers before the congregation. Some lads 
who were not so well versed in Hebrew recited only one of 
the prayers the evening prayer, the morning prayer, or the 
additional Sabbath prayer (Musof). There were boys who 
were not able to recite even the week's portion of the Penta- 
teuch, but every bar mitsvo boy was called up to the reading 
of the Torah, and vowed to give a pound of wax for candles 
to illuminate the synagogue. 

The bar mitsvo feast was served in the afternoon, as the 
third meal of the Sabbath. An hour before Mincho (afternoon 
prayer), the bar mitsvo lad, dressed in his new clothes, went 
to the homes of the guests to invite them to the third meal. At 
the meal, the lad delivered a drosho on the customs of bar 
mitsvo, and acted as the leader in reciting the grace after the 
meal 132 

The bar mitsvo celebration never succeeded in deeply root- 
ing itself in Jewish life as a synagogue observance or as a home 
festival. The institution was of too recent origin and was not 
surrounded by an atmosphere of religious reverence. The bar 
mitsvo feast never attained the religious significance of the 
circumcision feast. The drosho certainly did not contribute 
to the earnest solemnity of the occasion, but proved rather a 
detriment to the bar mitsvo celebration. 

At the Present Time . . . There is, in modern times, no uni- 
formity in the bar mitsvo celebration. There are communities 
in the Orient, and there were some in recent days in Germany, 


where the boy reads the entire week's portion of the Penta- 
teuch from the Scroll of the Torah. In some communities, the 
boy chants only the last paragraph of the portion of the Torah 
and concludes with the chanting of the Haftoro. In Eastern 
Europe, the bar mitsvo boy chanted only the Haftoro, and 
even this was not obligatory. Some boys, especially those who 
were proficient in Talmudic learning and capable of deliver- 
ing a discourse with casuistic involvements on a Talmudic 
topic, did not chant at all They merely recited the benedic- 
tions over the Torah and the Prophets. There is also a diver- 
gence in the custom regarding the tails, or prayer-shawl. In 
some communities a boy donned a talis on the Sabbath of his 
bar mitsvo; in others, he did not put it on until he was married. 
The Ashk'nazic Jews always present gifts to the boy in honor 
of his "bar rnitsvo." 

In America, the bar mitsvo celebration plays an important 
role in Jewish life. When a boy becomes bar mitsvo, his family 
usually celebrates the great event with a sumptuous banquet 
in the parents' home, or in a large rented hall. The American 
bar mitsvo celebration has lost almost all of its original con- 
tent. Contrary to the original idea that the father was obliged 
to provide for his son's religious education until he reached 
religious majority and then relieved thereof, many parents hire 
a Hebrew teacher only a short time before the thirteenth 
birthday of their son, in order to prepare him for the bar 
mitsvo celebration. The lad chants the Haftoro to the great 
delight of his parents and his relatives who gather at the syna- 
gogue to witness the performance. After the services the peo- 
ple attending the synagogue are served with cake and wine or 
brandy. On Saturday night or Sunday, the bar mitsvo feast 
takes place. The lad then delivers his "speech" and receives 
gifts from the invited guests. 

Bar Mitsvo among the Jews in the Orient . . . Unlike the 
Ashk'nazim, the S'fardim do not restrict the rights of the 
minor. The S'fardim still adhere to the Talmudic law, which 


allowed a minor to put on t'filin and to be called up to the 
reading of the Torah, and they celebrate bar mitsvo in their 
own peculiar way. 

Primarily, the S'fardim celebrate the first laying of t'filin 
which takes place exactly a year before attaining majority. If 
the boy is an orphan, it takes place two years before attaining 
majority. (Among the Ashk'nazim, too, an orphan begins lay- 
ing t'filin a year earlier than a boy whose parents are living.) 
On that day, the parents hold a sumptuous feast for all their 
relatives and friends, and the boy, if capable, delivers a drosho 
on a topic pertaining to the occasion. Only the rich hold a 
second celebration a year later, when the boy reaches his 
majority. 133 

Among the Jews of Morocco, too, the main emphasis in the 
bar mitsvo celebration is placed upon the first laying of t'filin. 
This takes place on the Thursday after the twelfth birthday. 
The feast is held at the home of the parents on the preceding 
day, Wednesday. On Thursday, the morning services are held 
in the home of the boy where all the worshippers gather and 
take part in the ceremony. The rabbi of the community binds 
the phylactery upon his head. A choir accompanies the cere- 
mony with a hymn. The boy is then called up to the reading 
of the Torah as the third participant after the Kohen and the 
Levite (on Thursday and Monday only a small portion of the 
Torah is read, for which only three are called) . 

At the end of the services the boy delivers his discourse. 
Then he proceeds with his t'filin bag among the men and the 
women present, and everyone throws silver coins into the bag. 
The boy presents this gift money to the teacher. The guests 
partake of a breakfast and, in the evening, they again gather in 
the house. 

On the following Sabbath, the boy is called up to the read- 
ing of the Haftoro. This is accompanied by a piyut, a liturgical 
poem, composed for this occasion. The Jews of Morocco alone 
produced synagogual poetry as recently as modern times, when 
the bar mitsvo celebration came into vogue. 184 


Confirmation ... In the nineteenth century, when Reform 
Judaism in Western Europe and America discarded as obso- 
lete many of the religious ceremonies and forms of synagogue 
worship, hardly anything remained to mark the bar mitsvo 
celebration. The t'filin, the talis, and the calling up to the 
reading of the Torah were discarded. The Talmud, which 
comprised the subject matter for the bar mitsvo drosho, was 
eliminated from the curriculum of the elementary Jewish 
school. All the bar mitsvo observances were thus discontinued, 
and the bar mitsvo ceremonial was superseded by confirma- 
tion, which was then introduced into Jewish life. 

The word confirmation, as well as some of its outward 
forms were taken over from the Lutheran Protestant Church. 
These borrowed forms were adapted to Jewish life and filled 
with Jewish content. 

Germany was the cradle of confirmation as a Jewish institu- 
tion. Its beginnings in the first decades of the nineteenth cen- 
tury coincided in general with the beginnings of Reform 

Instituting confirmation as a Jewish ceremonial was a slow 
and gradual process. At first, confirmation took place in the 
Jewish religious school for boys only. Later, it was extended 
to girls, and transferred to the synagogue. At first, it had no 
fixed date, and was performed on a special Sabbath, such as 
the Sabbath of Pesach week or the Sabbath of Chanuko week. 
Gradually, Shovuos became the day of confirmation. The 
festival of the giving of the Torah, which was the day of 
beginning school for Jewish children in the Middle Ages, was 
suitably selected as the day for initiating the child into the 
Jewish faith. 

The age of confirmation was advanced a year or more be- 
yond the traditional bar mitsvo age. The children are con- 
firmed in a group after they have finished their course in the 
religious school, and have passed an' examination in the main 
principles of the Jewish faith. At the confirmation ceremony, 
which is accompanied by impressive music, the children, with 


awe and devotion, in an atmosphere of earnest solemnity, re- 
ceive the priestly blessing from the rabbi, and obligate them- 
selves to remain faithful to Judaism. This newly instituted 
ceremonial of confirmation is not yet uniform, and its details 
vary in different congregations. 

In America, confirmation was first introduced in Temple 
Emanu-El, New York, in the year 1847, and has become an 
integral part of the synagogue services in Reform congrega- 

Confirmation had many opponents, but became popular be- 
cause of its solemn character and its impressiveness. Proof of 
this fact is the adoption of its chief features by the Conserva- 
tive (Progressive Orthodox) and even by Orthodox congrega- 
tions, who restrict it to girls only. 

The bar mitsvo ceremonial, as it was and still is performed 
in various countries by various groups of Jews, constitutes an 
interesting chapter in the history of Jewish life and folkways 
in recent centuries. 


Courtship anil llarriage 


In Biblical Times 

Negotiating a Match ... In Biblical times it was the prime 
duty of parents to marry off their children. Their most cher- 
ished hope was to see their children's children, especially the 
sons of their sons, according to the words of the Psalmist 
and the sayings of Proverbs. People were married in early 
youth, and marriages were usually contracted within the nar- 
row circle of the clan and the family.* It 'was undesirable to 
marry a woman from a foreign clan, lest she introduce 
foreign beliefs and practices. Abraham was content only after 
his servant swore to him that he would take a wife for Isaac 
from among Abraham's own kindred. The most popular mar- 
riages were those of cousins, as described in the stories of 
Genesis. 135 

In those days, girls in the Palestinian towns enjoyed no social 
life. Most of their leisure hours were spent with their mothers 
in the house. "I would lead thee and bring thee into my moth- 
er's house," says the girl to her beloved in the Song of Songs. 
Women appeared in the streets and squares only when some- 
thing extraordinary happened, such as an important parade, or 
a great panic. When a hero returned in triumph from war, the 
women, singing and dancing and playing timbrels and stringed 
instruments, led the parade to greet him. In a panic in Jeru- 
salem just before the uprising of the Maccabees, "the women," 
we are told, "thronged the streets and the virgins that were 
kept inward ran together, some to the gates, others to the 
walls, and some looked out through the windows." 136 

Notwithstanding woman's retirement in ancient Israel, there 
was not the separation of sexes found in the Mohammedan 



East. There were many opportunities for young people to 
meet and to see one another. Sometimes a young man met a 
shepherdess as she led her flock to the well. Sometimes he met 
her at dusk as, her pitcher on her shoulder, she walked to a 
nearby well to draw water. Often these strong youths offered 
assistance to the girls who were watering their flocks; and the 
help was gladly accepted. Boys and girls at work in the fields 
met and chatted with one another, especially in the seasons of 
the year when the grain was harvested and the fruit of the 
trees was gathered. They sang and danced in the fields and 
vineyards, and were merry and happy. 

However, these chance meetings and casual acquaintances 
seldom resulted in marriage. As a rule the parents, or more pre- 
cisely, the fathers, arranged the match. The girl was consulted, 
but the "calling of the damsel and inquiring at her mouth" 
after the conclusion of all negotiations was merely a matter of 
formality. The girl certainly could not help giving her consent 
after her father and her whole family had agreed to the match 
(Gen. 24). 

As already remarked in a previous chapter, Jews as well as 
all peoples in Biblical times welcomed the birth of a son far 
more than that of a daughter. Yet in those days a father was 
more concerned about the marriage of his sons than about the 
marriage of his daughters. No expense was involved in marry- 
ing off a daughter. The father received a dowry for his daugh- 
ter whereas he had to give a dowry to the prospective father- 
in-law of his son when marrying him off. This ancient Biblical 
custom still prevails among the Jews of Yemen and in the Arab 
villages of Palestine. 137 

The price paid by the father of the groom to the father of 
the bride was called mohar, and is still so called by the Arab 
peasants. Scholars disagree on the etymology of this word. 
The English Bible translates it "dowry." For the sake of ac- 
curacy we prefer not to translate the word. In the stories of 
Genesis, Shechem said to Dinah's father and her brothers: "Let 
me find favor in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I 


will give. Ask me never so much mohar and matton, and I will 
give according as ye shall say unto me; but give me the damsel 
to wife." Here "matton" was the counterpart of "mohar," the 
Hebrew word for the gifts given by the groom to the bride, 
besides the price paid by his father to her father. From this 
story, we infer that the father sometimes set an extraordinarily 
high mohar for his daughter in order to discourage the groom. 
The ordinary mohar seems to have been fifty shekels of sil- 

ver. 138 

The mohar was not always paid in cash. Sometimes it was 
paid in kind, or in service. The book of Genesis relates the 
story of the servant of Abraham, who, after his request for 
Rebekah was granted, "brought forth jewels of silver, and 
jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah; he 
gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things." 
The servant thus gave matton to Rebekah, and mohar to her 
brother and mother. He paid the mohar with precious things 
to her brother and mother, because according to the original 
version of the story, Rebekah had no father but only a brother 
and a mother. Jacob, as a poor wanderer who possessed noth- 
ing but the staff with which he had passed over the Jordan, 
could pay the mohar to Laban only by rendering service. King 
Saul scorned to receive money as mohar for his daughter, 
Michal. Instead of money, Saul demanded valiant deeds from 
David in an attack on the king's enemies, the Philistines. A 
similar case is told in the story of Caleb and Othniel, the son 
of Kenaz. Othniel received Caleb's daughter Achsah for his 
wife in reward for smiting and conquering Kiriath-Sepher. 139 

The Bible does not specify what was to be done with the 
mohar in case the marriage agreement was broken by either 
of the two parties. The Code of Hammurabi made provision 
for it. Hammurabi was the great king and lawgiver of ancient 
Babylon, called in the Bible "Amraphel king of Shinar" (Gen. 
14:1). He lived many centuries before Moses. And his code 
of laws, which was discovered by excavators at the very be- 
ginning of the twentieth century, provided as follows: If the 


groom changed his mind, the mohar and the matton were both 
forfeited. If the girl's father broke the agreement, he returned 
double of everything given by the groom to him and to his 
daughter. 140 Very likely these laws of Hammurabi concerning 
the mohar and the matton prevailed among all the peoples of 
the ancient East, including the Jews. 

Mohar as Purchase and Gift . . . The mohar was originally 
the purchase price of the bride, and it is therefore understand- 
able why it was paid by the father of the groom to the father 
of the bride. In ancient days, marriage was not an agreement 
between two individuals, but between two families. The 
newly married man usually did not found a new home for 
himself, but occupied a nook in his father's house. The family 
of the groom gained, and the family of the bride lost, a valu- 
able member who helped tend the flock, draw water from the 
well, grind flour, bake bread, and assist with all the household 
tasks. It was reasonable, therefore, that the father of the groom 
should pay the father of the bride the equivalent of her value 
as a useful member of the family. 

Yet in the course of time the mohar lost its original meaning 
as a purchase price paid to the father for his daughter, and 
assumed the significance of a gift to the near relatives of the 
bride. As far back as in early Biblical times, it was customary 
for a good father to give the whole of the mohar or at least a 
large part of it to his daughter. A father who appropriated the 
whole mohar for himself was considered unkind and harsh, 
and the daughter long remembered how badly he had treated 
her. This situation is clearly described in Genesis, in the stories 
of Jacob and Laban. Rachel and Leah tell Jacob concerning 
their father: a ls there yet any portion or inheritance for us in 
our father's house? Are we not accounted by him strangers, 
for he hath sold us and had also quite devoured our price." 

The portion of the mohar which the bride received from her 
father, and the matton, the gifts which the groom presented to 
her, were not the only possessions she brought to matrimony. 


A rich father sometimes gave his daughter a field or other 
landed property, as we are told in the story of Job, and in the 
previously mentioned story of Achsah, the daughter of Caleb. 
We hear also of maids, female slaves, which the daughter re- 
ceived from her father as a personal possession. She received 
also her share in the estate of the family, "an inheritance among 
her brethren," as it is called in the Bible (Job 42: 15). 

Notwithstanding the outward form of paying a purchase 
price for the bride, even in ancient Biblical times, the Jewish 
woman enjoyed the right of possessing private property of 
which she alone could dispose. 

The transformation of the mohar from a purchase price to 
a gift was the first phase in its evolution. An account of its 
later development will be given in subsequent chapters, 

Betrothal . . . Nowadays there is only one ceremony in 
connection with marriage the wedding. Until the wedding 
is performed, either the bride or the groom may have a change 
of heart. Until late in the Middle Ages, marriage consisted of 
two ceremonies which were marked by celebrations at two 
separate times, with an interval between. First came the be- 
trothal; then, later, the wedding. At the betrothal the 
woman was legally married, although she still remained in 
her father's house. She could not belong to another man un- 
less she was divorced from her betrothed. The wedding 
meant only that the betrothed woman, accompanied by a 
colorful procession, was brought from her father's house to 
the house of her groom, and the legal tie with him was con- 
summated. 141 

This division of marriage into two separate events origi- 
nated in very ancient times, when marriage was a purchase, 
both in its outward form and in its inner meaning. Woman 
was not recognized as a person but was bought in marriage, 
like a chattel. The process of purchase consisted of two acts. 
First the price was paid and an agreement reached on the con- 
ditions of sale. Sometime later the purchaser took possession 


of the object. The same procedure was followed in marrying 
a woman. The mohar was paid and a detailed agreement 
reached between the families of the bride and groom. This 
betrothal was followed by the wedding, when the bride was 
brought into the home of the groom, who took actual posses- 
sion of her. 

In those days the betrothal was the more important of 
these two events and maintained its importance as long as 
marriage was actually based upon a purchase. But as women 
assumed more importance as individuals, and marriage ceased 
to be a purchase, and attained moral significance, the actual 
wedding became more important than the betrothal. Finally, 
in the Middle Ages, the betrothal was entirely absorbed by 
the wedding, and became identical with it, as will be described 

There is no information concerning the procedure of a 
betrothal celebration. From various passages in the Bible, we 
find that, besides the payment of the mohar, a solemn agree- 
ment was made between the groom and the bride. We are told 
that "he swore unto her, and entered into a covenant with her 
and spread the skirt of his garment over her" (Ezek. 16: 8) . In 
time this agreement apparently was expressed in a fixed for- 
mula. In the presence of the assembled guests, the groom de- 
clared to the father: "I came to thy house for thee to give me 
thy daughter So-and-so to wife; she is my wife and I am her 
husband from this day and forever." The assembled people 
apparently responded with a blessing in the name of God. 142 

Among the Arab peasants in Palestine today, as also among 
the Jews of Yemen, betrothed couples are not permitted un- 
der any circumstances to see one another from the moment of 
betrothal, even if they are cousins, live in close proximity and 
have been playing with one another since their early child- 
hood. Apparently this custom prevailed also among the Jews 
in Biblical times. In the stories of Genesis, Rebekah took her 
veil and covered herself when she met Isaac in the field, be- 
cause she was then only betrothed and not yet married to 


him. According to modern anthropologists, the original motive 
of this inhibition was not delicacy or shyness, but the primitive 
belief that the bride and the groom had an evil eye for one 
another. 143 

The Wedding . . . The wedding days were a time of great 
joy among the ancient Jews. A wedding lasted not less than 
seven days and was celebrated by dancing, singing and the 
playing of various games always accompanied by tumultuous 
merriment and unconfined joy. 

Usually weddings took place in the beautiful month of 
Ador, when "the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the 
flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing is come, and 
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land" (Song of Songs 
2: 11-12). Weddings occurred in autumn also, when the corn 
and fruit were gathered on threshing floors and in the wine 
presses, and the work of the year was over. In the warm nights, 
by the light of the moon, the mountains of Judah and Ephraim 
echoed with sounds of wedding merriment. To the prophet 
Jeremiah, the most distinct feature of desolation in the land 
was the absence of "the voice of mirth and the voice of glad- 
ness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride" 
(7:34; 25:10;^ 33:11). 

Many relatives and friends, and often a whole village or 
town, were invited to the wedding. At Laban's daughter's 
wedding, he gathered all the men of the place for a feast. The 
groom, or rather his father, provided for the wedding. Only 
in exceptional cases, as for example, Jacob, who was far away 
from his native land, did the wedding take place at the home 
of the bride's parents. Another exceptional case is found in the 
story of Samson and the Philistine woman of Timnah. Mar- 
riages between sons of Israel and daughters of the Philistines, as 
with women of other foreign nations, were interdicted and did 
not constitute .a legal marriage. The Philistine woman of Tim- 
nah was not Samson's legal wife, but merely his concubine, 
and was supposed to remain with her father. 144 Barring excep- 


tional situations, if the bride lived in another village, the groom 
did not go to the bride, but she came to him. The whole sig- 
nificance of the wedding then consisted in the bride's passing 
from the domain of her father to that of her husband. 

Among the Arab peasants today, when the bride is from 
another village, it is customary for her to arrive in the groom's 
village accompanied only by women relatives and friends. 
They are invited as guests into the first house which they 
approach. When the bride has arrived safely at a place in the 
bridegroom's village, messengers are sent for her father, male 
relatives and friends. Possibly, the same custom also prevailed 
in ancient Israel. 

Bride and groom were arrayed in their most festive attire, 
the bride heavily veiled until after she emerged from the 
chupo, the bridal canopy (or pavilion). Both wore crowns on 
their heads. The Prophets often used the attire of bride and 
bridegroom as a basis for comparison of a worthy example. 
"Zion will adorn herself with her newly returned children, as 
a bride with her ornaments," says the great anonymous prophet 
in the second part of Isaiah (49: 18; 61: 10). "Can a maid forget 
her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet My people have 
forgotten Me days without number," says Jeremiah (2:32). 

The groom was surrounded by a group of young men. The 
main role was played by the groom's most intimate friend who 
supervised all the arrangements for the wedding. The bride's 
relatives and intimate friends hovered about her. 145 

In reconstructing a Jewish wedding in Biblical times, we 
glean from the Song of Songs. As far back as the beginning of 
the second century the Song of Songs was no longer taken 
literally, but was interpreted allegorically as a dialogue be- 
tween God and Israel. The Fathers of the Church followed 
suit, and interpreted the Song of Songs as extolling the love of 
Jesus for the Church. In recent centuries the allegorical in- 
terpretation has been abandoned and the beauty of the book as 
secular poetry recognized and appreciated. As to the literary 
form, for some time the theory prevailed that the Song of 


Songs is a drama with King Solomon and the shepherdess, 
Shulammite, as its main characters. Towards the end of the 
nineteenth century the dramatic interpretation was discarded. 
Most scholars now agree that the Song of Songs is not a 
homogeneous composition, but a collection of odes sung at 
Jewish weddings in ancient times. This became unmistakably 
clear when scholars closely observed the wedding customs of 
the Arab peasants in Palestine and Syria. Scholars have long 
since recognized a similarity in many customs and modes of 
life between the Arab peasants of today, who are still un- 
touched by Western influences, and the Jews of Biblical times. 

Among the Arab peasants, various ceremonies are performed 
with great pomp on the day before the wedding. The most 
important are the sword dance of the bride, and the feast. The 
wedding celebration takes place not indoors, but under the 
open sky, on the threshing floor of the village, which, in 
March, is overgrown with flowers and suitable for the oc- 
casion. To the threshing floor, in a solemn procession, come 
the groom, his intimates and guests. In the evening the bride 
arrives, with great pomp, to perform the sword dance. 

The Arabs call the seven days of the wedding the "royal 
week." Bride and groom play the part of king and queen, and 
are treated as such by the wedding guests. Among the Jews 
of ancient times, as clearly seen in the Song of Songs, bride 
and groom were also treated like a king and queen and, for 
that reason, wore crowns. But the Jews did not designate the 
couple king and queen, but named the groom after the most 
magnificent Jewish king, Solomon, and the bride, Shulammite, 
or Shunammite, after the beautiful Abishag, the Shunammite, 
beloved by Solomon's brother, Adonijah, for whom he for- 
feited his life. 

Apparently the Jews in Biblical times also celebrated the 
wedding under the open sky. The Jewish daughters of Judah 
and Ephraim would dance on the threshing floor of the village 
with sword in hand "on the day of the gladness of their heart." 
Some of the songs sung on these occasions are preserved in the 


Song of Songs. One song gives this vivid picture of the great 
procession in which the bride is led, either to the threshing 
floor, or to the groom's house. 

Night is falling. In the distance is seen a long, merry proces- 
sion of men, women and children, all in festive array. Leading 
them are the torch bearers who illuminate the way. After the 
torch bearers come the men, then the women, and finally the 
bride, veiled, and with a sword bound to her side. According 
to the Oriental custom, the bride is lavishly perfumed. With 
great pomp she is borne in a litter resplendent with exquisite 
draperies. The groom has sent her this beautiful litter called, 
"The litter of Solomon." Surrounding the bride is a military 
escort, young men equipped with weapons of war. From afar 
the procession looks like a caravan emerging from the desert, 
winding its way toward distant lands. Occasionally the proces- 
sion stops. Young and old leap, dance, and sing: 

Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness 

like pillars of smoke, 
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, 
With all powders of the merchant? 
Behold, it is the litter of Solomon; 
Threescore mighty men are about it. 
Of mighty men of Israel. 
They all handle the sword, 
And are expert in war; 
Every man hath his sword upon his thigh, 
Because of dread in the night, etc. 146 

Everyone respected a wedding procession and stood aside 
while it passed. Even King Agrippa laid aside his royal dignity 
and allowed a wedding procession to overtake him and then 
precede him. 147 It is doubtful, however, whether this was done 
by the Jewish kings in Biblical times. 

Arriving at the threshing floor, the assemblage at an Arab 
wedding forms a circle about the bride, consisting of one half 
men and the other half women. The bride stands in the center, 
brandishes her sword and dances according to the rhythm of 


an ode sung by a leader. The ode extols her rich attire and 
physical charms. Those surrounding the bride accompany her 
motions by swaying the upper part of their bodies and softly 
clapping their hands. The whole scene is illumined by flaming 

In the Song of Songs we have an ode on the sword dance. 
The bride, designated queen, bears the name of the beautiful 
Shunammite. The ode begins: 

Turn around, turn around, Shulammite! 

Turn around, turn around, that we may look upon thee. 

What will ye see in the Shulammite? 

As it were a dance of two companies. 7: i. 

An ode in praise of the bride follows, as among the Arabs to- 

When the sword dance is over and all are tired and hungry, 
the great feast follows. The guests eat, drink and make merry 


The Chupo . . . Nowadays the dance, feast, giving of pres- 
ents, and many other features of the wedding take place after 
the chupo. In ancient times, as among the Arabs of today, the 
chupo was the final phase of the wedding. When the bride was 
led into the chupo-chamber, the most important feature of the 
wedding ended. In the course of the procession to the chupo- 
chamber, the relatives of the bride blessed her: 

Our sister, be thou the mother 

Of thousands of ten thousands, 

And thy seed possess the gate 

Of those that hate them. Gen. 24: 60. 

The chupo in those times was entirely different from the 
chupo as we have it today. Then, the chupo was a wedding 
tent or chamber, especially arranged and decorated by the 
groom. By entering the chupo-chamber the bride passed from 
her father's authority to that of her husband. 
In the Bible, the chupo is mentioned only twice. The Psalm- 


ist pictures the sun rising in the morning "as a bridegroom 
coming out of his chupo" (19:6). The prophet Joel describes 
a general fast when all gather to pray in the Temple; even "the 
bridegroom goes forth from his chamber and the bride out of 
her chupo " (2:16). 

The "Seven Days of the Feast" . . . The merrymaking of 
the wedding lasted through the following week. These days 
of merriment were called "the seven days of the feast," a name 
which still clings to the week following the wedding in present 
day Jewish life. 148 

The Arabian wedding night is followed by the "royal 
week," when bride and groom are royally treated by all. It is 
the most joyful week of their lives. The groom is the king; his 
intimate attendant is a grand vizier. On the day after the wed- 
ding night when the bride and groom awake, they array them- 
selves in the same garments worn on the previous day, and re- 
ceive the grand vizier who brings in breakfast. Shortly after, 
the groom's friends arrive and as soon as they learn that the 
grand vizier has been received with favor by his Majesty the 
King, they proceed immediately to prepare the throne of the 
royal pair. As chairs and sofas are not available in the village, 
they resort to a peasant's device the threshing-board. 

The threshing-board is a communal piece of furniture which 
serves various purposes: for threshing grain; as a funeral bier; 
and as a throne for the bride and groom at the wedding 
festivities. A scaffold about two yards high is set upon the 
threshing floor, on which is placed the threshing-board, and 
over the board, a large varicolored carpet. Two pillows em- 
broidered with golden thread and stuffed with ostrich feathers 
are placed upon the carpet, completing the magnificent throne 
for the royal pair. 

Bride and groom sit on the throne. The merriment begins 
with a dance in honor of the young pair. The newly wedded 
pair are the theme of the ode then sung. The main content of 
the ode concerns their physical perfections and their attire, 


but it praises the queen in more restrained terms than those 
used on the previous day at the Sword dance. Since she is now 
a married woman, her overt rather than her covert charms are 
lauded. The guests play games which last a whole week. On 
the first day they start in the morning; on the following days 
they begin shortly before noon and continue late into the 
night. Only on the last day before sunset does the merriment 
end. The king and queen on their throne are for the most part 
mere spectators. Sometimes they descend from the throne to 
participate in the games. Originally, the odes sung on this oc- 
casion were improvisations, but in the course of time, their 
text became fixed. 

Among the Jews in Biblical times, festivities were carried on 
in a similar manner during the "seven days of the feast." Many 
of the odes in the Song of Songs were composed to honor and 
entertain the bride and groom who sat on their royal throne. 
Riddles were also a part of the wedding entertainment. One 
riddle often used on this occasion is preserved in the Bible: 
"What is sweeter than honey and what is stronger than a 
lion?" The answer was well known "Love." 149 

We cannot tell whether Jews in ancient times used the 
threshing-board as a throne in "the seven days of the feast." 
Probably in the days of the kings and the prophets, the bride 
and groom sat on a sofa, or chairs, pieces of furniture which 
belonged to the households of well-to-do peasants. 150 


In Late Biblical and Post-Biblical Times 

A New Attitude towards Women . . . During Biblical times, 
even before the Babylonian exile, Jewish life was not station- 
ary, but evolved and changed in manifold aspects, including 
the attitude toward women. In the course of time, women 
came to be regarded as endowed with personalities just as were 

Even as far back as early Biblical times, we find traces of a 
new moral attitude towards women. True, a man was legally 
allowed to marry more than one wife but, barring kings and 
princes, very few used this right. As a rule, the ordinary Jew 
lived in monogamous marriage. "A man leaves his father and 
mother and cleaves unto his wife, and they become one flesh" 
(Gen. 2:24). In the concept of married life, the woman was 
not regarded as a purchased object. Husband and wife be- 
longed to one another. Man was not whole until a woman was 
constantly with him to aid him (Gen. 2:18). Such a wife was 
not a mere purchase. The mohar paid to her father was a gift 
rather than a purchase price. 

This new moral attitude towards women becomes still more 
conspicuous when we compare the various codes of law in the 
Pentateuch which originated in different periods of Biblical 
history. In the oldest Biblical code, the so-called Book of the 
Covenant (Exod. 21-23), only the man-servant was freed 
after six years of service, not the maid-servant who had been 
sold by her father into servitude. She -was not free because she 
had never been free. She belonged either to her father, to her 
husband or to the master to whom she was sold. However, ac- 
cording to the Deuteronomic code, which reflects a later phase 



of Jewish civilization, the maid-servant like the man-servant 
was freed in the seventh year. A new attitude was evolved to- 
wards the daughter, who was now regarded as a personality. 151 
We shall soon see how, with the new attitude towards 
women, marriage among Jews (the mohar, betrothal, and wed- 
ding) assumed new forms. 

An Ancient Marriage Record ... At the beginning of this 
century, an actual marriage record of a Jewish family during 
the period of the return from the Babylonian exile was dis- 
covered giving real names and facts, the oldest marriage con- 
tract in Jewish history. 

The marriage did not take place in Palestine or among the 
exiles in Babylon, but among the Jews of Elephantine and 
Assuan, at the southern border of Egypt, by the first cataract 
of the Nile (see p. 27) . 

Jews came to that remote part of Egypt as soldiers hired into 
foreign service. They were organized as a military colony 
among mercenaries of many other nations. Most of the soldiers 
in the garrison apparently were Jews. It seems that they were 
originally hired and brought over by the Egyptian kings from 
poor homes in Palestine in the latter days of the First Temple, 
when Egypt had regained her independence. Later, when 
Egypt was conquered by the Persian Empire, these Jewish 
mercenaries continued in military service under the Persian 
government. All of the records unearthed at Elephantine and 
Assuan belong to the time of the Persian domination. They are 
papyri inscribed in Aramaic, the universal language of the 
Persian Empire west of the Euphrates. 

The Jews of Elephantine and Assuan were professional 
soldiers, obliged to go to war to defend the southern frontier 
of Egypt. This vocation was transmitted from father to son. 
They were soldiers and also colonists who owned property. 
They married, had families and had ample leisure for peaceful 
occupations. Some soldiers even engaged in trade with the peo- 
ple with whom they lived. 


As soldiers, the Jews of Elephantine and Assuan were an 
integral part of the military organization. They were called 
officially "Jewish army" and were divided into groups, each 
of which had a flag of its own. As Jews, they had autonomy, 
their own religious community, their own Jewish court, and a 
temple in which sacrifices were offered to the God of Israel. 

Most of the business documents which were unearthed in 
Elephantine and Assuan belonged to the family of a well-to-do 
Jewish soldier named Machseiah, the son of Yedaniah. In the 
documents, his daughter, Mibtachiah, married and received 
a valuable piece of property as dowry from her father. Her 
first husband died and she remarried, this time a non-Jew, an 
Egyptian by the name of As-Hor, who was called "the archi- 
tect of the king." In the documents of his sons, As-Hor bears 
the Jewish name Nathan. Apparently he became a proselyte 
to the Jewish faith, and his sons bore Jewish names. 

We are concerned with the marriage contract of Mibtachiah 
and As-Hor. It began with a declaration of marriage by As- 
Hor to Mibtachiah's father. "I came to thy house for thee to 
give me thy daughter, Mibtachiah, to wife; she is my wife and 
I am her husband from this day and forever" (see p. 130). 
Following this declaration of betrothal, all terms of the mar- 
riage contract were written in detail. As-Hor paid Machseiah, 
the father, five shekels, Persian standard, as a mohar for his 
daughter. Besides, Mibtachiah received a gift of 65 1 / 2 shekels 
from As-Hor. From this we gather that the mohar which 
fathers received for their daughters was then merely a nominal 
payment, the formality of a lingering custom of olden times. 

Of the 65 1 / 2 shekels that Mibtachiah received from As-Hor, 
twelve shekels were in cash, the remainder in clothing and 
utensils. A complete list of the gifts Mibtachiah received is 
given and fully described, in regard to quality, size, and value: 
one garment of wool, dyed new, embroidered, on both sides, 
8 by 5 cubits; one closely woven shawl, new, 7 by 5; another 
garment of spun wool, 6 by 3; one mirror, one tray, two cups, 
and one bowl, all of bronze. Each one of these items is also 


appraised in cash. According to the marriage contract, Mibta- 
chiah had equal rights with her husband. She had her own 
property which she could bequeath as she pleased, and she had 
the right to pronounce a sentence of divorce against As-Hor, 
even as he had the right to pronounce it against her. All she 
had to do was to appear before the court of the community 
and declare that she had developed an aversion to As-Hor. We 
do not know to what degree the equality of rights enjoyed by 
Jewish women of Elephantine was due to Jewish or to Persian- 
Babylonian law. 

Mibtachiah impresses us as a very active woman. She was 
energetic and enterprising, had property of her own and was 
on an equal footing with her husband. She was also very par- 
ticular about the cosmetics with which she beautified herself. 
Among the articles which she received from her father was 
mentioned a new ivory cosmetic box. 

At the conclusion of Mibtachiah's marriage contract, the 
name of the scribe appeared. He was Nathan, the son of 
Ananiah, who had written the deed at the dictation of As-Hor. 
The names of three witnesses appeared on this remarkable 
document, which was written about the time Nehemiah was 
rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. 

The betrothal of Mibtachiah to the Egyptian architect As- 
Hor presumably took place at the house of Machseiah, son of 
Yedaniah. Imagine the house crowded with Jews as well as 
Egyptians, the relatives and friends of both the Jewish bride, 
Mibtachiah, and the Egyptian groom, As-Hor. After paying 
the mohar and delivering the gifts to Mibtachiah, the robust 
and simple folk of this military colony partook of a festive 
meal amid boisterous joy and merriment. 152 

The Ksubo . . . This newly disinterred papyrus of a mar- 
riage deed or k'subo, as it has been called in Aramaic since the 
days of the Second Temple, is the first document of its kind 
found in Jewish history. In many points of content and form, 
Mibtachiah's marriage contract resembles the version of the 


k'subo, still in vogue in modern Jewish life. Yet we must not 
assume that the k'subo originated at that time (5th century 
B.C.E.). It was rather a well-established institution in the Per- 
sian period of Jewish history. In any references to marriage 
throughout the Bible, the mohar was paid and gifts presented, 
but a written contract was never mentioned. However, the 
Book of Deuteronomy specifically states that if a man dislikes 
his wife, "he writes her a bill of divorcement and gives it in 
her hand" (24: 3) . Modern critics of the Bible have agreed that 
on the whole, the Deuteronomic law is a product of the cen- 
tury preceding the Babylonian exile. If a written document 
was employed at that period in dissolving a marriage, we have 
to assume that it was also employed in contracting a mar- 
riage. In purchasing realty, written contracts were employed 
in Judah in the years preceding the first destruction of Jerusa- 
lem. 153 Scholars assume that the written contract was intro- 
duced into Jewish life in the Assyro-Babylonian period, under 
Assyro-Babylonian influences. Most tablets unearthed from 
the ancient mounds of Babylonia and Assyria were contract 
tablets. In Babylonia, marriage contracts were mentioned in 
the ancient Code of Hammurabi. 154 - At the time when the 
Elephantine papyri were written, the marriage deed in Jewish 
life was an established institution of at least two hundred 
years' standing. 

A Divorce Penalty . . . But it was the change in the main 
provision of the marriage contract, the paying of the mohar, 
rather than the introducing of the written marriage contract, 
that altered the character of marriage among Jews. The mohar 
institution was entirely transformed during late-Biblical and 
post-Biblical times. From a bridal price it finally became a lien 
to be paid by the husband in case of divorce, or by his heirs in 
case of his death. 

The change in the mohar institution was a direct result of 
the basic changes which took place in the material conditions 
of life. In the simple conditions of early Biblical days, all sons 


and daughters married young. No one stayed single. We hear 
of only one exceptional case shortly before the first destruction 
of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah remained a celibate, ex- 
plaining his unique position as a divine command. In a pro- 
phetic vision he heard the command of God that he should not 
take a wife nor have sons or daughters, because a devastating 
catastrophe would soon overtake the commonwealth of Judah, 
and the sons and daughters born in that place would die 
grievous deaths, together with their mothers and fathers, with- 
out being lamented or buried (Jer. 16). 

The Book of Proverbs, the oldest in the wisdom literature 
of the Jews, contains no exhortations regarding the advisability 
of marrying at an early age, nor the evils of unmarried life. 
There was no need of exhorting people on that score. The 
Book of Proverbs states that not all men are happy in their 
matrimonial life. A man married a prudent woman, a woman 
of valour, and was happy; another married an evil and con- 
tentious woman and was very unhappy. 155 Obviously no one 
was deterred from marriage on that account. 

The situation changes, however, when we turn from Prov- 
erbs to the wisdom book of Ben-Sira (Ecclesiasticus) . The 
author, Joshua Ben-Sira (Jesus the son of Sirach), flourished 
in Jerusalem not long before the uprising of the Maccabees. 
In his wise sayings he admonishes the young men of his days 
against the evils of remaining single: 

Without a hedge a vineyard is laid waste, 

And without a wife a man is a wanderer and homeless. 

Apparently bachelorship, common among Jews in Talmudic 
times, had its beginnings in pre-Maccabean days. Economic 
conditions were such that men hesitated to shoulder the re- 
sponsibility of matrimony. It was not unusual for women to 
support the men they married. Ben-Sira rebuked these men 
who married women solely for a rich dowry: 

j j 

Hard slavery and a disgrace it is, 
If a wife support her husband. 


Ben-Sira also admonished the fathers not to let their sons re- 
main single too long but to let them marry when young: 

If thou hast sons, correct them, 
And give them wives in their youth. 

No wonder, therefore, that in the days of Ben-Ska, parents 
looked with concern at their marriageable daughters, and 
Ben-Sira exhorted the fathers: 

Get thy daughter married, and worry will vanish, 
But bestow her on a sensible man. 156 

Under these conditions there was no place for the old mohar 
institution. Fathers no longer expected any material gain from 
their daughters' marriages. On the contrary, fathers often gave 
rich dowries to daughters as an inducement to marriageable 

Yet the mohar institution did not pass out of existence. It 
was reformed intermittently in the course of this period, adapt- 
ing itself to new circumstances. The first stage in this process 
was to make the bride's father a mere trustee of the mohar. 
The money was then inherited ultimately either by the hus- 
band or by his children. This reform availed little, so the hus- 
band himself was made the trustee of the money, which was 
employed to buy household articles. This is the phase in the 
evolution of the mohar which we meet in the papyri of Ele- 
phantine. The money which As-Hor gave to Mibtachiah was 
spent mostly for clothing and household utensils. The last 
step in the reform of the mohar institution was made by 
Simeon ben Shatach, head of the Pharisees, who were the rul- 
ing party in the state during the reign of the Maccabean queen, 
Salome Alexandra (76-67 B.C.E.). Simeon ben Shatach de- 
clared that the mohar, which was ordinarily two hundred sil- 
ver dinars (fifty shekels) for a girl, and one hundred for a 
widow, should merely be written in the k'subo, the marriage 
deed, as a lien of the wife on the estate of her husband, to be 
paid to her only if he divorced her, or at his death. 157 


3. COIN of the Second Revolt Under Simon Bar Kochba 

LEFT: Vase. INSCRIPTION: First Year of the Redemption of Israel 

RIGHT: Wreath. INSCRIPTION: Simon Nassi Israel 

CIRCUMCISION KNIVES /feArff^; 7/on College Museum, Cincinnati 
CHAIR OF ELIJAH used at Circumcision Ceremony 

PAPER AMULET to Ward Off Evil Spirits at Childbirth 
PLATTER for the Redemption of the First-Born 


Hebrew Union College Museum, Cincinnati 

3- AMULET in the Form of a Hand in the Synagogue Eliyahu Ha-Navi 

i and 2. SPICE-BOXES The Jewish Museum y New York 
3. KIDDUSH CUP Hebrew Union College Museum, Cincinnati 

BIMO of the Wooden Synagogue at Gwodziecz 

A DIFFICULT PASSAGE by Isidor Kaufmann. 
This painting shows clearly the talis koton. 

EXAMINATION IN HEBREW by Moritz Oppenheim 

i. SILVER M'zuzo The Jewish Museum., New IOTK 

x, 3, and 4. WEDDING RINGS 
5. SILVER T'FILIN GASES The Jewish Museum^ New York 

CARRYING THE LAW by William Rothenstein 

Johannesburg, South Africa, Art Gallery 

THE WEDDING under the Chupo by Morirz Oppenheim 

i^v&^W * * j *^*7 r .f v ^ 

A 1 /la 4 ~ TL^*K3K ' *rw* 


^iJMfl ct^^ i" 1 ".. ^ : *" 


"''K?>*V.t 1 a-" / ' 

discovered in the Genizah by the late Solomon Sehechtei 

K'SUBO (Marriage Contract) 
Hebrew Union College Museum, Cincinnati 

TOMBS in the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem 

>)*ina'n<:*iii.J<T> * 

THE GET (Bill of Divorcement) is torn across by the rabbi 
and retained by him so that it may not be used again. 

> OttwcMTt noway -onixn 


rnw tt'Ttmipn 'flTwa W wnaarra/i 

i JPTO njp f0| 3 p> Tppjj npp 

t PTO rjupf pi pfp W 


SEFER HA-CHASIDIM (Title Page), Printed in Basle, 1580 


This reform served two humane purposes. It made marriage 
easier, and divorce more difficult. A man did not need two 
hundred dinars in cash in order to marry a girl, but he needed 
this amount if he wanted to divorce her. The k'subo thus 
protected the woman from being arbitrarily divorced by her 



In the First Centuries of the Common Era 

Wedlock and Bachelorhood . . . The conditions of life 
which militated against matrimony as far back as the Greek 
and Maccabean periods of Jewish history became more 
strained in the first centuries of the Common Era. The Tal- 
mud and Midrash, the Jewish literature of that period, contain 
many references to wedlock and bachelorhood. It "was an 
epoch of bachelorhood in the Roman world at large, and also 
among Jews. Bachelors were common. One of the greatest 
Jewish sages, Simeon ben Azzai, who lived in the first half of 
the second century, died a celibate. Although bachelors were 
excluded from teaching in primary schools, there were gener- 
ous bachelors who contributed to the maintenance of those 
schools. They were highly commended for supporting an in- 
stitution in which they could not be directly interested. 158 

No wonder, therefore, that the Talmud and Midrash con- 
tain many exhortations to marry at an early age, and admoni- 
tions against staying single. For example: 

"Any man who has not a wife is not a proper man (an 

"Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without 
blessing, and without happiness." 

"Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits 
and waits: 'when will he take a wife?' But as soon as one at- 
tains the age of twenty and is not yet married, He exclaims: 
'Blasted be his bones! '" 

"Whilst your hand is yet upon your son's neck, marry him 
off, viz., between sixteen and twenty-two. Others state, 'Be- 
tween eighteen and twenty-four.' " 



There is an anecdote in the Babylonian Talmud about the 
three famous Amoraim, Rav Huna, Rav Chisda, and Rav 
Hamnuna, who lived in Babylonia in the second half of the 
third century (C.E.) . Rav Huna was then the head of the great 
academy at Sura and Rav Chisda was his pupil and colleague. 
Once, in conversation with Rav Huna, Rav Chisda praised 
Rav Hamnuna as a great man. So Rav Huna said to Rav 
Chisda, "When Rav Hamnuna visits you, bring him to me." 
When Rav Hamnuna arrived, Rav Huna saw that he was not 
wearing the head-covering or turban customary for married 
men. "Why have you no headdress?" asked Rav Huna. "Be- 
cause I am not married," was the reply. Thereupon Rav Huna 
turned his face away from him, saying, "See to it that you do 
not appear before me again until you are married." 159 

Bachelorship was disapproved severely as detrimental in 
every way. The bachelor was ridiculed. As long as he was 
young, he considered no woman was good enough to marry, 
but it did occur to him to marry at an age "when his nose is 
nipped, his ears are heavy, his eyes are dim, and no woman can 
be found that would marry him." 16 

There is no record of women celibates among Jews in that 
period, but we do hear of unmarried women who waited a 
long time to get married because the marriageable men were 
reluctant to wed. 161 

The main cause of this state of affairs were the political and 
economic conditions of the times. There was a difference be- 
tween Palestine and Babylonia in this respect. Conditions in 
Babylonia, which was a part of the Persian kingdom, were 
much more favorable for the Jews than in Palestine, which be- 
longed to the Roman Empire. Matrimony was a simpler mat- 
ter for the Babylonian Jews than for their brethren in Pales- 
tine. In Babylonia in the third century, the religious teachers 
decreed that a man should marry first and study the Torah 
afterwards, whereas in Palestine, they said: "Can a man in- 
dulge in the study of the Torah with a millstone on his neck?" 
In that century of civil war and social chaos in the Roman 


Empire, it was quite usual for men in Palestine to marry be- 
tween the ages of thirty and forty. 162 

Marriage of Minors . . . A man's correct matrimonial age was 
from eighteen to about twenty-four. A girl was supposed to 
marry much earlier, at the age of twelve or thirteen. Fathers 
were reproved if they permitted their daughters to pass that 
age without giving them in marriage. 

Theoretically, the son and the daughter had the decisive 
voice in choosing and concluding a match, but this theory was 
not always followed. There were inconsiderate fathers who 
betrothed their children, especially daughters, when they were 
still children. Among the Romans, girls often were married 
at the age of nine and ten, and this practice spread among 
Jews. From the third century on, loud voices of protest were 
raised against this inconsiderate attitude. Some religious teach- 
ers of Babylonia prohibited it, but the practice was not dis- 

However, the betrothal of minor girls was the exception 
rather than the rule. A girl betrothed when still a minor had 
the right to make a declaration of refusal when she came of 
age. She could say that she disliked the man and did not wish to 
marry him; and then the betrothal was annulled. 1 "" 

I 163 

Making a Choice . . . Jewish girls of that period enjoyed 
much personal freedom. As in ancient Biblical days, they 
gathered at the wells and conversed as they drew their jugs 
of water. They also went to market, sold wares in the stores, 
and in general, occupied themselves in various ways. They 
were apt to meet and become acquainted with marriageable 
young men, and often chose their own mates. 164 

However, it was the parents rather than the children who 
had the deciding voice in making the choice, and who ar- 
ranged the match. 

There were many aspects to be considered in choosing a 
mate. First, there was the physical aspect, and, as in Biblical 


days, the main emphasis was laid upon the girl's eyes. As long 
as a girl had beautiful eyes, she passed as a beautiful bride. For 
the sake of the progeny, the physical characteristics of bride 
and groom were taken into consideration. It was inadvisable 
for a very tall man to marry a very tall woman, lest their off- 
spring be tall "as the mast of a ship"; for a very short man to 
marry a very short woman, lest their offspring be dwarfs; for 
a very white man to marry a very white woman, lest their 
offspring be albinos; for a very dark man to marry a very 
dark woman, lest their offspring be pitch black. The char- 
acter of the prospective bride's brothers was looked into, be- 
cause of the current belief that most children take after their 
mothers' brothers. 165 

More important than the physical qualities and the progeny 
was the social rank of the prospective bride and groom and the 
nature of the groom's vocation. A distinction was made be- 
tween a clean and a dirty occupation. As to the social rank, 
emphasis was laid upon culture. A man of learning should not 
marry the daughter of an illiterate under any circumstances. 
Nor should a man of learning give his daughter in marriage 
to an illiterate. A daughter of a kohen, a descendant of the 
priestly caste, was supposed to marry a kohen only. The mar- 
riage of a daughter of a kohen and an ordinary Jew was dis- 
couraged. The Talmud says: "If a man marries a wife who is 
fit for him, the prophet Elijah kisses him and the Holy One, 
blessed be He, loves him; but he who marries a wife who is 
not fit for him, Elijah binds him and the Holy One, Blessed 
be He, flagellates him." 166 

There were many degrees in the social scale even within the 
cultured and learned classes. Says the Talmud: "A man should 
sell all he possesses in order to marry the daughter of a scholar. 
If he cannot get the daughter of a scholar, let him marry 
the daughter of a prominent man of his day; if he cannot 
get the daughter of a prominent man of his day, let him 
marry the daughter of the head of a synagogue; if he cannot 
get the daughter of the head of a synagogue, let him marry the 


daughter of a director of charity; if he cannot get the 
daughter of a director of charity, let him marry the daughter 
of a teacher in a primary school, but he should never marry 
the daughter of an illiterate." 167 

Among Jews, nobility of culture and aristocracy of learning 
took precedence over nobility of blood or wealth, and the 
aristocratic families made every possible effort to separate 
themselves from the ignorant and illiterate masses. 

Ktsotso . . . Not all men conformed with the social rules. 
Occasionally, a defiant young man married beneath his social 
rank, to the great embarrassment of his family. Sometimes the 
family was shocked into disinheriting the defiant member and 
severing all connection with him. This act of disinheriting a 
young man was marked by a ceremony called k'tsotso, which 
means severing, cutting off . 

In the Talmud there is a description of this queer ceremony, 
performed in the following manner: 

The members of the family came together, bringing a cask 
full of fruits. In the presence of the children, the open middle 
space in the cask was broken and the children picked up the 
fruit and called out, "Brethren of the House of Israel, hear! 
Our brother So-and-so has married a woman who is not 
worthy of him and we are afraid lest his descendants will be 
united with our descendants. Come and take a warning for 
future generations, that his descendants shall not be united 
with our descendants." 16S 

Severance of all relations with the disinherited member was 
thus publicly proclaimed and impressed upon the memory of 
both the older and younger generation who participated in 
the k'tsotso ceremony. 

Negotiating a Match . . . After the choice was mutually 
made, negotiations began between the two parents, usually 
through an intermediary. If the bride was of age, she carried 
on the negotiations personally. If she had not attained her 


majority, her father did this for her. The arrangement of mar- 
riage negotiations was permitted even on the Sabbath. 169 

There were various conditions and stipulations to be agreed 
upon, beginning with the dowry which the girl's father gave 
to his daughter and his prospective son-in-law. In this era of 
bachelorhood, fathers promised large dowries in order to at- 
tract suitors, often out of proportion to their means. As far 
back as the days preceding the second destruction of Jerusa- 
lem, it was not unusual for a father-in-law to promise a large 
cash dowry to his prospective son-in-law and refuse to carry 
out his promise after the betrothal. Cases came before the 
courts in Jerusalem in which the groom refused to wed the 
girl without the promised dowry and she remained betrothed 
but unmarried for life. Usually she could force the groom 
either to wed or divorce her. 170 

In those days, even more than in the days of Ben-Sira, a 
number of men married rich women merely for the sake of 
large dowries. This practice was sternly discouraged. "He 
who takes a wife for the sake of money will have unworthy 
children/' says the Talmud. 171 

Not every man gave his daughter a dowry in cash, but each 
father was obliged to furnish a wedding outfit valued at fifty 
zuz (silver dinar) , which was the minimum. Even an orphaned 
girl received that from the charity fund. Among the poor, the 
wedding outfit consisted of the barest necessities: clothes, 
house utensils, and furniture. Among the rich, slaves and real 
estate were included in the marriage gift. The daughter some- 
times received a share of the parents' wealth as her own prop- 
erty. Her husband merely had the right to use and derive bene- 
fit from the property with her consent during her lifetime. 

Paramount in the negotiations was the amount of money on 
which the wife received a lien in the marriage contract, the 
k'subo, in the case of her husband's death or in the event that 
he divorced her. If the groom had no property as security, 
someone else guaranteed it for him. The minimum amount was 
two hundred silver dinars for a girl and a hundred for a widow. 


In priestly families and in some aristocratic lay families, four 
hundred dinars were the minimum to be entered in the k'subo. 

This primary amount of the k'subo was not a matter for 
negotiations. Every groom was obliged to grant it to his pro- 
spective wife, without regard to wealth, social rank, or dowry. 
It was the "additional k'subo" which came up for negotiations. 
The primary k'subo was the ancient mohar transformed into 
a promise, a lien clause in the marriage contract. The additional 
k'subo was the ancient matton transformed into a lien and 
varied according to circumstances. There was no limit to the 
amount of money to which the groom could increase the 
"additional k'subo" in accordance with his wealth and social 
position. The larger the additional k'subo, the more important 
the groom appeared. If the bride turned out to be a bad wife, 
the husband deeply regretted his generosity at the betrothal. 
It was embarrassing for a man to be wedded to an unworthy 
wife who had an enormous k'subo. On the other hand, a large 
k'subo protected the wife from any arbitrary attitude on the 
part of her husband, and kept him from divorcing her. 

Negotiations revolved around various other provisions, mu- 
tual duties and rights. Many of these provisions were neces- 
sary only when the bride came from a different locality. If 
both lived in the same place, the many details of these mutual 
rights and obligations followed the local custom. 172 

Betrothal . . . After the terms of the marriage were settled, 
the betrothal was celebrated at the house of the bride's father. 
It was a highly festive occasion. In the Talmud we have a brief 
and vivid description of a betrothal celebration. There was 
much hustle and bustle in the house. The rooms were brightly 
illumined. In the room where the guests were received were 
beautifully upholstered sofas, upon which the guests might 
recline, as was the custom of the times. The women were 
meanwhile doing their handiwork. Drawing the thread from 
the distaff, they joyfully announced the name of the happy 
bride: "So-and-so is being betrothed today." 1TS 


At the betrothal, the groom gave the bride an object valued 
at no less than a p'ruto and declared orally in the presence of 
two witnesses: "Be thou consecrated to me, be thou betrothed 
to me, be thou my wife." She was also legally betrothed if he 
gave her this declaration in writing signed by two witnesses, 
without handing her anything of value. In late Talmudic 
times, the bride could be legally betrothed without receiving 
anything at all from the groom, if he just did some favor for 
her. 174 Thus, betrothal among Jews was no longer a com- 
mercial transaction, as among the Greeks and Romans. Even 
formerly it was merely the symbol of a purchase. 

In Talmudic times, betrothal had assumed high religious 
significance. A new term for betrothing, Kadesh, came into 
vogue. Whatever this word may originally have meant, there 
was implicit in it, in this connection, the sense of sanctifica- 
tion. 175 In the Mosaic Law the prohibition of incest and licen- 
tiousness was promulgated as a prerequisite for "sanctifying 
oneself and being holy" (Lev. 20). This was the starting- 
point for spiritualizing the matrimonial union and for declar- 
ing it as preliminary to the sanctification of man's life. Thus 
the betrothal celebration was accompanied by a benediction 
proclaiming the purity of married life as a divinely ordained 
institution and concluding with praise to God "who sanctifies 
His people Israel through chupo and Kidushin." 176 

It was customary for the groom to send gifts to the bride 
shortly after the betrothal. Then the groom was entertained 
with a second betrothal feast by the bride's father. 177 

The betrothal continued to be a binding contract which 
only a formal divorce could dissolve. This was the practice 
among the Jews of Palestine and Babylonia. But among the 
Alexandrian Jews, apparently under the Greco-Egyptian in- 
fluence, a betrothed woman was not regarded as married. The 
declaration of betrothal in Alexandria was conditional: "Be 
thou my wife when thou wilt go with me into the chupo." 
Betrothal among the Egyptian Jews could be dissolved with- 
out divorce/ 78 


In regard to the interval between the betrothal and the wed- 
ding, there was a variation in local custom even in Palestine. 
In Galilee, bride and groom were kept strictly apart. In south- 
ern Palestine, Judea proper, the groom was permitted to visit 
the bride at the home of her father during the time between 
the betrothal and the wedding. 179 

The Wedding ... As in Biblical times so also in the period 
with which we are now concerned, the wedding consisted of 
escorting the betrothed to the home of the husband. We know 
more about the wedding and wedding customs in this period 
than in the preceding era, but the customs practiced in this 
later era were not entirely new. Some of them dated back to 
Biblical days. 

The maiden was allowed a year's time to prepare her trous- 
seau for the wedding. A widow was allowed only thirty days. 
Girls were usually married on Wednesday, and widows on 
Thursday. With the exception of the Sabbath, festivals and 
fast days, other days of the week were not ruled out. 180 

On the Sabbath preceding the wedding, festivities took place 
at the home of the bride's father. This was called "the first 
Sabbath of the wedding." 181 

Participation in the celebration of the wedding and con- 
tributing in any way to the joy of the bride and groom was 
regarded as a mitsvo (a religious act). It was a mitsvo to take 
part in the wedding procession and also, if the bride was poor, 
to provide her with festive raiment and adornment. 182 

The bride was seated in a beautifully decorated chair while 
her female friends or older relatives helped dress her. They 
washed her, heavily perfumed her and sumptuously adorned 
her with twenty-four ornaments. Her hair was braided and 
garlanded. The bride and the groom both wore crowns before 
the disastrous days of the Jewish wars against Rome, when this 
practice was abolished. 183 However, only the crown of the 
groom was definitely abolished. The garland of the bride was 
resumed in the Middle Ages and is still in vogue today. 


Before the bride left her parents 7 home, a feast was arranged 
for the guests. When it was over, the father bestowed his 
blessing upon the bride, and the bridal procession set forth 
into the streets of the town. 

The bride sat in a litter carried by the most eminent of the 
guests. The townspeople fell in at the end of the procession. 
Even elderly men and women followed the sound of the drum. 
They were prompted by curiosity as well as by the desire to 
attain the great religious merit of participating in the joy of 
a wedding. Even distinguished rabbis interrupted their dis- 
courses on the Torah, and, with their pupils, joined the wed- 
ding procession. 

While the bride was being prepared for the great event, the 
groom was attended by his friends, especially his most intimate 
friend and best man. His friends prepared the chupo. This was 
a pavilion hung with precious tapestries in the house of the 
groom or his father. These hangings were usually of white 
linen, embroidered in gold and purple. Fruits and sweetmeats 
were suspended from the chupo. In some localities the chupo 
was constructed from the lumber of trees which had been 
planted at the birth of the bride and groom (p. 21). 

The groom, in festive array, accompanied by his friends, 
went to meet the bride. His most intimate friend, carrying a 
myrtle branch, played the chief role. They were met by ten 
maidens, friends of the bride, who carried torches or lamps. 
The maidens marching ahead of the bridegroom introduced 
him to the bridal party. 

Joined by the groom and his retinue, the throng moved on, 
singing and dancing, shouting and clapping, playing harps, 
flutes and zithers, and beating timbrels. Wine and aromatic oil 
emitting sweet odors flowed in profusion from large vessels. 
In honor of the bride and groom a cask of wine was carried be- 
fore them. In some places a cock and a hen were carried as a 
symbol of fertility. Nuts, parched corn, and other sweetmeats 
were scattered in their path. 184 

Even high dignitaries, myrtle branch in hand, danced and 


sang in honor of the bride, praising her. In the Talmud, a 
fragment of a wedding song is preserved, "No paint, no pow- 
der, no beautification and yet a graceful gazelle." 

But not all who participated in the procession sang the 
praise of the bride. Sometimes ridicule and jeers were directed 
at the pair. For instance, if the groom happened to be hand- 
some and the bride ugly, scoffers derided him, saying: "This 
nice young man is ruined by this basket" (the litter in which 
the bride was carried), and vice versa. 185 

The joyous throng continued the merrymaking until it 
reached the house of the groom or his father. The gaiety was 
then transferred from the street to the house, reaching its 
highest point at the wedding feast. The house was illumined 
by countless oil lamps. At the head of the room sat the groom. 
Food and wine were served lavishly. Songs were sung and 
merry tales and fables were told. Some even made ribald jokes 
about the bride and the chupo. This was sternly condemned 
by the religious leaders. In the first half of the second century 
(C.E.), religious leaders protested vehemently against singing 
the odes of the Song of Songs at wedding feasts, 186 and in time 
this custom was discarded. By that time the Song of Songs 
was included among the Sacred Writings and was not inter- 
preted literally but allegorically, as a dialogue between God 
and Israel (see p. 132). 

Notwithstanding the wine and the jests, the wedding feast 
now assumed a religious character. A special wedding bene- 
diction, still in use today, was recited over a cup of wine, ex- 
pressing a lofty religious view of the institution of marriage 
and the joy of the wedding. If learned men were present, dis- 
courses on the Torah were given. Religious merit was attached 
to the participation in a wedding feast. In Jerusalem there was 
a special brotherhood for the purpose of attending betrothal 
and wedding feasts, just as there was a special brotherhood to 
attend circumcision feasts (see p. 26 and p. 240). 

The banquet lasted until past midnight. As in ancient Bibli- 
cal times, the merriment continued for seven days. On each 


day the wedding benediction was repeated for new visitors 
who had not previously attended the wedding festivities. On 
the Sabbath it was repeated even without visitors; the Sabbath 
and holidays were regarded as visitors. If the bride was a 
widow, the merriment lasted only three days; sometimes only 
one day. 

As a counterpart of the feast on the Sabbath preceding the 
wedding, a post-wedding feast took place on the Sabbath fol- 
lowing the wedding, "the second Sabbath of the wedding." 18T 


In the Middle Ages 

So far the history of Jewish marriage has been traced through 
ancient times, from Biblical days to the early centuries of the 
Common Era. Within that time the Jewish marriage institution 
passed through various changes in regard to human relations 
as well as outward form. Notwithstanding those modifications, 
the procedure and celebration of marriage remained essentially 
the same throughout the epoch. Later, in post-Talmudic times 
and in the Middle Ages, the ancient betrothal and chupo gave 
way to a new mode of marriage celebration. 

Matches and Matchmakers ... In the Middle Ages, the sexes 
were kept strictly apart, and romance was almost unknown. 
The time for love between husbands and wives was after mar- 
riage. Before marriage the couple hardly knew one another. 
Jewish religious authorities prided themselves on the modesty 
and obedience of Jewish daughters, who, even after twenty, 
relied entirely upon their fathers to arrange a match for them, 
and in no way interfered or expressed themselves upon the 

If occasionally a girl expressed herself, she was considered 
bold and arrogant. Parents therefore had no scruples in select- 
ing a mate for their daughter while she was still under age. 
The marriage of minors, especially of minor girls, was wide- 
spread among the Jews in the Middle Ages, in spite of the 
Talmudic prohibition (see p. 148). The reasons were mainly 
economic and political. A religious authority of the age of the 
crusaders said explicitly: "The custom that now prevails of 
marrying off our daughters when they are still minors is a 



result of the persecutions which increase daily, for though 
today a man may be able to afford a dowry for his daughter, 
he may by tomorrow be unable to give her anything, and she 
might consequently remain unmarried." 18S 

Dowries for daughters were a matter of course. A man 
seldom married even a cousin "by the hair of her head," the 
current expression for marrying a woman without a dowry. 
However, in arranging a match, the amount of the dowry was 
less essential than the genealogical record and the social posi- 
tion of the family. In the Middle Ages, as in Talmudic times, 
stress was laid not only upon the conduct and moral qualities 
of the bride, but also upon those of her brothers. 

Since boys and girls had no opportunity to meet and become 
acquainted with one another, and matches were arranged en- 
tirely by the respective fathers, the matchmaker naturally 
played a significant role in effecting a marriage. We met the 
matchmaker in the Talmudic era. We cannot ascertain 
whether matchmaking was then a vocation or merely an act 
of kindness on the part of some friend or relative. In the Mid- 
dle Ages, matchmaking became a well-paid profession, and 
Jewish law fully recognized the matchmaker and the remu- 
neration which he received for his service. The amount paid 
to the shadcbon (the Talmudic term used for the matchmaker) 
varied in different localities from one to three per cent of the 
dowry. There was also a difference in various localities in re- 
gard to the time when the shadchon was to be paid. In some 
localities he was paid after the wedding; in others, he received 
his compensation soon after the match was arranged. 189 

The shadchon was, as a rule, a very dignified person, held in 
high esteem. Even renowned rabbis occupied themselves with 
matchmaking. The most famous was Maharil, the great rabbi 
and head of the y'shivo in Mayence in the first half of the 
fifteenth century, to whom we have already referred in an 
earlier chapter (see p. 40). Although Maharil was the rabbi 
of Mayence, he made a living from matchmaking. He gave 
the money derived from his congregational services for the 


support of the students in the y'shivo. Maharil was not the 
only rabbi engaged in matchmaking; rabbis apparently were 
best fitted for this occupation. In the Middle Ages, parents 
sought a gifted y'shivo student for their daughter, and no one 
was better able to make the right selection than a great rabbi 
of a Talmudic academy. 

Not all matchmakers were as conscientious as the famous 
Maharil. Many of them were unscrupulous persons who did 
not hesitate to use dubious tactics and gross exaggerations. 

There are numerous stories, proverbs, anecdotes, and jokes 
in Jewish folklore about this degraded type of shadchon, who 
resorted to any available means to attain his ends. He has been 
the perennial target of Jewish jesters and humorists. 

The Decline of the Betrothal . . . We have already noticed 
in the history of Jewish marriage a continuous breaking away 
from the outward forms of purchase. This entailed a gradual 
diminution in the importance of betrothal. In later Talmudic 
times the betrothed woman was no longer regarded as actually 
married. She belonged to the household of her father. The 
writing of the final terms of the k'subo was accordingly shifted 
from the betrothal to the wedding. 190 

The betrothal was thus on the decline at the beginning of 
the Middle Ages. However, as in the case of many social and 
religious institutions and practices which persisted long after 
they had lost their original significance, the betrothal celebra- 
tion might have continued had it not been gradually absorbed 
by the wedding. Both ceremonies were ultimately united in 
one celebration to comprise the new, transformed wedding 
ceremony that emerged in the later Middle Ages. 

There were many reasons for the breakdown of the inde- 
pendent betrothal ceremony. Based originally on the concep- 
tion of marriage as a purchase, the betrothal became outdated 
and antiquated in the Middle Ages. Besides, for the poorer 
classes two separate celebrations and feasts were too costly. It 
was embarrassing, too, to keep the couple apart after they were 


nearly married. Then too, in times of persecutions, especially 
if the bride and the groom came from different localities, the 
betrothal of a daughter who might be unable to join her hus- 
band was too precarious. 

In about the eleventh and twelfth centuries there was a 
period of transition when the betrothal and the wedding were 
performed on the same day, with an intermission of a few 
hours the betrothal in the morning and the wedding toward 
evening. But this arrangement was burdensome, because the 
feasting lasted the whole day and was quite a financial burden 
on the bridegroom and his family. Finally, in the following 
centuries, the betrothal and wedding were performed simul- 
taneously as a single event. 191 

The Marriage Ring ... In the same period which saw the 
collapse of the betrothal, the ring, as a new symbol in the mar- 
riage ceremonial, appeared. As far back as the seventh or 
eighth centuries, among the Jews of the Orient, the ring began 
to supersede the coin as a symbol of marriage. Apparently the 
custom of using a ring spread westward. In about the twelfth 
century, among the Franco-German Jews, the betrothal ring 
contained no precious stone. In the following centuries, the 
coin was finally dislodged, its place definitely taken by the 
ring which became the symbol of conjugal love and fidelity. 192 
When the use of the coin was abandoned, the last vestige of 
the outward forms of purchase disappeared from Jewish mar- 

To the Synagogue ... In Talmudic times, marriage had al- 
ready assumed a religious character. Nevertheless, it was still 
exclusively a ceremony performed in the home, not in the 
synagogue. True, the betrothal and wedding feasts were both 
marked by special benedictions, recited in the presence of a 
religious quorum of ten; but these were recited at the home of 
the bridegroom or his parents. Only in post-Talmudic times, 
in the eighth or ninth centuries, did the wedding celebration 


become a community affair associated with the life of the 
synagogue. Then the entire congregation shared the joy of 
the bridegroom, paying its respects to him at the synagogue 

On the Sabbath following the wedding, the newly married 
man was honored by the congregation. In the morning the 
groom was escorted to the synagogue by a solemn procession. 
Religious hymns were sung. The services on this Sabbath were 
amplified by special piyutim (liturgical poems added to the 
regular prayers for festivals and outstanding Sabbaths). When 
the week's portion of the Pentateuch was read, the precentor, 
chanting Hebrew hymns, called the groom to witness the 
reading of the Torah and to recite the benedictions over it. 
A special portion of the Pentateuch, the story of the wooing 
of Rebekah, was chanted in his honor. The cantor also chanted 
on this Sabbath a special Haftoro (Isaiah 61:5, which con- 
tains allusions to the festive bridal attire and the rejoicing of 
the bridegroom and the bride) . This custom of reading a spe- 
cial portion of the Pentateuch and a special Haftoro in honor 
of the bridegroom was discontinued by European Jewry, al- 
though the custom still prevails among Oriental Jews. 

The actual marriage ceremony, however, was still performed 
at home. The rabbi did not officiate at the ceremony, and the 
Benedictions were recited or chanted by several people, each 
benediction by another man. Not until the beginning of the 
.fifteenth century do we first hear of a marriage ceremony 
performed by a rabbi in the synagogue. 193 

By that time the marriage ceremony had been entirely trans- 
formed. The betrothal, the wedding, and the chupo were 
united into one ceremony. 

The Transformation of the Chupo . . . Not only did the an- 
cient form of betrothal disappear in the Middle Ages, but 
likewise the chupo, as a bridal chamber. In the later Middle 
Ages, the ancient custom of leading the bride into a chamber 
or tent, where she remained in strict privacy with the groom, 


became repugnant to the European Jews. Besides, among the 
Jews in Western lands it was the groom who went from his 
father's house to the house of the bride's father. The old wed- 
ding procession at the conclusion of which the bride entered 
the chupo thus became devoid of meaning, for entering the 
chupo had signified that the bride passed from her father's 
house to that of her husband, whereas now in actual life, the 
groom went from his father's house to the home of his father- 

However, the chupo idea did not entirely pass out of exist- 
ence. Many symbolical substitutes for the ancient bridal cham- 
ber arose. In one region, the veil with which the bride covered 
her face when she left her father's house was called chupo. In 
another, both the heads of the groom and the bride were cov- 
ered by one kerchief which was called chupo. In Germany, 
the name chupo was applied to the custom of wrapping the 
bride and groom in a tails (prayer-shawl). 

Even as late as the sixteenth century, religious authorities 
could not determine the signification of chupo. Among the 
Jews of the Orient, chupo still signified the strict privacy into 
which the couple was inducted immediately after the marriage 
ceremony. In Poland, which was the main center of Jewish 
life and learning in that period, as well as in the West European 
countries, various symbolic substitutes for the original chupo 
were used among Jews. The most popular symbolic substitute 
was the portable canopy. The canopy was a combination of 
a curtain, spread over the heads of the bride and groom, and 
a tent. This symbolic chupo was almost universally accepted 
by the European Jews. We hear of communities in Ger- 
many in the ifth century, where, early on Friday morning, 
the bridal pair were seated under a canopy in the courtyard of 
the synagogue. This ceremony will be described later. At a 
somewhat later date the b'rocho (benediction), as the mar- 
riage ceremony was then called, took place inside the syna- 
gogue, without a canopy. 

In Poland, in the 1 6th century, the marriage ceremony was 


performed under a canopy, and this latter form of the chupo 
became universal. The bride and groom were led not into the 
chupo, as in the olden times, but under the chupo. With great 
pomp, with lighted torches and music, the groom, followed 
by the bride, was led under the canopy which was placed in- 
side the synagogue, or outside at the entrance. There the 
groom betrothed the bride with a ring, and the benedictions 
over the betrothal and the wedding were chanted solemnly by 
the rabbi of the community in the presence of the guests who 
had gathered to witness the ceremony. 194 

Thus at the threshold of modern times, the entire character 
of the Jewish wedding was changed. The wedding was now 
characterized by a procession which led the bride and groom 
into the synagogue instead of into the bridal chamber. 

Synagogue and Courtyard . . . Originally the marriage cere- 
mony was transferred to the synagogue. It was performed 
within the edifice, and there the canopy was erected. In order 
to secure better accommodations for a large company, some 
people preferred to have the ceremony in the courtyard, in 
front of the entrance to the synagogue. In the sixteenth cen- 
tury, Jews in Poland were still divided on that subject. Some 
were in favor of the synagogue, and others in favor of the 
courtyard. Ultimately the courtyard became more popular 
through a new symbolic interpretation of the chupo under 
the open sky. A marriage ceremony performed in the open 
air, under the shining stars, was a good omen that the progeny 
of the couple would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. 105 
In the course of time, performing the marriage ceremony at 
the entrance of the courtyard of the synagogue became the 
accepted practice, and when, in the nineteenth century, Re- 
form Jews shifted the marriage ceremony back to the syna- 
gogue, they were opposed by Orthodox Jewry. In America, 
where synagogues seldom have spacious courtyards, Orthodox 
Jews tacitly acquiesced in this innovation and even more 
sweeping innovations. Often the marriage ceremony does not 


take place even in a synagogue, but at the private residence of 
the rabbi or at a hall where the dance and the feast are held. 

The Knas Mahl ... In the same manner in which the ancient 
chupo had been superseded by the canopy, the betrothal cere- 
mony of the Middle Ages was superseded by a new kind of 
engagement which the Jews in Germany called knas mahl. 
Knas is a Hebrew-Talmudic word meaning penalty; mahl, a 
German word meaning meal or feast. The German Jews com- 
pounded a hybrid name for the engagement party, calling it 
knas mahl, penalty meal; i.e., a feast at which the penalty to be 
paid by the person who broke the engagement was stipulated. 
At this feast all the conditions of the match were set down in 
a written contract. 

The knas mahl was provided by the groom and marked by 
much feasting and merrymaking. As an outstanding feature 
of the celebration a piece of crockery was dashed to the 
ground and broken, as a reminder of the destruction of Jeru- 
salem. It was customary for the guests to take the fragments 
of the broken dish with them. 

As in Biblical and Talmudic times between the betrothal 
and the wedding, so also in the Middle Ages between the 
knas mahl and the wedding, the groom was not supposed to 
visit his bride, nor even to see her. The origin of this custom 
had long been forgotten. The motive for it had been the pro- 
motion of chastity. Occasionally, ordinances were issued by 
rabbinical synods against laxity in this custom. We are unable 
to tell how strictly these customs and ordinances were adhered 
to in actual life. 196 

Wedding Preliminaries . . . The favorite day for weddings 
was Friday for a maiden, and Thursday for a widow. In some 
small communities, Wednesday was the wedding day for girls 
as in Talmudic times, because the out-of-town guests who 
attended the wedding needed several days in which to travel 
home before the Sabbath. In larger communities, accommoda- 


dons were provided for out-of-town guests, and they could 
remain for the Sabbath. The larger communities had a com- 
munal guest house, and a communal dance hall for weddings. 
The wedding celebration began on Friday and lasted until 
Sunday morning. By means of this arrangement the expense 
of an extra celebration on the Sabbath following the wedding 
was saved. 

Only the actual wedding began on Friday. The prelimi- 
naries began on the Sabbath preceding the wedding. As far 
back as in the first centuries of the Common Era, this Sabbath 
was marked by festivities (see p. 154). Among the German 
Jews this celebration was called Spinhob, a medieval Ger- 
man term, the meaning of which cannot be ascertained. The 
usual explanation is that "Spinholz" refers to the distaff of the 
spinner, an important article in the trousseau of every German 
bride in the Middle Ages. We would then have to assume that 
among the German Jews the Sabbath before the wedding was 
the day when the bride received the spinner's distaff as a gift. 
But this is merely a theory. In earlier times, the two preceding 
Sabbaths were celebrated, the first called "Little Spinholz" 
and the second "Great Spinholz." Later the "Little Spinholz" 
was discarded and only the Sabbath immediately preceding 
the wedding was marked by a celebration. 197 

On the Thursday before the wedding the bride received 
presents from the groom. These were not brought by the 
groom, but by the rabbi or some other dignified member of 
the community, who gave them to the bride in the name of 
the groom. The presentation of the gifts was accompanied by 
the following words: "Listen to me, pretty bride. Through me 
your groom is sending you these presents, but you should re- 
gard them as your property only after the chupo." As be- 
trothal could legally be effected by proxy, this stipulation was 
necessary in order that the presentation of the gift should not 
constitute a legal betrothal the day before the wedding. 

At that moment, the bashful bride, too shy to accept the 
presents with her own hands, usually asked one of her female 


relatives to receive them for her. The gifts consisted, as a rule, 
of a girdle inlaid with gold, a veil, and similar articles. Usually, 
the bride gave the groom a ring and shoes, to which the bride's 
mother added a girdle inlaid with silver. Since clothing in the 
Middle Ages was without buttons, the girdle was an indis- 
pensable article and among persons of distinction it was made 
of the costliest material, sometimes even wrought with gold 
and adorned with gems. 

At every wedding, music was provided by Jewish musicians 
called klezmer or klezmorim. Klezmer is a distortion of the 
two Hebrew words klei zemer meaning musical instruments. 
In the course of time, klezmer became the name for those who 
played the musical instruments. It was, and still is, used both 
in the singular and in the plural. The special plural form, 
klezmorim, was more frequently used. As Jewish law forbade 
the playing of musical instruments on the Sabbath, it was cus- 
tomary among the German Jews to engage Christian musicians 
to play on the day after the marriage ceremony. Engaging a 
non-Jew to work on Saturday was not considered a violation 
of the Sabbath rest, for, although it was forbidden by the 
rabbis as a minor transgression, it was permitted in cases of 
emergency. Among the German Jews, instrumental music was 
indispensable to the celebration of a wedding and to the ob- 
servance of the religious precept the mitsvo of gladdening 
the bridegroom and the bride. Therefore, German rabbis re- 
laxed the rigidness of the Sabbath rest and permitted non- 
Jewish musicians to be engaged for the Sabbath following the 
wedding ceremony. In the Orient, however, conditions were 
entirely different. The Oriental Jews did not consider instru- 
mental music indispensable to the joy of a wedding. The rabbis 
objected to and actually suppressed the practice of engaging 
non-Jewish musicians on the Sabbath. The Jews of the Orient 
satisfied themselves with vocal music on the Sabbath following 
the wedding. 198 

In the later Middle Ages, the professional jester and merry- 
maker performed with the klezmorim. As far back as the thir- 


teenth and fourteenth centuries, the professional jester was 
mentioned by his Hebrew name, letson (scoffer, jester). Later, 
he was called marshalik (from a German word for a buffoon 
or droll fellow at a feast), or badchon (a Hebrew-Yiddish 
name for a public merrymaker and entertainer) . The badchon 
was a folk-poet and a preacher, a jester and an exhorter, a 
singer and an improvisator, as well as a rhymster and a learned 
man. A badchon had to have learning because his jests and 
witticisms were based upon and interwoven with verses from 
the Bible and passages from the Talmud. Weddings were not 
the only occasion on which the badchon entertained the pub- 
lic, for he was employed also on other occasions. There were 
some great rabbis who sternly frowned upon the unrestrained 
drolleries of the badchon, believing them incompatible with 
religious life. But the antagonism of these rabbis was of no 
avail, and, until recent times, the popularity of the badchon 
persisted in Eastern Europe. 

In the midst of the tumultuous joy and of the hustle and 
bustle of the wedding, many tricks were played upon the 
groom and his friends by the practical jokers of the town. 
The ordinary procedure was for the bridegroom to bribe the 
wild lads not to play these pranks. In order to keep the sum 
demanded by the mischief makers within limits, the rabbis de- 
creed that it should not exceed six florin. 199 

Cutting the Bride's Hair . . * Throughout the Middle Ages 
and until very recent times, Jewish women cut off their hair 
immediately before they were married, and thenceforward 
always wore a covering on their heads. 

In Biblical times, this custom did not prevail among Jews. 
But at the beginning of the Common Era, Jewish married 
women covered their hair when they went out into the streets. 
It was considered unchaste for a married woman to go out 
bareheaded, as did girls. Some extremely pious and chaste 
women never showed their hair even within the four walls of 
their homes. Later, under the influence of the Greco- Roman 


world, this practice spread among the Jews and became the 
universal rule among Jewish women. Among the Greeks and 
the Romans, elderly women wore caps on their heads, and 
some cut off their hair. Boys and girls too cut off theii hair 
just before they were married, and offered their tresses as a 
sacrifice to the gods. This Greco-Roman custom suited the 
modest, chaste character of Jewish women, and was univer- 
sally adopted by them as a rigid rule. 200 

In the sixteenth century, the wig, for both men and women, 
was introduced among the Christian peoples of Europe. Soon 
the Jewish women, too, adopted the fashion of wearing a wig. 
But the rabbis could not agree upon the propriety of this cus- 
tom. Some of them protested against women wearing wigs 
which resembled their own hair. Other more liberal rabbis 
claimed that the rule did not apply, as long as the hair was 
false. Notwithstanding their protests, the wig became popular 
among Jewish women. Only the ultra-conservative women 
rejected the innovation, clinging tenaciously to the hair-cap 
or the kerchief on top of the head. 

One or two generations ago in Eastern Europe, cutting off 
the bride's hair was a feature of the wedding. But this custom 
was discarded. At present, even among Orthodox Jews, mar- 
ried women do not observe any more the custom of cutting off 
their hair and wearing wigs. 

The K'subo ... In the foregoing chapters we have followed 
the origin of the k'subo, through its development in Talmudic 
times. We shall now consider the k'subo in post-Talmudic 

The wording of the k'subo was not fixed, but varied in the 
periods of Jewish history, not only in the various lands where 
Jews lived, but also among the different sections and groups 
into which Jews were divided. 

For instance, the k'subo had been consistently written in 
Aramaic, but there were even some exceptions to that. The 
Samaritans and Karaites wrote it in Hebrew. The S'fardim 


never recognized the validity of the ban of Rabbenu Gershom 
against polygamy as strictly as did the Ashk'nazim. Even in 
our own day, they insert a special clause in the k'subo, stating 
that the future husband cannot marry a second wife without 
the first wife's permission. The k'subo of the S'fardim also 
contains a clause in which the future husband cannot sell or 
give as a pledge any of his wife's possessions, nor can he make 
a journey beyond certain specified limits, nor any voyage by 
water unless, before starting out, he gives his wife a condi- 
tional get (bill of divorcement) and sufficient means for her 

There were other special clauses consistent with the time 
and the place. In a recently discovered k'subo of the eleventh 
century, the bridegroom, a Jew, pledged his bride, the daugh- 
ter of a Karaite, that he would not compel her to have a light 
in the house on Friday night, a practice which the laws of the 
Karaites forbade. The bride, on the other hand, pledged ob- 
servance of the festivals with him according to the calendar 
of the Rabbanite Jews, without profaning her own Karaite 
holidays. 201 

Tithes of the Dowry . . . One additional custom of bygone 
days should be mentioned, that of giving a tenth part of the 
dowry to charity, which was an obligation that was enforced. 
At the end of the eighteenth century, this laudable custom still 
prevailed in some communities, but it has since been discon- 
tinued. 202 

A Wedding in Mayence ... In a previous chapter we wit- 
nessed the ceremonials of a b'ris and a pidyon ha-ben in May- 
ence in the fifteenth century. It was the famous rabbi of May- 
ence, Maharil, who officiated as sandek at the b'ris and who 
also conducted the ceremonial of the pidyon ha-ben (see pp. 
41, 49) . We are going now to witness the ceremonial of a wed- 
ding in Mayence at which this same great rabbi officiated. 
The wedding we shall witness differs in many respects from 


the well-known traditional Jewish wedding of later times. To 
begin with, the marriage ceremony takes place in the early 
morning, and is not performed in the courtyard of the syna- 
gogue, but on the central platform in the interior of the build- 
ing. Nor is the marriage ceremony performed under a canopy. 
But instead of checking on all the differences, let us carefully 
watch the entire procedure of the marriage ceremonial at 

After the preliminaries on the preceding day, the actual 
wedding celebration begins on Friday morning. At dawn, 
when the beadle of the community, in his daily round from 
house to house, knocks on the doors with his wooden mallet 
to awaken the people for morning services, he invites them to 
the wedding celebration. The entire community gathers to 
witness the wedding and share in the joy of the occasion, 

Maharil and a few notables of the community go to the 
home of the bridegroom to bring him to the courtyard of 
the synagogue. The bridegroom leads the way, followed by 
Maharil and the notables. The musicians, playing their instru- 
ments, and a large group of the townsfolk, carrying lighted 
torches, follow. After the bridegroom is escorted into the 
courtyard, the crowd and the musicians go to the home of 
the bride to escort her and her retinue to the wedding. As soon 
as the bride arrives at the entrance of the courtyard of the 
synagogue, Maharil and the group of notables bring the bride- 
groom forward to meet and greet her. He and his bride stand 
with hands clasped, while the assembled guests toss grains of 
wheat over their heads, three times pronouncing the Biblical 
blessing, "Be fruitful and multiply!" Coins for the poor to 
pick up are mixed with the grains of wheat. The couple then 
walk together as far as the door of the synagogue where they 
remain seated for a time. Then the bride is taken back to her 
home, where she places a sargonas, a white shroud, over her 
attire, and covers her face with a veil. The white shroud is a 
reminder of the burial shroud, and serves the purpose of re- 
straining the bride from being over-joyous. Instead of the 


usual cloak, she places over the white shroud the wide mantle 
with tight sleeves which married women wear on festive occa- 
sions. The mantle has a fur lining and is lavishly embroidered 
in silk. Meanwhile the bridegroom is led into a room in the 
synagogue building where he dons Sabbath clothes over which 
he throws a cowled cape, the cowl covering his head. This 
hood is worn by both Jews and non-Jews on various solemn 

The bridegroom is now seated by the Holy Ark, in the 
northeast side of the synagogue, and the congregation is chant- 
ing the morning prayers, omitting the penitential prayer, for 
this is a joyous occasion. While this is taking place in the syna- 
gogue, the friends of the bride are busy with her at her home, 
braiding her hair and presenting her with rings as gifts. 

The morning services are over, and soon the marriage cere- 
mony begins. The synagogue is crowded. All relatives and 
friends of the bride and groom wear their Sabbath attire. 
Maharil, who officiates at the wedding, wears his Sabbath 
clothes; but his talis is the one which he wears on week-days. 
Only at the wedding of his own daughter did he don his Sab- 
bath talis. 

Now to the strains of music the bride is conducted from her 
home to the door of the synagogue. She pauses while Maharil 
leads the bridegroom to the platform in the center of the syna- 
gogue. There, lifting the cowl, Maharil strews ashes on the 
head of the groom, in the place where the phylacteries are 
laid. This is in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem. Then 
Maharil, followed by the notables of the community, proceeds 
to the door to receive the bride. The rabbi, taking her by her 
robe, leads her to a place at the right of the groom because it 
says in the Psalms, "At thy right hand doth stand the queen" 
(Ps. 45: i o). The bridal pair stand with their faces turned to- 
ward the south. Their mothers stand on the platform near the 
bride. The corner of the bridegroom's cowl is stretched over 
the head of the bride as a chupo. At the wedding of his own 
daughter, Maharil took the end of her veil and threw it over 


the couple as a chupo. Maharil claimed that using the veil as a 
chupo was the older custom. 

Two wine glasses are held in readiness, one for the benedic- 
tion of the betrothal and the other for the benediction of the 
wedding. The two glasses differ in shape, depending upon 
whether the bride is a maiden or a widow. At the wedding of 
a widow or a widower, the marriage ceremony takes place on 
Thursday, not inside of the synagogue, but in the courtyard 
at its entrance. 

After Maharil chants the benediction of the betrothal, he 
calls forward two witnesses, showing them the marriage ring 
and asking: "You see this ring; do you think it has some 
value?" They answer in the affirmative. He then bids the wit- 
nesses to listen closely to see whether the bridegroom recites 
the correct formula for betrothing the bride. The groom 
places the ring on the forefinger of the right hand of the 
bride. Maharil calls two additional witnesses to testify to the 
k'subo and to the marriage stipulations drawn up at the knas 
mahl. He does not read the k'subo and the stipulations pub- 
licly, only assuring himself that the witnesses give it proper 

Maharil, his face turned to the east, chants the wedding 
benedictions. Then he holds the glass of wine, first to the lips 
of the groom and then to those of the bride. After they have 
each sipped the wine, he gives the glass to the bridegroom 
who turns northward and then dashes the glass against the 
wall, shattering it. Immediately, the bridegroom is rushed 
home by his companions who hilariously escort him to the 
house of the wedding, trying to arrive before the bride. 

After arriving there, the married couple eat an egg and a 
hen. In former times it was customary for them to eat in a 
separate room with only one person, a female relative, in at- 
tendance; and only after a while did the joyous relatives and 
guests enter the room. Our historical record informs us that 
this custom has been forgotten and that all immediately flock 
into the room where the couple partake of their repast. 


Maharil always insisted upon music at every wedding. On 
Friday night following the wedding ceremony the bridal pair 
did not go to the synagogue. Instead, the younger men gath- 
ered at the home of the couple for the evening services. 

On the following Sabbath morning, the services at the syna- 
gogue had special features in honor of the bridegroom, as was 
already previously described (p. i62). 203 

A Wedding in Worms . . . The historical record of the wed- 
ding in Mayence just given is limited in its scope. Intent on 
describing religious ceremonies and ritual, the author gives 
minute and tiresome details of the wedding ceremony only, 
paying little attention to the joy and hilarity, the hustle and 
bustle before and after the wedding ceremony. In this respect 
we are fortunate to have a good complement in the historical 
record, describing a wedding in the ghetto of Worms in the 
seventeenth century. In the description which follows we have 
a vivid picture of life in a German ghetto three hundred years 

Worms is very near to Mayence. Yet, in many respects the 
Jews of Worms differed in their customs from the Jews of 
Mayence. They had age-old customs of their own and con- 
sistently observed them. 

In Worms, even as late as the seventeenth century, the mar- 
riage ceremony, performed by the rabbi of the community, 
did not take place in the synagogue, but in the communal 
dancing house. A wedding was not merely a family affair. 
The whole town was astir with it. The day for weddings was 
Wednesday. It was only in unusual cases that a wedding was 
performed on Friday. 

The wedding festivities covered a period of ten days, be- 
ginning a week before, and ending three days after the wed- 
ding day. During these joyous days many festive meals were 
served by the bride and the groom, and the communal dancing 
hall resounded with music, dancing, and singing. A favorite 
song was Yigdal, the hymn of the morning services which 


elaborates poetically in thirteen verses the thirteen articles of 
the Jewish faith laid down by Maimonides. 

There were many wedding festivities but few clocks in 
those days. Besides, what clocks there were, were very in- 
accurate and unreliable. So someone had to announce to the 
people that the time had arrived for this or that ceremony or 
festivity. This task fell to the beadle of the synagogue. 

A week before the wedding, the bride invited all her friends 
for a meal. "Soup-meal," it was called. From that day on until 
the wedding the bride did not leave the house. 

The Sabbath preceding the wedding, called Spinholz by the 
German Jews (see p. 166), was a great day in Worms. On the 
Friday night preceding that Sabbath, the bridegroom in his 
best clothes attended the evening services in the synagogue, 
where special honor was paid to him. The chazan sang certain 
liturgical poems with a special tune called "Spinholz melody." 
After the evening meal, the beadle strode through the streets 
of the ghetto, calling aloud, "Zu der Spinholz! " (to the Spin- 
holz celebration), and relatives and friends soon gathered, first 
in the house of the groom and afterward in the house of the 
bride. The next morning, the bridegroom was again the hero 
of the day at the services in the synagogue and the friends of 
the bride and groom again gathered in their respective houses 
for refreshments. After the midday meal, the beadle again 
went through the streets calling, "Zu der Spinholz!" The 
bride and the groom, in separate processions, were then led 
to the dancing house where the afternoon hours were spent 
in dancing, singing and merrymaking. But soon the hour of 
Mincho arrived and all left the dancing hall, the bridegroom 
going to the synagogue to attend the afternoon services. After 
Mincho, the voice of the beadle was again heard in the streets 
calling, "Zu der Spinholz!" But now only boys and girls went 
back to the dance house. 

On the following Monday a special meal was served for 
relatives only. On Tuesday, the bride and groom each sepa- 
rately invited their friends to a dairy dinner. The eve of the 


wedding was dedicated to the delivery by the rabbi of the 
mutual gifts of the bride and the groom to one another, a 
ceremony already described (see p. 1 66) . The gifts were called 
by the Talmudic term sivlonos, and the festive meal served on 
this evening "sivlonos meal" 

On Wednesday, early in the morning, after unlocking the 
doors of the synagogue and the dancing house, the beadle 
unlike the beadle of Mayence who called the people to the 
wedding when he knocked on the doors with his wooden 
mallet to awaken them for morning services walked through 
the streets, calling loudly, "Zu der Maien!" (to the wedding 
celebration) . A large throng, led by musicians and torch bear- 
ers, escorted the bridegroom to the dancing house. The bride 
followed, to be met and greeted there by the bridegroom and 
his entourage. The main feature of this ceremony on the morn- 
ing of the wedding was the throwing of grains of wheat over 
the bride and groom and the calling out of the blessing, "Be 
fruitful and multiply!" In Mayence it was performed in the 
courtyard of the synagogue; in Worms in the dance house. 
From the dance house the bridegroom was escorted to the 
synagogue for the morning services. In an earlier chapter it 
was related that the synagogue of Worms was provided with 
a special door to carry in the child for the b'ris. It also had a 
special small side entrance for a bridegroom. But the latter was 
often saved the trouble of walking in. He was pushed in by 
the mischievous lads of the town. In the synagogue a special 
honorary place was reserved for him. On the book-rest in 
front of him twelve braided candles were kindled. 

After the services the crowd went back to the dance house. 
For dinner the young men were invited to the bridegroom's 
house and the girls to the house of the bride. After dinner both 
fathers went to the rabbi for the payment of the dowry. It was 
a precaution in case of any conflict between the two parties. 
The dowry was then sealed and deposited with the rabbi. 

Then the beadle again strode through the streets, calling 
aloud: "Di kalo flechten gehen!" (going to braid the bride's 


hair), and the notable women of the community, led by the 
rabbi's wife, thereupon went to the home of the bride. While 
the women braided her hair she held a large bowl in her lap 
into which relatives and friends threw gifts: silver rings, 
spoons, veils and also coins. These presents were called "Ein- 
wurf " (throwing in) . 

Now, again the loud voice of the beadle was heard in the 
streets calling, "Zu der b'rocho!" (to the benediction of the 
wedding). A large crowd gathered at the dance hall where 
the ceremony was to be performed. The chupo still consisted 
of a corner of the bridegroom's cowl which the rabbi pulled 
over the head of the bride, as in Mayence in the time of 

The high point of the wedding feast was the drosho, the 
discourse on Torah, delivered by the bridegroom. Jewish 
learning was apparently wide-spread in Worms in the seven- 
teenth century, as every groom was expected to deliver a 
drosho at his wedding. Before the drosho, a collection was 
made, the proceeds of which were given to the bridegroom to 
distribute among the poor. After the drosho, gifts were given 
to the bridegroom, usually rings. Then grace was recited and 
again there was dancing and singing. The bride and groom, 
exhausted with fasting and excitement, wanted to leave the 
wedding company. But they had to redeem themselves with 
"sugar" (sweet candy). It was only after they had distributed 
the candy that they were escorted home, to the music of Yig- 

But the wedding festivities were not yet over. The next 
day, Thursday evening, a festive meal was served for the rela- 
tives. On Friday evening a festive meal was served for the 
entire community. The next morning great honor was paid to 
the bridegroom at the services in the synagogue as has already 
previously been described (see p. 162). On this Sabbath fol- 
lowing the wedding, it was customary in Worms to send wine 
or brandy as a present to the bride and groom. On the de- 
parture of the Sabbath the newly married man himself had to 


recite the benediction of havdolo (the prayer over wine, mark- 
ing the distinction of the sacred day of the Sabbath from the 
profane days of the week). He then served a meal of fish. 
From the meal the gathering proceeded again to the dance 
house to dance and sing. With this the wedding festivities 
were officially ended. 20 * 

In Modern Times 

Getting Married in an East European Community . . . We 
shall now leave the German-Jewish communities of the later 
Middle Ages. Proceeding swiftly through the latter centuries 
of Jewish history to the last decades of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, we visit a Jewish community in Eastern Europe. 

The Age of Marriage . . . Old folks often tell quaint stories 
about bygone years when boys and girls still in their child- 
hood were married. Married couples, so the story went, played 
in the sand and indulged in childish games. In those days simul- 
taneous celebration of the bar mitsvo and the wedding was 
regarded as meritorious. 

All that is a thing of the past. During the period which we 
now describe, a girl was at least fifteen or sixteen years old, 
and a boy seventeen or eighteen when they married. A girl 
who was still unmarried at the age of twenty-five was con- 
sidered an old maid. Very few men or women remained single. 
For the poor and unattractive girl, no longer young, some eld- 
erly, pious women could always be found, who considered it 
their sacred duty to collect a fund for her dowry. Sooner or 
later they married her off to some ne'er-do-well or to an eld- 
erly widower who could not afford a younger or more beauti- 
ful wife. As long as she was married to someone, all was well. 

The Shadchon . . . Falling in love was considered an extraor- 
dinary and abnormal phenomenon, a sort of mental disease 
occurring once in a great while among the very wealthy or 
the very poor the only groups who dared to flout the con- 



ventions of social decency. As a rule, matches were arranged 
by parents with the tacit consent of the children. The shad- 
chon, therefore, was still an important figure in effecting a 
marriage. Sometimes a relative or friend of the family of the 
boy or the girl acted as the go-between. For the most part, the 
intermediary was a professional shadchon, paid for his en- 

There were very few matchmakers exclusively employed 
in arranging marriages. Usually the shadchon had some addi- 
tional vocation. A rabbi rarely occupied himself with match- 
making, but a m'lamed sometimes practiced it as a sort of 
side-line. Often the shadchon held some office in the syna- 
gogue. He may have been the sexton, the precentor, the reader 
from the Scroll of the Torah, etc. Now and then a woman was 
the go-between in arranging a match, although there were no 
women among the professional matchmakers. 

Matchmaking required a special aptitude. A professional 
shadchon had to have an air of importance and dignity in 
order to arouse confidence. He usually wore good clothes and 
carried a cane. He led up to the subject very cautiously and 
made every proposal in a tortuous and indirect manner. He 
was skilled in hiding and distorting facts, especially when the 
bride and groom were from two different localities. His most 
arduous task was to forestall slander by malicious foes of the 
family of the bride or the groom. A match could easily be 
ruined, and the shadchon was on guard from the very outset. 
"Even a cat can spoil a match," is a Yiddish saying. 

Sometimes two matchmakers arranged one match one for 
the family of the lad, and the other for the family of the girl. 
Each tried to outwit the other; both would exaggerate the 
qualities of the young people to their future in-laws. Occa- 
sionally, there was a whole group of shadchonirn who tried to 
arrange one match, particularly where a large dowry was in- 
volved. Everyone who in any way helped effect the match 
pretended to be a co-matchmaker in order to claim a share of 
the reward accruing to the shadchon. 


The amount of the dowry which the girl's parents expected 
to give their prospective son-in-law was one of the main points 
in negotiating a match. Next in importance was the kest, the 
pension which the girl's parents often obligated themselves to 
give to the couple after their marriage. When the groom was 
a good student of the Talmud, this was given for periods as 
long as one to ten, and sometimes even twenty-five years. 
There were even cases, though very rare ones, where a particu- 
larly brilliant student was given "eibige kest," a life pension. 
However, the dowry and the pension were not of paramount 
importance. As in Talmudic and medieval times, it was the 
pedigree, the social rank of the respective bride and groom 
that counted most. The age-old Jewish love and respect for 
learning still asserted itself. Families and descendants of famous 
rabbis were of the highest social rank. The very greatest dis- 
credit to a family was to have among its members, no matter 
how remote, an apostate from the Jewish faith. When a mem- 
ber of an impoverished family of high social rank was forced 
to take a mate from a family of low social standing, it was 
considered a great personal tragedy. 

Parents of a grown-up son, distinguished in the y'shivo, the 
Talmudic academy, were besieged by matchmakers. Parents 
of such a son refused even to bargain. They would not con- 
sider the girl unless her parents promised a dowry of a thou- 
sand kerblech (Yiddish slang for rubles) and ten years' pen- 
sion. The physical attributes of the bochur (youth, lad) 
evoked small consideration as long as he was a distinguished 
student of the Talmud. Nor was the physical appearance of 
the girl of great importance. The young lad had never looked 
closely at young women and no matter what the girl's appear- 
ance, she was a graceful and charming bride for him. Her 
moral qualities were what really counted. Ordinarily her edu- 
cation consisted of being able to read the siddur (Hebrew 
prayer book), to write a letter in Yiddish, and to calculate 
according to the fundamentals of arithmetic. It was also re- 
garded as advantageous if she could speak the language of the 


country, for if her groom was a student of the y'shivo, she 
would have to conduct some business in order to provide for 
the family, while he spent most of his time in the beis ha- 
midrosh (the house of study). 

If the bride and groom were from different localities, they 
were put to a test. The girl's father would send a Talmudic 
scholar to test the Talmudic knowledge of the bochur. The 
examiner had ready a number of difficult and intricate pas- 
sages in the Talmud which tested the versatility and the 
casuistic acumen of the bochur. On the other hand, the girl 
was tested for patience and skill by the women of the groom's 
family. She was given a tangled skein of thread which she was 
expected to unravel, or told to prepare a large sheet of dough 
and to cut it patiently into fine, thin noodles. 

The negotiations were often protracted for a long time. 
There was a great deal of haggling, a long series of making 
up and changing of minds. More than once the negotiations 
were on the verge of being broken off altogether, and the 
shadchon had to exert all his tact in order to save the situation. 

Tno-lm ... At last the negotiations were brought to a con- 
clusion and the date set for celebrating the knas mahl^ also 
called t'no-im (conditions) because of its main feature, the 
setting down in writing of all the agreed stipulations. 

T'no-im was usually celebrated on a Sabbath night, or dur- 
ing the week-days on a semi-holiday, as Lag Bo-omer or one 
of the two Chamisho Osors. Only the close relatives were in- 
vited. Since it was not marked by any religious ceremonial, 
the presence of the rabbi was unnecessary. The precentor, or 
sexton of the synagogue wrote the t'no-im in medieval, cor- 
rupt Hebrew. The written agreement was corroborated and 
made more binding by the ceremony of symbolic affirmation. 
This ceremony was performed by one who, for a moment, 
held a kerchief jointly with the two parties of the contract. 205 
The precentor read the t'no-im aloud in the presence of all the 
guests, and when he had finished, the shadchon jumped up, 


shouting, "Mazol Tov!" and dashed a piece of crockery to the 
ground. At that moment all the guests threw on the floor 
plates, platters and bowls which they had brought from their 
homes. Ordinarily, every woman brought some broken earth- 
enware dish with her. Now and then a more pretentious aunt 
or cousin, in order to demonstrate her importance in the fam- 
ily, brought to the t'no-im a large new platter or bowl. The 
loud crash of the shattered dishes filled the air, and the mass 
of shattered fragments covered the entire floor. This custom 
was regarded as a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem. 

Within a short while the shattered crockery was removed 
from the room, and delicious foods and drinks were served. 
After the feast, the bride and groom received their first gifts 
from each other. The bride received a ring, and the groom a 
watch and chain. 

One of the stipulations of the t'no-im was the amount of 
money to be paid as a penalty by the party who broke the 
engagement. Sometimes the stipulated amount was half of the 
dowry. However, it was regarded as a misdemeanor to break 
the t'no-im. 

If the prospective bride and groom were from different lo- 
calities, one traveled to see the other on a visit for the holidays. 
They also wrote letters to one another. These letters were dis- 
tinctive in character, consisting of high-sounding, stereotyped 
phrases. In most cases, the betrothed couple did not write 
their own letters, but delegated the task to a man in the town 
who had a beautiful handwriting and the ability to use pom- 
pous language. He used the same phraseology and the identical 
expressions in most of the letters which he wrote for betrothed 
couples, and he did it either as a favor, or for remuneration. 
If the pair lived in the same town, they paid one another 
official and infrequent visits. 

Preliminaries to the Wedding . . . Sometimes after the t'no-im, 
the date was set for the wedding and the dowry was deposited 
with the rabbi or one of the leading members of the com- 


munity. A last attempt was made at bargaining for a lesser 
sum than the dowry originally agreed upon. If the groom lived 
in another town, both the father and the mother of the bride 
traveled there to deposit the dowry. 

Friday was the wedding day for a maiden; Tuesday or 
Thursday for a widow or divorcee. Weddings occasionally 
took place on Sunday, too, but never on Monday or Wednes- 
day, which were regarded as unlucky days. 

The favorite Fridays for weddings were the Friday follow- 
ing Tisho B'Ov and preceding Sabbath Nachamu, the one 
following Shovuos, and the one between Yom Kippur and 

Sometimes, when the bride and groom were from different 
towns, the wedding was performed in a roadside inn some- 
where between the two towns. Such a wedding was naturally 
less pretentious, and took place on Tuesday or Thursday in 
order that the guests who attended might be able to return 
home for the Sabbath. In most cases the bridegroom and his 
entourage traveled in large wagons to the town of the bride, 
to remain there from Friday until Sunday, housed by the 
bride's family. 

As soon as the date was set for the wedding, both families, 
particularly the family of the bride, prepared for the great 
occasion. The bride's parents arranged the wedding and bore 
all costs. The bride herself was the busiest person, occupied 
with the preparation of her trousseau, particularly with her 
chupo dress. If her parents were rich, the dressmaker came to 
her house to work on her dresses; otherwise she went to the 

The celebration on the Sabbath before the wedding was 
called Aufruf (calling up), because its main feature was the 
calling up of the bridegroom at the synagogue to Twrf tir (the 
reading of a portion of the Prophets at the conclusion of 
the reading from the Torah). The chazan or sexton called 
up the bridegroom to the bimo with a louder and more sono- 
rous voice than he used in calling up the others. As soon as the 


bridegroom ascended the bimo, a shower of raisins, almonds 
and nuts descended upon his head from the women's section 
in the synagogue. The children, with noisy joy, rushed for the 
fruits. After the services, a crowd of relatives and friends ac- 
companied the bridegroom to his home "where they were 
served with cake, brandy, and various delicacies. 

The preparations reached their highest point in the last few 
days before the wedding. There was a constant hustle and 
bustle, and continuous cooking and baking at the home of the 
bride. Every family in the community invited to the wedding 
sent a lekach (plain cake) or a tort (a rich cake) to the bride 
or the groom. But these cakes were not sufficient, and were 
supplemented by the many lekachs and torts that were being 
baked at home. Other confections to be served required pro- 
fessional skill and so a cook was engaged to prepare them. In 
addition, the family hired a sarver (waiter) who served the 
foods and drinks and acted as general handyman. Both re- 
ceived a stipulated sum from the bride's parents and additional 
tips from close relatives. 

Well-to-do families arranged a feast for the paupers of the 
community a day or two before the wedding. On this occa- 
sion, the poor folks were served with a meal abounding in 
fish, meat, beer, and in some instances, even mead and wine. 
The bride and groom were seated at the head of the table 
with the paupers who were waited on by the parents and some 
of the distinguished relatives of the bride and groom. After 
the meal, the bride and groom danced with the poor folk, and 
distributed coins among them. 

On Thursday, the wedding atmosphere pervaded in every 
nook and cranny of the house. Even the air was saturated with 
the pleasant odors of freshly prepared foods and sweetmeats. 
The door of the house kept opening every few moments to 
receive a cake sent by some relative or friend. A child or a 
poor woman carried the cake to the celebrants. The child 
received a piece of cake and the poor woman a coin. The same 
poor woman ran many errands bringing cake after cake, and 


each time she was given a coin by the bride or her mother, 
who took the cake from her. The same message was sent every 
time a cake was delivered, "Tell your father and mother," or 
"Tell So-and-so not to be late for the wedding." 

The relatives and friends of the bridegroom sent their wed- 
ding cakes to his home, although the wedding was held in the 
home of the bride. 

On Thursday evening there was a quiet celebration at the 
home of the bride, for on that evening the bride was led to 
the ritual pool. Only girls were invited, friends of the bride 
and the girls from the bridegroom's family. They came to bid 
farewell to the bride on her passing from the unmarried to the 
married state. The celebration was merely a preliminary to 
the wedding, and the bride wore some of her festive clothes. 
Sweetmeats were served and the girls danced. They knew that 
they must depart early in order that the bride might go on her 
way to the pool. 

One or two generations previously, the bride had been led 
to the ritual pool accompanied by klezmorim. In the period 
which we now describe, the procedure was more private. The 
bride's only escort to the bath-house were the two mothers 
and the bath-house attendant. A man was engaged to stay in 
wait near the bath-house so that he should be the first to meet 
her eyes on her way home. If she cast her first glance on an 
unclean animal, a dog or a cat, she had to return to reimmerse 
herself in the pool. 

The Klezmorim and the Badchon . . . Klezmorim were the 
indispensable concomitant of a wedding, particularly the wed- 
ding of a maiden. "A wedding without klezmorim" is an ex- 
pression in Yiddish, characterizing any social arrangement 
devoid of color and beauty. The minimum number of musi- 
cians in a band of klezmorim was three: one played a fiddle, 
one bass, and a third, usually a young chap, accompanied the 
two, beating on a small drum with two little sticks. Barring 
exceptional cases, the klezmer was an amateur musician, with 


very little theoretical knowledge of music. He had only a very 
limited repertoire of tunes which he always played by ear, as 
he was unable to read musical notes. 

There was neither room nor need for music in the ordinary, 
dull life of the people. Barring weddings, there were only two 
other occasions on which klezmorim were employed: on the 
very rare occasions when a Sefer Torah was donated to the 
synagogue or when the Talmud Study Circle celebrated the 
"Grand Completion" of the entire Babylonian Talmud which 
occurred once in about seven years. The long intervals of idle- 
ness between festivities made it necessary for the klezmorim 
to engage in some other trade. A band of klezmorim could be 
found only here and there in some of the larger towns, from 
which they occasionally traveled to the smaller communities 
when they were engaged to play at a wedding. They received 
a stipulated sum sometimes augmented by tips from the guests. 

At this period the badchon was not as indispensable as the 
klezmorim. However, the role he played was still an impor- 
tant and integral part of the wedding celebration, particularly 
in Poland and the Ukraine. He, too, had to be imported from 
a large town. In wealthy families two badchonim were en- 
gaged as entertainers at a wedding. The badchon had a double 
task: to evoke laughter from the guests and tears from the 
bride and groom. 

The "Unterfuerers" . . . Two married couples, one for the 
bride and one for the groom, were honored by being selected 
in advance as the "unterfuerers," a new name for an old in- 
stitution. In the Biblical story of Samson, mention is made of 
the groom's best friend. In Talmudic times we also hear of the 
best friend or two best friends, one for the bride and one for 
the bridegroom. At the period with which we are now occu- 
pied, these particular people were privileged to lead the bridal 
pair to the chupo. They were always four in number, two 
couples who had been married only once, If the bridegroom 
had brothers and sisters who were married for the first time, 


they had precedence over all others. If there were no brothers 
or sisters eligible for this privilege, other relatives were ap- 
pointed. The unterfuerers were expected to give more costly- 
wedding gifts than any of the other guests. They also had to 
pay for the honor with enormous tips to the cook and the 
sarver, and especially to the klezmorim and the badchon. 

The Wedding . . . Before noon on Friday, the whole town 
is astir. "There is a wedding today, a wedding today!" Young 
and old, aware of the great occasion, look forward to it with 
keen interest and inner joy. 

About nine or ten o'clock, the klezmorim start on their 
round to the houses of the close relatives and friends of the 
bride and groom. If a badchon has been engaged, he goes with 
the klezmorim, A list with the names of the wedding guests 
to be visited is handed to them. A few lads join them in the 
street, for curiosity's sake, showing them the way to each 
house. After they have played, a silver coin is given to them, 
and they depart for the house of another relative. Now and 
then one of the relatives is accidentally omitted from the list. 
A few hours later the rumor has spread that Uncle So-and-so 
and Auntie So-and-so are terribly offended because the klez- 
morim have not been sent to their home, and that they are not 
coming to the wedding. Immediately the bride's or bride- 
groom's parents, depending upon which side the offended rela- 
tives belong, depart on an appeasement mission and finally con- 
vince the uncle and the aunt that the omission is all the fault 
of the klezmorim. Who, they plead, can rely upon people who 
drink whisky before reciting the morning prayers, and who 
stare at strange women at weddings? 

Now it is noon, and the bridegroom is from another town. 
A number of relatives and close friends of the bride ride to 
meet him and his entourage. This ride to meet the bridegroom 
is an important feature of the wedding and is carried out with 
much commotion and spectacular splendor. The best available 
coaches with bells attached to the splendid harness of each 


horse are hired or borrowed for the parade. The participants 
are already dressed for the wedding. Usually, the coaches de- 
part with great speed to meet the wagons of the bridegroom 
and his entourage on the outskirts of the town. Hilariously the 
two parties meet, greeting each other with exclamations of 
"Mazol Tov!" After partaking of cake and brandy, the bride's 
party, with the bridegroom now in its midst, hurry back to 
the town with the wagons of the bridegroom's entourage lag- 
ging a little behind. The coaches roll quickly through the 
town, the horses gallop, the jingling bells reverberate and the 
occupants of the coaches, all in their best attire, beam with joy. 
Immediately, the news spreads from house to house and from 
street to street, "The bridegroom is coming! The bridegroom 
is coming!" Almost the entire populace, men and women, 
old people and children, rush to the street, to the windows, 
to the doors, and to the open porches to watch the procession 
of the bridegroom and the wedding guests. The coaches stop 
at the house where the bridegroom is lodged for the period of 
the wedding celebration. 

Most of the houses were small and unfit for a wedding cele- 
bration. There were only a few with sufficient space to ac- 
commodate a large gathering. The owners of these houses, 
usually as an act of kindness, accommodated the rest of the 
people, for it was regarded as an act of great religious merit to 
contribute to the joy of the bridegroom and the bride. Two 
such spacious homes were needed, because the celebration 
before the chupo, and the festivity and dance on Saturday 
night were engaged in separately by the men and women. 
Often the two homes in which these parties were held were 
located at opposite ends of the town. 

Let us watch the changing scene, first catching a glimpse of 
the bridegroom and the male guests in the house where they 
are lodged. 

The bridegroom in his best attire and with serious face is 
seated at the head of a table, surrounded by the guests, with 
the rabbi of the community, who officiates at all marriage cere- 


monies, in a place of honor. On the table, covered with a fine 
tablecloth, are placed bottles of brandy and wine, platters of 
cakes and abundant cigarettes, which the bridegroom offers 
liberally to everyone. There is little solemnity, as this party is 
just a kabolas ponim (a reception) for the bridegroom. Even 
people who are not invited to the wedding drop in for a little 
while at the kabolas ponim to greet the bridegroom with 
"Mazol Tov!" and to partake of the cake and the brandy. 

Let us now leave the bridegroom and his party and betake 
ourselves to the bride around whom an elaborate ceremonial 
centers in these solemn hours before the chupo. 

About noontime the girl friends of the bride come to her 
home to help her dress for the wedding. After a while the girls 
are joined by the married women, and all accompany the 
bride to the house where she will be lodged for the period of 
the celebration. 

The first ceremony performed here is called bazetsens (seat- 
ing the bride). One or two generations before the time of 
which we write it was customary to seat the bride in the cen- 
ter of the room on a kneading bowl stuff ed with pillows. This 
custom was later discarded. The bride of whom we speak is 
seated on a chair, covered with a white sheet and decorated 
with flowers, particularly with myrtle. On her head over the 
veil which hangs almost to the floor the bride wears a garland 
of myrtle. The richer and more aristocratic the bride, the 
longer the veil which she wears. On each side of the chair 
stands a row of girls, each holding a candle in one hand and a 
handful of raisins or hops in the other. A generation previ- 
ously, the hair of the bride was shorn at the ceremony of ba- 
zetsens, but as previously mentioned, this custom was dis- 
carded. Married women did not crop their hair but they wore 
wigs covering and matching the color of their own hair. 

The seating of the bride is accompanied by the music of the 
klezmorim who play melancholy tunes which stir the hearts of 
the women. The klezmorim are followed by the badchon who, 
in grotesque rhymes and a peculiar singsong, exhorts the bride, 


reminding her of the solemnity of this day which, for her, is 
similar to Yom Kippur. He then turns abruptly to the humor- 
ous and ludicrous, concluding with burlesque. When he ends, 
the klezmorim immediately begin to play a gay tune, while the 
women with tears still on their cheeks, dance about in jovial 
mood. All are merry now except the bride who, sitting on the 
bridal chair in the center of the room, weeps copiously on this 
day of her destiny. 

The next ceremony after bazetsens is badekens (covering 
the bride's face) . A group of women of the bride's party, pre- 
ceded by the klezmorim and the badchon now pay a visit to 
the bridegroom, inviting him to badekens. The women are 
treated to delicacies, the klezmorim play a tune, the badchon 
exhorts the bridegroom, and then all return to the bride, pre- 
ceded by the klezmorim and the badchon. 

In the street, children call loudly, "Here comes the bride- 
groom, here comes the bridegroom!" and the rows of maidens 
beside the bride's chair immediately light their candles. 

The bridegroom, escorted by his father and the rabbi, walks 
between the two rows of girls holding the lighted candles until 
he approaches the bride's chair. The two mothers stand in 
front of the chair holding a plate of raisins or hops covered 
with a silk kerchief. The rabbi and the bridegroom seize the 
kerchief by two corners, lift it hastily, and cover the bride's 
face. At this moment a mass of raisins and hops is showered 
upon both bride and groom. 

Then the bridegroom and all the males return to the house 
where they are lodged. Only the klezmorim and the badchon 
remain for the third ceremony, called "mazol-tov-dance" or 
"kosher dance." The badchon calls aloud the name of each 
woman present, who then embraces the bride and completes a 
circle with her. The wedding guests are amused by this dance, 
but it is a great strain on the bride. Weakened by fasting the 
entire day, she grows dizzy with the continuous whirling to 
which she is subjected. 

If the bride is an orphan, the chazan now recites the prayer 


for the dead, "Merciful God, etc.," chanting it in the accepted 
mournful tone. The klezmorim after each sentence reply an- 
tiphonally in the same tone, accompanied by floods of tears 
and the loud sobbing of the women, especially the bride. 

The klezmorim then depart for the house in which the 
bridegroom is lodged. If the bridegroom is an orphan, the 
above ceremony is repeated except for the sobs and tears. 

The pre-chupo ceremonies are now completed, and in the 
two separate houses, the bride and bridegroom prepare them- 
selves for the high and solemn moment of their lives. Both fast 
and recite mincho (afternoon prayers) with the addition of 
the long confession of the Yom Kippur prayers. The bride- 
groom, for the first time in his life, wears the talis which he 
has received as a gift from the bride. He also wears a kittel, a 
white robe, under the talis. In some regions before the chupo, 
it was customary to untie all knots in the garments of the 
groom and the bride so that no one could "bewitch" them by 
means of the knots. 

Meanwhile the sexton of the synagogue places the portable 
canopy close to the entrance of the courtyard of the syna- 
gogue. The canopy, a piece of communal property, always 
stands folded in the anteroom of the synagogue. As soon as the 
sexton takes it out into the courtyard, a number of lads are on 
hand to hold the four poles. As there are more lads available 
than the chupo has poles, two or three of them hold each one 
of the poles. 

Leading the Couple to the Chupo . . . Every person who can 
spare a little time in the late Friday afternoon now rushes to 
the courtyard of the synagogue as if by appointment. The 
entire courtyard, particularly around the entrance to the syna- 
gogue, is soon crowded with people. 

Soft, sad music is heard in the distance. Soon the procession 
of the bridegroom and his entourage becomes visible, emerging 
from one of the side streets which leads to the synagogue. 
Preceded by the klezmorim, the bridegroom is led to the chupo 


by his unterfuerers and his parents, followed by the male 
guests at the wedding. The solemn procession moves slowly. 
As the bridegroom approaches the chupo, the chazan or sexton 
calls loudly, "Boruch habo!" (blessed be he who comes). The 
bridegroom is then led under the canopy, and the klezmorim 
depart in haste to bring the bride's party. 

Meanwhile the bridegroom, dressed in his best attire, stands 
motionless under the chupo, shy and awkward, exposed to the 
piercing gaze of the large crowd. The mischief makers of the 
town seize this opportunity to play all sorts of tricks on the 
bridegroom and the wedding guests. In winter, they throw 
hard snowballs, and in summer they toss burrs which cling to 
the clothes and even to the hair of the wedding guests. 

However, this interval until the arrival of the bride's pro- 
cession does not last long. Soon melancholy strains of music 
again fill the air, and the more imposing procession of the bride 
and her entourage enter the courtyard of the synagogue, pre- 
ceded by the klezmorim, whose music accentuates the stern 
solemnity of the moment. There is a hushed silence about this 
procession, too. As the bride approaches the chupo, the sexton 
calls loudly, "Hachnosas kalo! " (induction of the bride) and 
the chazan chants a short greeting to the bridal pair, beginning 
with "Mi adir al ha-kol" (Who is mighty over all?). The par- 
ents and the unterfuerers, followed by a few of the close rela- 
tives, carrying candles, now lead the bride seven times around 
the groom. A restrained silence prevails. The rabbi then 
chants the benediction of the betrothal over a glass of wine, 
passing the wine first to the groom and then to the bride. The 
rabbi lifts the veil from the bride's face for a moment to allow 
the groom a glimpse of the bride before betrothing her, a 
vestige of earlier days when the groom never saw the bride 
until after the chupo. The Talmud declares that a man must 
not marry a woman unless he has seen her. So this custom was 
introduced to afford the groom an opportunity to see his bride. 
The bridegroom immediately betroths the bride by placing a 
ring upon the index finger of her right hand, reciting slowly, 


word for word, the ancient formula of betrothal. This is fol- 
lowed by the ceremony of breaking a glass. The rabbi hands 
the bridegroom the glass over which the benediction of be- 
trothal is recited, or sometimes a very thin glass brought for 
this purpose, which the bridegroom dashes to the ground. If it 
does not break, he tramples upon it with the heel of his shoe. 
If the glass still remains unbroken, some of the wedding guests 
come to the assistance of the bridegroom. Some exclaim 
"Mazol Tov!" when the crash of the glass is heard, but in a 
quiet manner, because it is in the midst of the marriage cere- 
mony. The rabbi reads the k'subo in its old Aramaic version 
and, in addition, performs the ceremony of corroborating the 
marriage contract by holding a kerchief jointly for a moment 
with the bridegroom (see p. 182). Then he chants the wed- 
ding benedictions over the second glass of wine, passing the 
wine first to the bridegroom and then to the bride. 

At this moment, the whole atmosphere abruptly changes as 
if a blanket of gloom and fear had been lifted. The silence is 
broken by loud cries of "Mazol Tov" on all sides. The bride 
uncovers her face, the klezmorim strike up their liveliest and 
gayest tune, and lead the procession, which now moves quickly 
back to the bride's home. All are merry and hilarious. The two 
mothers, behind the klezmorim, sway and dance and clap their 
hands. The dancing mothers are followed by the bridal pair 
walking side by side. The two separate parries mingle in one 
happy crowd. Approaching the home of the bride, the mother 
or some other close relative comes out to meet the couple 
with a large, white, braided loaf lifted high in her arms. 
Turning and swaying in a dance, she hoists the loaf higher 
and higher, joyously shouting repeatedly, "Mazol Tov!" The 
bride's entourage sees to it that the bride crosses the threshold 
of the house before the bridegroom, believing this to be an 
omen of her mastery over him. 

After the Chupo . . . The bridal pair who sit alone at a table 
now break their fast with a light repast. 


As in Mayence in the time of Maharil, on this Friday eve- 
ning the bridegroom does not go to the synagogue. The male 
guests gather around the bridegroom at the bride's home, re- 
cite the Friday evening services with a religious quorum of 
ten, the "minyon." After the services, the sarver serves the 
"chupo supper" on two separate tables, one for men and one 
for women, the bridegroom eating with the men and the bride 
with the women. A conspicuous feature of the meal is the 
soup eaten by the bridal pair called "The Golden Soup." 

The hilarity and excitement of the wedding are entirely sus- 
pended during the Sabbath. There is no music nor dancing 
until nightfall. The only ceremony which marks the Sabbath 
following the wedding is connected with the morning services 
at the synagogue. In the Middle Ages the bridegroom was led 
in a solemn procession to the synagogue on Sabbath morning; 
now, the bride enjoys this honor. The bridegroom quietly goes 
to the synagogue early in the morning escorted only by both 
fathers and both male unterfuerers. The bride is led to the 
synagogue a little later, at the time of the reading from the 
Torah. The reading lasts a long time because almost every one 
of the male wedding guests is called up to the Torah. The 
portion of the Pentateuch read on the Sabbath is not divided 
into seven sections, as on all ordinary Sabbaths, but into very 
small passages, each one consisting of not less than three verses. 
There is ample time during the reading to allow for the cere- 
mony of leading the newly married woman to the synagogue. 

As soon as the reading from the Torah begins in the men's 
section, the bride's mother in the women's section calls loudly, 
"Who is going to lead the newly married woman into the 
synagogue?" Almost all the women present answer the call 
One of them, the rebitsin (the rabbi's wife), is obliged to go. 

At the home of the bride, the women usually partake of re- 
freshments set out on a table. In a quiet procession the bride 
is then led to the synagogue where she is seated by the side of 
the rebitsin. She sits silent during the services, reciting no 
prayers. The motive of this custom is not to shame an illiterate 


bride. When the bridegroom is called up to the Torah, all the 
women approach the bride and greet her with "Mazol Tov!" 
After the services most of the men go from the synagogue to 
the home of the bride for b'rocho (the Kiddush recited before 
the morning meal) . A grear number of men who did not at- 
tend the wedding celebration proper go to the b'rocho. Again 
a table is set with refreshments this time for the men. 

At the end of each of the Sabbath meals, beans or peas, 
cooked and salted, are served. After the meals, Grace is re- 
cited with special amplifications in honor of the wedding, and 
after Grace, the wedding benedictions are again recited over 
a cup of wine. 

At the departure of the Sabbath, after the reciting of Hav- 
dolo, the wedding celebration is resumed, and again men and 
women celebrate in two separate houses and in different man- 
ner. The men are entertained by the badchon and the chazan 
who sing chants, droll tunes, Yiddish folk-songs and liturgical 
melodies. Among the women there is continuous dancing to 
the accompaniment of the klezmorim. The mischief-makers are 
busy, playing tricks on the wedding guests. They are generally 
bought off with large slices of cake and other delicacies. 

Sunday, the day following the wedding, is called the Rum- 
pel (from a German word meaning tumult) and is marked by 
specific entertainments. A festive farewell meal is served in 
the afternoon after which the wedding gifts are publicly an- 
nounced. The badchon or the sarver call loudly the name of 
the giver and the nature of the gift. At the close of the Rumpel, 
there is a specific farewell dance. The wedding gifts are called 
d'rosho geshank (the gift for the discourse) although it is no 
longer customary for the bridegroom to deliver a discourse at 
the wedding feast (see p. 177). 

The Rumpel is the day on which the klezmorim, the bad- 
chon, the sarver, and the cook receive their pay and their 

The "seven days of the feast" are not celebrated. The newly 
married man, however, does not go to work during the week 


following the wedding, and in the morning services at the 
synagogue, in which he participates, the whole congregation 
omits the "penitential prayer" on his account. 

The wedding of a widow or divorcee took place on Thurs- 
day. The chupo was not put up in the courtyard of the syna- 
gogue, but inside the house, and klezmorim were not present. 
It was not designated a wedding and people did not say, "So- 
and-so is celebrating her wedding today," but "So-and-so is 
setting up chupo today." 


Marriage among the S'fardim in Palestine 

The history of Jewish marriage in the Middle Ages as out- 
lined in the preceding chapters applies only to the Ashk'nazim 
(German and East European Jews). The S'fardim (Spanish- 
Portuguese Jews) shared the first stages of this long develop- 
ment and stopped in the middle of the way. They linked the 
wedding with the synagogue only in regard to the morning 
services on the following Sabbath. Their marriage ceremony 
proper still remains a home celebration as it was among the 
Ashk'nazim in the early Middle Ages. The chupo did not fully 
develop among the S'fardim, remaining a combination of both 
the canopy and the talis. For many centuries, the S'fardim 
lived in an Oriental environment which affected their mode of 
life. We can easily understand why the procedure of marriage 
among the S'fardim in Palestine differs in so many points from 
the traditional procedure of the Ashk'nazim. 

Arranging the Match . . . The S'fardim in Palestine do not 
employ the name or the ceremonial of t'no-im described above. 
In arranging the match, the fathers merely jot down the main 
points of the agreement. This is called kiriyamm (agreements) 
and is not marked by any festivity. 

A few weeks after the kin'yanim the bridegroom and the 
bride send gifts to one another and the day when the presents 
are delivered is marked by a joyous celebration. On the Sab- 
bath following this day, the bridegroom is called up to the 
Torah in the synagogue and the relatives and friends visit the 
bridegroom and the bride. This celebration is called siman (a 
sign, that the girl is engaged) . 



Preliminaries . . . There are many preliminary wedding fes- 
tivities. Two weeks before the wedding, the bridegroom sends 
a shoemaker to the bride to make shoes for her, as a sign that 
the wedding date is set. 

Eight days before the wedding, there is a celebration at 
the bride's home called Ashugar, a Spanish word for the trous- 
seau. The bride's entire outfit is arranged and displayed as if on 
an exhibition. Many men and women attend this celebration. 
Expert appraisers estimate the value of each article and the 
scribe jots the figure down on paper. The figures are then 
added and the sum total doubled. To this, the sum of the 
dowry is added. To this total, something is added in honor of 
the bride's parents and something in honor of the family. This 
whole sum becomes the amount set down in the k'subo (ex- 
cept that they pronounce it k'tuba). Care is taken to add to 
the sum as much as was needed to make the last four digits 
fives, because it is believed that an evil eye has no power over 
the number five. (Arab villagers in Palestine also celebrate the 
purchasing, delivering and viewing of the bride's outfit. The 
women of the village gather in the bride's house to survey the 
entire trousseau, celebrating the occasion with song, dance and 

On the Sabbath preceding the wedding, the bridegroom, 
accompanied by his friends, visits the rabbis of the town. He 
kisses their hands and receives their blessings. The bride, es- 
corted by her mother and mother-in-law, pays a visit to the 
wives of the rabbis and she also kisses their hands and receives 
their blessings. She does not do this until two weeks after the 
wedding and, in Jerusalem, her visit is preceded by a visit to 
the Wailing Wall. 

On Wednesday evening preceding the wedding, there is a 
gathering of girls in the bride's house. The bride, wrapped in 
a long veil, sits on a chair as motionless as a marble statue, 
while her friends, seated on benches around the wall of the 
room, merely play all sorts of silly games. 

The following day, Thursday, is the day of bathing. The 


bride in a beautiful dress is spectacularly led to the bath-house 
in the midst of a long line of married women and girls. The 
women are followed by men carrying lighted torches in their 
hands. In the rear of this procession there is instrumental music, 
singing and dancing. All women who participate in the pro- 
cession bathe at the expense of the bride. 

About an hour later, the bride returns home, and again a 
line of women is formed to the accompaniment of singing and 
dancing. All the doors of the houses which the procession 
passes are opened and the mistresses of the houses stand with 
trays of sweetmeats and glasses of lemon water in their hands. 
In passing, the bride and her entourage taste the refresh- 
ments offered them. This queer custom was taken over by the 
S'fardim in Palestine in its entirety from their Arab neighbors. 

On the eve of the wedding day, Thursday night, a queer 
celebration takes place at the bridegroom's home. In the pres- 
ence of relatives and friends, a Jewish barber cuts the hair of 
the bridegroom and receives a tip from each person present. 
The haircut is followed by singing and joyful entertainment 
which lasts late into the night. 

The Chupo . . . The marriage ceremony takes place on Fri- 
day, early in the afternoon, and, as already noted, has no link 
with the synagogue. Two canopies are set up for the wedding, 
one in the house of the bridegroom and the other in the house 
of the bride. Both canopies are improvised from the curtains 
of the Holy Ark of a synagogue. The marriage ceremony is 
performed under the canopy at the bride's home. The canopy 
is set up against the wall. The part of the wall enclosed is cov- 
ered with the silken curtain of a Holy Ark. 

If the bridegroom is a learned man, he delivers a discourse 
on Torah before the marriage ceremonial is performed. 

The chupo, as already remarked, is a combination of both 
the talis (prayer garment) and the canopy. First the bridal 
pair wrap themselves in a new talis provided with tsitsis (ritual 
show-fringes) and the bridegroom recites the benediction' over 


the talis and the tsitsis and the benediction Shehecheyonu (see 
p. 29) . The canopy is spread over their heads and in spreading 
it the wedding guests recite the verse, "So God give thee of 
the dew of heaven and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty 
of corn and wine" (Gen. 27:28). The chupo ceremony is then 
performed in the same manner as among the Ashk'nazim. 
Among the S'f ardim more importance is attached to the break- 
ing of the glass. The glass is wrapped in a kerchief in order 
that no fragment will be lost. When it is broken, the wedding 
guests recite two verses of the Psalms, first, "The snare is 
broken and we are escaped," and afterwards, "If I forget thee, 
O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning" (124:7; 
137:5). The splinters of the broken glass wrapped in a ker- 
chief are cautiously buried or put in an inaccessible place, for 
it is believed that the bridegroom could be bewitched with 
these splinters. 

After the Chupo . . . When the chupo ceremonial is over, 
the bridal pair kiss the hands of their parents and relatives 
and of all the wedding guests, and receive their congratu- 
lations. Unlike the Ashk'nazim who congratulate with the 
words "Mazol Tov," the S'fardim congratulate with the words 
"Siman Tov" (a good omen). The relatives of the bridegroom 
place gold coins in the hands of the bride, and the relatives of 
the bride put gold coins in the hands of the bridegroom. 

The bridal pair and their entourage march to the bride- 
groom's home. During the "seven days of the feast" the chupo 
remains in the bride's house with a candle burning under it. 
No one dares to sit there because it is regarded as a sacred 

When the bride approaches the house of the bridegroom, 
her mother-in-law scatters sweetmeats from a plate, and holds 
a loaf of bread and breaks it above the head of her daughter-in- 
law, as an omen of good fortune. 

At the meal following the chupo ceremonial, the guests sing 
piyutim (liturgical poems) in Hebrew and in Arabic com- 


posed especially for this occasion. After the meal, the pair are 
seated side by side on chairs in the center of the room, with 
lighted torches in their hands. Around them, the guests dance, 
sing and make merry, and continually try to put out the light 
of the torches. When the light of the torch which the bride- 
groom holds in his hand is out, he is compelled to kindle it 
with the torch of the bride. Then the guests put out the light 
of the torch of the bride, compelling her to kindle it with the 
torch of the man whom her parents have chosen as her hus- 
band. This game is repeated numerous times. 

During the seven days following the wedding, the newly 
married couple sit under the chupo in the house of the bride- 
groom, who is never left alone. A n.umber of young men, his 
best friends, guard him constantly and play various games with 
him. The most popular game consists of filching the bride- 
groom's kerchief, a ring or any other thing 

As the bridegroom does not leave the house during the week 
following the wedding, his relatives and acquaintances gather 
at his home at the time of prayers in order that he could recite 
them with a minyon. Only on Sabbath morning does he visit 
the synagogue. On this occasion he enjoys greater honor than 
among the Ashk'nazim. On Sabbath morning the bridegroom 
Is seated under a beautiful canopy of silk, made and kept espe- 
cially for bridegrooms. When he is called to the reading of the 
Torah, he goes to the bimo with much pomp. The custom of 
reading to him an extra section of the Pentateuch, the story of 
the wooing of Rebekah, still prevails. At the same time, the 
sexton moves about among the assembled people, sprinkling 
rose-water on their hands from a perforated silver vessel. 

On the day after the wedding, both mothers and all the 
women relatives visit the bride and bring her presents. 

Musical instruments are not played at weddings. The Ori- 
ental dances are performed to the accompaniment of vocal 
music by female voices while the women beat little drums. 

Cropping the hair of the bride was discarded by the S'f ardim 
also. 206 


Among the Jeivs of Yemen . . . While the marriage customs 
of the S'fardim in Palestine remind us of Jewish life centuries 
ago, marriage among the Jews of Yemen remind us of even 
more ancient days. 

Among the Jews of Yemen, the ancient custom in which the 
groom betrothed the bride at the engagement and gave her a 
divorce in case the engagement was broken, was discarded 
only recently. Among the Persian Jews and among some Jews 
of the Caucasus this ancient custom still prevails. 

Among the Yemenite Jews, the fathers of the groom and the 
bride arrange the match. The children are not even consulted. 
Often they are too young to comprehend. The mothers are 
not informed of the affair until the match is completely ef- 

The Jews of Yemen follow the ancient Biblical custom 
in which the groom, or rather his father, pays a certain 
amount of money to the father of the girl. He also gives the 
girl many presents, the value of which is recorded in the 
k'subo. Her father, however, does not usually keep the money 
he receives from the groom, but gives it to his daughter for her 

As in Talmudic and medieval days, the pedigree of the 
family is more important than money. There are families 
among the Yemenite Jews who claim that their ancestors had 
come to Yemen prior to the destruction of the First Temple. 
Such families do not intermarry with families of low rank. 

The interval between the engagement and the wedding 
lasts not less than a year, and sometimes even two years, par- 
ticularly in a case when the bride is too young. During this 
time the groom and bride cannot see one another (see p. 130). 

Shortly before the wedding, the bridegroom goes with his 
parents to buy the presents for the bride. These consist of gar- 
ments, ornaments, cosmetics, soap, rose-water, a comb and 
many other things needed for the wedding. They also in- 
clude waxen candles which are lighted at the wedding. 

The bridegroom bears the cost of the wedding, which is a 


heavy burden for him, or rather for his father. In addition to 
three or four large feasts which include many guests, he has to 
give many smaller parties for the close relatives during the 
"seven days of the feast." 

In case the bride comes from another town, the bridegroom 
has to provide riding animals for all the guests of the bride's 
family. Among the poor classes a lad waits until he or his father 
have saved the money to cover the expense of marriage. Par- 
ents among the Jews of Yemen, therefore, never worry about 
marrying off their daughters, but they do worry about marry- 
ing off their sons. 

For a period of twx> weeks before the wedding, the bride 
may not show herself on the street in daylight. If she has to 
pay a visit, she does so after dark. 

The day for weddings is Wednesday. But the entire week 
before the wedding is a time of great joy. Each day has a 
special observance and is a joyous occasion. 

The last three days before the wedding are the days when 
the bridal pair are colored with paint, a custom generally prac- 
ticed by the Oriental Jews. Among the Jews of Egypt this 
custom was practiced as far back as the time of Maimonides. 
The groom is painted only once with henna, but the bride is 
painted several times with henna and with other materials. The 
paint is daubed on her face, her feet, her arms, and the inside 
of her hands and is an occasion of great hilarity. The bride is 
seated high on cushions. Many cotton wicks burn in a large 
bowl of oil placed before her while the women in the room 
sing and dance. Painting the groom's arms and feet is an oc- 
casion of still more boisterous joy. 

The wedding day is crowded with various ceremonies and 
processions. The greatest solemnity and hilarity takes place 
before the chupo when the groom's hair is being shaved. Only 
his long ear-locks are left. The hair of the bride is cut short on 
the front of her head. 

The chupo ceremony among the Jews of Yemen is alto- 
gether different from the chupo of the Ashk'nazim or the 


S'fardim. They do not employ the canopy at all and still call 
the room where the bridal pair is left in privacy, chupo. The 
wedding ceremony takes place in the house of the bride. Dur- 
ing the ceremony the bride sits in a separate room. Where such 
a room is not available, she sits in a corner of the same room, 
separated by a curtain, with only two women friends or rela- 
tives with her. First the k'subo is read aloud and the bride- 
groom with two witnesses, who are not members of his family, 
sign it. The bridegroom himself recites the benediction of be- 
trothal over a cup of wine. The two fathers, followed by lads 
carrying candles in their hands, lead the bridegroom into the 
room or the corner where the bride sits. The bridegroom re- 
cites the betrothal formula, placing a new glittering coin or a 
ring in the painted palm of the bride's hand. He also hands her 
the cup of wine which she sips under her thick and heavy veil. 
The wedding benedictions are then recited and the wedding 
ceremony is over. The Jews of Yemen do not break a glass. 

After the chupo ceremony, the bridal couple are led into a 
separate room and remain there in the company of the best 
men and two of the bride's friends. They break their fast with 
a repast and the groom presents the bride with a ring. Then 
the door is opened and the wedding guests crowd in. 

With the coin, with which the groom betrothed the bride, 
her mother buys her raisins and almonds which the bride alone 
is allowed to eat. She must not let a crumb of these delicacies 
drop to the ground. 

The wedding feast, accompanied by discourses in Torah, is 
served immediately after the chupo ceremony or, in some 
regions, on the following day. On each evening of the "seven 
days of the feast" a meal accompanied by singing and dancing 
is prepared for close relatives and friends. In this week follow- 
ing the wedding, the bridegroom stays indoors. 

The Jews in Yemen today retain ancient Jewish marriage 
customs. Some of their customs are not Jewish in origin, but 
were taken over from their Arab neighbors; others are derived 
from a common source, the ancient Orient. 207 


Beliefs Connected with Marriage 

Predestination of Marriages . . . The doctrine of the Phari- 
sees, that every action of man was foreseen by God, became 
in time the common belief of the masses of the Jewish people. 
According to the Talmud "a man will not injure his finger 
without a decree from heaven/' No wonder, therefore, that 
such an important step as the choice of a wife was believed 
predestined. According to the Talmud, the match was made 
in heaven even before the young man and woman were born. 
"Forty days before the creation of the child, it is proclaimed 
in heaven: 'This man's daughter shall marry that man.' " 20S 

That this belief was wide-spread may be inferred from sev- 
eral anecdotes in the Talmud and the Midrashim. 

There is a story concerning a Roman lady who somewhat 
impishly asked the Tanna Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta whether 
God had anything to do after He created the world. Rabbi 
Jose answered that He was busy in arranging marriages, "I 
could do it as well myself," replied the lady. "I have numerous 
slaves and could match them off in no time," "You may think 
it is easy, but for the Holy One blessed be He, this is as diffi- 
cult as dividing the Red Sea," retorted Rabbi Jose. The lady 
then gathered a thousand men-servants and as many maid- 
servants, and paired them and declared them married. On the 
following day, they appeared before her a sorry lot. One's 
head was bruised, the other had a black eye, the third had a 
fractured arm, the fourth a broken leg. When she asked what 
had happened, they all loudly said that they wished they were 
not married. The lady then sent for Rabbi Jose and admitted 
that the arrangement of matches was an extremely difficult 
task. 209 



The belief in the predestination of marriage was expressed 
in a story about Raba, the famous Amora who lived in Baby- 
lonia in the fourth century, C.E. Raba once heard a man pray- 
ing that he might win a certain woman in marriage and he 
rebuked the man with the words: "If she is destined for you, 
she will be yours; and if she is not destined for you, your 
prayers flaunt the will of Providence." 21 

The most striking illustration of the belief in the predestina- 
tion of marriage is found in the Midrashic tale of King Solo- 
mon and his beautiful daughter. 

King Solomon had a daughter who was the fairest in the 
whole land of Israel. Her father once scanned the stars to dis- 
cover whom she was destined to marry and he saw that her 
future husband would be the poorest man in Israel. He built a 
high tower by the sea, and surrounded it on all sides with walls. 
Then he placed his daughter in the tower with aged guardians 
to watch her. He supplied them with provisions and then 
sealed the tower so that none could possibly slip past the 
guards. He said, "I shall watch the work of God." 

In the course of time, the poor man who was his daughter's 
destined husband walked near the tower one night. His gar- 
ments were ragged and torn and he was on the verge of faint- 
ing from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Looking about for some 
shelter he beheld the skeleton of an ox lying on a field close 
by. The poor youth crept into the skeleton to shelter himself 
from the cold. As he slept, a great bird swooped down and 
picked up the carcass in which lay the unconscious youth. The 
bird flew with it to the roof of the tower to consume the car- 
cass. When the poor youth awoke, he found himself on the 
roof and there the princess found him when she came up on 
the roof to sun herself. When she had recovered from her 
surprise, she asked: "Who are you and who brought you 
here?" He answered, "I am a Jew of Acco, and a bird brought 
me here." The princess ordered her servants to clothe him and 
anoint him with oil, and then she saw that he was the hand- 
somest youth in all Israel. He was intelligent too, and learned, 


and the princess loved him with her heart and soul. One day 
she said to him, "Will you marry me?" and he answered, "I 
wish it might be so!" They decided to marry, and as there was 
no ink with w r hich to write the k'subo, he used a few drops of 
his own blood as ink, and when he recited the marriage b'rocho 
he said, "Let God and Michael and Gabriel be my witnesses 

When the guardians learned of the marriage, they sum- 
moned Solomon. The king came at once in a ship, and calling 
his daughter to him, asked her to tell him what had happened. 
"The Holy One, blessed be He, sent me a youth, who is hand- 
some and learned, and he married me." She then called the lad, 
who appeared before the king and showed him the k'subo 
which he had written. The king inquired about his father and 
mother and the town from which he had come, and from the 
young man's replies he realized that this w r as the very man 
whom the stars had shown as the destined husband of his 
daughter. Solomon then rejoiced greatly and exclaimed, 
"Blessed be the Lord who chooses a wife 1 for every man." 211 

There is still another illustration of God's design taken from 
a Hebrew book of the twelfth century. It concerns a girl who 
persistently refused to adorn herself. People said to her, "If 
you are not well dressed, no one will notice you or want to 
marry you." But she answered firmly, "It is the Holy One, 
blessed be He, who arranges marriages; so I need not be con- 
cerned." She was properly rewarded for her faith, for she 
married a learned and pious man. 212 

The belief in the predestination of marriages has persisted 
in Jewish life and Jewish lore even to our own day. According 
to the popular belief no one must intervene in a marriage and 
preventing a predestined match is a sin which entails punish- 
ment from Heaven. 213 

Unlucky Days and Seasons . . . Various peoples did and 
still do believe that some of the days of the week, the periods 
of the lunar month, and the seasons of the year are unlucky 


or ill-omened, and that it is hazardous to start any new under- 
taking during such times. The various peoples did not agree 
as to which of the days, periods, and seasons were unlucky. 
For instance among the Germans, Friday was considered an 
unlucky day, while among Jews, weddings were performed 
on Fridays as far back as Talmudic times, and, since the Mid- 
dle Ages, Friday became the favorite day for weddings. Ap- 
parently, there was an economic reason for this preference, as 
the poor were thus spared extra expense by combining the 
celebration of the wedding day with the celebration of the 
Sabbath following the wedding. In olden times, Wednesday 
was regarded as a lucky day, the favorite wedding day for 
maidens. In the Middle Ages, apparently through some foreign 
influence, Monday and Wednesday were both declared to be 
unlucky days, and even today East European Jews do not 
perform weddings on those two days. 214 

Some peoples believed that the phases of the moon had an 
influence over life on the earth. Among the Jews and many 
other Oriental peoples, weddings were performed at the New 
Moon or at the Full Moon, but never in the period when the 
moon was absent. 215 

There were two seasons of the year in which weddings were 
not performed one between the fast of the seventeenth of 
Tamuz and the fast of Tisho B'Ov, and the other between 
Pesach and Sho\ r uos. The former was a season of mourning 
and needs no explanation. The latter was declared to be a sea- 
son of mourning based upon the Talmudic legend which says 
that Rabbi Akiba, the great Tanna of the second century 
(C.E.), lost thousands of his pupils who were all stricken by a 
plague during this season from Pesach to Shovuos. However, 
critical scholars have agreed that the connection with the 
mortality of Rabbi Akiba's pupils was merely a later and re- 
mote interpretation given to an old custom, the origin of which 
had been forgotten. Originally, the period between Pesach 
and Shovuos was not a time of mourning because of any sad 
events in Jewish life, but was merely regarded as an unlucky 


season. According to some scholars, it coincided approximately 
with the month of May in which marriages were forbidden 
among the Romans. This Roman custom adopted by some 
European nations was also adopted by the Jews who later 
tried to Judaize it by linking it with the Talmudic legend re- 
garding the wholesale death of Rabbi Akiba's pupils. This 
later interpretation was not universally accepted. In the Mid- 
dle Ages, other less tenable interpretations were also offered 
by some rabbis. 

In the Middle Ages there was a variety of customs in regard 
to the duration of the period. In some Jewish communities, 
marriages were forbidden during the period from the New 
Moon of lyor until Shovuos. In other communities it was for- 
bidden to perform a marriage on any day between Pesach and 
Lag Bo-omer (the i8th day of lyor). Again in other com- 
munities, the curb on marriages lasted from Pesach until 
Shovuos, with the exception of the day of Lag Bo-omer. 
Among some East European Jews today, the restriction is in 
full force from Pesach until Shovuos, except Lag Bo-omer, 
Rosh Chodesh lyor, Rosh Chodesh Sivon, and the three days 
preceding Shovuos. 

The prohibition also extended to the cutting of hair, and 
in some communities women refrained from doing any work 
after sunset on those days. 216 

Origin of Marriage Czistoms . . . The customs connected 
with marriage are very old. While the religious ceremonies 
associated with marriage are a product of a higher spiritual 
culture, the popular customs stem from primitive times. For 
quite a time they were a topic of discussion among scholars of 
primitive culture and comparative folklore. Various theories 
have been offered to explain their origin. But each theory ex- 
plains only some of the customs without necessarily excluding 
the other theories. Sometimes a single custom may spring from 
different motives and admit of more than one explanation. 
In the following we shall briefly touch upon these theories 


as far as they are applicable to Jewish marriage customs. 

Some of the Jewish marriage customs involve no primitive 
beliefs. They are mere symbols of unison and concord be- 
tween the bridal pair. Such symbols are the drinking of wine 
from the same cup by the bridal pair at the marriage ceremony 
and the exchanging of gifts between them. Marriage signi- 
fies also the union of two families. This is symbolized by the 
wedding feast eaten together after the marriage ceremony. 

We have to treat at a little greater length another set of 
marriage customs derived from the belief that on the wedding 
day the bridal pair was menaced by evil powers. Primitive man 
feared evil spirits at every critical moment and every im- 
portant step of his life, particularly at the three important 
mon ents of his earthly career: birth, marriage, and death. 217 

Guarding the Bridegroom . f . The Oriental peoples believed 
that male demons desired to marry the daughters of men, and 
vice versa, and that the demons were envious of the bridal pair, 
especially of the bridegroom, their ostensible rival, whom they 
sought to destroy. The bride whose five or seven successive 
bridegrooms were killed by a demon on the wedding night 
was the theme of many popular tales. We find this theme in 
Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha. One protagonist 
of the story of Tobit is Sara, the pious daughter of Raguel, 
who lived in Ecbatana, a city of Media. This pious Jewess had 
been married to seven successive men whom the evil spirit 
Asmodeus had killed on the wedding night. She was ultimately 
married to Tobias, the son of the pious Tobit, who succeeded 
in escaping death at the hand of Asmodeus by employing a 
charm against him prepared at the direction of the angel 
Raphael. The charm consisted of smoke made by the heart 
and liver of a fish, burnt on coal and placed on the ashes of 
perfume. Asmodeus, smelling this smoke, fled into the furthest 
parts of Egypt. 218 

Hiding the Bridal Pair ... It was already remarked in a 
previous chapter that primitive man devised a varied strategy 


in this warfare against evil spirits. He tried to shut them out 
by hiding the threatened person. He tried to deceive them and 
to frighten them, and he even tried to appease them with offer- 
ings, with gifts. These various strategems employed by primi- 
tive man in his warfare against the evil spirits explain the 
origin of many marriage customs as well as they explain the 
origin of many customs connected with the birth of a child 

(see p. 65). 

The first precaution taken was to prohibit the bridegroom 
and the bride from going out alone during the week preceding 
and, in some regions, also during the week following the wed- 
ding, especially at night when the demons spread their terror. 
Precaution was also taken to keep the bridal pair from sight 
on the wedding day. Veiling the face of the bride was a preva- 
lent custom, employed among Jews and other Orientals since 
ancient days. At the wedding in Mayence previously de- 
scribed, the bridegroom also hid his head under the cowl of 
his cape during the marriage ceremony, although it was mostly 
the face of the bride which had to be concealed from the 
jealous eyes of the demons. There may have been another 
motive for the use of the veil, as every snarl and knot was re- 
garded as a magic safeguard against evil spirits, based on the 
popular belief in the magic power of knots. 219 

Keeping the bridal pair out of sight may have been 
prompted by another motive. It has already been previously 
noted that, in the belief of primitive man, the bride and the 
groom had an evil eye for one another. Among some peoples, 
the bridal pair were not allowed to see one another in day- 
light for several days after the wedding. According to this be- 
lief, there was in general something sinister about the glances 
of the bridal pair which ought therefore to be avoided (see 
pp. 130, 131 and 203). 

Combating the Evil Spirits . . . Another strategem employed 
in combating the evil spirits was to deceive them in such a 
manner that they should not recognize that a wedding was 


being performed. Various ruses were devised to make the de- 
mons believe that this was an occasion of mourning. This pro- 
cedure explains why the traditional Jewish wedding of former 
days was marked by so many signs of mourning. The bride 
did her best to weep as much as possible. Both the bride and 
groom wore white shrouds at the marriage ceremony as a re- 
minder of the burial shroud. The custom of having the bride- 
groom wear a kittel (white shroud) under his talis during the 
marriage ceremony was in force until recently among East 
European Jews. He also covered his head with ashes. This was 
an ancient sign of mourning which became a wedding custom 
in Talmudic days and persisted as such in Eastern Europe until 
our own time. 220 A few centuries ago, in some Jewish com- 
munities, the bridegroom wore a black kerchief on his head 
during the marriage ceremony as a sign of mourning. 

No traces of joy or gaiety were present in the traditional 
Jewish wedding procession until the marriage ceremony was 
over. These signs of sadness and mourning were later divested 
of their original magic character and new interpretations given 
to them. The signs of mourning remained only as a reminder of 
the destruction of Jerusalem. The white shroud, a reminder 
of death rather than of national disaster, was declared a means 
of restraining the bridal pair from excessive joy. 

In a special category is the fasting of the bridal pair until 
the wedding ceremony is over, as if it were a day of mourning. 
Jewish religious authorities in the Middle Ages were not in 
agreement as to whether the bride should fast, some believing 
the fast incumbent on the bridegroom only. Later this pro- 
cedure was universally accepted for both bridegroom and 
bride. The fasting of the bridal pair could not be interpreted 
as a symbol of national mourning; so other explanations were 
offered. Most popular was the explanation that the day of the 
wedding is a day of destiny, a day of atonement for the bridal 
pair on which they must fast as on Yom Kippur. It was this 
explanation which caused the custom to persist, but it may 
have originally been based upon two other motives. Besides 


the necessity of making the wedding day appear as a day of 
mourning, there was also a popular belief that abstinences of 
various kinds practiced by the bridal pair on the wedding day 
are a means of averting evil from them. Among some peoples 
it was the custom for the bridal pair not to speak on the wed- 
ding day or at least not to speak aloud. 221 

One additional ruse employed to deceive the evil spirits at 
weddings must be mentioned People believed that disguises 
confounded the evil spirits so that they did not know who was 
who. This explains the custom of painting the faces of the 
bridal pair, still prevalent among Oriental Jews. The bride 
and groom were painted in order that the evil spirits should 
not recognize them. At weddings, the bridegroom and the 
bride even interchanged clothes. Although the interchange of 
garments between sexes was forbidden by the Mosaic Law, it 
was still in vogue among the Jews of Egypt at the time of 
Maimonides (twelfth century). Apparently, under the influ- 
ence of the non- Jewish environment, among the Egyptian 
Jews the bride was dressed like a man and the bridegroom like 
a woman. Maimonides abolished this practice. However, in the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mention is again made 
of an ordinance, among the Jews of Italy, against masquerad- 
ing at weddings and at circumcision celebrations. Apparently 
this practice was due to the influence of non-Jewish surround- 
ings. However, in the interchange of clothes between the bride 
and groom one more motive may have been involved. It may 
have symbolized the complete union of the bridal pair. 222 

But even these means of concealment, supplemented by 
tricks of deception, were not deemed adequate protection from 
the evil spirits. Primitive men used numerous talismans and 
charms to frighten the demons and put them to flight in case 
they dared appear. We have cited the story from the Book of 
Tobit in which the demon Asmodeus was driven away by the 
smell of the smoke made by burning the heart and liver of a 
fish. The smell of smoke was generally believed efficacious in 
dispelling evil spirits. Smoke was a protection against injury 


from an evil eye, and among some peoples it was customary 
before the wedding to fumigate the bridegroom and bride. A 
similar custom was the bathing of the bride before the wed- 
ding, for, according to primitive man, spirits recoiled before 
water, because they could not cross it. The Caucasian Jews 
led both the bride and the groom to the bath before the 
chupo. 223 However, among the Chasidim in Eastern Europe 
immersion before the chupo is part of the physical and mental 
preparation for marriage as a sacred rite. 

There are additional charms already mentioned, which we 
note again in connection with weddings. Light was a popular 
charm. The demons, who held sway only in darkness, shunned 
the light. This explains the lighted torches and candles at wed- 
dings used from ancient times to the present day. The closed 
circle was a popular charm, explaining the encirclings around 
the bride under the chupo. This magic circle may also have 
motivated the marriage ring, not excluding other motives. 
Iron, salt, legumes and weapons were regarded as charms 
against evil spirits. This explains many marriage customs 
among Jews. Among the Jews in some parts of Germany in 
the Middle Ages, a piece of iron was placed in the bride- 
groom's pocket before he was led to the marriage ceremony. 
In olden times, salt was put in the garlands of the bride and 
the bridegroom. In Biblical times, weapons were brandished in 
the wedding procession. Among the Jews of Egypt, in the 
time of Maimonides, the bride, dressed like a man, danced with 
a sword brandished in her hand. At the weddings of the East 
European Jews, it was customary as late as a generation ago 
to serve cooked and salted beans and peas just as it was done 
at the birth of a child. 

Plants with a strong odor, i.e., garlic and myrtle, were 
among the magic means employed against evil spirits and 
witchcraft. The amuletic character of the myrtle was en- 
hanced by its unwithering leaves. This accounts for the plant's 
popularity at weddings as a bridal garland, and also as an 
adornment of the wedding guests, 224 


Frightening away demons with loud noise may have been 
the original motivation for breaking of the glass at the mar- 
riage ceremony, a custom mentioned as far back as the twelfth 
century. In the sixteenth century, the custom arose among the 
Jews of Germany to break dishes at the knas mahl also. This 
custom was apparently due to the non-Jewish environment, 
for in southern Germany the Germans broke dishes at the 
engagement, whereas in other parts of Germany, the tumultu- 
ous breaking of dishes took place on the evening preceding 
the wedding, which was called Palter Abend (evening of 
noise and clattering). In recent times, the order of this ob- 
servance within the chupo ceremony was changed. In most 
communities instead of breaking the glass after the wedding 
benedictions at the very end of the marriage ceremonial, the 
bridegroom broke it in the midst of the ceremony, after he had 
recited the betrothal formula. This custom of breaking a glass 
at the marriage ceremony, and earthen dishes at the knas 
mahl, was later interpreted as a reminder of the destruction of 
Jerusalem, an explanation which seems forced and untenable 
when we remember that breaking dishes was accompanied by 
a loud and joyful "Mazol Tov" from all present. The magic 
origin of this custom explains why the S'fardim in Jerusalem 
hide every splinter of the broken glass, and why the breaking 
of the glass is accompanied by the recitation of the verse of 
the Psalms, "The snare is broken and we are escaped" (see 
p. 201). 

However, the primitive idea of driving away demons by 
noise does not fully explain the custom of breaking the glass 
at the marriage ceremony. Originally, the bridegroom dashed 
the glass against a wall with the wine still in it, spilling the 
wine. This displayed a second motive for this custom pro- 
pitiating the evil spirits by offering them gifts. Wine and oil 
were prominent among the gifts which effected the with- 
drawal of the demons. 225 

Appeasing evil spirits with gifts may have motivated the 
custom prevalent in Talmudic times when wine and oil flowed 


in profusion, and nuts, parched corn and other sweetmeats 
were thrown before the wedding procession of the bridal pair. 
The wine and oil were also used as an expression of honor ac- 
corded to men of fame on their entry into a town. The nuts, 
parched corn and other sweetmeats thrown before the bride- 
groom and the bride may have had an entirely different mean- 
ing, for in primitive belief they were considered omens of 
fertility and an abundant life. 226 

Omens of Fertility . . . Mention has been made of the primi- 
tive belief in sympathetic magic, the belief that every activity 
called forth its counterpart. If water was poured, rain would 
come; if one ate sweet dishes at the beginning of the year, 
sweetness was presaged for the entire year; if bread was the 
first thing brought into a new dwelling, bread would never be 
lacking there. Magic rites of this kind, which presaged fertility 
and an abundant life, have always played a prominent role 
at weddings among the Jews as well as among other peo- 

The grains of fertile plants were among the omens of fer- 
tility. In Talmudic times, a short time before a wedding, seeds 
of barley were planted in an earthen pot on behalf of the 
bridal pair. When the seeds began to sprout, the pot was 
brought to the bridal pair with the words, u As these barley 
seeds sprout, so you shall be fruitful and multiply." 227 At the 
weddings in Mayence and in Worms described above, grains 
of wheat were thrown over the heads of the bridal pair. 
Among East European Jews, this rite of sympathetic magic 
was practiced at weddings a generation ago where raisins, hops, 
rice, nuts, and almonds were used. 

The hen played a prominent part in the magic rites of 
fertility. As far back as the beginning of the Common Era, 
Palestinian Jews carried a hen and a cock before the bridal 
pair in the wedding procession, and as late as the fifteenth 
century, the Jews of Posen caused a hen and a cock to fly 
over the chupo after the marriage ceremony. At the wedding 


in Mayence, described above, the bridal pair broke their fast 
after the marriage ceremony with an egg and hen. 22S 

The fish was also regarded as a symbol of fertility. In the 
Middle Ages, the bridal pair ate fish on the day after the wed- 
ding. In some Jewish communities of the Orient, the women 
bring two fish in a silver vessel to the wedding ceremony and 
place the vessel on the earth close to the canopy. 229 

Not all the practices of sympathetic magic at weddings per- 
tain to omens of fertility. Some of them are omens of general 
good luck as the large loaf of white bread with which the 
bridal pair were met on their return from the chupo ceremony 
and the kneading bowl on which the bride was seated (see 
pp. 190 if.)- Among the S'fardim, the gold coins given to the 
bride and bridegroom by their relatives after the chupo cere- 
mony were omens of good fortune. The custom of mixing 
coins with the grains of wheat thrown over the heads of the 
bridal pair, practiced among the German Jews in the Middle 
Ages, may have been similarly motivated, representing a two- 
fold omen in which the grains of wheat presaged fertility, and 
the coins, material fortune. The coins, however, were used for 
charity, and were picked up by the poor. 

"Mazol Tov" and "Simon Tov" ... In previous descriptions 
of weddings the readers have noticed the two formulas of 
congratulation used among Jews since the Middle Azes: Mazol 
Tov among the Ashk'nazim, and Siman Tov among the S'far- 
dim. Both formulas can be traced to ancient beliefs cherished 
by all peoples in bygone days. 

Originally, mazol meant a constellation of the Zodiac and 
also a planet, which is the Biblical and Talmudic meaning of 
the word. Because of the universal belief that the fate of men 
and the success of their enterprises depended upon the position 
and aspect of the stars, the word mazol in the Talmud and 
Midrash acquired a secondary meaning star of destiny, and 
destiny in general. In the Middle Ages among the Franco- 
German Jews, "Mazol Tov" became an expression synony- 


mous with "good luck," until gradually all traces of its astro- 
logical background were forgotten. 

In olden times, the fortune of man was read not only in the 
stars, but in countless objects and occurrences, especially ex- 
traordinary ones, which were interpreted as good or bad 
omens. "Siman Tov," good omen, is a current expression in 
the Talmud and Midrash. Although the original background, 
the belief in good or bad omens, has been lost, the expression 
is still retained among the S'fardim as a formula of congratula- 

tion. 230 


Beath, Jfuneral, Burial, and Mourning 


In Biblical Times 

In Biblical times, the Jewish outlook on life and death differed 
from that of a later day. In those days the Jew looked for his 
salvation and centered his thought not on heaven, but on the 
earth with its abundance of fruit, corn, wine and oil. He identi- 
fied himself with his kindred in the earthly life which he lived 
upon the good land the God of his ancestors had given him. 
He dwelt among his own people and was gathered to them 
after his death. 

When a man felt that he was about to "go the way of all 
the earth" and be "gathered unto his people," he called his 
children to him and blessed them, charging them to execute 
his will, particularly in regard to his burial. The just and God- 
fearing man commanded his children to keep the way of the 
Lord, to do righteousness and justice after his death. The 
leader of the people sometimes delivered an address of great 
import when he felt his end was approaching. In the Bible, 
Moses and Joshua addressed the people before their death, 231 

When death came, all the relatives and friends gave vent to 
their grief, aloud. They moaned and smote their breasts. They 
sobbed and lamented wherever they were on the flat roofs 
of the houses, or in the streets. 232 

Gestures of Mourning . . . With the coming of death, many 
duties and observances were incumbent upon the mourners. 
The first thing to be done was to close the eyes of the deceased, 
and to kiss him. Then the mourners rent their outer garments 
and attired themselves in coarse sackcloth. They laid aside 
their head ornaments, tore their hair and plucked their beards 



or made a bald spot in them. They covered their heads, or at 
least the upper lip, strewed dust and ashes on their heads, re- 
moved their shoes, and sat on the ground in the dust. They 
even made incisions in their flesh. 233 

The Funeral . . . Among the ancient peoples of the Orient, 
including the Jews, a corpse was regarded as the ultimate 

The burial, therefore, took place on the same day as the 
death. In the Bible, the bier on which the corpse was carried 
in the funeral procession is called ?mto, the Hebrew word for 
bed, apparently the deathbed. The mito was followed by the 
mourners who lamented the deceased with loud weeping. 
Learned women, who were professional wailers, were hired 
to add their voices to the lamentations of the women of the 
household. This custom is still prevalent in the Orient. There 
were men who were known as accomplished mourners, but 
women mourners predominated, apparently superior to men 
in their ability to display grief and to bring tears to all eyes. 
David, in his elegy over Saul and his son Jonathan, addressed 
himself not to the sons but to the daughters of Israel, bidding 
them weep (n Sam. 1:24). Jeremiah, sensing impending de- 
struction, bade his people call forth the mourning women that 
they might "take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run 
down with tears and our eyelids gush out with waters" (9: 16- 
17). These professional wailers walked before the bier, with 
shrilly dramatic lamentations. They sang a dirge (kino) com- 
posed according to an established rhythm and beginning with 
the word echo (how). One woman led the chanting of the 
dirge, and the rest responded in a chorus. The chant was 
accompanied by the playing of pipes. Ejaculations were ut- 
tered as: "Alas, Alas! Ah, my brother! Ah, my sister! Ah, 
Lord! Ah, His glory!" 23 * 

Burial . . . The dead were always interred. Cremation was 
regarded as an abuse of the dead, and was applied only to 


certain criminals condemned to death, to enhance their pun- 
ishment. It was a disgrace and a calamity to remain unburied. 
Even a criminal was buried on the same day on which he was 
executed. 233 

The clothed corpse was laid in the grave uncoffined. The 
dead were buried in the clothes they wore in life, which ac- 
counted for the prevalent belief that the deceased could be 
recognized by their costume in Sheol, the nether world. 236 
Embalming was not a Jewish practice. The embalming of 
Jacob and Joseph referred to in the Bible was an Egyptian 
custom as was the use of a coffin in the Biblical phrase, "Joseph 
was put in a coffin in Egypt" (Gen. 50:2, 26). 

At the burial of rich people, particularly princes, a great fire 
was prepared. Fragrant spices, and apparently the bed and 
many other possessions which the deceased used in life, were 
burned in the blazing flame. 237 

In the ancient graves excavated in Palestine, many empty 
clay vessels were found, such as jars, plates, bowls and lamps. 
The archaeologists infer from this that the Jews, as well as 
their Canaanitic predecessors, placed food in the graves. 

In the Bible we hear of giving food for the dead. When a 
man "has made an end of tithing all the tithe of his increase," 
he declared in the sanctuary, "I have not eaten thereof in my 
mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, 
nor given thereof for the dead" (Deut. 26:12-14). In Tobit, 
an Apocryphal book of the time of the Second Temple, we 
continue to hear of food offered to the spirits of the dead. Be- 
fore his death, it is told, the pious Tobit called his son, Tobias, 
and among many other things, commanded him, "Pour out thy 
bread on the burial of the just, but give nothing to the wicked" 
(Tobit 4: 17) . Food for the dead was not always genuine food. 
Fine white sand used as a substitute for flour was found in 
excavated graves. 238 

Period of Mourning . . . The mourners fasted for the dead, 
eating a meal which was called "the bread of mourners" only 


in the evening of the day of burial. According to prescribed 
custom, the mourners could not prepare their own food, which 
was therefore brought in by the neighbors, who joined in a 
common feast. With the food, the neighbors gave the mourn- 
ers a cup to drink, called "the cup of consolation." Some- 
times the fast lasted for seven days and was only interrupted 
in the evenings. 239 

The mourning lasted at least a week. During these days ac- 
quaintances visited the mourners to comfort them. A father 
or a mother, or great and famous men, were mourned for 
thirty days with less intensiveness. 240 

These marks of mourning and modes of burial, many of 
which now appear very strange, were not peculiarly Jewish, 
but were common to most of the peoples of the ancient Orient. 
The Jews who took them over in their entirety from their 
Canaanitish neighbors did not extend and embellish them. Al- 
though their origin had long faded from memory, they still 
retained a touch of ancestral worship which the Jewish re- 
ligion so sternly opposed. Some of these customs of mourning, 
i.e., tearing the hair, and making incisions in the flesh, were 
rigidly forbidden by the Mosaic Law, but only in the course 
of time were these practices actually discarded by the people. 241 

Graves . . . When one departed from life, he "lay with his 
fathers" or "was gathered unto his people." These phrases of 
the Bible may be taken literally, because the dead were usually 
buried in a family grave, a burial chamber where all the mem- 
bers of the family rested side by side. This grave was "a pos- 
session of burying place" on ground which was the property 
of the family. There were single graves, but no cemeteries 
existed as we know them, as a common field of interment for 

1 * 2-42 

the entire community. 

No one wished to be buried in a strange place. Barzillai, the 
Gileadite, refused to go with King David to Jerusalem, be- 
cause he was fourscore years old and wished to die in his own 
city and be buried in the grave of his father and mother 


(n Sam. 19:36). Those who lived in a strange land charged 
their children before dying to carry them to their native land, 
and place their bodies in the burying place of their ancestors. 
This is illustrated in the Bible, in the stories of Jacob and 
Joseph. No matter how long a man lived in a strange land, his 
real home remained the place where his forefathers rested in 
the family grave. Nearly one and a half centuries after the 
destruction of Jerusalem, Nehemiah said to the Persian King 
Artaxerxes, "Why should not my countenance be sad, when 
the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste?" 
(Nehemiah 2:3). To be buried far away from the family 
sepulchre was a severe punishment. 

Family ties endured even in the grave. The sepulchre was 
originally in the immediate neighborhood of the family dwell- 
ing place, in the garden or court of the house. In the course 
of time the tendency developed to remove the graves from the 
dwellings of the living, especially in the cities, where it was im- 
possible to have the sepulchre near the house. The kings of 
Judah whose sepulchres were in the grounds of their castle 
were an exception in this respect. Even the grave outside the 
gates of the city remained a family grave, bearing an inscrip- 
tion with a warning that no stranger should be interred 
within. 243 

The numerous natural caves in Palestine were used as the 
first family graves. The sepulchral caves were extended as the 
need arose. Artificial grottos were dug where natural caves 
were unavailable. Later, the Jews adopted from the Phoeni- 
cians the custom of hewing graves from the stony slopes of the 
mountains. The Palestinian mountains consist of limestone 
which is easy to cut and is durable. There, single graves were 
hewn out of the mountains' stony ground as well as wide, deep 
burial chambers which served as family sepulchres. These 
hewn graves were naturally expensive, and used only by the 
richer classes. The poor continued to use the caves for burial. 
In the burial chamber, the dead were interred in niches, cavities 
dug horizontally in the perpendicular wall. There were other 


modes of burial for poor people without "a possession of a 
burying place" who humbly laid their dead in a common field 
of graves. In the Bible, mention is made of a field of graves 
situated near Jerusalem called "the graves of the common peo- 
ple" (n Kings 23:6; Jer. 26:23). 

In Biblical times, the graves of the Jews, unlike the Egyptian 
tombs, were of the utmost simplicity, without ornamentation 
and embellishment in or outside the burial chamber. Before 
the Greek period, the Jews did not mark each grave with a 
stone. That was a Phoenician fashion. In the Bible, King Saul 
and Absalom, the son of King David, set up monuments for 
themselves while they were still alive, and not as monuments 
for their graves. The Bible mentions a "sign" of a grave, but 
this was not a monument to commemorate the dead, but a 
sign to mark the site of an unnoticeable grave or the grave of 
a distinguished person. 24 * 


In the First Centuries of the Common Era 

The rites and customs of burial and mourning, as well as many 
other aspects of Jewish life, changed in many respects in the 
course of the centuries between ancient Biblical days and the 
period with which we are now concerned. The change was 
due in part to the influence of Greco-Roman civilization, but 
more essentially to the inner development of religious concepts 
and beliefs among Jews, particularly those concerning death. 

In Biblical times, the rites and customs connected with 
death stood entirely apart from the Jewish religion. Jewish 
leaders were rather hostile to the customs practiced when 
death occurred. Some of the mourning customs were sternly 
prohibited by the teachers and spokesmen of the Jewish faith 
who considered them primitive and heathen in nature, not 
befitting a people holy unto the Lord. Other customs, which 
were not considered particularly heathenish or repugnant, 
were tolerated as outbursts of grief. Such customs, still re- 
membered as originating in the primitive belief in the spirits 
of the dead, could not become an integral part of the estab- 
lished rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion and retained 
their existence only as popular customs. 

In the era of which we now speak, this situation was en- 
tirely changed. The origin of these customs had been almost 
forgotten. The Jewish monotheistic religion, firmly estab- 
lished and deeply rooted, was in no danger any more of being 
submerged by heathen beliefs and cults. Thus, official sanction 
was given now to many popular customs and practices. The 
whole outlook on death had been changed by the belief in the 
future life in heaven and in the resurrection of the dead with 



the coming of the Messiah. The majority of the Jews, the fol- 
lowers of the Pharisees, believed that death is not the total 
extinction of man's life as it was conceived in ancient Biblical 
days (see further on pp. 237 ff.). 

The rites, customs, and practices connected with death, 
burial, and mourning, assumed a new aspect. They no longer 
stood apart from the Jewish religion, but became an integral 
part of Jewish religious life, with the rabbis of the Talmud 
regulating all minute details. 

As Death Drew Near ... At this period written testaments 
were already in vogue, although any oral will made by a man 
mortally ill was as valid and binding as a written will. 

At the end of a man's life, besides testaments in regard to 
property, he often charged his offspring to carry on his ideals 
and his way of life. We do not find any ethical wills in writ- 
ing, but we do hear of many verbally delivered testaments of 
this character. In ancient Biblical times, in some rare instances, 
leaders had addressed the people before their death. Now re- 
ligious and moral exhortations had become popular, especially 
among the religious teachers of the people, the rabbis of the 
Talmud. Some of them who remained conscious until the mo- 
ment of death uttered statements from the Torah, recited 
psalms and prayers, and made a confession of their sins. 2 * 5 

When Death Came . . . When death came, the eyes and 
mouth of the deceased were closed, usually by the oldest son. 
The kinsfolk gave the departed a farewell kiss. All who were 
present at the deathbed tore their garments. Under foreign 
influence, many innovations were introduced in regard to the 
treatment of the corpse. It was laid on the floor on sand, or on 
a layer of refrigerated salt in order to prevent rapid decay in 
the hot climate. Cooling vessels of metal were placed on the 
dead body for the same purpose. An oil lamp or a torch 
burned at the head of the corpse. In general, great care was 
taken not to dishonor the dead. 


The news of a death was announced by the sound of a 
crumpet. All the inhabitants of the locality were in duty bound 
to refrain from their usual labors, unless there was a burial 
brotherhood which took care of the burial. 245 

Preparations -for the Funeral . . . There was only a short in- 
terval between death and interment, the burial taking place 
on the same day as the death, as in Biblical times. Delay of 
the burial until the next day was permitted only if the delay 
contributed to the honor of the departed one in order to notify 
people of the surrounding towns and villages of the funeral; 
or if the professional wailing women had to be brought from 
another locality; or if the coffin and shrouds could not be pre- 
pared on the same day. In Jerusalem, under no circumstances, 
was a corpse allowed to remain within the gates overnight. 
The corpses were deposited in open graves and carefully in- 
spected for several days in order to ascertain that death had 
really occurred. 

Among the Greeks and Romans, and also among the Jews, 
the corpse was washed and anointed with scented oil. The 
kinsfolk and friends of the family performed this rite unless 
there was a burial brotherhood in the community. In the case 
of persons of high rank, and among the well-to-do in general, 
the body was anointed with various expensive spices such as 
myrrh, aloes and many others. Burning coals laden with spices 
were placed before the dead, and vessels with spices were 
carried before the bier. Garlands of fragrant myrtle twigs 
were also laid on the coffin. 247 

Shrouds and Coffins . . . The dead were not buried uncoffined 
in the clothes they wore in life, as in Biblical days, but they 
were interred in coffins and wore garments especially prepared 
for the grave. 

It became a popular belief that the dead would rise from 
their graves in the same clothes in which they were buried, 
and this fact may have played a part in regard to the garments 


of the grave. People provided fine garments for the dead for 
that great day of the Messianic Era. 

There was extravagant expense and display in dressing the 
corpse, which was usually wrapped in three garments made 
of byssus. Funerals and burial were such an expense for the 
poor classes that at times the burial expense was a greater 
calamity to the relatives than the actual death. Many poor 
people deserted their dead and disappeared. Following the sec- 
ond destruction of Jerusalem, Rabbon Gamaliel, the Patriarch 
of Jabneh, sought to lighten the funeral burden of the poor by 
disregarding the fashionable custom. In his testament he ex- 
pressed the desire to be buried in cheap common linen and his 
example was followed by the people. Still people were re- 
luctant to reduce the number of burial garments. Judah the 
Patriarch, grandson of Rabbon Gamaliel, on his deathbed, ex- 
pressed his desire not to be buried in several garments. Even- 
tually the corpse was wrapped in a single garment of cheap 
linen, and simplicity at funerals became the general rule. In 
Babylonia, in the fourth century, people used rough cloth 
worth a mere zuz (a quarter of a shekel) for burial shrouds. 
The poor and destitute even buried their dead in a mat of 
reeds, but this was regarded as a disgrace. According to the 
popular belief, the soul of a man who received such a burial 
was bound to the tomb, and could not join the company of* 
invisible spirits who hovered over the world. 

There was no exclusive color for burial shrouds. The preva- 
lent color was white. Black was also used and even variegated 
colors. Before death, some of the Palestinian Amora-im (the 
sages of the Talmud from the third century on) expressed 
their desire to be buried in a white garment, while others pre- 
ferred variegated colors. The Palestinian Amora, Rabbi Jere- 
miah (fourth century), expressed his desire to be wrapped in 
a white garment, with shoes on his feet and a staff in his hand, 
and to be buried in a roadside grave in order that he might be 
completely prepared for the resurrection. 

The coffin was of wood, preferably cedar, but sometimes 


of limestone or clay. A cover was spread on the bottom of the 
coffin and the corpse, dressed in his shroud, was laid on it, face 
upward. In former days there had been a class distinction in 
regard to covering the face of the corpse. The faces of the 
rich people were uncovered, but the faces of the poor people 
were covered, in order to hide the marks of poverty and 
hunger. After the disasters following the wars against Rome, 
this class distinction was abolished and the faces of both rich 
and poor were covered. Only the face of a bridegroom who 
died betrothed was uncovered. 

Apparently under the influence of neighboring peoples, 
various objects which the dead used in life, as keys or a writ- 
ing tablet, were placed in or hung on the coffin, especially in 
the case of one who died childless. When a man died be- 
trothed, his inkstand and writing pen were laid in the coffin 
to show that in death he was ready to write the k'subo which 
he was not privileged to write in life. A Scroll of the Torah 
was placed on the coffins of distinguished scholars, demon- 
strating the zeal with which the dead studied and observed all 
that was written therein. Later, the Scroll of the Torah was 
merely carried in front of the bier. Abba Saul ben Batnith, 
one of the Tannaim (the sages of the Talmud in the first two 
centuries of the Common Era) who lived immediately after 
the destruction of Jerusalem, asked that the blue thread of his 
tsitsis be deposited in his coffin. Josephus relates that King 
Herod lay in a coffin with a diadem on his head, a crown above 
it and a sceptre in his right hand. Jews deposited valuable orna- 
ments and treasures in the sepulchres of kings. 

The coffin was carried to the grave on a bier. The rich pro- 
vided an extravagantly lavish bier consisting of a richly 
adorned and highly decorated couch. King Herod was car- 
ried to his sepulchre on a golden bier covered with purple 
cloth, embroidered with many precious stones. The poor used 
a common frame made of reeds. This class distinction was also 
abolished in the period following the destruction of Jerusalem 
and all coffins were carried on cheap reed biers. 248 


The Funeral . . . The funeral procession went from the 
house of the departed to the grave, attended by almost the 
entire community, who considered it a religious duty to join 
and accompany a funeral procession. Even the study of the 
Torah could be interrupted to pay the last honor to the dead. 
If one could not join the funeral procession, he at least rose 
from his place when it passed. 

The bier was carried on the shoulders of pall-bearers who 
walked barefooted. Carrying the bier was considered a re- 
ligious act. A large number of pall-bearers surrounded the 
bier, and when one group was tired they were relieved by 
another. The mourners followed, barefooted, directly behind 
the bier. Men and women taking part in the funeral procession 
were separated. In some localities the men followed the bier 
behind the mourners and the women walked before it; in other 
localities, the men preceded the bier while the women fol- 
lowed the mourners, as was customary among the Greeks. 

Hired mourning women were present at every funeral. 
Originally, they walked in front of the bier, as among the 
Egyptians. In this period, in Judea, the wailing women walked 
behind the bier; in Galilee, they walked before it. Musical in- 
struments were used; two pipes and one woman who chanted 
were the minimum of indispensable vocal and instrumental 
music. At some funerals, dirges and lamentations were chanted 
by many hired singers. Musicians accompanied the singers 
with pipes, horns, and tambourines. Even in broad daylight, 
the funeral cortege was accompanied by torch bearers. 

In this order the funeral procession, beginning at the house 
of mourning, went toward the burial place which was located 
at least fifty ells from the boundaries of the town. As the 
funeral cortege moved through the streets of the town, new 
people joined the procession, for to let a funeral procession 
pass without joining it was regarded as sinful. 

On the way, many stops were made in order that the bearers 
of the bier could be relieved by others who wished to share 
in this religious act. At these stops, the bier was placed in the 


street or on the road. In the case of a deceased female no stops 
were made, so as to avoid an accident which might make the 
corpse visible. 

At each stop, the hired mourners chanted their dirges and 
lamentations, beating their breasts, expressing grief in rhythmi- 
cal movements of the hands and feet, and eulogizing the dead. 
If there was only one hired mourner, the women attending 
the funeral voluntarily responded in chorus. Some fragments 
of the funeral dirges of that period have been preserved in the 
Talmud. In Palestine the wailing women called on all who 
attended the funeral to join in the song of lament with these 
words: "Weep with him, all you of bitter hearts!" In Baby- 
lonia, the mourners chanted: "Hide yourselves and cover 
yourselves, you mountains, for he was the son of high and 
exalted ones," laying stress on the merits of the ancestors of 
the deceased. 249 

Funeral Orations ... In addition to the songs of grief and 
lamentation, funeral discourses were delivered in which the 
life and good deeds of the dead were eulogized in the current 
style and manner connecting and interweaving those deeds 
with verses of the Bible. The significance attached to the 
funeral orations varied. Some regarded them as a consolation 
to the survivors, but for the most part, the eulogy was a mark 
of honor to the departed. The popular belief was that, as long 
as the stone was not placed on the burial cave, the dead in a 
sort of dream heard the praise uttered in their memory. Before 
his death, the famous Babylonian Amora, Abba Arikha or Rav 
as he was called for short, urged Rabbi Samuel bar Shelath 
to deliver an impassioned oration over his corpse. "For," said 
he, "I shall surely be there and hear your words." 

Funeral orations were delivered at the stopping stations of 
the funeral cortege, or in a special building belonging to the 
family of the deceased, used in times of mourning and located 
near the burial place. Funeral orations were also delivered in 
the synagogue. Rabbi Judah the Patriarch died in Sepphoris, 


but his sepulchre was in Beth-Sh'orirn. On the way from Sep- 
poris to Beth-Sh'orim, the funeral cortege made stops at eight- 
een synagogues in order to hear the various funeral discourses 
delivered at each of them. 

The funeral speaker was a rabbi or a relative of the de- 
ceased, or a professional funeral speaker hired for this purpose. 
Often the eulogies of these professional funeral preachers 
aroused the ire of many people. Anecdotes were told about 
hired funeral speakers who were given the last savings of the 
family to deliver the funeral eulogy. In the case of unimportant 
people, only a set formula of commemoration was pronounced. 
Embellishing the facts in eulogizing the dead was not uni- 
formly the custom. In Judea, exaggerations were generally 
allowed; in Jerusalem, people kept strictly to facts. 

Some fragments of funeral eulogies delivered at the death 
of distinguished rabbis have been preserved in the Talmud. 
When Samuel the Little (one of the Tannaim who lived after 
the destruction of the Second Temple) died childless, his key 
and writing tablet were hung on his coffin and Rabbon Gama- 
liel and Rabbi Eliezer pronounced the following eulogy: 
"Over this one we ought to shed tears, over this one we have 
to grieve. When kings die they transmit their crown to their 
children, the wealthy leave their wealth to their children, but 
Samuel the Little has taken with him all the precious things of 
the world and has gone." In the Talmud are also found some 
fragments of funeral orations delivered by professional funeral 
orators in Babylonia, couched in pure poetic Hebrew. Here 
are two of them: 

'When the flame seized the cedars, what shall the hyssop 
on the wall do? When Leviathan was caught by the angler's 
hook, what shall the fishes of the pond expect? When the fish- 
ing line was dropped in the rushing stream, what shall the 
stagnant waters do?" 

"Weep for those who are mourning and not for the one 
whom we lost; for he came to his rest and we remained moan- 


The Last Funeral Rites . . . When the corpse was interred, 
final leave was taken from the departed with the words "Lech 
tfsholom" (go in peace) . The funeral rites were not completed 
until certain rites were observed after the burial. At some dis- 
tance from the grave, the participants in the funeral formed 
an aisle and as the mourners passed between, they uttered 
words of consolation. In some localities in Galilee, the mourn- 
ers stood in the line and the people comforted them, the 
mourners standing at the left of the comforters. On the return 
from the grave, stops were made at a minimum of seven places. 
At these stops, praises of the departed were pronounced, which 
consoled the survivors, and speeches were made by the mourn- 
ers to the assembled people. A signal was given for stopping 
and resuming the march. The formula for stopping was: "Sit 
down, worthies, sit down"; for resuming the march: "Rise 
up, worthies, rise up!" The signal was given by one of the 
worthies of the community or by the head of the burial broth- 
erhood where such a brotherhood was in existence. 

The rites of mourning lasted for seven days after the 
burial 251 

The Meal of the Mourners ... As in Biblical times, the 
mourners ate food brought to them by relatives and friends. 
On the first day, a mourner was not allowed to eat his own 
food. In the days preceding the second destruction of Jeru- 
salem, the meal eaten after the funeral was a splendid public 
feast, the expense of which ruined the poor who strove to 
emulate the rich. Josephus relates that Archelaus, the son and 
successor of Herod as ruler of Judea, gave a very expensive 
funeral feast to the multitude of Jerusalem during the entire 
seven days he mourned his father, and apparently he was not 
the only man of high rank to display such lavishness. The rich 
used valuable dishes on which to serve the funeral meal to the 
mourners, and the class distinction in this respect was as 
marked as the difference in the shrouds and bier. Among the 
rich, the food was brought to the mourners on dishes pf silver 


and gold, and wine was served in cups of rare and expensive 
white glass. Among the poor, food was brought in wicker 
baskets and the wine was served in cups of inexpensive colored 
glass. This class distinction also was eventually abolished, and 
both rich and poor brought food in inexpensive wicker baskets 
and served the wine in cups of cheap glass. The religious au- 
thorities declared that ten cups of wine be served the mourners 
in the house of mourning; three before the meal, three during 
the meal and four after the meal. Special benedictions and 
prayers were recited over the cups of wine poured after the 
meal in the presence of a quorum of ten, not including the 
mourners. A dish of lentils was prominent among the foods 
served to the mourners. The benedictions were recited at the 
meal eaten after the funeral, and also during the other seven 
days of mourning, if new visitors came to the house. The 
benedictions enhanced the religious aspect of the ceremony 
and integrated the rites and customs of mourning into the re- 
ligious life of the Jews. 

The Period of Mourning . . . The rabbis of the Talmud did 
not condone excessive grief and mourning for the dead, basing 
their exhortation on the words of Jeremiah, "Weep ye not for 
the dead, neither bemoan him" (Jer. 22: ro). According to the 
Talmud weeping should be limited to three days, lamentation 
to seven days, and refraining from calendering the clothes and 
cutting the hair to thirty days. Exceeding these limits consti- 
tuted a challenge to God, implying that human beings were 
more merciful than the Holy One, blessed be He. 

The practices of strict mourning during the "seven days" 
and the less severe practices during the "thirty days" were 
minutely regulated, and many points were disputed among the 
religious authorities of the Talmud. 

At this period as in Biblical times, many ancient customs of 
mourning were still practiced, as rending the garments, re- 
moving the shoes, covering the head and sitting on the ground. 
Some of the ancient customs had been changed and modified. 


The custom of wearing coarse sackcloth was discontinued. 
Instead, sackcloth was hung at the door. The custom of plac- 
ing dust on the head became merely a symbol, and instead of 
putting the dust on their heads, the mourners picked up some 
earth and threw it into the air. The primitive custom of making 
a bald spot in the hair was reversed, forbidding the mourner 
to cut his hair during the thirty days of mourning, and, in the 
case of the death of a father or a mother, until rebuked by his 
friends for his uncomeliness. 

Among the new customs of mourning was the inversion of 
beds, couches and lamps in the house of mourning during the 
seven days, with the exception of the Sabbath. The mourners 
slept and ate on these inverted beds. 252 

The old custom of fasting for the dead was discarded. 
Mourners refrained only from meat and wine before the 
burial, but were prohibited from bathing and anointing them- 
selves. The customs of mourning which had now become re- 
ligious precepts regulated in their details by the rabbis of the 
Talmud did not allow the mourner to leave the house of 
mourning or to pursue his handicraft even inside of the house. 
Only in case of dire want was a mourner allowed to pursue 
his occupation in privacy after the first three days have passed. 
A mourner was not allowed to read the Bible with the excep- 
tion of the books of Lamentations, Job, and the sad portions of 
Jeremiah, nor could he learn any branch of Talmudic lore, 
because it is assumed that the study of Torah brings joy. On 
the first three days a mourner might not put on phylacteries. 
During the first thirty days, the mourner might inquire for 
the peace of others, but others must not inquire for his peace. 

One peculiar custom of mourning in that period required 
the baring of the shoulder, compulsory only in the case of the 
death of a father or a mother. In the case of the death of other 
kinsfolk, the mourner's decision regarding the observance of 
this manifestation of mourning was voluntary. 

Even thirty days was not the maximum time of mourning. 
Only after twelve months was the state of mourning com- 


pletely ended. When one met a friend in mourning within 
the twelve months, he was supposed to speak words of conso- 
lation to him, but not to inquire for his peace. In the case of 
the death of a parent, within the twelve months the mourner 
could not participate in any joyous feast unless the feast was 
of such a nature that participation was considered a religious 
act (a mitsvo). 

These manifestations of mourning were not confined to 
death. They were also practiced on other occasions of dis- 
tress and grief, as in the case of excommunication or on fast 
days. 253 

Comforting the Mourners ... In the seven days of severe 
mourning, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and all the people 
of the community who were eager to do a pious deed, visited 
the house of mourning to console the mourners. If a man died 
leaving no survivors to mourn for him, ten men came to sit at 
the house where he died. In the first centuries of the Common 
Era a mourner did not leave the house of mourning even on 
the Sabbath to go to the synagogue. Instead, the people came 
to him. In this period, comforting mourners had assumed para- 
mount religious importance. The homilists of the Midrashim 
believed the comforting of mourners entailed a singular re- 
ligious merit which bestow r ed the Holy Spirit and rescued 
from Gehenna. In Jerusalem and in other cities and towns in 
Palestine, there was a special brotherhood who went to com- 
fort mourners, similar to other existing brotherhoods whose 
duties entailed religious merit (see p. 26 and p. 156). 

No one went to the house of mourning empty-handed. Ev- 
eryone carried some food, a cruse of wine, loaves of bread, 
vegetables and legumes. Cooked fish and meat were brought 
in a pot. If there was a brotherhood which went to houses of 
mourning, its members took care of providing the mourners 
with food. 

In the Talmud, in the second century C.E., we find a one- 
word formula for consoling mourners, consisting of the single 


Hebrew word tisnechomu (be comforted). Anyone could say 
this word, but few were able to pronounce the long benedic- 
tions and prayers which were recited over cups of wine after 
the meal of the mourners, following the funeral, and on the 
other seven days of mourning, if new faces appeared in the 
house. If a homilist was present, he delivered a homily appro- 
priate to the occasion. Here is the version of the benedictions 
and prayers recited in a house of mourning by a Palestinian 
Amora of the third century C.E. 

"Blessed be Thou, God our Lord, King of the world, the 
God who is great in the abundance of His greatness, mighty 
and strong in the multitude of awe-inspiring deeds, Who re- 
viveth the dead with His word, Who doeth great things 
that are unsearchable and wondrous works without number. 
Blessed Art Thou, O Lord, who revivest the dead." 

"Our brethren, who are worn out, who are crushed by this 
bereavement, set your heart to consider this. This it is that 
standeth forever, it is a path from the six days of creation. 
Many have drunk, many will drink; as the drinking of the 
first ones, so will be that of the last ones. Our brethren, the 
Lord of consolation comfort you. Blessed be He who com- 
forteth the mourners." 

"Our charitable brethren, bestowers of lovingkindnesses, 
who hold fast to the covenant of Abraham, our father, our 
brethren, may the Lord of recompense pay you your reward. 
Blessed art Thou, who payest the recompense." 

"Master of the worlds, redeem and save, deliver and help 
Thy people Israel from pestilence, and from the sword, and 
from plundering, and from the blast, and from the mildew, 
and from all kinds of calamities that may break forth and come 
into the world. Before we call, mayest Thou answer. Blessed 
art Thou who stayest the plague." 

The benedictions praised God, comforted the mourners, 
blessed the comforters of the mourners, and ended with a 
prayer asking God to save the Jewish people from the calami- 
ties which threaten the world. 


We are not sure whether these quoted benedictions were 
the accepted version or the composition of an individual 
Amora, Whatever the accepted version in the first centuries 
of the Common Era, in post-Talmudic times different ver- 
sions of the benedictions of mourners were in vogue, the pre- 
dominating motif of which was mourning for Zion, longing 
for the coming of the Messiah, and the rebuilding of Jeru- 
salem. In the course of time this rite of reciting special bene- 
dictions in the house of mourning was completely discarded. 254 

Bund ... In Rome, cremation was used more than inter- 
ment. In Babylonia where the fire-worshippers ruled, inter- 
ment and cremation were both interdicted on the ground that 
neither the earth nor the fire should be contaminated by a 
corpse, which was exposed on an elevated place to be devoured 
by birds of prey. Unlike the Romans and the Persians, the 
Jews exclusively disposed of the dead by burial Since their 
attitude was distinguished from their non-Jewish neighbors, 
their interment of the dead assumed among them a religious 
aspect. They declared that the earth atoned for the sins of 
the dead. 

This quality of expiation they attributed particularly to the 
soil of the Holy Land, basing the belief on the words of the 
Bible, "And doth make expiation for the land of His people" 
(Deut. 32:43). A Babylonian Amora expressed it in the sen- 
tence, u Being buried in the Land of Israel is like being buried 
under the Altar." In addition to this quality, it was believed 
that in the Messianic Era it w r ould be advantageous for the 
dead to be buried in Palestinian soil. Only in the Land of Israel 
would the dead rise from their graves, whereas in the lands of 
the dispersion, the dead would have to roll through caverns 
under the ground until they reached the Land of Israel. The 
dearest wish of every pious Jew was burial in the Holy Land. 
The coffins of many Princes of the Exile in Babylonia were 
brought for interment to the Land of Israel The Jews of 
Babylonia had a special reason for wishing to be buried in 


Palestine. They were not secure in their graves in Babylonia, 
for often the fire-worshippers, in their fanatical zeal for the 
tenets of their faith, dug up and despoiled Jewish graves. 

In those times, people walking in the streets of Palestinian 
towns often saw a coffin brought there from abroad. Some- 
times a small casket containing only the remaining bones of 
the corpse and not the coffin with the corpse was transported 
to the Holy Land. It was customary to place a handful of 
earth on the coffin as soon as it reached the soil of the Land of 
Israel, as an act of expiation for the sin of having lived and 
died "in an unclean land." 255 

A suicide was buried in silence, without any solemn rites or 
public manifestations of grief and mourning. Only the rites 
entailing honor to the survivors were observed. There was no 
manifestation of mourning for one who was executed by the 
Jewish court, but all" rites and honors were accorded to those 
who were executed by the Roman government for political 
offenses. An apostate was never mourned even by his nearest 
kindred. 256 

The Second Burial ... In the Greco-Roman period of Jew- 
ish history, Jews of Palestine reburied their dead after the 
corpse had been reduced to mere bones. The first burial in the 
family sepulchre was only temporary. After a lapse of a year 
or more, the niche in the cave or burial chamber hewn in a 
rocky mountain was opened and the bones were gathered and 
reburied in the same burial chamber or transferred to another 
burial place. The Talmud calls this second burial likut atsomos 
(gathering of bones). 

The work of gathering the bones was done by a grave-dig- 
ger whose vocation was the building of graves, by a brother- 
hood organized especially for this purpose, or by the relatives. 
Children were forbidden to gather the bones of their parents. 
The gathered bones were wrapped like a mummy with bands 
of linen, or placed in baskets or sacks after sprinkling them 
with wine or oiL The bones of men were gathered by men, 


the bones of women by women. The bones of two persons 
were not to be intermingled. 

At the second burial, the bones, placed in a special recepta- 
cle, were reburied in a cave or a field, a family possession. The 
rites and customs of mourning were partially repeated, but 
only until sunset. 

The receptacles in which the bones were permanently bur- 
ied were chests made of cedar, clay or soft stone. These little 
coffins were first unearthed, mostly in the vicinity of Jeru- 
salem, in the seventies of the nineteenth century. More re- 
cently, hundreds of them were found around Jerusalem. 

All were boxes of white limestone, with covers decorated 
with rosettes, colonnades, palm branches, and geometric draw- 
ings, and often bearing the name of the dead person in Hebrew 
or Greek. When these queer chests were first discovered, 
archaeologists were not able to explain their original nature 
and purpose. Finally, scholars were convinced that these boxes 
did not contain hidden valuables, but were ossuaries, recepta- 
cles for the bones of the dead. 

The second burial was not a universal custom among Jews, 
but was confined to Palestine in the Greco-Roman period. 
Even within the bounds of Palestine it was not practiced by 
all the Jews. The custom was practiced among the Greeks and 
the Romans. Some scholars see the influence of the Greco- 
Roman civilization in this practice of the Palestinian Jews; 
others ascribe it to the fact that the population of Palestine had 
increased enormously in the last two centuries of the Second 
Temple and there was not enough room in the family graves 
for all the dead. The two factors do not exclude one another; 
both had some influence in the development of this practice 
among the Palestinian Jews. 257 

The Burial Brotherhood . . . The burial brotherhood of this 
period was the predecessor of the Chevro Kadisbo (Holy 
Brotherhood) of our days. Originally, relatives and friends of 
the deceased took care of the corpse and the funeral. This 


proved embarrassing for the survivors, and in the Roman 
period, influenced apparently by the Roman burial societies, 
brotherhoods for burying the dead were founded in the larger 
Jewish communities. The burial brotherhood announced the 
news of the death, washed, anointed, and dressed the corpse; 
appointed pall-bearers, engaged musicians, chanting women 
and funeral orators, and in general, took care of the proper 
order of the funeral. There was a wfmune^ a supervisor of 
funerals, who was the head of the brotherhood. 

The burial brotherhood took up a collection of money when 
death occurred in a poor family which could not defray the 
burial expenses. Sometimes the money collected exceeded the 
sum needed for the burial and the Tannaim expressed various 
opinions regarding the use to be made of this surplus. One felt 
the remainder belonged to the heirs of the deceased; another, 
that it should be used for a monument on the grave; a third, 
that the money remain unused for an indefinite time ("until 
Elijah will come"). In order to forestall the exigency in case 
of death in a destitute family, a special communal fund was 
established for helping the poor to bury their dead. 258 

Graves and Monuments in Palestine ... In Palestine, Jews 
of this period had no cemetery, i.e., no common graveyard for 
the community, as in Biblical times. The dead were still in- 
terred in family sepulchres. Some few common graveyards 
existed as an exception to the rule the graveyard for those 
executed by the court, the field for the burial of strangers, and 
the field of graves for those who died in battle who were to 
be buried in the field where they fell. 

The dead were interred in sepulchres which were the prop- 
erty of the respective family, barring burial of all strangers. 
According to the Talmudic law, if one sold his family sepul- 
chre, his kinsfolk might bury him in it, for it was a discredit to 
the family to bury a member outside. 

The graves had to be located at least fifty ells from the 
town and not on its western side, in order to forestall the pel- 


luting of the air by the western winds blowing from the Medi- 
terranean, which predominate in Palestine, especially in the 

summer. 259 

The sepulchre, regarded as the house of the dead, resembled 
its counterpart, the house of the living. The burial ground was, 
and still is, called "house." The Bible terms it "house," "eternal 
house," "the house appointed for all living." In the Talmud 
and Midrash it is also called "eternal house" but mostly "house 
of graves." "Eternal House" (Beis Olam) , the "House of Life" 
(Beis Chayim) are the terms by which Jews still designate a 
cemetery. 260 

The sepulchre was influenced in many ways by the progress 
of civilization. In ancient pre-Greek times, Jewish graves were 
very simple, devoid of any ornamentation. In the Greco- 
Roman period, more stress was laid on the adornment of 
graves. The sepulchres of that period discovered near Jeru- 
salem show the influence of Greek and Egyptian art, although 
even at this period, Jews were far less extravagant than other 
nations. Jews built burial chambers of white marble or laid 
with marble plates, and the area on and around the burial 
ground was planted with trees and roses. 

In the Greco-Roman period it became fashionable to put 
up monuments on graves. We hear of a magnificent structure 
erected by Simon the Maccabee at Modin on the grave of his 
parents and his brethren. According to the First Book of Mac- 
cabees and Josephus, this structure, built of white, polished 
stone, rose to a great height in order to make it visible from 
afar. The structure was surrounded by arcades and provided 
with great monolithic pillars which could be seen from the 
Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Simon erected seven large and 
beautiful pyramids to commemorate his parents and brethren. 
This monument was still in existence in the fourth century 
(C.E.). Josephus also mentions the monument on the grave of 
John Hyrcanus, Simon's son, that on the grave of Alexander 
Janneus, Simon's grandson, and the three pyramids on the 
grave of Queen Helena of Adiabene and her sons. He also tells 


us that King Herod built a monument of white stone on the 
ancient grave of King David. There were various kinds of 
sepulchral monuments consisting of massive blocks of stone 
or monoliths. Some were built in the shape of houses resting 
on pillars and were provided with a compartment for the liv- 
ing, for the survivors, when they visited the grave, or as a 
regular dwelling for a watchman of the grave. Only two of 
these grave monuments have been preserved. 

These monuments were entirely different from the tomb- 
stones of our day and should not be confused with them. 
Some of them may have had the name of the dead on them, 
but their inscriptions did not describe the qualities of the de- 
ceased, give his or her age and the date of death. Nor did they 
bear the name matsevo by which the tombstones have been 
called since the Middle Ages. A monument on a grave in Tal- 
mudic times was called nefesh, the Hebrew word for soul 
(plural tf-foshos} , 

These expensive monuments were confined to the wealthy 
families. In the period following the second destruction of 
Jerusalem, spending great sums for the adornment of graves 
was not a popular practice. The rabbis of that period expressed 
their opposition to the erection of monuments in the Talmudic 
saying, "No monuments should be erected for the righteous, 
because their words are their memorial." Displeasure against 
the adornment of graves and erection of magnificent monu- 
ments may also be found in the statement of the Talmud that 
Amon and Moab, hostile neighbors of the Jews, told Nebu- 
chadnezzar that Jewish graves were more splendid than his 
palace. The rabbis of the Talmud projected the conditions of 
their own days into the distant past. 

The authorities marked spots in fields which might possibly 
contain the bones of dead. Signs were placed at both ends of 
these areas warning people not to tread on them and thereby 
incur impurity. These signs were whitewashed every year on 
the fifteenth of Ador, when the rainy season was over, in order 
that the pilgrims going to Jerusalem should avoid these spots. 281 


Graves were frequently visited, a practice still customary in 
the Orient, especially on fast days. The rabbis of the Talmud 
differed as to the purpose of this custom. One believed it signi- 
fied "We are before Thee as dead/' According to another 
opinion, visiting graves was permitted in order "that the de- 
parted ones should pray for mercy on our behalf," In post- 
Talinudic times many people gathered at the graves of scholars 
on the anniversary of their death. When a grave was visited, 
phylacteries could not be worn, a Scroll of the Torah could 
not be carried and the ritual threads (tsitsis) not worn close to 
the earth. For to do these things was a mockery of the dead 
and a transgression of the saying of Proverbs: "Whosoever 
mocketh the poor blasphemeth his Maker" (17:5). 

A special benediction was recited when graves were visited. 

Graves were visited only in broad daylight. To stay over- 
night in a burial ground, the haunt of the ghosts of the dead, 
was believed to be extremely dangerous. If a man was coura- 
geous enough to brave the danger and stay among graves 
overnight, people believed he might overhear conversation 
between the spirits of the dead and so procure advance infor- 
mation on fateful decisions made in heaven. 262 

Graves and Monuments in the Diaspora . . . From Palestine 
we turn to Babylonia which had become the seat of Jewish 
life and Jewish learning, by the side of the Land of Israel, 
Because of the nature of the terrain, which is free from caves 
and mountains, the Jews of Babylonia, unlike their Palestinian 
brethren, did not bury their dead in subterranean chambers, 
but in graves dug in the surface of the ground, with mounds of 
earth on top of them. These graves, level with a field, were not 
suited for family sepulchres. The burial grounds of the Baby- 
Ionian Jews became the common graveyard of the community, 
the cemetery, in the present sense of the word. 263 

From the East we turn west to Rome, where the settlement 
of the Jews dated back to the Maccabean age. The Jews of 
Rome retained their native custom of burying the dead in sub- 


terranean chambers. Many of these Jewish burial grottos in 
Rome were discovered and investigated in recent times. They 
were called by the Greek name catacombs. The ancient 
Christian catacombs of Rome were discovered first. Later, 
older Jewish catacombs were discovered, proving that the an- 
cient Christians had copied from the Je\vs the custom of in- 
terring the dead in subterranean graves. 

The Jews who had emigrated to Rome retained this native 
Palestinian custom, although in other respects they did adapt 
themselves to their heathen environment. Many Jewish cata- 
combs have decorations, picturing scenes from Greco-Roman 
mythology. Some of the catacombs were without any pic- 
tures, some w^ere decorated with Jewish motifs, as: a seven- 
branched candlestick, a Torah shrine, a shofor, an esrog, a 
lulov. There were also pictures, half Jewish, half heathen, as: 
a seven-branched candlestick in the hands of winged genii. 
Among the non-Jewish pictures found in the Jewish cata- 
combs was a picture of Fortuna, goddess of fortune and fate. 

In the catacombs, the dead were mostly buried uncoffined, 
but were equipped with jewelry and many useful objects. 
Bracelets inlaid with precious stones, amulets, lamps, gilded 
glasses, copper coins, and many other objects have been found. 
Giving a coin to the dead was a Greek custom, for the Greeks 
placed a coin under the tongue of the dead to pay Charon, the 
ferryman of Greek mythology, who ferried the deceased over 
the waters of death into the nether w r orld. 

In spite of the influence of the Roman environment, the 
Jews of Rome remained loyal to their people and their faith. 
This loyalty was proved by the sacred symbols of the syna- 
gogue which they depicted on their graves. 264 

In the Middle Ages 

While Jewish marriage was entirely transformed during the 
Middle Ages, the customs relating to death did not yield so 
much to the changes of time. These rites and usages, precepts 
and inhibitions in connection with death, fixed and regulated 
by the rabbis of the Talmud, have for the most part persisted 
until recent days. They are still being practiced among Ortho- 
dox Jews in America. In the long stretch of time separating 
the Talmudic era from the late Middle Ages, only a few of 
these practices were modified, or even discarded. The pro- 
cedure of burial and mourning remained essentially the same. 
Whatever changes took place were due more to the change 
of environment than to the factor of time. During the Middle 
Ages the main scene of Jewish life shifted from the East to 
the West. Some of the practices which had been appropriate 
to the Oriental scene were out of place among the Franco- 
German Jews. The general tendency was to discard the sump- 
tuous, extravagant and ostentatious practices of the Orient. 

In the following pages we shall outline the most conspicuous 
changes made during the Middle Ages. 

^n the Deathbed . . . The tsavo-o (command), the last will 
eft by the deceased, which in olden times was a verbal charge, 
Became a literary product, occasionally an elaborate treatise 
>n ritual and morals. The vidui (confession of sins before 
leath) gained great importance in late and post-Talmudic 
imes. When a Jew was about to die, he was advised by the 
riends who visited him to make a full confession of his sins, 
he become alarmed at the apparent imminence of death, 



they casually told him that many people who recited the con- 
fession recovered from their illness, while others passed away 
without repenting. 265 

Preparations -for the Funeral ... In the Middle Ages, the an- 
cient custom of giving the deceased a farewell kiss and anoint- 
ing the corpse was discarded. Occasionally, at the beginning 
of the fifteenth century, red tachrichim (shrouds) were used, 
but in the sixteenth century, white linen became the exclusive 
material for the shrouds. 

A great change took place regarding the coffin. In Talmudic 
rimes it had been regarded as a dishonor to be buried without 
a coffin; but in the Middle Ages there was no general rule as 
to whether one was buried with or without a coffin. The cus- 
tom varied in the various lands and communities. In Spain, the 
coffin was not in vogue. Among the French Jews the coffin was 
made from the table which had witnessed the hospitality and 
generosity of the deceased. In the sixteenth century, under 
the influence of the Cabalists, the notion became prevalent 
both inside and outside of the Holy Land that it was more 
meritorious for the dead to be in direct contact with the earth. 
The words of the Bible, "for dust thou art and unto dust shah 
thou return," were then literally fulfilled. Among the Chris- 
tians in the Middle Ages, the dead were generally interred 

Interment without a coffin became the rule strictly adhered 
to by Orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe to the present day. In 
America and in Western Europe, Orthodox Jews were forced 
by the municipal administration to reintroduce the coffin. 266 

The Fzmeral . . . Displaying objects on the coffin symboliz- 
ing the life of the deceased and the burning of incense had 
fallen into disuse. The flutes and the professional mourners 
had been discarded in the lands of the West, although in the 
East mention is made of the chanting women as late as on the 
threshold of modern times. A peculiar custom prevailed in the 


Jewish community of Saragossa, Spain. The mourners at- 
tended the services in the synagogue even on the first seven 
days of mourning and returned home accompanied by the 
whole congregation. On the way, a wailing woman chanted 
a dirge, accompanying herself on a tambourine. The other 
women responded to the chant vocally and with the clapping 
of hands. (This custom is recorded in the fourteenth cen- 
tury.) 287 

The Mourners' Meal . . . The meal of the mourners had be- 
come an ordinary meal brought to the house by strangers, and 
was no longer a public feast with ten cups of wine and the 
solemn recital of special benedictions. Eggs replaced lentils as 
the main dish. 

Signs of Mourning . . . The old customs of inverting sofas 
and covering the head, provoking ridicule from their non- 
Jewish neighbors, were discarded by the European Jews. In 
France and Italy, covering the head was discarded in the 
twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the Rhineland, at the time 
of Maharil, in order to keep his head covered, the mourner 
wore his cowled cape during the first seven days of mourning. 
After the first seven days of strict mourning, the mourner 
went about with the cowl over his head for twelve months if 
he mourned a parent, and for thirty days for other kindred. 
In the Rhineland this old Oriental custom was thus retained by 
substituting the hood for the turban. In the Orient, as late as 
the sixteenth century, a mourner kept his head covered with a 
talis or a turban reaching to his mouth during the seven days 
of mourning. Only when visitors came to the house of mourn- 
ing to bring him comfort did he uncover his head. 

In the Middle Ages, no mention is made of baring the 
shoulder, a custom obligatory even in Talmudic times only at 
the death of a parent. In the East, the gruesome practice of 
cutting the flesh as a sign of mourning was not entirely extinct, 
even as late as the seventeenth century. 


In some communities the mourners were provided with food 
during the entire week of mourning from the chest of the 
community or of the Chevro Kadisho (burial fraternity) . The 
rich shared alike with the poor in order not to shanie the poor 
who were forced to become public charges during this week. 
Afterward the rich returned more than had been given them 
originally. 288 

In the Synagogue ... In Talmudic times, the rites of mourn- 
ing, as well as the circumcision ceremonial and the wedding 
celebration, were all exclusively home affairs. The mourner 
did not leave the house to go to the synagogue even on the 
Sabbath of the first week of mourning, nor was any prayer or 
doxology recited or chanted in memory of the dead during 
that time. In post-Talmudic times, mourning was linked with 
the synagogue and the old custom underwent a change. The 
congregation no longer went to the mourner, for he attended 
the synagogue on the Sabbath, where he stood in an anteroom 
behind the door, or in an isolated nook. After the chazan had 
finished Musof (the additional prayer on Sabbaths and festive 
days), he went to the place in the synagogue where the 
mourners stood and pronounced a benediction, and recited 
Kaddish. This usage was not uniform. In communities in 
Babylonia and Spain the mourner went daily to the syna- 
gogue during the first week of mourning, while in other re- 
gions he visited the synagogue only on the Sabbath. In the 
Rhineland on the Sabbath of the first week of mourning, the 
whole congregation accompanied the mourner from the syna- 
gogue to his house. Maharil praised this custom as a consola- 
tion for the mourner. 269 

The rites of mourning became more closely connected with 
the prevailing custom whereby an orphan recited Kaddish in 
memory of his dead parent. In general, prayers for the dead 
became a part of the services in the synagogues. These rites 
and customs, which developed prominently in recent times, 
will be dealt with at length in a subsequent chapter. 


Graves tend Tombstones . . . Every Jewish community, no 
matter how small, had its place of worship, the synagogue, but 
only the larger communities owned their fields of graves, and 
there, the Jews of the small communities brought their dead 
for interment. Transporting a corpse from one town to an- 
other was not always an easy matter. A special permit had to 
be obtained from the police, and in some places, a high toll 
was collected from the cortege for the privilege of entering 
the environs; also for passing through the town. 

It was apparently under Roman influence that in the early 
Middle Ages the custom arose to erect a tombstone with an 
inscription, commemorating the name and status of the de- 
ceased. This commemorative stone has been termed "matsevo," 
the Biblical name for the sacred stone. For a long time, the use 
of the matsevo was not a universal custom, and in the twelfth 
century, numerous graves were found without it. In the four- 
teenth century, however, the matsevo had become a necessary 
supplement of the burial, although even a generation ago, in 
Eastern Europe, a grave without a matsevo was not unusual. 
Only recently has the matsevo been accepted universally as an 
integral part of the grave. 

Two different ways of erecting a matsevo evolved in the 
Middle Ages. The German Jews placed the stone in an upright 
position, while the Jews in southern France and Spain laid it 
flat upon the grave. This difference in the position of the 
matsevo still prevails among the Ashk'nazim and the S'fardim. 

The Hebre\v epitaphs of the early Middle Ages were brief 
and simple. Later, they became more detailed and high-sound- 
ing. On some of the tombstones in Germany, in the late Mid- 
dle Ages, emblems representing the vocation of the dead were 
added to the inscriptions a pair of shears for a tailor, a violin 
or harp for a musician, etc. 

The resting place for the dead was as crowded as the space 
for the living in the ghettos. Small wonder, therefore, that two, 
and even more graves were placed on top of one another, 
and often as many tombstones were foui\d on the same grave. 


The cemetery, called "eternal house" or "house of life," was 
usually surrounded by a protective wall which did not always 
afford adequate protection. The graves, as well as the houses 
of the ghetto, were not secure against desecration. Frequently 
Je\vs were driven from a town, their field of graves taken away 
and the tombstones used for building purposes. When after a 
time, they were readmitted, they had to reacquire their grave- 
yard for an enormous price. When a fanatical and incited mob 
assaulted the Jewish quarters, the wives and children were 
hidden in the graveyard while the men tried to resist the at- 
tackers. 270 

Visiting Graveyards . . . The Jews of the Middle Ages like 
the Christians and Mohammedans often visited graveyards to 
pray at the graves of distinguished persons, notwithstanding 
the stern protest of the great rabbis who considered this a 
transgression of the Mosaic Law which forbade communica- 
tion with the dead (Deut. 18:11). How frequently graves 
were visited can be best attested by the fact that Judah the 
Pious, the famous mystic of Regensburg (died 1217), pro- 
hibited the visiting of a grave twice in one day. There were 
occasions, as on Tisho B'Ov, when the entire congregation 
repaired to the cemetery, encircling it in a procession. This 
latter custom was still prevalent in Eastern Europe in our own 
day (see p. 270). 

Whenever exigencies of sickness or danger arose, people 
resorted to the graves of the righteous and pious, invoking aid 
from the dead for the living. In Babylonia, as far back as the 
third century C.E., dust from the graves of famous rabbis was 
applied as a remedy for fever. In the Middle Ages these super- 
stitious practices assumed vast proportions. Vows were offered, 
torches or tapers lighted, incense burnt, dances performed at 
the graves of pious people, and votive offerings were hung on 
the trees in cemeteries. 

The belief in ghosts accompanied these superstitious prac- 
tices. Scores of wild and horrible tales of encounters and con- 


versations with dead souls were told and believed by the peo- 
ple. One story told of a ghost who was met on a road on a 
moonlit night. Another related how a man had fallen asleep in 
the synagogue at night and was locked in by the beadle. At 
midnight he awoke and saw the dead souls wrapped in prayer- 
shawls, with two men who were still alive standing among 
them. These two men died shortly. "The Book of the Pious M 
(Sefer Chasidim) is replete with stories of this kind. So deeply 
rooted was the belief in ghosts that Judah the Pious enjoined 
the people not to accept any gifts from a ghost who appeared 
in a dream. These gruesome beliefs and tales persisted to some 
extent in Eastern Europe and the Orient even in recent days. 271 

Chevro Kadisbo . . . We have already met the burial brother- 
hood at the beginning of the Common Era, but we are not 
sure of the form of its organization in those times, whether 
there was only one fraternity for this purpose in town or the 
community was divided into several sections, with a burial 
brotherhood in each section. Of the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries we have historical records, telling of a single burial 
society which served the entire community. It was called 
chavuro, the Talmudic name for a society or brotherhood, and 
it had its regulations and ordinances, according to which the 
family of the deceased paid for the burial in proportion to its 
economic standing. Only poor families were served free of 
charge. Lots were cast among the members of the brotherhood 
to ascertain whose turn it was to dig the grave. If the lot fell 
to a poor member, the brotherhood paid him for his day's 
work. If a member of the brotherhood died, he was succeeded 
by his oldest son, if the latter had attained his majority (thir- 
teen years). The brotherhood took care of everything pertain- 
ing to the burial as well as the mourners after the funeral, pro- 
viding them with meals and with a minyon to recite prayers 
in the house of mourning during the first seven days. 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the burial society 
was called Chevro Kadisho, Holy Society or Brotherhood. 


This title, originally given also to other religious societies, be- 
came in the course of time the exclusive title of the burial so- 

The Chevro Kadisho became the strongest society in the 
Jewish communities. Because the brotherhood owned the 
cemetery, exacting high prices for the graves from the sur- 
vivors, it also became the richest society. With functions 
widely ramified, it looked after the orphans and took care of 
the sick poor. In the course of time the task of caring for the 
sick was vested in a Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick society), a 
brotherhood which branched off and became independent of 
the Chevro Kadisho. 272 

In Modern Times 

In Eastern Europe . . . In the previous chapter, we have noted 
between the Talmudic era and the late Middle Ages a small 
number of changes in the customs relating to death. Still less 
was the change between the Middle Ages and recent days. The 
following description of the customs observed in Eastern Eu- 
rope a generation ago applies as well to the late Middle Ages. 

Resuscitating the Sick . . . Even in the face of approaching 
death, hope was not lost. After all natural therapeutic means 
were exhausted, recourse w T as had to supernatural powers. 
Various remedies and means drawn from higher spheres of 
religion as well as from the realm of magic and superstition 
were applied. 

To begin with, prayers for the sick were recited by the 
congregation which gathered in the synagogue to recite psalms 
and special prayers composed for the occasion. Psalm 119 was 
believed to be particularly efficacious, if recited in a certain 
order. This psalm is an acrostic of twenty-two stanzas con- 
taining the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet in their 
order. The stanzas were arranged and recited so that their be- 
ginning letters constituted the full name of the sick person 
with his or her mother's name. 

Charity in the form of bread or money was distributed to 
the poor, interpreting literally the sentence of Proverbs, 
"righteousness delivereth from death" (Prov. 11:4). In post- 
Biblical times, ts'doko, the Hebrew word for righteousness, 
was interpreted to mean alms-giving. All the garments worn 
by the sick person were distributed to the poor. 



Some of the kindred, especially the women folk, ran to the 
synagogue with supplications, storming the Holy Ark con- 
taining the Scrolls of the Torah. With their heads placed inside 
the Holy Ark, the supplicants, weeping hysterically, invoked 
the mercy of God for the sick. From the Holy Ark in the 
synagogue, the women went to the graves in the cemetery 
where, with loud cries and moans of anguish, they urged the 
family dead to intercede in heaven for the one hovering be- 
tween life and death. After pouring out their hearts at the 
graves, the women "measured the field/' a custom described 
in a previous section (p. 54) . 

Adding a new name was a very popular means of averting 
the threat of death, a practice previously described (p. 75). 

Chevro Kadisho ... If the condition of the sick became 
critical, the Chevro Kadisho were called. 

The Chevro Kadisho was the largest and most important of 
all the brotherhoods in the community, with a membership 
composed of two groups, consisting of a small number of full 
members and a considerable number of "assistants" (shamo- 
shim), who performed the menial tasks. The full members 
were elderly, dignified men, whereas every married man was 
qualified to be a shamosh. The head of the shamoshim was a 
shamosh rishon (chief assistant), who gave the orders and 
supervised their work. After many years of service, an as- 
sistant might be promoted to the rank of shamosh rishon and 
a shamosh rishon, in his advanced age, might be promoted to 
the rank of a full member. Only a man highly distinguished for 
his learning and piety could be promoted to the rank of a full 
member while he was still young. The entire brotherhood was 
under the direction of three gabo-im who were counted among 
the most eminent men of the community. 

There were also female members and assistants in the Chevro 
Kadisho who attended to the burial of women. The men dug 
the grave, and the women made the tachrichim. 

One day of the year was a Chevro Kadisho day. In some 


communities it was the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev; 
in others, the seventh day of Ador, the traditional anniversary 
of the death of Moses; and in some it was on Lag Bo-omer. 
This day was observed with fasting and penitential prayers by 
all who belonged to the brotherhoods, shamoshim as well as 
members. They visited the field of graves to ask forgiveness 
from the dead for any dishonor that might have been done 
them at their death. At dusk, between the Mincho and Ala-ariv 
services, the rabbi or some learned layman delivered a dis- 
course of moral exhortations at the synagogue. In the evening, 
after the Ala-ariv services, a feast was held at which new 
"shamoshkrf were admitted to the brotherhood or some of 
the shamoshim were promoted to the rank of shamosh rishon 
or of a member. 

The Chevro Kadisho was the collective owner of the field 
of graves and all the implements of burial. 

The Ma-avar Yabok . . . Usually a member of the Chevro 
Kadisho visited the sick man as soon as his condition was criti- 
cal, carrying the Ma-avar Yabok (a book written by the 
Cabalist Aaron Berechiah of Modena, in Italy, at the beginning 
of the seventeenth century). The name, The Ford of Yabok, 
was derived from the story in Genesis which tells how Jacob 
took his wives and children and passed over the Ford of Yabok 
The author indicated that death was a passage from a lower to 
a higher, a heavenly stage of existence. The book contains, in 
addition to numerous passages from the Bible and confessions 
to be recited on the deathbed, a description of all rites and 
usages, also meditations and prayers connected with burial. 
It was reprinted in numerous editions during the last three 
centuries, and is still the manual among Orthodox Jews in all 
matters pertaining to death and burial. 

In Anticipation of Death . . . Jews never believed in the re- 
mission of sins through an intermediary. Their sins were ex- 
piated on Yom Kippur and at their death, if they sincerely 


repented. They needed no intermediary. A member of the 
Chevro Kadisho recited the confession from the Ma-avar 
Yabok, while the dying person repeated the words after him. 
The last words which came from the lips of the dying were 
the declaration of the Jewish faith in Hebrew, "Hear, O 
Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." If the dying per- 
son was in a coma, the member of the brotherhood recited the 
confession for him. (In the case of a dying woman, a woman 
member of the Chevro Kadisho recited the confession.) 

Chairs were placed around the deathbed in order to prevent 
a limb from protruding over the edge of the bed, basing the 
custom on the story of Genesis in which Jacob "gathered up 
his feet into bed and expired." If a limb emerged, it could not 
be moved, because Talmudic law forbade the touching of a 
dying person lest it accelerate death. No matter how pro- 
tracted and tormenting the death, nor what the circumstances, 
nothing could be done to hasten it. 

Custom forbade that a dying person be left alone. It was 
considered advantageous for the dying to have a ritual quorum 
of ten present at the moment of death. If death was protracted, 
one of the Chevro Kadisho remained constantly in the room. 

To be present at the moment of y'tsias n'shomo (departure 
of the soul) was regarded a religious act. When death was im- 
minent, numerous people gathered in the house, reciting the 
psalms and other passages from the Bible prescribed for the 
occasion in the Ma-avar Yabok. 

Candles were lit near the dying. The religious authorities 
offered various explanations for this custom. Light caused the 
demons to flee. A more recent explanation expressed the 
thought that the light of the candles was illumination in honor 
of the SWchino, the Divine Presence, that comes to meet the 
departing soul. According to a third explanation, light was a 
symbol of the flickering human soul. 

When Death Came . . . To establish death, a feather was 
placed against the nostrils to see if the breath of life still re-* 


mained. After death was confirmed, the oldest son closed the 
eyes of the dead. The windows were opened immediately and 
all the water in the house poured out. The same process of 
pouring out the water was carried out in the three adjoining 
houses on each side of the house of death. Religious authorities 
offered two explanations for this; the first, that the pouring of 
water xvas an announcement of the death, and the second, that 
the Angel of Death cleansed his dripping knife in water, and 
that therefore all water must be poured out in order to prevent 
the spread of death. 

All present at the moment of death made a rent in their 
coats, the mourners on the outer side, and strangers in the lin- 
ing. They expressed their resignation to the will of God by 
exclaiming, "Blessed be the nrue Judge!" 

The dead body, covered with a black cloth, was then laid 
on the floor in the garments in which he or she had died, feet 
towards the door. A living person, as a matter of custom, 
never lay with his feet toward the door. 

Behind the head of the corpse one large candle burned. 
Under no circumstances was the corpse ever left alone. This 
task of staying with the corpse, especially overnight, was 
fulfilled by the sharnoshim of the Chevro Kadisho, who took 
turns. For people imbued from their earliest childhood with 
horrible stories of demons and ghosts, staying alone at night 
with a corpse was rather a ghastly task, and well-to-do sha- 
moshim did it often through a hired proxy. Certain poor 
shamoshim in the brotherhood were satisfied to do this for a 

Preparing for the Burial . . . Burial took place as soon after 
death as possible. If death occurred on Friday or on the day 
preceding a holiday, burial took place the same day. Otherwise 
it would have had to be delayed until after the Sabbath or the 

However poor the survivors, they had to make payment 
for the grave even if it was only a token payment. The Chevro 


Kadisho exacted larger prices for graves from well-to-do fami- 
lies, particularly if the deceased had not contributed suf- 
ficiently to charity during his lifetime. 

The corpse was prepared for the burial by a process of 
purification called taharo prescribed in detail by custom, and 
done by the shamoshim of the Chevro Kadisho. The members 
of the brotherhood performed this task only in the rare cases 
when the deceased was highly distinguished for his learning 
and piety. 

The tachrichim were made exclusively of stainless white 
linen. No knots were permitted anywhere on the garment. 
Contrary to the tendency of Talmudic times to reduce the 
shroud to a single garment, every corpse was now clothed in 
no less than three garments, usually in breeches, shirt, cap, 
sargonas (shroud) and a girdle. The talis with one of the 
fringes torn from a corner was placed over these garments. 
In the case of a woman, an apron took the place of breeches 
and the talis was not used. The garments for the grave were 
supposed to correspond with the garments worn by the High 
Priests in ancient times. Sometimes it was not necessary for 
the w^omen of the Chevro Kadisho to prepare the tachrichim, 
for they had' been prepared many years before death. Aged 
people, particularly women who were scrupulously pious, 
spent a great part of their time reciting prayers and psalms, 
confessing their sins and preparing the shrouds in which they 
would be buried. They prepared tachrichim of genuine w r hite 
linen for themselves, aired and washed them from time to 
time, and held them in constant readiness. Many men wore a 
white kittel during the synagogue services on the Days of Awe 
and at the seder on Pesach night. This kittel was used as the 
safgonas of the tachrichim, for to clothe the deceased in the 
kittel which he had worn when reciting prayers was regarded 
as most advantageous. 

Funeral . . . Usually the funeral took place after the morn- 
ing services on the morning after the day of death. A shamosh 


of the Chevro Kadisho went from house to house, knocking on 
windows and calling, u Go to the funeral/' Soon, almost the 
entire community was gathered in front of the house. 

In the house numerous candles burnt. The recitations of 
psalms and prayers which accompanied the "'purification" of 
the corpse partially drowned out the sobs of the survivors. 
The bier, or in some communities a large black casket, was 
placed outside of the house, close to the entrance. The corpse 
was carried from the house in a sheet and placed on the bier. 
Just before that was done all the kinsfolk begged the forgive- 
ness of the deceased for any possible offenses they might have 
committed against him. The corpse was carried out with his 
feet toward the door, and no person was allowed to precede 
the corpse through the door, the pall-bearers walking at the 
side of it. 

Although the cemetery was usually a long distance from 
the town, no vehicle was used. The bier was carried the entire 
distance on the shoulders of the shamoshim of the Chevro 
Kadisho. Many lent a hand and shoulder to these actual pall- 
bearers because of the religious merit earned thereby. 

The utmost quiet and simplicity characterized the funeral 
procedure. The bier was carried in front of the procession, 
followed by the men who attended the funeral. The women 
brought up the rear. The mourners walked among the crowd. 
In some cases, the children of the Talmud Torah (elementary 
free school for poor children) marched in front of the bier, 
chanting the verse from Psalms, "Righteousness shall go be- 
fore Him, and shall make His footsteps a way" (85: 14). Sha- 
moshim of the Chevro Kadisho mingled with the throng in 
the procession, carrying small tin boxes in their hands, clank- 
ing the coins deposited in them, and calling out intermittently, 
"Ts'doko tatsil mimoves!" (Charity delivereth from death. Se'e 
above, p. 258.) Almost everyone dropped a coin in the charity 
box, the proceeds of which went to the Chevro Bikur Cholim. 
A funeral discourse eulogizing the deceased was delivered 
only at the death of a distinguished person, at the cemetery en 


at the entrance of the synagogue. Only In exceptional cases, at 
the death of a famous rabbi, was the bier brought inside the 
synagogue or beis ha-midrosh and placed in front of the Holy 
Ark while the eulogy w r as delivered. Funeral discourses were 
uniform, always citing the same verses of the Bible and the 
same passages of the Talmud. The text of the discourse em- 
bellished by the preacher was usually Isaiah 57: i. "The right- 
eous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart, and godly men 
are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken 
away from the evil to come." The preacher inferred that 
disasters and evil decrees were impending because of the death 
of the righteous man resting on the bier and he reminded the 
people that "Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil 

The funeral procession always chose the longest way, and 
proceeded slowly. At a distance of thirty ells from the open 
grave, the pall-bearers halted at every four ells, in order to 
make seven stops, at each of which Psalm 9 1 was recited. This 
psalm refers to the refuge and protection granted by God 
against "the terror by night, the pestilence that walketh in 
darkness and the destruction that wasteth at noonday," and 
was appropriate to the mood of the funeral rites. In the He- 
brew original, the eleventh verse (For He will give His angels 
charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways) consists of 
seven words. At the first stop, the psalm was recited as far as 
to include the first word of this verse, at the second stop until 
the second word was included and so forth. At the seventh 
stop the psalm was recited to the end. Some regions retained 
the old custom of making seven encirclings around the bier. 

Because the corpse was interred uncoffined, a built-in box 
had been made to fit inside the grave by placing boards along 
both sides of it. After the body was lowered into the grave 
another board was placed over the corpse. 

In some rare instances a rabbi left a will instructing that he 
should be laid in a box made from the lectern on which he had 
spent his days and nights learning Torah in the beis ha- 


midrosh. Occasionally a man expressed the wish that the re- 
ceipts for the money he had paid to charity funds be laid in his 

Burial . . . The most ardent desire of every Jew was burial 
in the Land of Israel, although few were fortunate enough to 
realize this ambition. One had to be satisfied to be buried 
among Jews, in accordance with Jewish custom, with a bag 
filled with earth from the Holy Land placed in one's grave. 
Once in a great while a pious stranger from Jerusalem visited 
the town. He told quaint and wonderful tales of sacred graves 
and holy sites, and sold bags of white sand from the Holy 
Land. Aged men and women seized this opportunity to pro- 
vide themselves with earth from Erets Yisroel. The Chevro 
Kadisho, too, provided itself with a stock of this burial ac- 

The corpse was placed in the -grave in the manner pre- 
scribed by custom. The act of placing the corpse in the grave 
was considered of such great religious merit that a certain 
elderly member of the Chevro Kadisho had the option on this 
service. On the death of this member his chosen deputy suc- 
ceeded him. At the burial of a woman, an elderly female mem- 
ber had the option of this privilege. 

It was not permitted to close the hands of the dead. The 
fingers were bent a little to hold tiny sticks called "little forks," 
which were popularly believed to be the sticks on which the 
dead would lean on the day of resurrection, when they must 
roll themselves under the ground until they reached the Land 
of Israel. Potsherds were placed on the eyes and the mouth. 
Some earth, preferably from the Holy Land, was sprinkled 
over the body of the corpse and a bag of it placed under the 
head. When the member of the burial brotherhood completed 
these rites in the customary order, he announced tKat death 
had now withdrawn the deceased from all brotherhoods of 
which he was a member. All who stood around the grave took 
leave of the deceased with the Hebrew words prescribed in 


the Talmud, "Lech 1'sholom" (go in peace). Some added the 
last verse of the Book of Daniel "but go thou thy way till 
the end be; and thou shalt rest and shalt stand up to thy lot, 
at the end of the days." 

The first shovels of earth were placed in the grave with the 
convex side of the shovel by those who wished to attain the 
religious merit which accrued to those who performed this 
task. The shamoshim of the Chevro Kadisho hurriedly filled 
in the grave, taking great care that no one take the shovel from 
the hand of another. Each shamosh placed the shovel on the 
ground from which another picked it up. 

Before closing the grave, the mourners made a three-inch 
rent in their coats and said, "Blessed be the true Judge." They 
also took off their shoes. Then, at some distance from the 
grave, the prayer tsiduk ha-din (the justice of the judgment) 
was recited, expressing the belief that God's ways are right- 
eous, and the son (or, in the absence of a son, the daughter of 
the deceased, or some other close relative) recited the special 
funeral version of the Kaddish. All who were present then 
arranged themselves to form two rows. The mourners passed 
between them, receiving the comforting words, "The Lord 
shall console you among the other mourners of Zion and 

After the funeral, certain customs were observed before the 
return home. On leaving the cemetery, each one plucked some 
grass with the earth attached, throwing it behind him and re- 
citing the words from Psalms, "And may they blossom out of 
the city like grass of the earth," and "He remembereth that we 
are dust" (72: 16; 103: 14). After leaving the cemetery every- 
one washed his hands and recited the verse from Isaiah: 

He will swallow up death forever; 

And the Lord God will wipe away tears from 

off all faces; 
And the reproach of His people will He take 

away from off all the earth; 
For the Lord hath spoken it. 25:8. 


Returning from a funeral, one did not enter a house before 
washing his hands. The water had to be drawn into a vessel. 
The vessel was not handed by one person to another, but each 
one placed it on the ground, from which the next picked it 
up. The custom forbade wiping the hands with a cloth or rag, 
unless the latter could then be discarded. Hands were usually 
dried in the air. After washing the hands, each man sat down 
three or seven times, each time reciting Psalm 91 (including 
the last verse of the foregoing psalm). 

Suicides and Apostates ... In all Jewish communities sui- 
cides were commonly buried near the fence in a secluded part 
of the cemetery. Whenever possible, however, an act of 
suicide was interpreted as resulting from permanent or tem- 
porary aberration, and the victim was given a decent burial. 
If an apostate was killed by accident, Kaddish might be re- 
cited for him, because his unnatural death atoned for his sins. 

The Meal of the Mourners . . . After the funeral, only the 
first meal was brought in by strangers, usually by the neigh- 
bors. The main food of the meal consisted of hard boiled eggs 
and beigel (hard rolls shaped like doughnuts) . The custom of 
providing the mourners with food from a communal fund 
during the week of mourning was no longer practiced. 

In the House of Mourning . . . For seven days a candle 
burned in the room where death had occurred. A glass of 
water and a towel were placed beside the light, in spite of 
the fact that religious authorities denounced the latter custom 
as heathenish. The popular explanation offered for this practice 
was that the Angel of Death might wash his sword in the 
water and wipe it with the towel. 

All mirrors were covered or turned to the wall. 

All day the mourners sat on low benches or boxes. They 
were allowed to read only if the books they read were re- 
ligious books with sad content. The book most often read in 


the house of mourning was Job, or the ethical book M'noras 
Hamo'or in its Yiddish version. 

Almost all the people of the community visited the house 
of mourning to offer comfort to the mourners. Bringing food 
to the house of mourning was practiced only in some regions. 
In America people usually bring cakes, boxes of candy and 
baskets of fruits to the house of mourning. On entering, no 
greetings were spoken. On leaving, the established formula of 
consolation to the mourners was voiced, "The Lord shall con- 
sole you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." 

Custom forbade taking anything from the house of mourn- 

During the seven days of mourning, services were held in 
the house of the deceased. On these days Psalm 49 and a 
prayer for the dead were recited after the services. This psalm 
is appropriate for a house of mourning. It speaks of death as 
the leveler of all distinctions between the rich and the poor, 
and of God who redeems the soul from the power of the 
nether world. On the following Sabbath, the mourner visited 
the synagogue. At the Friday night services, the mourner 
stood in the anteroom of the synagogue until the end of Ucbo 
Dodi (Come, my friend, to meet the bride) . Then the sexton 
tapped the bimo with his hand calling loudly, "Go to meet the 
mourner!" The whole congregation arose and walked toward 
the door to meet the mourner, who entered the synagogue at 
this moment. In most American synagogues mourners are in 
the synagogue for Mincho and the first part of Kabolas Shabos, 
but step out just before L'cho Dodi, to reenter at the end of 
L'cho Dodi. 

Even on the Sabbath a mourner changed his place in the 
synagogue during the twelve months of mourning for the 
death of a parent, and during thirty days of mourning for the 
death of other relatives. 

Visiting the Graves ... As in the Middle Ages, the practice 
of visiting the graves and praying to the dead during crises was 


observed. Especially were the graves of Chasidic rabbis and 
miracle men visited by people in distress, who left slips of 
paper on which their wishes were written. Visiting the graves 
of parents on the anniversary of their death was a prevailing 

There were also certain days and seasons of the year when 
almost the whole community visited the field of graves. On 
Tisho B'Ov, after the morning services, the entire congrega- 
tion encircled the cemetery. During the month of Elul every- 
one visited the graves of his ancestors and kindred. On those 
days, the women came more frequently than the men to weep 
at the graves of those who had been near and dear to them. 

The unveiling of the tombstone also provided an occasion 
for a visit to a grave. This took place twelve months after 
death, preferably on the first anniversary of the death. Some- 
times tombstones were not unveiled for a number of years 
after death; and there were even some graves without any 
matsevo (see p. 254). In America, however, the unveiling 
ceremony has gained in importance and has become an oc- 
casion when all relatives and friends of the deceased come 

The Ma-ane Loshon . . . Visiting the graves and praying to 
the dead became so important in recent times that a special 
handbook was written for this purpose, entitled Ma-one 
Loshon (the Answer of the Tongue, cited from the sentence 
in Proverbs 16:1: "The preparations of the heart are man's 
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord"). 

The Ma-ane Loshon was, like the Ma-avar Yabok, a prod- 
uct of the same period in Jewish history (the beginning of 
the seventeenth century) , and in the last three hundred years 
was printed in even more numerous editions than the latter, 
with a German, a Yiddish, and, in this country, an English 

The Ma-ane Loshon was a kind of sequel to the Ma-avar 
Yabok. The latter, a manual of the ritual of death and burial, 


contained at its close only a few prayers to be recited on visit- 
ing the cemetery. The former was exclusively for this pur- 
pose, containing specific prayers to be recited at the grave of 
each relative. 

Women recited the prayers of the Ma-ane Loshon at the 
cemetery with loud moans and hysterical wailing that could 
be heard far and wide. 

Tales about the Dead . . . Gruesome tales about the appari- 
tions of the dead were wide-spread. People believed the dead 
occasionally appeared to the living. If a bride and groom 
were orphans, they visited the graves of their dead par- 
ents and invited them to the wedding. There was a popular 
belief that the dead appeared to the living in dreams, giving 
them advice, and warning them of impending dangers. Thus 
they believed that a dead father or mother might appear to his 
or her children in a dream and choke the child because of 
some misconduct. Anyone was thus liable to be choked in his 
sleep for dishonoring or disparaging the deceased. 

The medieval belief that ghosts of the dead assembled at 
night in the synagogue and held services there still prevailed. 
The popular belief was that anyone who passed the synagogue 
late at night was liable to hear his name called summoning him 
to the reading of the Torah, and was sure to die soon. In some 
communities it was customary for the sexton, who came to 
the synagogue before dawn, to knock on the door three times 
before he entered, signaling the ghosts to disappear. Young and 
old shunned the vicinity of the synagogue late at night. 

Among the Oriental JeWs ... In Jerusalem, the S'fardim 
bury their dead without delay, allowing only enough time 
between the occurrence of death and the funeral for the puri- 
fication of the corpse. They even hold the funeral at night, 
adhering to the ancient law that a corpse cannot remain over- 
night within the limits of the Holy City (see p. 231). 

In the short interval, before the members of the burial 


Drotherhood come into the house to prepare the corpse for the 
}urial, the women of the family, seated in a circle, bewail and 
eulogize the deceased in the Oriental manner. With shrill 
/oices, they lament loudly, beating their heads, foreheads and 
Dreasts with their fists. After the corpse is carried from the 
house, the women, standing by the windows, continue their 
loud lamentations, but they do not attend the funeral. 

As the corpse is carried from the house, a member of the 
burial brotherhood breaks an earthen vessel on the threshold 
and announces that the wife and children of the deceased are 
forbidden to follow the bier or leave the house until the mem- 
bers of the brotherhood have returned from the cemetery. 

The bier, shaped like a ladder, is carried on the shoulders. A 
distinguished man's bier is carried lower, near the earth. Two 
beadles of the community march on either side of the bier, 
each carrying a large black wax candle. After leaving the gate 
of the city, the whole throng chants Psalm 91 (see p. 265). 

At the cemetery seven encirclings are made around the bier. 
The participants clasp each other's hands, forming a closed 
:ircle. During each encircling, one of the encirclers recite 
Psalm 91 in addition to prayers for the deceased. Seven silver 
:oins are placed on the corpse. After each encircling is corn- 
Dieted, one man in the circle takes one coin, throwing it far 
iway, as he recites the sentence from Genesis 25:6. 

The grave in which the uncoffined corpse is laid is plastered 
nside with thin, smooth stones. No sargonas is used, and the 
:alis is removed when the corpse is placed in the grave. 

The relatives and friends bring food for the first meal. After 
he meal, the benedictions of mourning of the Talmud quoted 
n a previous chapter are recited, and the Kaddish follows 
'see p. 241). 

In the S'fardic synagogue a special place is reserved for 
nourners who attend services on the Sabbath. 

The Moroccan Jews still scratch and cut their faces as a 
ign of mourning, notwithstanding their rabbis' denunciation 
if this flagrant transgression of the Mosaic Law. 278 

Beliefs Connected with Death 

The Belief in a Future Life ... In order to completely under- 
stand the rites and customs observed at the occurrence of 
death, it is necessary to have a clear concept of the beliefs de- 
veloped among the Jews concerning the soul and its existence 
after death. We have hinted at some of these beliefs in previous 
chapters; now we shall deal with them at length. 

In Biblical times, the Jews, in common with other peoples, 
believed that man consisted of two components: flesh (bosor) 
and spirit (ruach) or soul, or as we may also term it, principle 
of life. Various parts of the body were thought to be the seat 
of the soul; e.g., the heart, the liver, the kidneys. A current 
concept was "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), 
because if the blood flowed from a wound, the vitality de- 
creased and sometimes disappeared altogether. The most popu- 
lar concept of the soul was that its seat was in the breath, be- 
cause when breathing ceased, the body became lifeless. In the 
Bible, the principle of life or soul was called synonymously 
rwach, ne-fesh and tfshomo, three words designating breath. 
(In later times, under the influence of Greek philosophy, the 
soul was believed to be of a more compound and complicated 
nature. In the Middle Ages Jewish thinkers interpreted the 
three Biblical synonyms for the principle of life as distinct 
names for the three souls, or substances of the soul, function- 
ing in the personality of a human being: the vegetative soul, 
nefesh; the animal soul, ruach; and the human, thinking soul, 

The soul was conceived as a kind of airy substance which 
could leave the body either temporarily or permanently. Sleep- 



ing was a state of existence in which the soul left the body 
for a short while, floating through the world, while its ex- 
periences in this state appeared as a dream to the slumberer. 
Dreams played an important part in the life and beliefs of the 
people in those times. When the soul left the body perma- 
nently, the result was death. In the Bible, dying was desig- 
nated as the departure of the soul (Gen. 35: 18). 

What happened to the soul after its permanent departure 
from the body? 

There were two ideas among Jews and among various other 
ancient peoples regarding the soul after death. According to 
the older notion, the tomb was also the abode of the soul. A 
current legend related how the mournful voice of Rachel 
weeping for her children was heard near her tomb. We find 
this story in Jeremiah (31:14). It was later amplified by 
the homilists of the Midrash. The Midrash tells how Jacob 
purposely buried Rachel on the way to Ephrath, because he 
foresaw that the Jews, when exiled to Babylon, would pass by 
that spot, and Rachel would be able to invoke the compassion 
of God for her children. The belief that the soul lingered in 
the grave was also implied in the age-old practice of praying 
at the graves, and in many beliefs and customs connected with 
the dead. 

Beside this older notion, the Jews shared with other ancient 
peoples the belief in a common abode where all souls gathered 
after death. In the Bible, the abode of the dead was called 
"Sheol," a proper noun of unknown derivation, translated 
"grave" in the English Bible. 

Sheol, which corresponded to the nether world among other 
peoples, was believed to be deep underneath the earth, sepa- 
rated from the land of the living by an immense body of water. 
The Biblical Sheol had gates similar to those of the nether 
world of the Babylonians. (The nether world of the Babylon- 
ians had seven gates.) In the Bible, Sheol was called the land 
of darkness, silence, oblivion and perdition. In the Book of Job, 
it is described as "a land of thick darkness as darkness itself, a 


land of the shadow of death without any order, and where the 
light is as darkness" (10:22). 

In spite of the dissimilarity between the two notions, one of 
which claimed that each soul remained in a single grave, and 
the other that all the souls assembled in one abode, both were 
maintained simultaneously. The belief that the soul lingered 
in the grave still persists even today, notwithstanding the firm 
belief that the soul ascends to heaven. Otherwise, visiting the 
graves to invoke the aid of pious men long deceased would be 
inexplicable. In general, we must not look for logical con- 
sistency and accuracy in popular beliefs. 

Sheol was called "the house appointed for all living/' where 
all must go, but from which none returned. "As the cloud is 
consumed and vanished away, so he that goeth down to Sheol 
shall come up no more," says the author of Job (7:9; 30:23). 
God excepted only a few favorites such as Enoch and Elijah, 
who were believed to have been rescued from Sheol and taken 
to heaven while still alive. The necromancers were also an ex- 
ception, for it was believed that they possessed the power to 
summon ghosts from Sheol to answer their questions. 

Until long after the Babylonian exile, the Jews cherished no 
hope of resurrection, nor did they believe in the immortality 
of the soul. A gloomy, ghastly existence of shadows awaited 
the souls in Sheol, resting in a state of slumber from which 
they never awakened. "Till the heavens be no more, they shall 
not awake, nor be aroused out of their sleep" (Job 14:12). 
They even lacked the consciousness and strength to praise 
God. "Sheol cannot praise Thee; Death cannot celebrate Thee; 
They that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth. 
The living, the living, he shall praise Thee," says the Biblical 
poet (Isaiah 38: 18-19). "The living know that they shall die; 
but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more 
a reward. . . . there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, 
nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest," says Koheleth 
(9:5, 10). 

This conception of the shadowy existence of all souls in the 


dark Sheol was devoid of any ethical element. Retribution, 
belief in reward and punishment after death for the deeds done 
in life, did not enter into it. Punishments threatened and re- 
wards promised in the Bible refer exclusively to life in this 

Originally, the concept of Sheol was not an integral part of 
the Jewish religion, but belonged to the realm of popular be- 
liefs. The religion of the God of Israel was a religion of life, 
not concerned with the mysteries of the soul after death. Later, 
when the popular conception of Sheol became imbued with 
the spirit of the Jewish religion, it assumed a new aspect. The 
popular conception of the infinite power of Sheol was in- 
compatible with the conception of the omnipotence and the 
omnipresence of God. The pious worshipper of the God of 
Israel could not bear to believe that his union with God and 
his trust in Him ended at the gates of Sheol. The psalmists 
therefore expressed the ardent hope that God would not for- 
sake them even in Sheol, that "The Lord killeth, and maketh 
alive; He bringeth down to Sheol, and bringeth up." 27 * 

The idea of the omnipotence of Sheol and the concept of 
retribution in this earthly life became untenable in the light 
of the belief in a righteous God which the Prophets taught. 
This belief in a rule of justice in a world, which, since the 
Babylonian exile, had become the orthodox belief of the peo- 
ple, was in glaring contradiction to the facts of life. The 
orthodox psalmist confidently said, "I have been young and 
now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor 
his seed begging bread (Ps. 37:25). Many skeptics bluntly 
rejected this pious assertion, declaring that the righteous were 
actually forsaken and that the wicked prospered. The most 
telling blow at the orthodox belief in God's retribution within 
man's lifetime was delivered by the author of Job who vehe- 
mently protested, "Wherefore do the wicked live, become 
old, yea, wax mighty in power?" (21:7). The Book of Job 
left this burning question without a satisfactory answer. 

The inner development of Jewish religious ideas postulated 


the belief in retribution after death. Many centuries elapsed 
before the old popular conception of the dark Sheol was super- 
seded by the new belief in "a world to come," to which this 
world could be compared as a vestibule at the entrance to the 
parlor, the world to come, according to the expression of a 
Jewish sage of the second century c.E. 275 

Retribution after death was first connected with the belief 
in the resurrection of the dead. In the Book of Daniel, a literary 
product of the time of the persecutions in the reign of Antio- 
chus Epiphanes, belief in a twofold resurrection was clearly 
expressed. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the 
earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to re- 
proaches and everlasting abhorrence" (12:2). This expecta- 
tion of the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era spread 
and took root in certain pious circles, in the absence of a belief 
in the next world. It could hardly remove the conflict between 
the concept of a God of justice, and the actual injustice pre- 
vailing in the world. This problem, found in the Book of Job, 
was solved later when the people began to believe in the direct 
continuation of the spiritual life of the individual after death, 
with the immediate reward for good conduct in Paradise, and 
punishment for bad conduct in Hell. 

These two beliefs, the belief in the resurrection of the dead, 
and the belief that the soul continued its spiritual existence in 
the next world, were mutually exclusive. If the soul never died, 
there was no need for the dead to rise from their graves. But 
this is not the only inconsistency which we meet in the beliefs 
concerning the Messianic days and the world to come. 

The two beliefs had not been accepted by all the Jews in 
the days of the Second Temple. There were certain circles, 
like the sect of the Essenes, who accepted the belief in the im- 
mortality of the soul but rejected the belief in the resurrection 
of the dead. The Sadducees rejected both. The Pharisees ac- 
cepted both, and through them these two beliefs have become 
an integral part of the doctrine of the Orthodox Judaism of 
the present day. 


Gan Eden and Gehinom , . . Although the idea of the im< 
mortality of the soul and retribution after death was an inner 
postulate of the development of the Jewish religion, the 
imagery and the terminology for a place of bliss for the right- 
eous and an infernal region for the wicked, though Hebrew, 
was apparently influenced by the Persians. The place of bliss 
was called Gan Eden, Garden of Eden, after the legendary 
garden in the story of Genesis. The inferno was given the 
name of Gehinom, the valley of Hinom, a valley in Jerusalem 
where in the time of Manasseh, King of Judah, the adherents 
of the Moloch cult offered up their children as burnt offerings 
to God. In English, the name is distorted into Gehenna. 276 

The dark Sheol of the Bible now became synonymous with 
Gehenna, and all the passages in the Bible referring to Sheol 
were interpreted in the terms and imagery of the new belief 
in Gehenna. There was a vast difference between Sheol and 
Gehenna. Gehenna was a place for the wicked only, while 
Sheol had been the ultimate abode of all souls, righteous and 
wicked alike. There was no exit from Sheol, but the tortures 
of Gehenna were not everlasting. Only very wicked men, 
heretics who spread false doctrines, and tyrants who terrified 
the world, were condemned to eternal Gehenna. According 
to the predominant view of the Talmudic rabbis, transgressors 
were usually kept in Gehenna no longer than twelve months. 277 

Since the beginning of the Common Era, the feeble shadows 
of the souls of the dead were not supposed to have been locked 
up in a dark abode from which there was no return, but were 
believed to retain full consciousness, which made them capable 
of all the spiritual activities of a human being. According to the 
Talmud the dead were exempt from all religious precepts. 
Therefore, the ritual fringes of the talis in which the corpse 
was dressed were made defective and disqualified. Yet people 
believed that the dead earnestly craved ability to fulfill the 
precepts of the Torah, and felt hurt when a man wearing 
tsitsis or t'filin or carrying a Scroll of the Torah walked close 
to their graves. 278 


Notwithstanding the belief that the soul ascended to heaven, 
che primitive notion of the soul lingering in or near the grave 
persisted. Souls were thus free to hover between heaven and 
earth, to converse with one another and even to give advice 
and information to the living. For some time after death, it 
was believed that the soul longed for the body and lingered 
near it. According to various versions, this period lasted three 
days, seven days, thirty days, or even twelve months. It was 
thought that the soul listened to the funeral discourse and 
resented improper manner of burial. Ghosts were said to be 
in contact with this world even many years after death. 279 

At the Departure of the Soul ... In the first section of this 
book, a Midrashic tale is told about the prenatal life of man 
under the tutorship and supervision of a special angel. After- 
ward this angel delivers to the child the decree of God to go 
out into the world. We now continue this story to its end. 

When the time arrives for a man to leave this world, the 
very angel who guarded his soul in his prenatal existence ap- 
pears and asks him, "Do you recognize me?" The man replies, 
"Yes, but why do you come to me today when you did not 
come to me 'on any other days?" The angel says, "To take you 
away from the world." Then the man begins to weep, and the 
sound of his voice travels from one end of the world to the 
other, yet no creature hears his voice except the cock. Man 
argues with the angel, "From two worlds did you take me and 
into this world did you bring me." But the angel retorts, "Did 
I not tell you that you were formed and born against your 
will, and that you would die against your will, and that against 
your will you will have to give an account of yourself before 
the Holy One, blessed be He?" 

This angel quotes a popular sentence of the Mishnah trac- 
tate, Sayings of the Fathers (Ovos) . This is not the only angel 
whom the dead man sees when his soul departs. Three com- 
panies of angels accompany the dead on their departure from 
this world, each one quoting an appropriate sentence from the 


Bible. There are two sets of such quotations, one for the right- 
eous, the other for the wicked. At the departure of his soul, 
man is accorded a glimpse of the Divinity. This is based upon 
the passage in the Bible, "Thou canst not see My face, for man 
shall not see Me and live" (Exod. 33:20). This passage was 
interpreted to imply that the moment life ends man sees the 
Divine presence. 280 

Death itself, the moment of the departure of life, is personi- 
fied in the Angel of Death, who is the subject of many stories 
and phantasies. 

Angel of Death and Angel Dumo . . . Before the Babylonian 
exile, the old Jewish belief in angels as intermediaries between 
God and man did not play an important role, for God himself 
was believed to intervene in the affairs of human life. Since 
the Babylonian exile, God, in the religious concept of the 
Jews, became more and more supermundane, aloof from the 
earth which "He hath given to the children of men" (Ps. 115: 
1 6). Human affairs on earth were believed to be largely in 
charge of holy and mighty angels, ministers of God who ful- 
filled His word and carried out His desires. 281 

Although the great prophet of the Exile proclaimed in the 
name of God, "I form the light, and create darkness; I make 
peace and create evil, I am the Lord, that doeth all these 
things," yet in the belief of the people, the angels in the service 
of God were divided into two categories friendly angels, 
full of light and goodness, and evil ones, who acted as God's 
messengers to bring punishment and calamity to men. "Mes- 
sengers of evil," they were called by the Psalmist. The "angels 
of death" belonged to this category. 282 

In time, the angels of death were reduced to one angel, the 
personification of destruction of human life. Later this angel 
was identified with Satan or Samael, the prince of the demons, 
and also with the Yetser Horo, the personification of the evil 
impulse in man. 283 

In imagination and fable, the Angel of Death was repre- 


sented as a being, consisting of wide open eyes, standing dur- 
ing the last moments of life at the head of the dying person, a 
drawn sword in hand. On the point of the sword there was 
a drop of gall, at the sight of which the dying person opened 
his mouth in terror. The instant he swallowed this drop of 
gall, death came. This bitter drop caused the alteration of the 
countenance that followed death. 284 

In the phantasy of the people the Angel of Death had be- 
come so thoroughly personified that fables were told about 
conversations which certain illustrious men held with him 
while they were still alive. These conversations were given 
verbatim in the popular tales of the Talmud. 285 

The power of the Angel of Death was not unlimited. He 
was merely the messenger of God who carried out His decree. 
According to the popular phantasy, God, in ancient Biblical 
days, excepted some of His favorites from falling into the 
hands of the Angel of Death. Six are mentioned who died by 
a kiss from God instead of the sword of the Angel of Death 
(the three Patriarchs and Moses, Aaron and Miriam). A large 
number of exceptionally meritorious persons did not suffer 
the common fate of all men, but were said to have entered 
Paradise during their lifetime. 

The power of the Angel of Death was further limited by 
his inability to approach any man who was entirely absorbed 
in the study of the Torah. There are numerous tales in the 
Talmud and Midrash about illustrious rabbis whom the Angel 
of Death could not approach because they constantly studied 
the Torah. The Angel of Death had to devise means to divert 
the mind of those rabbis from the Torah in order to take their 
souls. There is a fable in the Talmud which tells of an entire 
city over which the Angel of Death had no power. When the 
aged inhabitants were ready to die they went outside the city. 
This fabulous city was Luz, built by the man who sKowed the 
entrance to Beth-El to the house of Joseph, according to the 
first chapter of the Book of Judges. 286 

Even the limited power of the Angel of Death was only 


temporary. In the world to come, after the resurrection of the 
dead, the office of the Angel of Death would be abolished, for 
there would be no sense in dying after the dead have arisen 
from their graves. According to the Jewish belief, God would 
then "slaughter the Angel of Death who slaughtered the 
slaughterer," and the words of the prophet would come true, 
"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will 
wipe away tears from off all faces." 287 

In addition to the Angel of Death another angel was promi- 
nent in Jewish belief, the Angel Durno, in charge of the souls 
of the dead. In the Bible, Dumo, silence, was a synonym for 
Sheol. The Angel Dumo (the angel of the world of silence) 
thus played the same role as Nergal, the Babylonian god of 
the nether world. 288 

The "Beating and the Sling" . . . The Cabalists did not con- 
sider the torments of Gehenna sufficient punishment for sinful 
souls. They added a preliminary torment to Gehenna, called 
Chibut ha-Kever, beating of the grave. 

Immediately after burial, the Angel of Death (or according 
to another version, the Angel Dumo) places himself upon the 
grave and strikes the deceased with a fiery chain, asking him 
his Hebrew name. If the Hebrew name has slipped his mem- 
ory, the angel returns the soul to the body, to be submitted 
for judgment. For three successive days the deceased is then 
beaten with a chain of fire or a stick of iron. 

None were exempt from Chibut ha-Kever. Only two ex- 
ceptions were made. They were for those who had lived al- 
ways in the Holy Land, and for those who died on Friday 
before sunset and were buried at the moment when the Sab- 
bath rest was heralded. The Cabalists devised means of pro- 
tection from Chibut ha-Kever for those who lived outside the 
Land of Israel and for those who were not fortunate enough 
to die on Friday before sunset. These means consisted of doing 
benevolent works, showing hospitality and reciting prayers 
with excessive fervor. Reciting at the end of the Eighteen 


Benedictions a Biblical verse in which the first and last letters 
were identical with the first and last letters of the name of the 
person for whom it was intended, was a very efficient safe- 
guard against the suffering of Chibut ha-Kever. Since the 
Eighteen Benedictions were recited three times a day, this 
verse was engraved in the memory and regarded as an efficient 
means of remembering one's Hebrew name. The Hebrew 
prayer book contained a list of Biblical verses corresponding 
to the Hebrew names used most frequently. 289 

In the Jewish beliefs regarding death, Chibut ha-Kever and 
Gehenna did not exhaust the possibilities of torments for the 
sinful. One more punishment was mentioned in the Talmud. 
The expression of the Bible, "and the souls of thine enemies, 
them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling" (i Sam. 
25: 29), was factually interpreted. When a wicked person died, 
one angel stationed himself at one end of the world and a 
second angel at the other end, and they hurled his soul to each 
other as a stone is thrown from the hollow of a sling. In the 
popular idiom, this torment was called Kaf ha-Kala (hollow 
of the sling). 290 

Transmigration of Souls ... In addition to these punish- 
ments of the sinful souls, another punishment, though an eso- 
teric mystery, was conceived of in recent centuries by the 
Oriental and the East European Jews. This was the belief in 
the transmigration of souls (also called metempsychosis) in 
which certain souls passed into another body after death. Jews 
called it by the Hebrew term gilgul (cycle, rotation) . 

The belief in 'the transmigration of souls, common to primi- 
tive tribes, was shared by many ancient peoples and especially 
developed in India. Originally a foreign element, an exotic 
mystery, mentioned neither in the Bible nor in the Talmud, it 
infiltrated into certain circles of Jewish mystics. With the 
spread of the Cabala in the later Middle Ages, it spread among 
Jews, although the Jewish thinkers attacked it as a heathen 


Among the Cabalists of the school of Rabbi Isaac Luria 
(died 1572), the belief in gilgul became a basic doctrine of 
their teaching, and Rabbi Chayim Vital, the famous disciple 
of Rabbi Isaac Luria, wrote a whole book on this theme, Sefer 
ha-Gilguli?n (the Book of the Transmigrations of Souls). 

According to this belief, one's soul after death passed into 
another body, passing from body to body until it ultimately 
atoned for the sin for which it had suffered the punishment of 
gilgul. The soul might pass into a human body, the body of an 
animal, or even into an inanimate substance, depending upon 
the degree of sinfulness of the person, and the type of sin he 
had committed. The soul of the conceited community leader 
passed into the body of a bee; that of one who had been cruel 
to the poor passed into the body of a crow; the soul of a 
denunciator passed into the body of a barking dog; that of one 
who neglected to wash his hands before meals was transferred 
to a river, etc. 

This doctrine of the Cabalists played a great part in the be- 
liefs and phantasies of the people in recent centuries. 291 

Good and Bad Omens . . . There were good and bad death 
omens. A good death omen was a sign that the deceased was 
righteous and would enter Paradise, and vice versa. 

The day on which death occurred might be auspicious or 
inauspicious. Even in early Talmudic times, to die on Friday 
was a good omen, to die after the departure of the Sabbath 
was a bad omen. The flaming Gehenna was quiet on the Sab- 
bath, so death on that day was auspicious, while death on the 
day it reopened was inauspicious. To die at the departure of 
Yom Kippur was regarded as a good omen because of the 
advantage of dying with all one's sins forgiven. Conversely, 
to die on the day preceding Yom Kippur and miss forgiveness 
of one's sins, which the Day of Atonement bestowed, was a 
bad omen. In recent popular belief, the entire month of Nison 
was regarded as an auspicious period for death. 

There were many omens attached to the manner in which 


man breathed his last breath. Dying with a smile, face upward 
or with his face toward the people, was regarded as auspicious, 
and vice versa. Good was portended if one died speaking, espe- 
cially when speaking words of the Torah. 

According to the Talmud, death itself portended evil for 
the entire family. In the first seven days, the sword of the 
Angel of Death was still drawn, menacing the family. For 
thirty days the sword swung back and forth, returning to its 
sheath only after twelve months. However, if a boy was born 
in the family, this good omen removed the menace from the 
entire family. 292 

Origin of the Customs . . . The customs of burial and mourn- 
ing observed among Jews, as well as among other peoples, are 
divergent as well as mystifying. Originally, these practices 
could not have been symbols of mourning, because inherently 
most of them do not symbolize affliction and sadness. Walking 
barefooted, strewing dust on the head, sitting on the ground, 
were not, in themselves, manifestations of grief and mourning. 
Nor was the music at the funeral or the festive meal eaten 
after the funeral composed of food brought in from another 
house. Only in the course of time did they become signs of 
mourning because of long association with death. Why and 
how did they become so associated? 

Obviously, the customs and practices which later became 
mere tokens of mourning were originally rites performed for 
a certain purpose. What was that purpose? 

For quite a time this question was a controversial matter, a 
topic of profound discussion among Bible critics and anthro- 
pologists. Various scholars offered various theories to answer 
this question, but as in the case of the customs of marriage, 
each theory explained only some of the practices. Even when 
all these theories are applied jointly, some of the practices of 
mourning remain unexplained. 

Very few of the practices of mourning can be explained as 
spontaneous outbursts of grief. There are only two theories 


that adequately explain the origin of most of these customs, 
i.e., the theory of ancestral worship, and the theory of fearing 
the ghost of the dead. 293 

The Theory of Ancestor Worship . . . According to the ex- 
ponents of the theory of ancestor worship, these primitive 
customs stem from pre-Mosaic times. In those early days, the 
Jews did not worship the God of Israel, but like many other 
primitive tribes and peoples worshipped the spirits of their 
dead ancestors, paying them divine honors and offering sacri- 
fices to them. The later religion founded by Moses embodied 
belief in the almighty God of Israel, superseding and suppress- 
ing the primitive cult of the ancestral spirits. Traces of that 
cult persisted in later times, and can be found in the customs 
connected with burial and mourning. 

This theory explains why, at the outset, the Jewish religion 
was so sternly antagonistic to many practices of mourning, 
and why a corpse could not be touched without defilement. 
The Hebrew word to-me, which the English Bible translates 
"unclean" or "defiling," originally did not imply physical un- 
cleanliness, but implied that the person or the thing was taboo, 
banned, interdicted, ritually unfit. "He that touched any man's 
dead body was to-me seven days" (Num. 19:11), because a 
dead body was a reminder of a prohibited rival cult. The 
priests who were devotees of the cult of the God of Israel, 
therefore, avoided any contact with a corpse, with the excep- 
tion of that of a very close relative. The High Priest avoided 
contact with any corpse, even those of his own father and 
mother. The priests were also restricted in regard to the cus- 
toms of mourning. Ordinary priests were enjoined "they shall 
not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave 
off the corners of their beard, nor make any cutting in their 
flesh," customs generally prohibited to all Jews. Priests were 
particularly enjoined against this practice, lest in so doing, 
they profane the name of their God. Ordinary priests were 
not forbidden to rend their garments and let their hair grow 


long. Only the High Priests were forbidden these two customs 
of mourning. 294 

There were two alternatives in regard to the hair cutting 
it very short, to the point of baldness or allowing it to grow 
long and loose. The latter, more simple alternative, was less 
obnoxious 'to the teachers and spokesmen of the Jewish re- 
ligion and has been an established custom in Orthodox Jewry 
since Tannaitic times. According to the theory of ancestral 
worship, cutting the hair was originally a sacrifice to the spirit 
of the dead, for sacrificing the hair to a divinity was a current 
practice among many ancient peoples. But this theory fails to 
explain the alternative custom of allowing the hair to grow 
too long. It is also difficult to explain cutting the flesh as a rite 
of initiation into the cult of the dead. Nor is it easy to explain 
the custom of wearing coarse sackcloth as a sign of submission 
to the honored ghost, because sackcloth was worn by slaves. 

The theory of ancestral worship explains the festive meal 
after burial as an original participation in a sacrificial meal in 
honor of the ghost of the dead, but fails to explain why the 
food must be brought in from a strange house. A/Iany other 
practices of mourning cannot be explained by the theory of 
ancestor worship. 

The Theory of Fearing Ghosts . . . More of the burial and 
mourning customs were explained by the theory of the sur- 
vivors' fear of the ghost of the dead. Basically, this theory of 
the anthropologists has much in common with the theory of 
ancestor worship. Both assumed that the customs of mourning 
stemmed from the pre-historic age, when the belief that the 
soul of the dead lingered in the grave still prevailed and that 
the customs were originally practiced because of the ghost of 
the dead. The theory of ancestor worship originally motivated 
the customs by affection for the dead, while the theory of fear 
of the ghost ascribed the customs to precautions on the part of 
the survivors to prevent the unwanted return of the ghost. 
When a death occurred, the first thing to be done was to 


bury the corpse. The ghosts of the unburied were regarded as 
exceedingly dangerous, especially to their undutiful and dis- 
respectful relatives. This additional motive for immediate in- 
terment was added to that of defilement. 

Burial alone was an insufficient means of guarding against 
the return of the ghost. Numerous other precautions and de- 
vices were used by primitive man to prevent its return. 

The Jews and many other peoples threw sticks and stones 
or handfuls of grass with earth attached, on the graves. The 
original motive of this practice, which was a Jewish custom as 
far back as the early Middle Ages, was to force the ghost to 
return to the grave in case he attempted to leave. Grass was 
believed a safeguard against evil spirits. Later, the origin of 
the custom was forgotten and new meanings were read into 
it, interpreting the practices as a symbol of the verses of 
Psalms, "And may they blossom out of the city like grass of 
the earth," and "He remembereth that we are dust." In addi- 
tion, the grass which withered and died, and then sprouted 
again with new life, symbolized the resurrection of the dead. 295 

The theory of fearing the ghosts of the dead also explained 
the rush to fill the grave with earth. An open grave from which 
the ghost could easily escape was considered extremely dan- 
gerous. The tombstone was originally employed for the same 
reason. Among some peoples the custom prevailed of even 
piling a mass of heavy stones on the grave. Later the tombstone 
became merely a manifestation of affection for the deceased 
on the part of the survivors. 

Primitive man used numerous devices to outwit the ghost, 
making it impossible for him to find his way home. The eyes 
of the deceased were closed immediately after death occurred, 
for many peoples believed that the ghost might return if this 
was not done. Some closed the eyes even before death. Origi- 
nally it was a mild form of blindfolding so that the deceased 
might not see the direction in which he was carried to the 
grave, for according to the primitive belief, a ghost could find 
its way back to the house only by the same route by which 


it had left. The original motive was completely forgotten, 
and Jews read a new, symbolic meaning into it. They now 
believed that as long as the eye gazed on this world it was in- 
capable of perceiving the next world. At the moment of death, 
man had a glimpse of the Sh'chino, the Divine Presence, and 
he ceased to look at this world. In the late Middle Ages (seven- 
teenth century) this custom of blindfolding the eyes was done 
with potsherds which were placed on the eyes after the corpse 
had been laid in the grave. Other nations employed various 
methods of blindfolding the eyes of the dead. The Russians 
placed coins on the eyes. In Korea, binders made of black silk 
and tied with strings at the back of the head were placed over 
the eyes of the dead. 

For the same reason, the corpse was carried from the house 
feet foremost, for if it had been carried head foremost, the 
eyes would have been towards the door and his ghost might 
find his way back. The Jews apparently adopted this custom 
from the Germans in the Middle Ages. This explains also why 
a Jewish funeral procession took the longest way to the ceme- 
tery, for the longer and more tortuous the way to the grave, 
the more difficult for the ghost to return. 

These precautions prevented the return of the ghost, but in 
addition, the ghost was made to feel as comfortable as possible 
in the grave. Foods and various utensils were placed therein to 
induce him to stay in the grave. 

As in the attempt to control evil spirits on other important 
occasions in the life of man, so at death, deceit was employed 
to forestall the return of the ghost. Covering the head of the 
mourner was a precaution taken to hide from the ghost. The 
custom of the mourner's changing his place in the synagogue 
might also have been motivated by a desire to hide from the 
ghost. The custom was recorded as far back as the fourteenth 
century. 296 

The survivors also endeavored to disguise themselves in 
order that the dead might not recognize them. They mutilated 
themselves by making cuts in their flesh, cut their hair too 


short or let it grow too long. They wore sackcloth, the attire 
of a beggar, or clothes of an unusual color: black among the 
Jews and Romans and white and red among other peoples. 
They strewed ashes on their heads, walked barefooted and sat 
on the ground. In the house, all beds were inverted. In brief, 
ordinary life was reversed to make the survivors and the house 
of death unrecognizable to the ghost of the dead. 

Primitive man also took precautions in case the ghost was 
not deceived. If he reappeared in spite of all means of preven- 
tion, a warm conciliatory welcome was given him. After the 
burial, a festive meal was served in which he was believed to 
participate. The food had to be brought from another house 
in order to make sure that the ghost did not cling to it. Appeas- 
ing the ghost motivated the custom of keeping a burning can- 
dle in the house of death during the seven days of mourning. 
A religious authority of the thirteenth century said that this 
was done expressedly for the contentment of the soul, which 
returned to the house during those seven days. 297 

This theory also explained the custom of pouring out all the 
water immediately after the occurrence of death. The later 
interpretation given above, connecting it with the Angel of 
Death, was invented when the origin was no longer known. 
This custom was practiced among many peoples, for primi- 
tive man believed that spirits could not cross water and there- 
fore the ghost was in danger of falling into it. (Cf. above p. 
215.) It was therefore removed from the house in order that 
it should not annoy the ghost of the dead and hinder its de- 

Guarding the Corpse . . . We have spoken of safeguarding 
the survivors against the ghost of the dead. The survivors 
feared also that the corpse might be penetrated by evil spirits. 
According to the primitive belief, the evil spirits, having no 
material body, were anxious to become corporate, and sought 
to enter the corpse. The dead body was believed to be beset by 
demons, and had to be guarded against them. 


This explains the queer phenomenon by which the rites of a 
funeral so strikingly resembled the rites of a wedding. In both 
ceremonials, a procession took place in which music, torches, 
encirclings, aromatic odors, and branches of myrtle were 
prominent features. Both processions were followed by a fes- 
tive meal at which legumes were eaten. The bride and groom, 
like the corpse, were never left alone, and in the attire of the 
bride and groom, knots were loosened before the wedding 
ceremony and knots were also avoided in shrouds. The days 
of mourning numbered seven, the same number as the days of 
the wedding feast. These similarities are adequately explained 
by the common origin of both rites the fear of evil spirits. 298 

Guarding the corpse against demons could not play any sig- 
nificant role in the customs observed in the seven days of 
mourning, but played a great role in the rites and customs 
observed from the moment of death until the funeral was con- 
cluded. This period was believed the time when the evil spirits 
infested the corpse as well as the people who participated in 
the burial. 

The Gaon Sar Sholom, head of the academy at Sura (about 
the middle of the ninth century), explicitly stated that the 
seven stops made on the return from the grave were made 
because evil spirits clung to those returning from a burial, one 
of which hastened away with every halt. Rashi, the greatest 
of the commentators on the Bible and the Talmud, repeated 
this explanation two centuries later. About five hundred years 
after Rashi, this same explanation was again repeated by Rabbi 
Moshe Isserles, co-author of the Shulchan Aruch (the ac- 
cepted code of civil and religious laws in Orthodox Jewry). 
The same explanation also may apply to the stops made by the 
funeral procession on the way to the grave. So motivated, the 
stops appropriately went with the recitation of Psalm 91. 
called in the Talmud, "The Song of Evil Spirits." 2 " 

Later Customs . . . On the foregoing pages we have applied 
indiscriminately the theories of modern anthropologists con- 


cerning the customs of death in Biblical, Talmudic and post- 
Talmudic times. A few explanatory remarks must be added 
about these later customs, which arose in medieval and recent 
times under the influence of the non-Jewish environment. 

The motive of blindfolding the dead is not an adequate ex- 
planation of the custom of putting potsherds on the eyes, for 
it does not explain the potsherd placed on the mouth. We must 
add a second motive, that of closing the openings in the body 
of the corpse to forestall penetration by evil spirits. 

The custom of covering mirrors or turning them to the wall 
was known among many nations, originating in a primitive 
belief that man's soul was in his shadow, and also in his reflec- 
tion in water, or in a mirror. It was feared that the soul pro- 
jected in the mirror might be snatched away by the ghost of 
the deceased. 800 

The above cited Gaon Sar Sholom declared that the custom 
of washing the hands on returning from a funeral was some- 
thing new, and not obligatory. In the fourteenth century this 
practice was still optional, and only in the long course of time 
did it become a universally accepted custom. 301 

The candle burning in the house of death during the seven 
days of mourning was mentioned as far back as the thirteenth 
century. Later, a glass of water and a towel were added. These 
customs were practiced also among other nations. The reli- 
gious code of Rabbi Abraham Danzig, noted religious author- 
ity at the beginning of the nineteenth century, approved of 
the lighted candle, but condemned the glass of water and the 
towel as non-Jewish. This same authority strongly condemned 
the custom of placing little sticks, called little forks, in the 
hands of the corpse. In spite of the severe condemnation of this 
great religious authority, even in this country, these two latter 
customs are still practiced among Eastern European Orthodox 
Jews. 302 

In conclusion, it must be remarked that the customs related 
to death are not homogeneous, but are a product of different 
times and different stages of religious thought. The various 


explanations offered for them do not exclude one another, but 
should be jointly applied. A single custom may have originated 
or have been sustained through the ages by a concurrence of 
several motives. However, as already previously remarked, all 
the joint explanations do not cover the origin of all the prac- 
tices connected with death. Some of them defy explanation. 
Originally these practices were rites with definite objec- 
tives. Later the origin faded from memory, and the practices 
became mere tokens of mourning, manifestations of grief, and 
expressions of respect and affection for the departed. 

Prayers for the Dead ... As stated in a previous chapter, the 
belief in a future life after death, in Gan Eden for the righteous 
and Gehenna for the wicked, was universally accepted among 
Jews during the early centuries of the Common Era. But there 
was yet no unanimity in regard to atonement for the sins of 
the dead in order that they might be redeemed from Gehenna. 
In the centuries following the second destruction of Jerusalem, 
we find two contrasting trends of thought in this regard, and 
we are unable to ascertain which predominated. One trend 
declared that every man must repent and do good deeds during 
his life and that there could be no atonement after death. The 
other school of thought believed in atonement for sins of the 
dead after death, and the efficacy of prayer to deliver sinful 
souls from Gehenna. Numerous passages of the Talmud and 
Midrash reflect both tendencies. In the Middle Ages the latter 
trend became universally accepted in Jewish religious thought 
and practice. 803 

The predominance of the belief in atoning for the sins of the 
dead caused the evolution of three religious institutions which 
at present are most prominent in the ritual of the synagogue: 
Kaddish, Yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) and Hazkoras 
N'shomos (memorial service) . They will be treated separately. 

Kaddish . . . The Kaddish (holy in Aramaic like kodosh in 
Hebrew) is popularly thought of as a prayer for the dead, 


although its contents have no link with death or praying for 
the dead. This ancient Jewish prayer offers praise and adora- 
tion to God. Originally, the nucleus was the doxology recited 
by the whole congregation, "May His great name be praised 
for all eternity!" We find this doxology in a Hebrew version 
(in Psalm 113:2, "Blessed be the name of the Lord from this 
time forth and forever") and in an Aramaic version in the 
Book of Daniel (2:20, "Blessed be the name of God from ever- 
lasting even until everlasting; for wisdom and might are His") . 
Another Hebrew version was used as a congregational re- 
sponse in the Temple service ("Blessed be the name of His 
glorious kingdom forever and ever") . This praise of God, em- 
phasizing the sanctity and glory of His name, had its proto- 
type in the verse of Ezekiel, "Thus will I magnify Myself and 
sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of 
many nations; and they shall know that I am the Lord" (38: 
23). In EzekiePs magnificent vision, this universal recognition 
of God's glory, which will usher in the era of eternal peace 
and bliss, will occur after the miraculous defeat and downfall 
of the last heathen world power of Gog, of the land of Magog. 
No wonder that the praise of God's name was expanded by 
the addition of a prayer for the speedy arrival of God's King- 
dom, and later enlarged for liturgical purposes. 

In the days of the Second Temple, more than one version of 
this hymn, consisting of the doxology and a prayer for the 
arrival of the Kingdom of God, was current among Jews. 
Thus, the Christian Paternoster, which like Kaddish is a prayer 
for the sanctification of God's name and the arrival of His 
Kingdom, is not something unique and unparalleled, as Chris- 
tians believe, but is merely one among many versions of an 
ancient Jewish prayer. 

In Talmudic times this holy praise of God was an integral 
part of the liturgy. Recited as a conclusion to public readings 
of the Holy Writings and religious discourses in the syna- 
gogue or house of study, a mystic power was ascribed in cer- 
tain circles to the recitation of this prayer, particularly to the 


doxology responded by the congregation. The whole world 
was sustained by merit of this holy praise of God's name. He 
who recited the prayer was assured of his share in the world to 
come, and it was thought the recital had power to annul an evil 
decree passed in heaven. In the course of time, the power of 
redeeming the dead from Gehenna was also attributed to the 
recitation of Kaddish. 304 

In the epoch of the G'onim (seventh to eleventh centuries), 
we first meet the term Kaddish and two innovations in connec- 
tion with its recital. Kaddish was already a part of the services 
at the synagogue and linked with the occurrence of death, but 
recited by a stranger, not by the son. It was the chazan who 
recited it at the synagogue on the first Sabbath of mourning. 305 

Since the belief prevailed that the religious merits and pious 
deeds of the son could atone for the sins of his deceased par- 
ents, only one step was necessary to establish a redeeming 
power for the parents through the son's recital of prayers to 
which the congregation responded with the sanctification of 
God's name. To strengthen this belief, a basis was found for it 
in the verses of Isaiah, "Therefore thus saith the Lord, who 
redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: 'Jacob 
shall not how be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale; 
When he seeth his children, the work of My hands, in the 
midst of him, That they sanctify My name; Yea, they shall 
sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, And shall stand in awe of the 
God of Israel' " (29:22-23). In addition, several versions of a 
story were told with either Rabbi Akiba or Rabbon Jochanan 
ben Zakkai as the main character, accentuating the fact that 
the orphan's recital of Kaddish and Bor'chu (the two prayers 
to which the congregation responds with praise of God) had 
the power to rescue the most wicked man from the tortures of 
Gehenna. Here is the story in brief. 

Once Akiba (or Rabbon Jochanan ben Zakkai) met a ghost, 
in the guise of a man carrying wood. He told Akiba that the 
wood was for the fire in Gehenna in which he was burned 
daily for his sins committed when he was a tax collector. He 


could be released from his terrible punishment if he had a son 
to recite Bor'chu and Kaddish before a congregation of wor- 
shippers who would respond with the praise of God's name. 
Rabbi Akiba, learning that a son had been born to the man 
after his death, cared for the youth and educated him, so that 
at last one day he stood in the assembly of worshippers and 
recited Bor'chu and Kaddish. The dead man then appeared to 
Rabbi Akiba, telling him that he was now released from 
Gehenna. 306 

The son's recitation of Kaddish after the death of a parent 
spread during the Middle Ages, until, in the course of a few 
centuries, it was universally accepted in all Jewish communi- 
ties. Some religious authorities disliked the idea of relying too 
much on the prayers of the sons for redemption from Ge- 
henna, but their opposition was overcome. It is the opinion of 
scholars that the custom began spreading in Germany during 
the time of the wide-spread persecutions against the Jews. A 
great many Jews perished as martyrs for Kiddush ha-Shem, 
the sanctification of the name of God. It is therefore easy to 
understand why the prayer sanctifying the name of God be- 
came, more precious among the people. 

At first Kaddish was recited for twelve months after death, 
corresponding to the period in which wicked people were 
kept in Gehenna, according to the predominant view of the 
rabbis of the Talmud. Later, the Kaddish period was curtailed 
to eleven months, in order that the dead parent should not 
appear wicked. 307 

At first, only the sons recited Kaddish; later daughters also 
were permitted to recite Kaddish if there was no son. Grand- 
children were allowed to recite Kaddish for their grandpar- 
ents, parents for children, pupils for teachers, and even distant 
relatives and complete strangers. This latter custom of reciting 
Kaddish for a stranger led to the recent commercialization of 
the custom. Many elderly people do not have sons or are not 
sure that their sons will be able and willing to go three times 
daily to the synagogue to recite Kaddish. They pay a certain 


amount to the study circle at the house of study or to a pious 
individual, with the stipulation that Kaddish be recited for 
them after their departure. Hiring a stranger to recite Kaddish 
has become an ordinary practice. 

Yahrzeit ... As far back as Talmudic times, Jews memorial- 
ized the anniversary of the day of their parents 7 deaths and also 
of great teachers' deaths. Some people fasted on this date. In 
the G'onic times, on the anniversary of the death of great 
scholars, large throngs gathered at their graves. We may as- 
sume that the custom of visiting the graves of parents on the 
same occasion was also practiced in those times. 308 

Although observing the anniversary of the death of parents 
went back to the first centuries C.E., the word Yahrzeit and 
most of its concurrent observances are of a late origin. 

The word Yahrzeit was not mentioned before the sixteenth 
century, and was derived from the German word Jahrzeit 
used in the Christian Church to denote the occasion for honor- 
ing the memory of the dead. Fasting on the anniversary of 
the death of the parent was not obligatory. The above- 
mentioned Judah the Pious of Regensburg (died 1217) rec- 
ommended this custom. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, a co-author of 
the Shulchan Aruch (sixteenth century), also recommended 
it for its religious merit. In recent times it became customary 
that, if one fasted once on the Yahrzeit day, he was obliged to 
fast on that day every year. 309 

The word Yahrzeit (as well as the custom of reciting Kad- 
dish) originated among the Jews of Germany. Both are men- 
tioned in the book of Maharil, the illustrious Rabbi of May- 
ence (beginning of the fifteenth century), with whom the 
readers of this book are already well acquainted. At first the 
Spanish and Oriental Jews were opposed to the recital of 
Kaddish on the Yahrzeit day, maintaining that this implied 
that the deceased parent had remained in Gehenna more than 
a year. Later, the opposition of the S'fardim was overcome 
by their acceptance of the explanation given by the great 

Cabalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who maintained that even the 
soul which was already in Gan Eden was elevated every year 
to a higher sphere by the recital of Kaddish on the occasion 
of the Yahrzeit. Both name and custom were ultimately ac- 
cepted by the S'fardim. Even the Persian Jews, who use their 
own Judeo-Persian vernacular, call the observance of the anni- 
versary of the death by its Yiddish name Yahrzeit. 310 

In order to avoid quarrels about the right of precedence, the 
practice in which all mourners and observers of Yahrzeit at 
the services recite Kaddish together, was introduced among 
the S'fardim and, more recently, among some Ashk'nazim. 811 

The liturgical part of Yahrzeit is not confined to the recital 
of the Kaddish. If the person observing the Yahrzeit has the 
opportunity, he also reads the prayers before the congrega- 
tion, and if he is a learned man, he recites a chapter in Mishnah 
or a section of some other standard religious work, concluding 
it with the longer version of Kaddish recited after a religious 
discourse (Kaddish Urabbonon, Kaddish of the Scholars). 
Everyone who observes Yahrzeit is called up to the reading of 
the Torah on the Sabbath on which the Yahrzeit falls or on 
the preceding Sabbath. Since a reading from the Scroll of the 
Torah also takes place on Monday and Thursday, the mourner 
may be called on either of these two days, although the Sab- 
bath is preferable. The prayer for the dead on the occasion of 
Yahrzeit will be discussed in the following topic. 

In the seventeenth century, burning a "Yahrzeit light" for 
twenty-four hours was still considered a strange custom. Jew- 
ish scholars ascribe it to the influence of the Christian Church. 
But the custom soon became Judaized, because Jews saw in the 
burning light a symbol of man's soul. 312 

Besides the Yahrzeit of the individual, there were national 
traditional anniversaries of famous men in Jewish history. Most 
popular was the seventh day of the month of Ador, the tradi- 
tional anniversary of the death of Moses. This anniversary 
dates back to the time of the G'onim and is still observed as a 
fast day in many Jewish communities. 318 


Among the Chasidim, the observance of Yahrzeit was trans- 
formed from an occasion of mourning to an occasion of joy. 
Chasidism arose in Poland in the eighteenth century and, about 
a century ago, the Chasidim constituted nearly half the Jewish 
people. They preached piety through joy, and celebrated 
the Yahrzeit of their respective rabbis with hymns, religious 
dances and general rejoicing. Their individual Yahrzeit was 
an occasion of joy on which the person observing the Yahrzeit 
passed brandy and cakes among the worshippers in the house 
of study. This custom spread in America among Misnagdim 
(opponents of Chasidim). In Eastern Europe among Mis- 
nagdim, there were regions where the observer of Yahrzeit 
provided himself with a box of snuff which he passed among 
the people assembled for the services. 

Among the S'fardim, the observer of Yahrzeit invites rela- 
tives and acquaintances to his house, foremost among them the 
chacham (rabbi) and the communal functionaries of the syna- 
gogues, who honor the memory of the departed by studying 
Torah. This performance is called "limud" (study). The 
invited guests study Mishnah and Zohar and the chacham de- 
livers a discourse on Torah. The only refreshment served is 
coffee. 314 

Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the day of death, not of burial, 
and it is observed according to the Jewish calendar. People 
believe the day of Yahrzeit is an unlucky day for any enter- 

Hazkoras N'shomos . . . The custom of performing a me- 
morial service for the dead developed among the Jews in Ger- 
many in the time of the Crusades, when thousands of Jews 
were massacred by mobs. Originally, a communal service was 
performed once in a year, on Yom Kippur, when lists were 
read of men and women, who during persecutions had become 
martyrs to the "Sanctification of the Name of God." These 
lists were called "memor books" (from the Latin memoria) 
and the German Jews called the performance of this service 


"memern." The earliest "memor book" extant is that of Nu- 
remberg, containing the names of the martyrs who died be- 
tween 1096 and 1349 (from the First Crusade until the Black 
Death). The communal service of Hazkoras N'shomos gradu- 
ally has become an individual service in which each individual 
remembers his dead parents and prays for their souls, 815 

In recent times it has become customary to have memorial 
services on the three festivals. For individuals the services 
are held on any Sabbath, Monday or Thursday, on which 
the Yahrzeit falls, or on the Sabbath preceding the Yahr- 
zeit. At the services of the synagogue, this latter occasion is 
marked by the chazan or sexton's chant of the prayer El mole 
rachamlm (O God, who is full of compassion, etc.), a prayer 
for the dead, mentioning the name of the deceased, which 
came into vogue in the seventeenth century. Recently, this 
prayer has become as popular as Kaddish, and since it was 
chanted by a hired stranger, it has also been commercialized. 
During the month of Elul, especially on the Sundays, when 
everyone visits the graves of his or her parents and other kin- 
dred, the Jewish cemeteries in this country resound with the 
prayer El mole rachamim, chanted by someone who is compe- 
tent to do so, for the benefit of those who do not know He- 
brew and cannot recite the prayers themselves. He chants the 
prayer on behalf of every individual of the family who visits 
the grave, receiving a coin from each. This prayer is also 
recited at the unveiling of a tombstone. 

Among the S'fardim, the memorial service is called Hash- 
kabah (praying for the repose and peace of the dead). 


Through several hundred pages, the panorama of the life of 
the individual Jew has unfolded through long stretches of time 
and through many lands and climes. We have seen how much 
Jewish life has changed under the impact of new environments 
and new civilizations, and how much it remained unchanged 
throughout the ages. Moving swiftly through three thousand 
years of Jewish history, we have come to a Jewish cemetery 
here in America. The cycle of the life of the individual Jew 
has thus come to an end. But the way of life of the Jewish 
people, based on the Jewish monotheistic faith, will not perish 
from the earth, though it may undergo many more transfor- 




The sources as well as the scientific literature referred to in the 
following notes are merely selective. 

All Talmudic tractates mentioned below refer to the Baby- 
lonian Talmud, unless preceded by a Y. This symbol is used to 
indicate Yerushalmi. 

The books and treatises in the following list which are re- 
ferred to repeatedly throughout the notes are given there un- 
der the name of the author only; 

Benzinger, Hebraeische Archaeologie, 3rd ed. 

Berliner, Aus dent Leben der deutschen Jitdcn im Mittelalter* 

Frazer, The Golden Boz^gh > one volume ed. 

Guedemann, Geschichte des Erziehzmgsivesens und der Kultur 

der abendlaendischen Juden 'waehrend dcs Mittelalters und der 

neueren Zeit. 

Krauss, Talmudlsche Arcbaeologie* 
Loew, Die ~Lebensalter in der juedischen Literatur. 
Mann, Jacob, "Rabbinic Studies in the Synoptic Gospels," He* 

brew Union College Annual, 1924. 
Samter, Geburt> Hochzeit und Tod. 
Scheftelowitz, Isidor, Alt-Pal. Alt-Palaestinensischer Bauern- 

Scheftelowitz, Isidor, altper. Die altpersische Religion und das 

Smith, W. Robertson, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 

3rd ed. 

Wuttke, Der Deutsche V oiks aber glaube der Gegentuart? 3rd ed. 
J.E. Jewish Encyclopedia. 

1 See Tosefto Shabos 6-7; Shabos 
^ 2 We are not sure whether the birth-stool was already in use in Biblical 
times, because we cannot be sure about the original meaning of the Hebrew 
word mashber in the Bible (Isa. 37:3; Hos. 13:3). The fact that in Talmud 
(Shabos 1293; Mishnah Nido 10:5) mashber is used for a birth-stool does 
not prove that it had this meaning also in Biblical times. Neither are we sure 

a 05 

306 NOTES 

about the meaning of the Hebrew word ovnoyim (Exod. 1:16; Jer. 18:3). 
See Loew, p. 74, Krauss II, p. 6 and note 53, p. 426. See also the hypotheses of 
Sarsowski in Hakedem I, p. 23 and Spiegelberg in Zeitschrift fuer Assyrio- 
logie XIV, p. 269. 

3 Exod. 1:19. 

4 Gen. 35:16-18; I Sam. 4:20; see also B'reshis Rabo 82:9. 

5 Jer. 20:15. It is evident from this that in the days of Jeremiah it was 
customary for the father to be absent from the place where his wife was in 
labor. Among many other peoples the custom prevailed to place the child 
at birth on the knees of his father, who thereby acknowledged it as rus. We 
do not have any conclusive proof that, barring cases of adoption, this custom 
had ever prevailed among Jews. The expression "that she may bear upon 
my knees" (Gen. 30:3) refers to the adoption of Bilhah's children by Rachel. 
A case of adoption may also be implied in the expression "the children also 
of Machir the son of Manasseh were born upon Joseph's knees'* (Gen. 
50:23). It may imply the adoption of Machir's sons by Joseph. See The 
International Critical Commentary, and Gunkel, Genesis, on these two pas- 
sages. The expression "Why did the knees receive me?" in Job 3:12, being a 
later source than the time of Jeremiah, does not refer to the knees of the 
father but rather to the knees of the midwife or some other woman. See 
Stade in Zeitschrift fuer die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft VI, pp. 143 flf. 
and Benzinger, p. 123. 

6 Pss. 127:3; 128:3; Ruth 4:10. 

7 Ezek. 16:5. This custom of rubbing the new-born babe with salt was 
still practiced among Jews in Talmudic times (Shabos i29b) and it is still 
in vogue at the present time among the Arab peasants in Palestine who con- 
tinue this practice for weeks in succession. They believe that the salt in-v 
vigorates the child. See Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palestina Vereins, IV, 
p. 63. The origin of this custom is the primitive belief that salt, as well a& 
garlic, is a safeguard against demons and the evil eye. See Immanuel Loew, 
"Das Salz," in Jewish Studies in Memory of G. A. Kohut; Ploss, Das Kind fc> 
I, pp. 227 ff.; Samter, pp. 151-161; I. Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 78-79. Cf. 
Wuttke, p. 281. 

8 Ruth 4:14-15; Luke 1:58. 

9 The father chooses the name: Gen. 4:26; 5:3, 29; 21:3; 41: 51-52; Exod. 
2:22; II Sam. 12:24; Hos. 1:4, 6, 9. The mother chooses the name: Gen. 
4:25; 29:32-30:24; 38:4-5; Judg. 13:24; I Sam. 1:20; Isa. 7:14. Relatives and 
friends suggest a name: Ruth 4:17. 

10 Deut. 25:6; Ruth 4:10. Boaz married Ruth in a levirate marriage "to raise 
up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be 
not cut off from among his brethren." But the son born of this marriage was 
not named Mahlon but Obed. 

11 The father performed the operation: Gen. 17:23, the mother, Exod: 4:25. 
About a knife of stone, see also Josh. 5:2-3. 

12 See Richard Andree, "Die Beschneidung," Archiv fuer Anthropologie, 
Vol. XIII; Ploss, Das Kind 3 II, pp. 157 ff . For a brief account of the diffusion 
of circumcision and of the divergent theories offered by scholars to explain 
its origin, see article "Circumcision" in J.E. and in En. of Religion and Ethics. 

13 See Gressmann, Mose, pp. 56-61; Ed. Meyer, Die Israeliten, p. 59; 
W. Robertson Smith, p. 328. 

NOTES 307 

14 See Gunkel "Ueber die Beschneidung im alten Testament," Archiv fuer 
Papyrusforschung II, pp. 13-21; Kautzsch, Biblische Theologie, pp. 34-35; 
Ed. Meyer, Die Israeliten, p. 449. 

15 Gen. 34:14 ff-; II Sam. 1:20. The uncircumcised could not belong to the 
"congregation of Israel" and was forbidden to eat from the Pesach sacrifice, 
Exod. 12:47-48. 

16 Jer. 4:4; 9:24 and Deut. 10:16; 30:6. Scholars disagree as to whether this 
metaphor is original to Jeremiah or to Deut. In Lev. 19:23, the Hebrew word 
for uncircumcised ones, arelim, connoting taboo, is applied to the fruits in 
the first three years of newly planted trees. Metaphorically the word orel 
is also used for hardness in speech and in hearing, Exod. 6: 12, 30; Jer. 6:10. 

17 Ezek. 31:18-32:32. 

18 Gen. 9:8-17; 17:1-14; Exod. 31:16-17. 

19 Gen. 21:8; I Sam. 1:24. 

20 It is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible that the redemption of the 
first-born son took place at the sanctuary. The only place where it is men- 
tioned is the Gospel of Luke (2:22-23). But Luke was not a Jew and was 
liable to err in matters of Jewish usage. He may have used as a pattern for 
his account the story of Hannah, who when she had weaned Samuel brought 
him into the house of the Lord in Shiloh. However, we have to presume that 
in the ancient pre-Josianic days, when the local shrine, the bomo> was near at 
hand, the ceremony of redeeming the first-born son of the mother took place 
at the local sanctuary. See Jacob Mann. 

21 Exod. 13:13-15; 22:28; 34:20; Num. 3:11-13; 8:16-18. 

22 The theory that pidyon ha-ben was a substitute for human sacrifices 
goes back to German scholars in the nineteenth century. They, in their zeal 
to vilify "the religion of the Old Testament," endeavored to "prove" that the 
God or Israel was in pre-exilic times a Moloch like Chemos, the God of the 
Moabites to whom Mesha, king of Moab, offered his eldest son as a burnt- 
offering (II Kings 3). According to these scholars human sacrifices were a 
legal part of the cult of the God of Israel. They applied this view to the 
interpretation of Exod. 22:28: "The first-born of thy sons shalt thou give 
unto Me," and maintained that it was only after the Babylonian exile that 
"the religion of the Old Testament" was reformed and the Moloch cult 
prohibited (Lev. 20:1-5; Deut. 18:10). 

This rather superficial and ill-founded position was properly rejected by 
competent authorities. It can hardly be questioned that human sacrifices oc- 
curred in the heathen stage through which the ancestors of the Hebrews 
passed in pre-historic times. It was a practice which had prevailed through- 
out Semitic heathendom. As far as the Bible is concerned, human sacrifices 
are not mentioned anywhere as a legal part of the cult of Israel. The moral 
of the tale of the sacrificing of Isaac is that the forefathers of the children of 
Israel rejected human sacrifices already in pre-Mosaic times. Jephthah, like 
Samson and the other Judges, was a hero of the sword, not a religious leader. 
It is not at all surprising that this "mighty man of valor, the son of a harlot," 
who had been a leader of a band of marauders in the desert, expressed his 
devotion to his God in the manner of the neighboring heathens. The slaying 
of Zebah and Zalmunah by Gideon (Judg. 8), of Agag by Samuel (I Sam. 
15), and of the children of Saul by the Gibeonites (II Sam. 21) were execu- 
tions of war and blood revenge and do not belong to the category of sacri- 

308 KOTES 

fices. It was only in the Assyro-Babylonian times that the heinous Moloch 
cult penetrated to the Jews from Mesopotamia, along with many other 
strange heathenish rites of the Assyrians and Babylonians, and was practiced 
publicly in Jerusalem in "the valley of the son of Hinom" (II Kings 16:3; 
21 :6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; Ezek. 16:20; 36; 20:26-31; 23:37-39). It seems from 
Micah 6:7 that there were in those days many Jews, apparently of the higher 
classes, who, under foreign influences, misconstrued the above cited verse 
28 in Exod. 22 to mean that the first-born should be sacrificed as burnt- 
offerings, exactly as it was misinterpreted by some modern Bible critics. It 
was apparently in allusion to these Jewish Molochists and their misinterpre- 
tation of Exod. 22:28 that Ezekiel said: "Wherefore I gave them also statutes 
that were not good and ordinances whereby they should not live; and I 
polluted them in their own gifts in that they set apart all that openeth the 
womb, that I might destroy them, to the end that they might know that I 
am the I ord" (20:25-26). Ezekiel could not have meant that as a punishment 
God commanded his people to sacrifice their first-born sons. This would 
have been a flat contradiction of verse 2 in the same chapter where it says 
that God gave to Israel His statutes and ordinances in order that the man 
who keeps them shall live by them. Ezekiel could only mean to say that as a 

funishment God so formulated His law in Exod. 22:28 to give cause to the 
ewish Molochists to misinterpret it. 

Thus, competent scholars are agreed that the first-born was redeemed from 
service in the sanctuary, for the first-born preceded the Levites as the serv- 
ants of God in His sanctuary, as it is explicitly stated in Num. 3:41 and 
8:16-18. Compare the same expression for the sacredness of the Levites in 
Num. 8:16, "given unto Me," and the sacredness of the first-born in Exod. 
22:28, "shalt thou give unto Me." See Benzinger, p. 357; Evaritus Mader, 
Die Menschenop-fer der Alten Hebraer und der Benachbarten Voelker; 
W. Robertson Smith, pp. 464-465 and 688-689. See also Hugo Gressmann, 
Die aelteste Geschichtsschreibung und Prophetic Israels, 2te Auflage, p. 256. 

23 Lev. 12:1-8. 

24 See Frazer, pp. 207-208; Ploss, Das Kind s , pp. 381 ff.; Samter, pp. 22 fT. 

25 Shabos 1293; Mishnah Nido 10:5; Mishnah Shabos 18:3; Mishnah Rosh 
Hashono 2:5; Bovo Kamo 593; Avodo Zoro 26a; Soto nb; Tosefto Y'vomos 
9:4; Tosefto Makos 2:5; Y. K'subos 5, Halocho 6. 

26 Vayikro Rabo 27:7; Shabos i29b; B'reshis Rabo 34 at the end. 

27 Tosefto Shabos 6. 

28 Tosefto Makos 2:4; Tosefto Kelim, Bovo M'tsio, 1-12; 8:4; Tosefto 
Kelim, Bovo Basro, 7-12; Shabos 58b. See article "Birth, Jewish" by 
M. Gaster in En. of Religion and Ethics. 

29 Josephus, Apion II, par. 25; Gitin 573. See Ploss, Das Kind 3 , pp. 61-63; 
Scheftelowitz, Ah-PaL, pp. 25-27. 

80 II Mace. 6: 10. 

31 See Schuerer, Geschichte III, pp. 1641!. 

32 Josephus, Ant. XX, chaps. 2-4. 

83 See Schuerer, Geschichte III, p. 552. 

34 Book of Jubilees, chap. 15; Sanhedrin 32b; Bovo Basro 6ob; N'dorim 
3*a. About the expression Stfvuo ha-ben y see Krauss II, pp. 11-12 and Jacob 

NOTES 309 

85 Mishnah Shabos 19:1; M'nochos 42a; Shabos i3ob, i3?b, 1563. 
36 Ruth Rabo 6:5; Y. Chagigo 2, Halocho i. 
37 Tosefto M'gilo 4:15. 

38 Koheleth Rabo 3:4; DVorim Rabo 9:1. See A. Buechler, The Political 
and Social Leaders of the Jewish Community of Sipporis. 

39 See Krauss II, p. 439, note 123. 

40 Book of Jubilees 11:15 (Terah named his son Abram after the name of 
his mother's father) ; B'reshis Rabo 37:10 (a discussion between two Tannoim 
as to why it had become the custom to name children after their dead an- 
cestors instead of naming them according to the events of the time, as they 
did in former days). A son named after his father or grandfather who was 
still alive: Eruvin 85b-86a; Y. Nozir 4, Halocho 6; Tosefto Nido 5:15; Luke 
1:59. See Buchanan Gray, Studies in Hebrew Proper Names; the same author, 
"Children Named after Ancestors in the Aramaic Papyri from Elephantine 
and Assuan," Studien zur Semitischen Philologie und Religions geschichte, 
Julius Wellhausen gewid?net. See Krauss II, p. 13 and Jacob Mann. 

41 Vayikro Rabo 32:5 (Israel was delivered from Egypt because they did 
not change their names); Gitin rib (most Jews outside of Erets Yisroel 
bear heathen names). 

42 The Aramaic version is first mentioned in the Sidur of R. Amrom Gaon 
and the Sidur of R. Saadiah Gaon (9th and roth centuries), the Hebrew 
version is first mentioned in Shibole Haleket (i3th century). 

43 B'choros 5ib. 

44 P'sochim i2ib; T'rumas Hadeshen, 268. 

45 Book of Jubilees 3:9-14; Nido 3ib; B'reshis Rabo 20:17; Mishnah Nido 

46 Mishnah Sh'kolim 6:5; Mishnah Soto 1:5; Eruvin 3za. See Loew, p. in. 

47 Elijah Levita, Tishbi, s.u., Lilith; Isaac Holzer, "Aus dem Leben der 
alten Judengemeinde zu Worms," Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden 
in Deutschland, Jahrgang V. 

48 Machzor Vitri by R. Simcho, a pmpil of Rashi, mentions as an established 
custom, observing the eve of the b'ris by a joyous feast, but does not call it 
Watch Night, See J. Bergmann, Monatsschrift, 1927, pp. 165 fL; Guedemann, 
III, pp. 103 fF.; J. Perles, Graetz Jubelschrift, pp. 23 fF.; Filologishe Shriftn 
(Yiddish) I (the Watch Night as observed by the Jews of Vienna at the 
beginning of the i5th century) ; Wuttke, pp. 386 flf. 

49 The words in Genesis 17:9 "and as for thee, thou shalt keep My cove- 
nant" were interpreted by the Jewish homilists to mean that watch shall be 
kept on the eve of the b'ris (the Hebrew word for "thou shalt keep," tishmor, 
has also the meaning of "thou shalt watch"). Also the words of Koheleth 
11:2 "Divide a portion into seven, yea, even into eight" were interpreted to 
mean that on the seventh day after birth a feast shall be held as on the eighth 
day. See R. Jacob Chagiz, Halochos K'tanos, 169; Jacob Glassberg, Zichron 
B'm Lorishonmij 65-148. 

50 Loew, pp. 8 1 fF. 

51 Pirke R. Eliezer 29; Yalkut Shim-oni 71, on Gen. 13:17. 

52 Shabos 67b; N'dorim 563 and Rashi, ad loc.; Moed Koton 27a; and Rashi, 
ad he.; Sanhedrin 2oa, 923 and Rashi, ad loc.; Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deo 
178:3. See Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., p, 4. 

310 NOTES 

53 Tosefto 6:4; Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 179:17 and commentaries 
thereon. See Samter, p. 53, and Bergmann, "Der Stuhl und der Kelch des 
Elijah," Monatsschrtft, 1927. 

54 See Eirke Joseph by H. J. D. Azulai on Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 
179:17. It is evident from this commentator, an Oriental rabbi of the i8th 
century, that it was only in the course of a very long time that the table 
bedecked with food on the Watch Night and the chair of Elijah were com- 
pletely disassociated from one another in the popular mind. See also the 
chapter on Elijah's chair in Zichron B'ris Lorishonim by Jacob Glassberg. 
A different role in the history of the Jewish ceremonial was played by 
Elijah's cup on the Seder night, the counterpart of Elijah's chair at the b'ris. 
See The Jewish Festivals by the writer, pp. 80 ff . 

55 See Lipman, Sefer Nitsochon, 22 and M. Gaster, Ma'aseh Book, II, pp. 

56 Loew, p. 83. 

57 Shibole Haleket. 

68 See Holzer as in note 47. 

59 Loew, p. 104. 

60 Sefer Chasidim (ed. Wistinetzki), p. 114. 

61 The son of Judah Halevi's daughter was called Judah after his grand- 
father while the latter was still alive. About the Jews of Yemen see Even 
Sapher I, 513. 

62 See Guedemann III, pp. 104-105; Holzer as in note 47; A. Landau in 
Zeitschrtft des Vereins fuer Volkskunde, 1899; Loew, pp. 104-105; J. Perles 
in Graetz Jubelschrift. About the Teutonic goddess, Dame Holle, see 
Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, pp. 267 rT. See also 1494 bfcncp* mny "no ,1573 
.(p'np Vin) Vinn w n if? ianp'0 oiip ~pr "tV* VSN DHJNH D'-IDINP rrnnn 'pios 

63 .n* ,n"D njnip nVm 

^Yosef Omets, 361 (i7th century). 

65 About naming children in general see Ploss, Das Kind 3 I, pp. 408 fT. 
About naming children among Jews see Hershberg, Hatkufo, Vols. XXII, 
XXV; Lauterbach, "The Naming of Children," Central Conference of Amer- 
ican Rabbis, 1932; Zunz, "Namen der Juden," Ges. Schriften II. See also 
Tylor, Pri?mtive Culture II, pp. 4-5, and article "Names" in J.E. 

66 T'shuvos Ha-g'onim, Sha-arei T'shuvo, 47. 

67 Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 305:15 and Sifse Kohen } ad loc. 

68 Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayyim 282:17 and Mogen Avrohom, ad loc. 
See Loew, p. 80 and Ploss, Das Kind 3 I, pp. 396 ff . 

69 Nido 3ib; Onon, Sefer Hamitsvos; S. Bernfeld, R'shumos I; Lunts, 
Jerusalem I; Almaliach, A,, Hashiloach, 24. 

70 Pulner, "Zur Volkskunde der georgischen Juden," Mitteilungen zur 
Juedischen Volkskunde , 31 and 32. 

71 Tanchumo, P'kude 3 ; " Y'tsiras Havlad," Eisenstein, Otsar Midroshim; 
for a detailed bibliography of the sources, with critical remarks, see Ginz- 
berg, Legends V, note 20 on Adam. 

72 See M. Gaster, "The Chronicles of Jerahmeel," Oriental Translation 
Fund, new series IV, p. LXIV; Guedemann, "Mythenmischung in der 

NOTES 311 

Hagada," Monatsschrift, 1876; K. Kohler, Jewish Theology, pp. 215 and 289; 
Scheftelowitz, altper., pp. 157-158. 

73 See Sota lib about the sorceress Jochani and Rashi, ad loc.; also Oruch, 
s.v., Jochani. 

74 About the magic circle, Kaporos and Shofar see The Jewish Festivals by 
the writer, pp. 164-167 and 206-207. 

75 See Frazer, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament III, pp. 1-18, and Samter, 
pp. 136 ff. 

76 About sympathetic magic, see Frazer, pp. n ff. About untying knots see 
Frazer, pp. 239-240 and Samter, pp. 121 ff. 

77 See R. Campbell Thompson, Semitic Magic, pp. 65 ff .; by the same 
author, article "Semi-human demons," En. of Religion and Ethics; M. Gaster, 
"Two Thousand Years of a Charm Against the Child-Stealing Witch," 
Studies and Texts 11; Max Gruenbaum, Gesammelte Aufsaetze, pp. 94 ff.; 
James Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur, pp. 68 ff . and 
pp. 75 ff.; F. Perles, Orientalistische Liter aturzeitung XVIII, pp. 170-180; 
Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 5 ff . 

78 Long hair: Eruvin loob; a man alone in a house in danger of being 
seized by Lilith: Shabos i5ib; a human being born with wings like a Lilith: 
Nido 24b; Ahriman the son of Lilith: Bobo Basro 73a. 

79 II Alphabet of Ben-Sira, Eisenstein, Otsar Midroshim. See Bacher, 
"Lilith, Koenigin von Smaragd," Monatsschrift, 1870; Ginzberg, Legends V, 
note 40 on Adam; G. Sholem, Kirias Sefer X; I. Zoler, Filologishe Shriftn III. 

80 For pictures of Hebrew amulets to guard against Lilith, see article 
"Amulets" in /.. 

81 Tosefto Shabos 6; Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 39-40, 66-69; Tylor, 
Primitive Culture I, p. 140. 

82 Cf. Shabos 67b and Rashi, ad loc., and Rosh Hashono i6b. 

83 Pr. 10:2. Ts'doko which originally signified righteousness, the right 
conduct, was interpreted in post-Biblical times to mean especially almsgiving. 
About changing the name as a magic means, see Sefer Chasidim (ed. 
Wistinetzki), par. 365; Lauterbach as in note 65; Loew, 107 ff.; Scheftelowitz, 
Alt-Pal, pp. 55-57- 

84 Machzor Vitri, par. 507. Cf. Rashi, B'reshis Rabo on Gen. 21:8 (on the 
day when Isaac was weaned, the day when they put him in a cradle) . 

85 See Wuttke, p. 385. 

86 Sefer Chasidim, ed. Wistinetzki, p. 106. 

87 See the collection of Yiddish folk-songs by Ginsburg and Marek, pp. 
59 ff.; the collection of Yiddish folk-songs by J. L, Cahan, II, pp. 97 ff ., and 
Jewish Folklore j edited by J. L. Cahan, pp. 51 ff. 

88 Yomo 38b. 

89 II. Mace. 7:27; Nido 9a; DVorim Rabo 7:12. 

90 Gen. 21 :8; I Sam. 1:24. According to DVorim Rabo 1:22 and Pirke R. 
Eliezer 29, the great feast of Gen. 21:8 took place on the day of circumci- 
sion. Some Jewish homilists in the A4iddle Ages have interpreted hgml (the 
Hebrew word for weaned) to mean the eighth day of circumcision. Ac- 
cording to these homilists h and g have the numerical value of 8 and ml is 
the infinitive of the Hebrew verb for circumcising. 

312 NOTES 

91 See Frazer, pp. 231 ff. and pp. 68-681 ; Ploss, Das Kind* II, pp. 64 fT; 
W. R. Smith, p. 324; Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 149-150. 

82 The prohibition of rounding the corners of the head, Lev. 19:27, is ex- 
plained by modern scholars as forbidding the heathen cult of hair-offering. 
See W. R. Smith, pp. 325 fT. and Wellhausen, Rests ArMschen Heidentums 2 , 
pp. 198-199. Cf. Apocryphic Book of Baruch 6:30 (Epistle of Jeremiah). 

93 Judah Elzet, "Miminhagei Yisroel," in Rshumos I; I. Goldfarb, "Hilulo 
d'rabi Simeon ben Yochai," in Luach Achi-osof, 5664; A. Sh. Hershberg, 
"Ha-s'fardim b'erets Yisroel," in Hashiloach, XVIII; Lunts, Jerusalem I. 

94 See F. T. Elinorthy, The Evil Eye, and the most comprehensive book on 
this subject by S. Seligmann, Die Zauberkraft des Auges und das Berufen. 

95 Bovo M'tsio royb 

96 See Ludwig Blau, Das altjuedische Zauberwesen, pp. 152 fT,; Almaliach 
as in note 69; Regina Lilienthal, "Das Kind bei den Juden," Mitteilungen zur 
juedischen Volkskunde, 1908. 

9T Vayikro Rabo 26:7; Tanchumo, Buber, Emor 35. 
98 See Rashi on Num. 12:1. 

"Mishnah Shabos 6:9-10; Kidushin 73b; Rambam, Resp. (ed. Freimann), 
p. 5; Berliner, pp. 96 fT.; Guedemann, I, pp. 199 fT.; Almaliach as in note 69. 

100 See Schrader, Keilinschrijten und das Alte Testament 3 , p. 364 and 
Seligmann as in note 94, p. 410. 

101 Beis Yosef, Tur Orach Chayim, 308. 

102 See Schechter, "The Child in Jewish Literature," Studies in Judaism I. 

103 Josephus, Apion II, par. 18; Suko 423. 

104 See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 4:2 and more at length in Cbaye 
Odom 2:1. About nails see The Jewish Festivals by the writer, note 33. 
About water as a charm to forestall harm by evil spirits see Scheftelowitz, 
AJt-PaL, pp. 71 fF. See also below, p. 215 and p. 290. 

105 Deut. 6:7; 11:19; Judg. 8:14; Isa. 8:1; 10:19; 29:12; Hab. 2:2. 

106 The term Beis Midrosh is first mentioned in the Hebrew Ben-Sira 51:22. 
See R. H. Kennet, Ancient Hebrew Social Life and Custom; Klostermann, 
Schulwesen im alten Israel. 

107 Bovo Basro 21 a. 

108 Midrash Echo, proem 2; K'subos 53; Sanhedrin i7b; Shabos ii9b; 
Vayikro Rabo 27:2; 30:1. 

109 Avodo Zoro 3b. 

110 Bovo Basro 2ia; Mishnah Shabos 1:3; Mishnah Kidushin 4:13. 

111 Mishnah Bovo Basro 2:3; B'reshis Rabo 65:16; DVorim Rabo 8:4. 

112 M'gilo 2ia; Pirke Ovos 1:4 and Ovos de R. Noson, ad loc.; Bamidbor 
Rabo 21:15; Tosefto Kelim, Bovo Basro, 1:11. 

113 Shir Hashirim Rabo 1:13; 6:17; Horoyos 12:1; Midrash Echo,broem 
30; Sanhedrin 95b; B'reshis Rabo 1:5; D'vorim Rabo 8:3; Gitin 6oa; Tosefto 
Yodayim 2:11. 

114 Midrash Echo 2:5; K'subos 503; M'chilto on Exod. 13:14; Pirke Ovos 
5:15; Vayikro Rabo 7:3 ("Why does one begin to teach the children with 
the Priestly Torah and not with B'reshis? Because the children are pure and 

NOTES 313 

the sacrifices are pure, let the pure ones come and occupy themselves with 
the pure ones") . The strange custom of beginning to teach the child Penta- 
teuch with the sacrificial laws of Leviticus, which persisted to our day, was 
discussed by many scholars. The explanation cited here from Vayikro Rabo 
was thought up in later times, and does not explain the origin of the custom. 
The most plausible explanation is the one given by Nathan Drazin in his 
book, History of Jewish Education, pp. 82-83. According to this theory the 
custom sprang up after the destruction of the Second Temple, in order to 
make the child aware of the significance of the Temple and the glory that 
was lost by its destruction. 

115 Yalkut on Deut. 32:24; Kidushin 3oa; Shabos ugb, i29b; Ta-anis 303; 
Mishnah Bovo M'tsio 2:11; Toseftb Suko 2:6; Bovo Basro 21 a. 

116 Kidushin 29a; B'reshis Rabo 63:14 ("Until the age of thirteen Jacob and 
Esau went together to the Beis Sefer; after the age of thirteen one went to 
the Beis Midrosh and the other went to the heathen temples"). For more de- 
tails and a full bibliography of sources, see N. Drazin as in note 114; L. Ginz- 
berg, "The Jewish Primary School," in Students, Scholars and Saints; Krauss 
III, pp. 200 ff.; Nathan Morris, The Jewish School. 

117 Deut. 33:4; Lev. 1:1; Ezek. 3:3; Pss. 119:99, 103. The translation of 
verse 99 as given here is the conventional one according to Rashi. The mod- 
ern translation, "I have more understanding than all my teachers," is accord- 
ing to the interpretation of Ibn Ezra. 

118 The name cheder (room) for the primary school was in use already as 
far back as the beginning of the iyth century. See Simcho Osof, M'koros 
Utoldos Hachinuch I, p. 78. 

119 Machzor Vitri; Sefer Horokeach. See Guedemann, I, pp. 50 ff .; Zunz, 
Zur Geschichte und Literatur, pp. 167 if. 

120 See Emanuel Gamoran, Changing Conceptions in Jewish Education; 
A. M. Lifshitz, "Hacheder" in Hatkufo VII, pp. 294-352; I. Stern, "Baschrei- 
bung fun a cheder" in Schriften fur psychologie un pedagogic I; Simcho 
Osof as in note 118, Vol. IV. 

121 Bovo M'tsio 963. 

122 Exod. 30:14; Lev. 27:5; Num. 1:3, 20; 14:29. 

123 Mishnah Nido 5:6. 

124 See Heinrich Schurtz, Altersklassen und Maennerbuende II, pp. 83 rT.; 
article "Age of Majority," in En. of Social Sciences; Schechter, Studies in 
Judaism I, p. 307. The verses of the Bible referred to in note 122 belong to 
the so-called Priestly Writing of the Pentateuch which is, as a whole, a 
product of post-exilic times. Schechter, rejecting the Higher Criticism of the 
Bible and maintaining the traditional Mosaic origin of all Pentateuchal laws, 
was thus forced to ascribe to a Roman influence the Talmudic law of 
attainment of majority at thirteen for a boy, and twelve for a girl. About 13 
as a sacred number among the Oriental peoples and an ill-omened number 
among Europeans, see Berliner, p. 101, and Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 145- 

125 Ovos 5:21, See also K'subos 5oa. 

126 B'reshis Rabo 63:14. 
127 Sofrim 18:5. 

128 Suko 42a; M'gilo 233; Yomo 823; Sofrim 18:7. 

314 NOTES 

129 Cf. Tur Orach Chayim 37 and Schulchan Aruch Orach Chayim, 
Kara and Ramo and the commentaries thereon. 

130 See Joseph Omets, p. 357. 

131 About the Bar Mitsvo feast see Osof, as in note 118, 1, p. 102; Yam Shel 
Shlomo on Bovo Kamo 7:37; Zohar Chodosh on Gen. 1:14. About the Bar 
Mitsvo celebration in general see Krauss III, p. 222; Loew, pp. 210 rT.; 
Yitschok Rivkind, Uos U'lzikoron; article, "Bar Mizwah," in J.E. 

132 See Holzer as in note 47; Osof as in note 118, 1, p. 120. 

133 Almaliach, Hashiloach, 24; Lunts, Jerusalem I. 

134 Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, 1839, pp. 278-279. 
135 Ps. 128:6; Prov. 17:6; Gen. 24:4; 28:2; Num. 26:8-11. 
186 Cant. 8:2; I Sarn. 18:6-7; II Mace. 3:19. 

137 About the Jews of Yemen see Erich Brauer, Ethnologie der Jemeni- 
tischen fuden, pp. i2off.; about marriage conditions and marriage customs 
among the Arabs today see Hilma Granqvist, "Marriage Conditions in a 
Palestinian Village" (Societas Scientiarum Fennica Comment ationes Hu- 
manarum Litterarum III, 8, VI, 8, Helsingfors, 1931, 1935); Elihu Grant, The 
Peasantry of Palestine, pp. 53 ff.; John D. Whiting, "Village Life in the Holy 
Land," The National Geographic Magazine, March, 1914. 

138 See Exod. 22:15-16 and Deut. 22:28-29. 

139 1 Sam. 18:25; Josh. 15:16-17; Judg. 1:12-13. 

140 Code Hammurabi, par. 159-160. 

141 Deut. 20:7; 22:23-29; 28:30. See A. Buechler, "Das juedische Verloebnis" 
(Israel Lewy Festschrift). 

142 Cf. Mai. 2:14; Prov. 2:17; Tobit 7:12. This betrothal formula is quoted 
here from the papyri of the Jews of Elephantine of the fifth century B.C.E., 
which will be fully dealt with in the following chapter. See A. Cowley, 
Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century, p. 44. Cf. Hosea 2:4 in which this 
betrothal formula is reversed. It is possible that "she is not my wife, neither 
am I her husband" was the current formula of divorce in the time of Hosea. 
In Gen. 24:51 and Tobit 7:13 we have also a different formula of betrothal 
pronounced by the father or brother of the girl. Cf. Kidushin 5b and Tosefto 
Kidushin 1:1, where it is declared as not valid if she gives him money or 
anything of value and says to him "I am betrothed to you." See Louis M. 
Epstein, The Jewish Marriage Contract, pp. 55 ff . In Tobit we have a case 
when betrothal and wedding were celebrated together without the inter- 
vening of any time between. About such cases see Buechler as in note 141. 

143 See Crawley and Besterman, The Mystic Rose II, pp. 25 if.; Wester- 
marck, The History of Human Marriage, 5th ed., II, pp. 496 ff. 

144 Gideon's Canaanitic concubine also stayed with her folk in Shechem, 
Judg. 8:31. See Hugo Gressmann, Die Anfaenge Israels 2 , p. 214 and p. 241. 
Cf. W. Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, p. 176. 

145 Judg. 14:20; Ps. 45:15. 

146 Cant. 3:6-8 and cf. also I Mace. 9:37-39. The "dread in the night" were 
evil spirits believed to have great power over the bride and the groom on the 
wedding night. See about this further below. 

147 K'subos i7a. 

NOTES 315 

148 Judg. 14:12, I?'- 

149 Judg. 14:18. This answer to Samson's riddle sounds rather like a ques- 
tion demanding an answer. See H, Steinthal, "The Legend of Samson" (Ap- 
pendix to Mythology Among the Hebrews, by Ignaz Goldziher), pp. 394 ff. 
See also Hermann Gunkel, "Simson" (Reden und Aufsaetze). 

150 II Kings 4: 10. 

151 Cf. Exod. 21:1-11 and Deut. 15:12-17. This same evolution in the atti- 
tude towards women can be traced in the two versions of the tenth com- 
mandment of the Decalogue. One version, apparently the older one (Exod. 
20), says: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet 
thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, 
nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's." The wife of the neighbor 
is set on the same level as the other possessions. Only the house of the neigh- 
bor is here in a separate category. One's own house was regarded as too 
precious to be put on the same plane as other property. In a second, appar- 
ently a later version (Deut. 5), the commandment reads: "Neither shalt thou 
covet thy neighbour's wife; neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's house, 
his field, or his man-servant or his maid-servant, his ox or his ass, or anything 
that is thy neighbour's." In this version, the wife, not the house, is in a sepa- 
rate category. 

152 See Cowley as in note 142; Aramaic Papyri Discovered at Assuan, edited 
by Sayce; Eduard Meyer, Der Papyrusfund von Elephantine. 

" 3 Jer. 3*. 

154 Par. 128 and 171. Cf. above pp. 127 f. 

i5sp rov iQ : i$-i4* 21:9; 31:10-31. 

156 Ben-Sira 7:24-26; 25:24-25; 36:24-27. 

157 Tosefto K'subos 12:1; K'subos 82b; Y. K'subos 8, Halocho 11. About 
the various phases in the history of the mohar see Epstein as in note 142, pp. 
19 ff. About the transformation of the bride price among other peoples see 
Westermarck, as in note 143, Vol. II. 

158 Vayikro Rabo 20:7; 27:2. Cf. above p. 97. About Ben Azzai see 
YVomos 6sb; Soto 4b. See S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the 
Jews, I, p. 261 and Botsford and Sihler, Hellenic Civilization, pp. 663-664. 

159 YVomos 62b, 63 :a; Kidushin 290-303. 

ie Koheleth Rabo 11:14. 

161 Vayikro Rabo 20:7. 

162 Kidushin 29b; Shir Hashirim Rabo 7:7. 

183 Mishnah Ovos 5:21; Kidushin 29b~3oa; 4i:a-b; YVomos 62b; Sanhedrin 
76a-b; Mishnah YVomos 13; Tosefto YVomos 13. 

164 B'reshis Rabo 49: 10; Mishnah K'subos 9:4. See Krauss II, pp. 24 ff, 

165 Mishnah K'subos 7:7-9; Shir Hashirim Rabo 4:3; Ta-anis 24a; B'choros 
45b; Bovo Basro noa. 

166 Mishnah K'subos 7:10; K'subos 223; P'sochim 4:9a; Derech Erets Rabo 
i; Kidushin 7oa-b. 

167 P'sochim 49b. 

168 K'subos 28b, Ruth Rabo 7:10. 
168 Kidushin i2b, 44b; K'subos 5a. 

316 NOTES 

170 Mishnah K'subos 13:5; K'subos 520-53*; Bovo M'tsio 740- 
171 Kidushin ?oa. See also Josephus, Apion II, par. 24. 
172 Mishnah K'subos, chaps. 1-7; K'subos i2b; Y'vomos 6sb. 

173 Gitin 89a. 

174 Kidushin jb, 6ab, 73, 93. On the relation between the oral and rtie writ- 
ten declaration of betrothal and the relation of the latter to the K'subo, see 
Epstein, as in note 142, pp. 55 #. and cf. Chanoch Albeck, "Ho-eirusin 
U-sh'toroseihem," in Kovets mado-i Yzecher Moshe Shur. 

175 Kidushin 2b: "The rabbinical term connotes that he interdicts her to 
all men as hekdesh" (that which is dedicated to a sacred purpose) . Tosafos, 
ad loc., "Originally the meaning of rtfkudeshes li was apparently devoted 
to me to a determined end." See A. Geiger, Nachgelassene Schriften III, 
p. 324, and Jacob Neubauer, Beitraege zur Geschichte des bibhsch-tdmudi- 
schen Eheschliessungsrechts, pp. 195-198- 

176 See the benediction of betrothal in the Boraiso K'subos 7b (2nd cen- 
tury), which is still in use today. 

177 P'sochim 493 and Rashi, ad loc. 

17S Bobo M'tsio 1043; Y. K'subos 4, Halocho 8; Tosefto K'subos 4:9. Note 
in this K'subo of Hille's time the formula "according to the law of Moses 
and Israel," cf. the formula "according to the law of Moses" in the Book of 
Tobk 7:13, and see Albeck as in note 174- 

179 K'subos 7b, iza. 

180 Mishnah K'subos 1:1, 5:2; Gen, 24:55; Mishnah Betso 5:2; K'subos ?a. 

181 Y. D'mai 4, Halocho 2; Vayikro Rabo 11:2. 

182 K'subos xya; Ovos D'Rabbi Noson 41:13. 

183 B'reshis Rabo 18:12; Sh'mos Rabo 41:6; Mishnah K'subos 2:1; Mishnah 
Soto 9:14; Mishnah Kelim 23:4; III Mace. 4:6-8; B'rochos 6ia; Eruvim i8a. 

184 B'rochos 5ob; Moed Koton pb; Soto 49b; K'subos i7a; Gitin 573; Mat- 
thew 25:1; John 3:29. 

185 K'subos i7a; Midrash T'hilim 24; Yalkut Shim-oni, Job, 917, 

180 B'reshis Rabo 70:17; Vayikro Rabo 28:2; Moed Koton 28b; K'subos 
7b-8a; Sanhedrin loia, citing Rabbi Akiba. Eeis Mishteh does not mean a 
tavern or a house of a banquet, but a house of a wedding feast, so in Jer. 
1 6: 8; Koheleth 7:2; Mishnah B'rochos 1:1; Mishnah Soto 9:11; Mishnah 
T'rumo u:ioj Tosefto Bovo M'tsio 8:28, and in many other places. 

187 Mishnah D'mai 4:2; Tosefto Bovo M'tsio 8:28. For more detailed dis- 
cussions on marriage in Talmudic times, see Buechler, "The Induction of the 
Bride and the Bridegroom" (Posnanski Memorial Eook)\ Epstein, as in note 
142; A. S. Hershberg, "Minhagei Ho-eirusin V'ha-nisuin" in He-osid, V. 
Krauss, II; Jacob Mann; Joseph Perles, "Die juedische Hochzeit in nach- 
biblischer Zeit," MonatsMhrift, 1860, pp. 339 flF., in an English translation: 
Hebrew Characteristics, New York, 1875. 

188 Harkavi, Resp. G'onim, 195; Tosafos on Kidushin 41 a and K'subos 54b. 

189 For a bibliography of sources and literature on this subject, see Krauss 
II, note 246 on pp. 450-451. 

100 K'subos 48b. See Epstein as in note 142, pp. 13-15. 

191 Machzor Vitri, pp. 586-588. See Epstein as in note 142, p. 16. 

NOTES 317 

192 Tosafos on Kidushin 93; Harkavi, Resp. G'onim, 65; Tikune Zohar 5; 
Resp. G'onim, Sha'are Tsedek III, 16. It is evident from this latter source 
that the custom of using a wedding ring first appeared in post-Talmudic 
times among the Jews of the East. This refutes the theory that among the 
Jews the custom of using a wedding ring arose in the West under the in- 
fluence of the Romans, who used an iron wedding ring. 

193 Tractate Sof'rim 19:9. See Loew, pp. 185 ff. 

194 Karo and Ramo in Shulchan Aruch Even Ho'ezer 55 and Resp. 
Maharam Mints 109. 

195 Ramo, Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 391:3 and Even Ho'ezer 61:1. See 
Loew as in note 193 and also Loew, Gesammelte Schriften III. 

106 See above p. 130 and p. 154. See Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self -Govern- 
ment in the Middle Ages, pp. 83-84 and pp. 271-272; S. Osof, "L'chayei Ha- 
mishpocho" in Jubilee Volume of S. Krauss. 

197 See Josef Ometz, par. 657; Mogen Avrohom on Orach Chayim 551:1; 
Guedemann III, p. 119; Holzer as in note 47; Krauss II, p. 456, note 302. 

198 See Maharil, Eruve Chatseros; Mordechai on Alphas, Betso, chap. 5; 
Resp. Radbaz IV, 132. 

199 Resp. Maharam Mints, 102. More details about Jewish marriage in the 
Middle Ages in Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, chap. IX; 
Berliner, pp. 41 fT.; Guedemann III, pp. 119 ff.; Albert Wolf, "Fahrende 
Leute bei den Juden," Mitteilungen zur juedischen Folkskunde, 1908-1909; 
article "Badhan" in J.E. 

200 Mishnah K'subos 2:1; 7:6; Yomo 47a. See Aptowitzer and Krauss in 
Monatsschrift, 1923, pp. 67-68 and 186-202; Krauss in Hebrew Union College 
Annual, XIX; Schcftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 153-154. 

201 See Epstein as in note 142, p. 38; M. Gaster, the Ketubah; Jews' College 
Jubilee Volume, pp. 101 fT.; Schcchter, "Geniza Specimens," Jewish Quar- 
terly Review, 1901, pp. 218 fT.; article "Ketubah" in }.E, 

202 Loew, p. 189. 

203 Maharil, Hilchos N'suin. 

204 See Holzer as in note 47. 

205 This method of confirming a purchase, or any transaction, was known 
among Jews under the name of Kinyan Sudor, agreement by a kerchief. See 
article "Alienation and Acquisition" in J.E. 

206 See Lunts and Almaliach as in note 69 and Hershberg, "Has'fardim 
B'erets Yisroel," Hashiloach XVIII. 

207 See Erich Brauer, Ethnologie der Jemenitischen Juden, pp. 1 19 ff.; 
Tabib, Golas Temon. 

208 Chulin 7b; Soto ib; B'reshis Rabo 68:3. 
209 B'reshis Rabo 68:4; Vayikro Rabo 8:1. 

210 Moed Koton i8b. 

211 Tanchumo, Buber, Introduction, p. 136. 

212 Sefer Chasidim, ed. Wistinetzki, p. 286. See Abrahams, "Marriages Are 
Made in Heaven." The Book of Delight and Other Papers, pp. 172 ff.; Ginz- 
berg, Legends V, pp. 75-76. 

213 This belief is based on a Midrashlc amplification of the story of the 

318 NOTES 

wooing of Rebekah. In Gen. 24, verse 50, Bethuel is mentioned as the father 
of Rebekah, while in verses 53 and 55, only- a brother and a mother are men- 
tioned. The explanation of the Midrash is that Bethuel died suddenly that 
same night because at the outset he tried to obstruct the match, B'reshis 
Rabo 60:7. 

214 See Berliner, p. 46; Loew, pp. 192-193- Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., pp. 

215 Tur Yore Deo and Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 179. See Scheftelowitz as 
in previous note. 

216 Resp. G'onim, Shaare Tshuvo 278; Shibole Haleket Hasholem 235; Tur 
Orach Chayim and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 493- See Biram, "Lag- 
beomer" in Ost und West, 1906, pp. 307 #; Landsberger, "Der Brauch in den 
Tagen Zwischen dem Pessach und Schabuothfeste sich der Eheschliessung 
zu entziehen" in Juedische Zeitschrift fuer Wiss. und leben, 1869, pp. 81 fL; 
The Jewish Festivals by the writer, pp. 276-277 and notes thereon. About 
this belief among other peoples see Westermarck as in note 143, pp. 566 flf. 

217 "Three persons require guarding, namely, a sick person, a bridegroom, 
and a bride. In the Baraitha it was taught: a sick person, a midwife, a bride- 
groom and a bride; some add a mourner," B'rochos 54b and see Rashi, ad loc. 

218 See a variant of this tale in Tanchumo on Deut. 32:10. About this belief 
among other peoples see R. Campbell Thompson, Semitic Magic, pp. 134 ff. 

219 Pirke R. Eliezer 16; K'subos i?b and Rashi, ad loc* See Scheftelowitz, 
Alt-Pal., p. 80; Thompson as in the foregoing note, p. 171. 
220 Bovo Basro 6ob; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 560. 

221 See Lauterbach, "The Ceremony of Breaking the Glass at Weddings," 
Hebrew Union College Annual II, and Westermarck as in note 143, pp. 

222 Kovets T'shuvos Horambam V'igrosov I, 51; S. Osof, M'Koros Utoldos 
Hachinuch B'yisroel, Vol. II, 200. See Bergrnann, "Ein Hochzeitsbrauch," 
Monatsschrift, 1927, p. 161; Samter, pp. 90 fF.; Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal, pp. 

223 Tsharni, Sefer Hamaso-os B'erets Kavkaz, p. 209. 

22 *Oruch Com., sub voce -noV; Soto 49b; Tosefto Soto 15:8; Resp. Mai- 
monides as in note 222. See Loew; Samter, pp. 1521!.; Scheftelowitz, Alt- 
Pal., pp. 39-40, 67, 78-79, 82. 

225 See Lauterbach as in note 221; Heinrich Lewy in Archh fuer Re- 
ligionswissenschaft, Vol. XXV, pp. 194 ff.; Vol. XXVIII, pp. 241 nv, Vol. 
XXXI, p. 123. For another explanation of the custom of breaking earthen- 
ware at weddings, see Westermarck, as in note 143- 

228 Tosefto Shabos 7:16-17 and cf. Leonard Whibley, A Companion to 
Greek Studies^ p. 595. 

227 Rashi on K'subos 8a. 

228 Gitin 573. See Guedemann III, p. 123. 

229 Smochos 8; Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 391. See Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., 
p. 87 and cf. above in the wedding in Worms, p. 178. 

230 See Zunz, Zur Geschichte und Liter atur, pp. 300-307. 

281 Gen. 18:19; 47:29-30; 49:29; Deut. 31 ff.; Josh. 23-24; II Sam. 17:23; 

NOTES 319 

I Kings 2; 13:31; II Kings 20:1. Cf. also the apocryphal books Testament of 
Adam and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. 

232 Isa. 15:2-3; 32:11-12; Jer. 48:38. 

233 Gen. 4^:4; 50:1; Lev. 19:28; 21:5; Deut. 14:1; Jer. 6:26; 48:37; Ezek. 
24:15-23; Mic. 1:16; Esther 6:12; and many more passages in the Bible. 

234 II Sam. 3:31-35; I Kings 13:30; Jer. 22:18; 48:37; Ezek. 32:16; Amos 
5:16-17; Koheleth 12:5; Josephus, War III, 9, par. 5. 

235 Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Josh. 7:15; Amos 2:1; Deut. 21:23; Jer. 16:4. The text 
in I Sam. 31:12 "and burnt them there" is apparently distorted. Cf, II Sam. 
21:12-14 and I Chron. 10:12. 

236 I Sam. 28:14 (When Saul was told by the witch that the godlike being 
that was coming up out of the earth had the appearance of an old man cov- 
ered in a robe, he perceived that it was Samuel); Ezek. 32:27 ("The mighty 
ones lie in the netherworld with their weapons of war") . 

237 Jer. 34:5; II Chron. 16:14; 21:19; Josephus, Ant. XV, 3, par. 4; Tosefto 
Shabos 7:18; Avodo Zoro na. 

238 See also Ps. 106:28; MacCalister, The Excavations of Gezer I, pp. 392 rT.; 
Kittel, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, I, 1923, p. 164. 

239 I Sam. 31:13; II Sam. 1:12; 3:35; Jer. 16:7; Ezek. 24:17, 22. 

240 Num. 20:29; Deut. 21:13; 34:8; Nahum 3:7; Koheleth 7:2. 

241 Lev. 19:27-28; Deut. 14:1. 

242 Family graves: Gen. 23:4, 9, 20; II Sam. 21:14. Single graves: Gen. 35:8; 

II Kings 13:21. 

243 Josh. 24:30; I Sam. 25:1; I Kings 2:34; II Kings 21:18; Ezek. 43:7-9. See 
articles "Tombs" and "Tombstones" in J.E. 

244 1 Sam. 15:12; II Sarn. 18:18; II Kings 23:17; Ezek. 39:15. The matsevo in 
Gen. 35:20 is not a gravestone, but a sacred pillar, an object of worship, con- 
nected with an ancestral grave. Cf. Gen. 28:18; 31:45; 35:14. 

245 Bovo Basro i5ia; Tosefto Yomo 5; Sh'mos Rabo 52:3; Tanchumo, Bo, 
2; see Abrahams, Hebrew Ethical Wills I, pp. 3 rT. 

246 Mishnah B'rochos 8:6; Mishnah Shabos 23:4-5; Shabos io5b; Moed 
Koton 25a-26b; K'subos 173. 

247 Sanhedrin 460-473; S'mochos n; St. John 19:40. 

248 B'rochos i8b; Shabos 1143; Moed Koton 27a-b; Y. K'subos 12, Halocho 
3; B'reshis Rabo 100:3; Charles, Pseudepigrapha, the Books of Adam and 
Eve XLVIII, 4; Josephus, Ant. XVII, 8, par. 3. 

249 K'subos i7a; B'rochos i8a t 533; Josephus, Apion II, par. 26; Sanhedrin 
2oa; Mishnah K'subos 4:4; Mishnah Moed Koton 3:8-9; Josephus, Wars, III, 
9, par. 5; Moed Koton 8a, 28b. 

250 Shabos I52b-i53a; Moed Koton 8a, 25ab; Mishnah M'gilo 3:3; Y. 
K'subos 12, Halocho 3; B'rochos foa; S'mochos 3, 8, 14. 

251 Moed Koton 29a; Sanhedrin i9a; M'gilo 23b; Bovo Basro loob. 

252 Moed Koton 27ab; K'subos 8b; Josephus, Wars, II, i t par. i; Bovo Basro 
i6b; B'reshis Rabo 63:16. Cf. above pp. 223-226. 

258 Mishnah Moed Koton 3:5-9; Moed Koton *4b, i5a-b, 2iab, 22b, 25b, 
27b; Ta-anis 3oa; Echo Rabosi 1:1; Psikto R. Kahano 15. See Morris Jastrow, 
"Dust, earth and ashes as symbols of mourning among the ancient Hebrews" 



(Journal of the Am. Oriental Society, Vol. XX, pp. 133 #.). About plucking 
out the hair as a manifestation of grief in this period, see Echo Rabosi, proem 
24. Cf. above p, 224 and further below p. 252. 

254 Koheleth 7:2 and Koheleth Rabo, ad he.; Shabos i52a-b; Tosefto M'gilo 
4:14; Tosefto Bovo Basro 6: 13; Moed Koton 23a, 22b; K'subos 8b; S'mochos 
12; Sofrim 19:9; Vayikro Rabo 23:4; Sidur R. Amrom; Machzor Vitri, no. 
248. See A. Buechler, Der galilaeische 'Am-ha-Ares, pp. 210-211. 

255 Sanhedrin 46b, 98b; Y. Kil'aim 9, Halocho 4; Moed Koton 2sa-b; 
K'subos ma; Y. K'subos 12, Halocho 3. 

256 Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5; S'mochos 2. 

257 Mishnah P'sochim 8:8; Mishnah Sanhedrin <5:6; Nido 24b; S'mochos 
12-13. Cf. Rhode, Psyche \ I, p. 226; Guhl-Koner, Das- Leben der Griechen 
und Roemer 5 , p. 495. See S. Krauss, Die Doppelbestattung bei den Juden; 

D. Schuetz, "Die Assuarien in Palestina," Monatsschrift, 1931, pp. 286 fT.; 

E, L. Sukenik, "M'oras k'vorim y'hudis b'morad har hazeisim," in Jerusalem, 
in memory of Lunts; "Aronos U-k'sovos," in Haskiloach, 42. 

258 Mishnah Sh'kolim 2:5; Tosefto M'gilo 4:15; Mishnah Sanhedrin 2:1; 
Bovo Basro 8a. 

259 Eruvin iya; K'subos 84a; Mishnah Bovo Basro 2:9; Mishnah Sanhedrin 
6:5; Matthew 27:7. 

260 Isa. 14:18; Job 17:13; 30:23; Koheleth 12:5. 

261 Mishnah Sh'kolim 1:1; Mishnah Moed Koton 1:2; Moed Koton 5b; 
Eruvin 5fb; Sanhedrin 96b; Horoyos i3b; Mishnah Tohoros 3:7; B'reshis 
Rabo 82:11; I Mace. 13:27-30; Josephus, Ant. XIII, 6, par. 6; Wars, V, 6, par. 
2; 7, par. 3; Ant. XVI, 7, par. i; XX, 4, par. 3- 

262 Tosefto B'rochos 7:6; B'rochos i8b, s8b; Tosefto Trumo 1:3; Ta-anis 
i6a; Y'vomos izza, Rashi, ad he., citing T'shuvos Hag'onim; Nido i7a. For 
more details about the rites and customs of death and mourning in this 
period, see S. Klein, Tod und Begraebnis in Palestina zur Zeit der Tan- 
naiten; Krauss, II," pp. 54 ff. 

283 B'rochos i8b. See Monatsschrift, 1874, pp. 130 ff. and pp. 183 ff. 

284 See Beyer and Lietzman, Die juedische Katakombe der Villa Torlonia 
in Rome; H. Gressmann, "Jewish Life in Ancient Rome" (Jewish Studies in 
Memory of Israel Abrahams) ; H. J. Leon, "New Material about the Jews of 
Ancient Rome," Jewish Quarterly Review, April, 1930. 

265 Treatise S'mochos of R. Chiyyo (ed. Higger), chaps. 1-2. 

266 Tur Yore Deo, 352, 362; Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo, 352; Chidushe ho- 
Ran on Sanhedrin 46a. See Guedemann III, p. 131. 

267 Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 352; Resp. Rivosh, no. 158. See Louis Finkel- 
stein, as in note 196, p. 98. 

268 Machzor Vitri, p. 243; Shibole Haleket, Hilchos S'mochos 21, 27; 
Maharil; Tur Yore Deo 387; cf. Karo and Ramo in Shulchan Aruch Yore 
Deo 386; Danzig, Chochmas Odom. About cutting the flesh see Finkelstein 
as in the previous note. 

269 Mishnah Midos 2:2; S'mochos 6, 10; Sofrim 19:9- Resp. G'onim, Sha'are 
Tsedek 4; Maharil. 

270 See Abrahams as in note 199, p. 94; Berliner, p. 118; David Philipson, 
Old European Jewries, pp. 76 fT.; Zunz, Zur Gescbichte und Literatur, pp. 
390 ff. 

NOTES 321 

271 Sanhedrin 47b; Ta-anis i6a, Tosafos, ad he.; Sefer Chasidim, ed, Wisti- 
netzki, 271. See Berliner, p. 119; J. Perles as in note 187. Joshua Trachtenberg, 
Jewish Magic and Superstition, pp. 61-68; Wiesner, "Die Leichenbestattung 
in thalmudischer und nachthalmudischer Zeit," Ben-Cbananja t 1861, pp. 
277 ff. and pp. 405-6. 

272 Moed Koton 27b, Rashi, ad loc.; Resp. R. Osher 13:12; Resp. Tashbats 
3:13. See Abrahams as in note 199, pp. 357-359; Leopold Loew, Gesammelte 
Schriften II, pp. 150 ff. 

272 About the S'fardim see Almaliach, Hershberg and Lunts as in notes 70 
and 205. About the Moroccan Jews see Jacob Tulidanu, Ner Henna* arov, 
p. 215. 

274 Cf. Ps. 88 and Job 10:21-22 with Pss. 16:10; 23:4; 49:16; I Sam. 2:6. 

276 II Kings 21 :6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5-6. Cf. note 22. For descriptions of Paradise 
and Hell in Jewish literature, see M. Gaster in Transactions of the Royal 
Asiatic Society, 1893, pp 57 1 ff* and Ginzberg, Legends I, pp. 15-16, 19-23 
and note thereon. About Persian influences see Scheftelowitz, altper., pp, 
187 ff. 

277 Rosh Hashono 172 and see Scheftelowitz as in the preceding note, pp. 

278 B'rochos i8a; Shabos 3oa; S'mochos 12. 

279 B'rochos i$b; Shabos i52b; B'reshis Rabo 100:7. See Scheftelowitz as in 
note 7, pp. 177 ff. 

280 See Ginzberg, Legends I, pp. 55-59 and notes thereon and V, pp. 95-96. 

281 Pss. 89:8; 103:20-21; Job 1:6; 56:7. See Kautzsch, Biblische Theologie 
des A. T.j pp. 99 ff.; Stade-Bertholet, Biblische Theologie des A. T. II, pp. 
374 ff.; David Neumark, Toldos Ha-philosofia B'Yisroel, 20-21. 

282 Isa. 45:7; Ps, 78:49; Prov. 16:14. 

283 Bovo Basro i6a; Pirke R. Eliezer XIII. 

284 Avodo Zoro 2ob. 
285 B'rochos 5ia; Suko 53a. 

286 Bovo Basro i7a; P'vorim Rabo, end; Shabos 3ob; Moed Koton 28a; 
Bovo M'tsio 86a; Makos ioa; Sanhedrin 973; Sot6 4<5b. See Ginzberg, Leg- 
ends IV, p. 30 and p. 175, and VI, Judges, note 28. 

287 Isa. 25:8; Mishnah Moed Koton 3:9. 

288 Pss. 94:17; 115:17; B'rochos i8b; Shabos i52b; Chagigo 5a; Sanhedrin, 
94a; P'sikto Rabosi 23. See Scheftelowitz, altper., p. 157, and Alt-Pal., p. 6. 

289 See Ber, Seder Avodas Yisroel, pp. 106-107. 

290 Tractate "Chibut Hakever" in Otsor Midroshim (Eisenstein) ; Shabos 
i52b; see Bender, Jewish Quarterly Review, 1893-94, pp. 669-670. 

291 See article "Transmigration" in En. of Ret, and Ethics, Vol. XII, also 
"Transmigration of the Souls" in /.,, Vol. 12. 

292 K'subos i03b; Ovos d'R. Noson 25; Y. Moed Koton 3, Halocho 7. 

298 See Elhorst, "Die israelitischen Trauerriten" ( Wellhausen Festschrift) ; 
Fray, Tod, Seelenglaube und Seelenkult; Frazer, "On Certain Burial Cus* 
toms" (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ire- 
land, Vol. XV) ; Grueneisen, Der Ahnenkultus und die Urreligion Israels; 

322 NOTES 

Hoelscher, Geschichte der tsraelitischen und juedischen Religion, pp. 17-18; 
Kautzsch, Bibliscbe Theologk des A, T., pp. 8 ff.; Matthes, "Die israelitischen 
Trauergebraeuche" (Vierteljahrschrift fuer Bibelkunde II). 

264 Lev. 10:6; 19:27-28; 21:1-6, io~n;Deut. 14:1. See Scheftelowitz, altper,, 
pp. 32 ff. (parallels among the Persians). 

295 Cf. above p. 267. See Machzor Vitri, hilchos ovel and Marmorstein in 
Zion II. 

296 Tur Yore Deo 393- 

297 Shibole Haleket, Hilchos S'mochos 21. 

298 See B'reshis Rabo 100:14; Samter, p. 128; Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal., p. 82. 

296 See note 217; Y. Eruvin 10, Halocho n; Bovo Basro loob and Rashi, ad 
he.; Sh'vuos isb; Sha'are Tsedek, Resp. G'onim, Shaar IV, par. 19-20. 
Shulchan Aruch Yore Deo 376:4. See Marmorstein in Zeitschrift Neutest. 
Wisr., 1931, pp. 277 ff.; Scheftelowitz, Alt-Pal, p. 74. 

800 See Frazer, p. 102; Samter, pp. 134-135- 

301 Sha'are Tsedek as in note 299 and Tur Yore Deo 376. 

802 See Shifaole Haleket; Danzig, Chochmas Odom; Berliner, p. 100. See 
also Bodenschatz, IV, chap. V, p. 174. 

303 No atonement: ZVochim 9b; Koheleth Rabo 1:36. Souls can be de- 
livered from Gehinom: B'reshis Rabo 63:2; Sifri on D'vorim 21:8; 
Tanchumo, Ha'azinu i. 

804 B'rochos 3a, 573; Shabos ii9b; Mishnah Yomo 6:2; Ta-anis i6b; Soto 

305 Sofrim 16:9; 18:10; 19:9; 21:6. 

806 See M. Gaster, Ma'aseh Book I, p. 286; L. Ginzberg, Ginze Scbecbter I, 
pp. 235 ff.; Krauss in Bitsoron I, no, 2. v 

30T Maharil, Hilchos S'mochos; Beis Yosef on Tur Yore Deo 376. See El- 
bogen, Der Jnedische Gottesdienst, pp. 92-98; Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy, pp. 
84-88; David De Sola Pool, The Kadish, pp. 100 ff . 

s08 N'dorim na; YVomos i22a and Rashi, ad he.; ShVuos 2oa. 

309 Sefer Chasidim (ed. Wistinetzki) 68, 290-291; Shulchan Aruch Yore 
Deo 376:4; Danzig, Chocbmas Odom 171. See Guedemann II, p, 132. 

810 Menasseh Ben Israel, Nishmas Chayim, ma-amar sheni, perek shiv'o 
v'esrim; Emanuel Ch. Riki, Mitbnas Charidim, Maseches G'milus Chasodim. 
See Bacher, Zeitschrift fuer Heb. Bibliographie, Vol. V, p. 154. 

811 Ber, Seder Avodas Yisroel, p. 17. 

812 Guedemann III, pp. 128 and 132; Abrahams as in note 199, p. 156. See 
above p. 292. 

313 See The Jewish Festivals by the writer, p. 278 and note thereon. 
su See Bemfeld as in note 69, p. 260. 
816 See article "Memor Book," J, Vol. 8, 

The following Glossary lists certain non-English terms used in 
the book. Those omitted are either explained where they oc- 
cur in the text or may be found in the regular English diction- 

AFIKOMON, name for the piece of matso with which the meal of the 

Passover night is concluded. 
ALEPH, first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 
AMOR A (pi., Amora-im), sage of the Talmud, from the third century 

C.E. on. 

BADCHON (pi., badchonim), public merrymaker and entertainer. 
BAR MITSVO, son of commandment; man of duty; boy reaching the 

age of religious majority; the ceremony marking that occasion. 
BEHELFER, assistant of the m'lamed, q.v. 
BEIS, second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 
BEIS MIDROSH, house of study. 
BEIS SEFER, elementary Jewish school. 
BEN ZOCHOR, male child; celebration on the Friday night following the 

birth of a boy. 

BIMO, reading dais in the center of the synagogue. 
B'RIS, covenant (of circumcision); circumcision ceremony. 
CHACHAM, rabbi among the S'fardim, q.v. 
CHAMISHO OSOR, fifteen; the fifteenth day of the months of ShVot and 

Ov, two minor Jewish festivals. 
CHASIDIM, Jewish sect which arose in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth 


CHAZAN, cantor or precentor; in olden times the sexton of the syna- 

CHEDER, elementary Jewish school. 
CHES, eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 
CHEVRO, society; brotherhood. 
CHEVRO BIKUR CHOLIM, society to care for the sick. 
CHEVRO KADISHO, holy brotherhood; burial brotherhood. 
CHUMASH, Pentateuch. 

CHUPO, wedding canopy; bridal chamber; wedding. 
DROSHO, discourse on Torah. 

ESROG, a citron used with the festive wreath on the Feast of Booths, 
GABAI (pi., gabo-im), director, manager, 



GAN EDEN, Garden of Eden; Paradise. 

GET, legal declaration of divorce. 

HAFTORO, portion of the Prophets read at the conclusion of the read- 
ing from the Pentateuch. 

HALLEL, psalms of praise, consisting of Psalms 113-118. 

HAVDOLO, division (between sacred and profane); the benediction re- 
cited on the exit of the Sabbath or a festival. 

HAZKORAS N'SHOMOS, memorial services. 

KABOLAS PONIM, reception; welcome; greeting. 

KABOLAS SHABOS, greeting of the Sabbath; prayers recited Friday eve- 
ning before the evening services. 

KADDISH, holy; prayer of praise and adoration to God, popularly 
thought of as a prayer for the dead. 

KAPOROS, ceremony of atonement practiced with a fowl as scapegoat 
before the Day of Atonement. 

KIDDUSH, benediction sanctifying the Sabbath or a festival. 

KIDDUSH HA-SHEM, sanctification of the name (of God); martyrdom 
for the Jewish faith. 

KIDUSHIN, betrothal. 

KITO (pi., kites), class in the Jewish elementary school. 

KLEZMER or KLEZMORIM, musicians. 

KNAS MAHL, engagement feast. 

KOHELETH, Ecclesiastes. 

KOHEN (pi., Kohanim), priest; descendant of the priestly caste. 

K'RIAS SH'MA, reading of Sh'ma Yisroel, q.v. 

K'SUBO, marriage contract; sum of money written in the contract due 
to the wife on her husband's death or on being divorced. 

LAG BO-OMER, minor Jewish festival on the eighteenth day of the Jew- 
ish month lyor. 

MA-ARIV, evening services. 

MAFTIR, person called up in the synagogue to read the Haftoro, q.v, 

MATTON, gifts given by the bridegroom to the bride. 

MAZOL, star of destiny; destiny; luck; with Tov, good luck. 

M'GILOS, Scrolls (The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, 

MINCHO, afternoon services. 

MITSVO, religious precept; religious act; religious merit. 

M'LAMED, teacher in an elementary Jewish school. 

M'NORAS HAMO'OR, The Candlestick of the Light, name of an ethical 

MOHAR, price paid by the groom or his father to the bride's father. 

MOHEL (pi., mohalim), circumciser. 

MUSOF, additional morning prayers for the Sabbath and festivals. 

M'zuzo, a slip of parchment containing Deut. 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 in a 
container which is nailed to the door-post of a Jewish home. 

OLENU, prayer in the Jewish liturgy named after its first word, 


PECS, ear-locks. 

PESACH, Passover. 

PIYUT (pL, piyutim), poetical additions to the original prayers which 
liturgical poets composed in the Middle Ages. 

P'RUTO, smallest copper coin. 

RASHI, abbreviation of Rabbi Solomon, the son of Isaac, most popular 
commentator of the Bible and the Talmud (eleventh century). 

REBE, distorted from rabbi; title of the m'lamed, q.v. 

REBITSIN, wife of the rabbi or the rebe, q.v. 


SABBATH NACHAMU, the Sabbath following Tisho B'Ov, so called be- 
cause on this Sabbath the fortieth chapter of Isaiah is recited as the 
Haftoro, beginning with Nachamu, Nachamu Ammi (Comfort ye, 
comfort ye My people). 

SANDER, he who holds the child on his knees for circumcision. 

SARVER, waiter; general handyman. 

SEDER, order of service; home ceremony of the Passover night. 

SHADCHON (pi., shadchonim), matchmaker. 

SHAMOSH (pL, shamoshim), sexton of the synagogue; assistant who did 
the menial work of the burial brotherhood. 

SH'MA YISROEL, Hear, O Israel; the declaration of the Jewish mono- 
theistic faith, see Deuteronomy 6:4. 

SHOVUOS, the Feast of Weeks; Pentecost. 

SIMCHAS TORAH, rejoicing with the Torah; the last day of the Sukos 
festival, q.v. 

SIMON Tov, good omen. 

SUKOS, Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles. 

TACHRICHIM, shrouds of the dead. 

TALIS, garment; prayer-shawl. 

TALMUD TORAH, communal free Hebrew school. 

TANNA (pi, tannaim), sage of the Talmud, in the first two centuries 

T'FILIN, phylacteries. 

TISHO B'Ov, ninth day of the Jewish month, Ov, commemorating the 
first and second destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

T 7 NO-iM, stipulations; engagement celebration. 

Tov, last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

TSADIK, righteous, pious, holy man; Chasidic rabbi. 

Vov, sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

YAHRZEIT, anniversary of the day of death. 

Y'SHIVO, Talmudic academy. 

YUD, tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Zuz, silver coin; one-fourth of a shekel 


Alexandria, Jews of, 153 

America, Jewish life in, 6 if., 80, 

iiof., ir8, 121, i64f., 251, 270, 299 
Ammonites, 13 
Amorites, 5 
Amulets, 73, 87f. 
Angel of Death, 262, 268, 280-282, 


Arabs, 13 
Arso d 1 gado, 35 
Ashk'nazim, 7, 43, 60, 115, 118, 170, 

198, 201, 202, 204, 218, 254 


Babylonia, Jews of, 7, 68, 86, 147, 
153, 235, 248, 253, 255 

Babylonians, 5, 274 

Bachelorhood, 143, 146-148 

Badchon, 168, i86ff. 

Bar Mitsvo, in America, 118; cele- 
bration of, in recent centuries, 
n 5 if.; droshos, 116, 117; in Eastern 
Europe, 118; in the Ghetto of 
Worms, 117; the name, 112; among 
Oriental Jews, n8f.; at the present 
time, ii7f.; reaching the age of ma- 
jority in ancient times, nzf.; in 
Talmudic and early medieval times, 
113-115; transformed into confir- 
mation, i2of. 

Belief, in the Angel of Death and 
Angel Dumo, 280-2825 in Chibut 
ha-Kever and Kaf ha-Kala, 28zf.; 
in the evil eye, see Evil eye; in a 
future life, 2731!.; in Gan Eden and 
Gehinom, 278; in good and bad 
death omens, 284^; in the Lilith, 
see Lilith; in lucky and unlucky 
days and seasons, 208-210; in the 
magic power of names, 74-76; in 
prenatal existence, 63, 65; in the 
predestination of marriage, 206-208; 

in the resurrection of the dead, 277; 
in Sheol, 2741!.; in the transmigra- 
tion of souls, 28jf. 

Beliefs, concerning birth, 631!.; con- 
cerning marriage, 2o6/f.; connected 
with death, 273fF. 

Ben Zochor, 42, 56, 61, 74 

Benediction, benedictions, 24f,, 30- 
41, 50, 56, 58f., 92, 94, 114, 116, 118, 
153, I56f., i6if., 177, i93f- 2oof,, 238, 
24if., 253, 272, 283 

Betrothal, benediction of the, 153, 
161, 193; in Biblical times, 129^; 
declaration of, 130, 140, 153; among 
the Jews of Persia and the Caucasus, 
203; among the Jews of Yemen, 
130, 203; in the Middle Ages, 130, 
io*of.; performed simultaneously 
with the wedding, 161; superseded 
by the knas rnahl, 165; in Talmudic 
times, i52f, 

Bikur Cholim, 257, 264 

Birth of a child, in America, 6if.; in 
Biblical times, iiff.; in Eastern 
Europe, 53$.; in the first centuries 
CJE., 2ofT.; in the Middle Ages, 
3 iff.; in modern times, 5 iff.; plant- 
ing of a tree at, 21; its relation to 
the table for Gad, 36 

Bor'chu, see Kaddish 

Bridal chamber, 162 

B'ris, see Circumcision 

Brotherhoods, 26, 156, 240, 244f., 257, 
see also Chevro Kadisho 

Burial, in Biblical times, 224f.; broth- 
erhood, see Chevro Kadisho; in 
Eastern Europe, 266f.; in the first 
centuries C.E., 231-233; in the Mid- 
dle Ages, 251; the second, 24jf.; 
among the S'fardirn in Jerusalem, 

Canaanites, 4f., 13, 

Caucasus, Jews of the, 31, 61, 67, 203, 


328 INDEX 

Cemetery, see Graves 

Chair of Elijah, see Elijah 

Chamisho Osor, 182 

Chanuko, 104, 120 

Charity, 76, 80, 82, 170, 258, 264 

Charms and Talismans, 3, 21, 31, 53f., 
55, 59, 65*?., 878., 94, zioff. 

Chasidim, 52, 215, 270, 299 

Cheder, see School 

Chevro Kadisho, 244, 253, 256f., 259, 
261, 2621"., 27 if. 

Chibut ha-Kever, 22f. 

ChupOj 27, 40, 58, 132, i35f., 153, 
155, 162-165, 166, 177, 187, 192-194, 
197, 200-202, 2O4f., 215, 218 

Circumcision, i3fL; benedictions at 
the ceremony, 25, 39,41, 58; celebra- 
tion of, 1 8; ceremony in Mayence, 
4of.; ceremony in Rome, 39f.; cere- 
mony in Worms, 41-43; in the 
Christian church, 24; date for, 16; 
connected with the services in 
the synagogue, 34, 57; in Eastern 
Europe, 57-59; among the Egyp- 
tians, 14, 16; feast in Galilee, 26; 
feast in Jerusalem, 251".; in the 
Greco-Roman world, 23f.; with an 
iron knife, 25; Jeremiah, first great 
prophet to mention, 16; with a knife 
of stone, 15, 25; as the mark of be- 
longing to the Jewish community, 
1 8; in the Middle Ages, 331!.; Moses 
and Joshua linked with the begin- 
ning of T among Jews, i5f.; obstacle 
to proselytes, 23; origin of, 14; with 
a pair of scissors among the Kara- 
ites, 60; among peoples and tribes 
all over the world, 13; performed 
in hospitals in America, 62; per- 
formed by Oriental Jews of Asia 
and North Africa in the synagogue, 
61; performed in the synagogue by 
the Karaites and in Palestine up to 
the present, 60; prohibited by Anti- 
ochus Epiphanes, 22, by Hadrian, 
24; reverted to the home from the 
synagogue, 51; and the Sabbath, the 
fundamentals of Judaism, 5 1 ; among 
the S'fardim, 60; as the sign of the 
Holy Covenant, 18, 59; in the syna- 
gogue among the Jews of the Cau- 
casus, 61; in Talmudic times, 24f.; 

transferred to the synagogue, 33f.; 
as a wholly religious rite among 
Jews, 14 

Coffins, see Shrouds 

Comforting the mourners, 240-242^ 

Confirmation, see Bar Mitsvo 

Cradle, 21, 451"., 79f.; songs, see Lulla- 

Cradling the child, in America, 80; 
in Eastern Europe, 79f.; in the Mid- 
dle Ages, 79 

Customs, connected with death, ori- 
gin of, 2851!.; connected with the 
growth of a child, 79ff.; local, 7; 
of marriage, origin of, 21 off.; of 
mourning, see Mourning; popular, 
3, 6; spiritualized and Judaized, 3; 
spurious, 3f., 6 

Cutting the hair, of the bride, see 
Wedding; of the bridegroom, 200, 
204; of a child, 82-84; prohibited 
during certain seasons, 210 


Days and Seasons, unlucky, 2o8ff. 

Death, in Biblical times, 223; in East- 
ern Europe, 260-262; in the first 
centuries ex., 2 3 of.; in the Middle 
Ages, 25of.; origin of customs con- 
nected with, 2851!. 

Dowry, 140, 144, 151, 159, 170, i8of., 

Drosbo, discourse, 43, ii6f., 119, 177; 
see also Bar Mitsvo and Wedding 

DumOy see Angel of Death 


Eastern Europe, Jews in, yf., 38f., 
53#., 57-59, 79-8 2 . 86, 88f,, 93, lozff., 
107, I09f., i68f., i79fL, 209, 213, 215, 
251, 255, 258ff., 292, 299 

Edomites, 13 

Egypt, Jews of, 204, 2i4f. 

Egyptians, ijf., 16, 27, 234 

El Mole Rachamim, 300 

Elephantine, Jews of, 27, 139-141, 

ELIJAH, chair of, 34ff., 37-39, 4*, 57f.: 
connected with the Lilith myth, 55, 

72f.; connected with marriage, 149; 
guardian angel of the Jews, 36; pro- 
tector of the child, 36; stories of, 
1 06; and the Watch Night, s6f. 
Essenes, 277 

Europe, Jews in, 7, 29, 44, 86, 163, 252 
Eve of the b'ris, see Watch Night 
Evil eye, 85fL; safeguards and reme- 
dies against an, 87-89 
Evil spirits, 4, 21, 321". 


First steps, see Walk 

Franco-German Jews, 76, 101, 115, 
161, 218, 250 

Funeral, in Biblical times, 224; in 
Eastern Europe, 263-266; in the first 
centuries C.E., 231-237; in the Mid- 
dle Ages, 25 if.; orations, 235^, 264^ 

Future life, belief in a, 273*1". 

INDEX 329 

the synagogue to the, 51; influence 
of the, on the Jewish child, 91 


Italy, Jews of, 214 


Kaddish, 60, 253, 272, 293 ff. 

Kaf ha-Kala, zSzf . 

Karaites, 60, 169 

Kiddusb ha-Shem, 296, 299 

Klezmer, Klezmorimj 167, r86ff. 

Knas Mahlj 165, i82f., 216 

Kohen, Kohanim, 18, 29, 48-50, 82, 

149, 152, 286 
ICsubo, i4if., i44f., 152, 169^, 203, 


K'tsotso, 150 
Kvater, Kvaterin, 38, 57 

Gad, 35-37 

Gan Eden and Gehinom, 64, 278, 

Gehinom, Gehenna, see Gan Eden 

and Gehinom 

Germans, 5, 8, 32, ^6, 166, 209, 289 
Germany, Jews of, 33, 39, 45, 47, 88, 

9if., 115-117, 165-167, 215, 218, 254, 

297, 299 

Gtlgulj see Transmigration of souls 
Graves, in Biblical times, 226-228; 

and monuments in Palestine, 245- 

248, in Babylonia, 248; in Rome, 

2481".; and tombstones in the Middle 

Ages, 254f.; visiting the, 54, 248, 255, 

259, 269-271, 300 
Greco-Roman world, 5, 7, 23f., 146, 

153, i68f., 229, 231, 243f., 246, 249 
Greek, Greeks, 25, 27f., 97, 234, 244, 



Haircut, first, 82-84 

Hazkoras N'shomos, 299^ 

Holekreisch, 44-47 

Home, bar mitsvo celebrated in the, 
ii6f.; beginning study of Torah in 
the,93f.; circumcision reverted from 


Lag "Bo-omer, 82-84, 210, 260 
LILITH, 3 if., 36, 4<5, 55, 59, 61, 6j&. 
Lullabies, 80 


Ma-ane Loshon, 27of. 

Ma-avar Yabok, z6of. 

Magic, see Charms 

MAHARIL, 39^, 42, 49f., i59f., 1706% 
195, 252^297 

Marriage, in early Biblical times, 
i25ff.; contract, i39f., 142; in East- 
ern Europe, i79fL; in the first cen- 
turies C.E., i46fT.; among the Jews 
of Yemen, 203ff.; see also K'subo; in 
late Biblical and post-Biblical times, 
i38ff.; levirate, 12; in the Middle 
Ages, 1581!.; of minors, 148, i58f., 
179; origin of customs of, 21 off.; 
predestination of, 2o6ff.; ring, 161, 
173; among the S'fardim, 198$. 

Marshalik, see Badchon 

Matchmakers, 150, 158-160, 179-182 

Matsevo, see Graves 

Matton, see Mohar 

Mazol Tov, 2i8f. 

Meal of the mourners, benedictions 
at the, 238; in Biblical times, 225f.; 

330 INDEX 

in Eastern Europe, 268; in the first 
centuries C.E., 237^; in the Middle 
Ages, 252; among the S'fardim, 272 

Mi Sheberach, 5 8f. 

M*ni, see Gad 

Moabites, 13 

Mohar, i26fL, i4if., 144, 203 

Monotheism, monotheistic, 3-5 

Morocco, Jews of, 31, 119, 272 

MOSES, anniversary of the death of, 
260, 298; and Joshua linked with the 
beginning of circumcision among 
Jews, i5f. 

Mourning, benedictions in the house 
of, 24if.; in Biblical times, 223-226; 
connected with the synagogue, see 
Synagogue; customs of, in the Mid- 
dle Ages, 252f.; in Eastern Europe, 
268f.; in the first centuries C.E., 
238-240; gestures of, 223^; among 
the Moroccan Jews, 272; period of, 


M'zuzo, 34, 93 


Names, adding of, changing of, hid- 
ing of, magic power of, see Belief, 
in the magic power of names 

Naming a child, after dead ancestors, 
27f., 43f.; after living relatives, 28; 
in Biblical times, 1 2f .; among Chasi- 
dim after a deceased tsadik, 52; with 
dual and double names, 44-48, 56; 
in the Middle Ages, 43 fL; with non- 
Jewish names forbidden to Jews, 
52f.; in post-Biblical times, 271!.; in 
recent times, 5 iff.; in the State of 
Israel, 52; use of foreign names for, 

28, 44 

Naming a girl, in the home among 
the S'fardim, 61; soon after birth, 
27; in the synagogue, see Synagogue 

Omens, connected with, a child, 79f ., 
death, 284^, marriage, 217-219 

Orient, Jews of the, 7, 36, 44, 6of., 86, 
88, 93, ii8f., 161, 163, 167, 204, 214, 
?x8, 252, 27if., 297 

Palestine, Jews in ancient, 7, 15, 17, 
27f., 36, 76, 82-84, i47f., I53f., 235, 

Paradise and Hell, see Gan Eden and 

Passover, see Pesach 

Persia, Jews of, 203, 298 

Persians, 242, 278 

Pesach, 54, 84, 120, zopf., 263 

Pharisees, 144, 206, 230, 277 

Philistines, 13, 16, 127 

Phoenicians, 13 

Phylacteries, see T'filin 

Pidyon ha-ben, abolished by the 
Karaites, 60; in America, 62; in 
Biblical times, 18; in the Middle 
Ages, 48-50; origin of, 18, note 22; 
in Talmudic times, 29 

Poland, Jews of, 47, 115-117, 163^, 

Poles, 82 

Popular medicine, among Jews, 90 

Prayer-Shawl, see Tails 

Priest, priests, see Kohen, Kohanim 

Purim, 52, 104 


Redemption of the first-born, see 
Pidyon ha-ben 

Reform Jews, confirmation among 
the, ii9f.; controversy about cir- 
cumcision among the, 51; name sons 
after a living father, 43; shifted the 
marriage ceremony from the court- 
yard back to the synagogue, 164 

Resurrection of the dead, belief in, 

Rhineland, Jews of the, 4of., 252f. 

Rising from childbed, in Biblical 
times, i8f.; in Eastern Europe, 59f.; 
in the first centuries C.E., 29f.; in 
the Middle Ages, 43, 45, 50; ob- 
servance discarded in America, 61 

Romans, 6, 21, 36, 148, 210, 244f., 290 

Rome, Jews in, 39f., 248f. 

Rosh Chodesh, 210 

Rosh Ha-shono, 53 

Russians, 289 


33 1 


Sadducees, 277 

Samaritans, 169 

Sandek, 37-43, 58, 60 

School, the Jewish elementary, 956*.; 
in America, nof,; in Eastern Eu- 
rope, loifl.; in the Middle Ages, 
100-102; in recent years, 109-111; in 
tannaitic times, 98ff. 

Seven days of the feast, 133, i36f., 
i56f., 20 if., 2041. 

S'fardim, 7, 43, 6of., 84, 91, u8f., 
169^, igSfL, 201-203, 205, 216, 2i8f., 
254, 27 if., 29?f., 299f. 

Shadchon^ Shadchonim, see Match- 

Shehecheyonu, 29, 49, 201 

Sheoly 225, 274fF. 

Shir Hamaalos, 55 

Sbolom Zochor, 56 

ShoVUOS, 101, 120, 2O9f. 

Shrouds and Coffins, 231-233, 251, 

Simchas Torah, 92, 115 

Simon Tov, 2i8f. 

Slavs, 5 

Societies, see Brotherhoods 

Spain, Jews in, 93, 252-254 

Spinbolz, 1 66, 175 

Sukos, 115 

Synagogue, bar mitsvo celebrated in 
the, 1 1 6; ceremony in the, when 
changing a sick person's name, 76; 
ceremony of the first haircut in the, 
84; the child in the, 9 if.; circum- 
cision in the, see Circumcision; cir- 
cumcision reverted to the home 
from the, 51; confirmation in the, 
121; connected with wedding, see 
Wedding; the elementary school at- 
tached to the, 97; funeral orations 
delivered in the, 235^, 265; ghost 
stories connected with the, 256, 271; 
the head of a, 149; Kaddish as part 
of the services in the, 294-297; key 
of the, to ease childbirth, 53; memo- 
rial services in the, 2991".; mourner 
changes his place in the, 269; 
mourner visits the, 269; naming a 
girl in the, 43, 52, 59, 62; observance 
of Yahrzek in the, 299; rites of 

mourning in the, 253; rushing to 
the, to pray for a woman suffering 
in labor, 53f. 
Syrians, 13 


Tachrichiw, see Shrouds and Coffins 
Talis, 58, 1 1 8, 120, 172, 200, 213, 263, 

TfiKn 9 34, 93, 1 14-" 6. "9*- 2 7 
Tisho B'Ov, 209, 255, 270 
T'no-im, see Knas MM 
Tombstones, see Graves 
Transmigration of souls, 283^ 
Trousseau, 154, 109 
Ts'doko, see Charity 
Tsitsis, 34, 93, 2oof., 248, 263, 278 


Unlucky days and seasons, see Days 
and Seasons 
Unterfuerers, 187 
Unveiling the tombstone, 270 


Walk, aiding the child to, 8if. 
Watch Night, 32f., 36f., 56, 6of., 


Weaning the child, 18, 81 

Wedding, benediction, i56f., 161, 
177, 194; in Biblical times, 13 iff.; 
ceremony in America, i64f.; cere- 
mony in the synagogue of Mayence, 
170-173; ceremony in the syna- 
gogue on the Sabbath following 
the, 162, 174, 177, i95f, 202; pre- 
ceding the, 175, i84f.; in the court- 
yard of the synagogue, i64f.; in the 
courtyard of the synagogue in East- 
ern Europe, 192-194; cutting the 
bride's hair before the, i68f., 202; 
drosho delivered by the bridegroom 
at the, 177, 196, 200; in Eastern Eu- 
rope, 1831!.; feast, see Seven days of 
the feast; festivities on the Sabbath 
following the, 157; in Mayence, 
i7ofT., 212, 217; in the Middle Ages, 
i doff.; for the paupers, 185; per- 

332 INDEX 

formed in the synagogue, 161-165; JJ 

preceding the, 154, 199; P^Hmi- Y ahrzeh, 293, 297-299 

naries, in Eastern Europe, i8 3 fT., in Y emen, Jews of, 44, 126, 130, 20 3 ff. 

the Middle Ages, 165$.; songs, 131- Yom Kippur, 192, 213, 260, 299 

135, 156; in Talmudic times, 154- Yortseit, see Yahrzeit 

157; in Worms, 174-178, 217 

Weighing the child, 8of., 90 2 

Witchcraft, see Evil spirits Z'miros, 34, 43 





AS OF 1970 

JACOB P. RUTDIN, Ciiairman 
SOLOMON B. FREEHOF, Honorary Chairman 










LEON A. Jicx 






Ex Officio 




JACK D. SPIRO, National Director of Education 
Union of American Hebrew Congregations 





5 = 

1 36 449