Celebrate Jews' birthdays

From birth to bar mitzvah

A child who is descended from a Jewish mother is Jewish from birth. If a child has only one Jewish father and no Jewish mother, the child is not Jewish.

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A Jewish boy, provided he is healthy, is circumcised when he is eight days old. With the fulfillment of the commandment of circumcision, the boy is accepted into God's covenant with the people of Israel. The circumcision is carried out by a specially trained person called a "mohel" who is now often also a doctor. During circumcision, a male relative or family friend holds the baby on his lap. He fulfills the function of "Sandak", the godfather. In the course of the circumcision ceremony, the boy is also given his Hebrew name (x ben / bat (= son / daughter of the father's Hebrew first name), with which he will be called to the Torah when he comes of religious majority.

Have Pidjon

Another ceremony that a male Jewish baby has to undergo within its first four weeks of life, provided that it is a firstborn son, is the release of the firstborn, “having pidjon”. This little solemnity refers to a commandment that is arranged in Ex. Moses, 13: 13-16 and is related to the sparing of the Israelite firstborn in Egypt.


The ceremony is carried out after 30 days, i.e. on the 31st day after the birth, and is only postponed to the next working day if the 31st day of life falls on a Shabbat or a public holiday. The firstborn sons of Kohanim, the descendants of priests, and of Leviim, the descendants of Levites, are exempt. The celebration is not carried out if the child was born by caesarean section.


According to biblical regulations, all firstfruits are consecrated to God as a sign that all life and all gifts come from God. “Sanctify all firstborn to me. What opens the womb of the children of Israel, of man and cattle, belongs to me " (2. B. Moses, 13,2). The first fruits of the ground crops were offered in the temple; the firstfruits of domestic animals had to be donated to the priest if their meat could be consumed; otherwise a lamb had to be given as a substitute.


Originally all firstborn Jewish sons were obliged to serve in the temple and represented the holy priestly class. In Egypt they were spared the plague of the death of the firstborn. But when the Jews, including the firstborn, worshiped the golden calf, the firstborn forfeited their special status. The priesthood was transferred to the tribe that had not worshiped the golden calf: the Levites, but especially the children of Aaron. ("Take the Levijim for all the firstborn among the children of Israel and the Levijim's cattle for their cattle, and the Levijim belong to me, the Eternal. And (for) the released of the two hundred and seventy, the excess over the Levijim from the firstborn of the children Israel, if you take five shekels for the head after the shekel of the sanctuary, you take twenty gerahs of shekels. ”(4 B. Moses 3: 45-47) The coins were given to the Kohen in exchange for the temple service that the Kohen instead of the firstborn, and since women did not serve in the temple, they did not (and do not need to) be triggered.

Opscheren

It is a tradition on a boy's third birthday to have his hair cut off for the first time. Until then, his hair had not been cut. This ceremony is called "Opscheren" in Ashkenazi circles, while Sephardic Jews call it "chalakka" (scissors) in Judeo-Arabic.


This first-time haircut happens as part of a small celebration at which family and friends gather. The boy is dressed in kippah and zizit. The honor of cutting off the first lock is usually left to the rabbi or a kohen. All other attendees are also given the honor of cutting off a strand. On this occasion, the two sidelocks Peot (Yiddish “Peijes”) are left standing according to the corresponding biblical commandments and from now on the boy always wears a kippah and a talit katan. In our part of the world, the ceremony is usually carried out at home or in the synagogue and is concluded with a small snack after a brief address with wisdom from the Torah.


There are a number of days during the year when hair cutting is forbidden or undesirable. If the third birthday falls on one of these days, the ceremony will be postponed to the next possible opportunity.
In Israel, this ceremony is held at Lag BaOmer in Meron, at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, the author of The Zohar (An Important Book of Jewish Mysticism).

Cheder

Also at the age of three, in particularly strict tradition-bound families, the religious instruction of a boy begins in the cheder.


The “Cheder” is and was a kind of Jewish elementary school. Children from 3 years of age, at the latest from 4 years of age, learned from a pedagogically more or less trained or talented teacher to read Hebrew fluently, to recite the prayers (especially the scheme), to translate the Pentateuch, to the Rashi commentary on the Torah understand and last but not least the Hebrew script.


At the latest, however, when they start school at the age of 6, a Jewish child begins to attend Jewish religious education. There they learn the Hebrew language at least passively in order to be able to follow the service and the Torah lecture in the synagogue later. The curriculum also includes lessons on religious do's and don'ts, the meaning of Shabbat and holidays, as well as biblical history.

Bar Mitzvah

At the age of 13, a Jewish boy comes of age in the religious sense and from now on is responsible for his own actions. This is celebrated with a special festival, the bar mitzvah.
Before his 13th birthday (according to the Jewish calendar!) He received lessons from a rabbi. Then he is “called” to speak the blessings about the Torah and puts on the teffilin for the first time. This happens on one of the days immediately after the birthday on which the Torah is read, i.e. Monday, Thursday or Saturday. The father frees himself from responsibility for his son through a special blessing. From now on, the boy himself is responsible for his deeds and sins (until then his sins were on his father's account) and he participates in public religious life. It is counted when determining the number of men needed for a worship service (minyan) - ten adult men must be present for this. From this point on, he puts on the tefillin (phylacteries) during the weekly morning prayer.


During the Bar Mitzvah celebration in the synagogue, the bar mitzvah boy reads a Torah passage as part of the Torah reading and usually gives a speech to the community in which he thanks his parents and his religion teacher for the Jewish education he has enjoyed and promises an active one To become a parishioner. The social celebration that follows the service is an occasion to give the boy gifts.

Bat Mitzvah

In recent decades (in Reform Judaism since the 19th century), in the course of efforts to achieve equal rights for women, it has often become the custom to organize a similar celebration for girls as well. It usually takes place at the age of 12 and is then called “Bat- Mitzvah ". In many congregations, Bat Mitzvah celebrations are not held on individual dates, as for boys, but only once a year for all girls of the same year as part of the service of the holiday "Shavuot". The young woman, who is now of legal age in the religious sense, gives a small lecture on a religious topic and the rabbi gives a speech that is specifically aimed at the new parishioner (s).


The terms bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah refer to both the young parishioner who comes of religious age and the celebration that goes with it. Literally translated, the expression means: "son" or "daughter of the commandment".

Birthday in Judaism

Celebrating a birthday is not a Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, the customs of the secular and Christian environment, especially for children, have left their mark on Jewish families (gifts). Adult men can be called to the Torah in the synagogue in the week before or after their birthday on Shabbat. This is an opportunity to receive a special blessing and congratulations and to donate an amount to charity.