Life Cycle Rituals
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 July 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0043
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 July 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0043
Life cycle events have been part of Jewish life since Antiquity, but scholarly focus on them emerged only in the 19th century. This stemmed from the development of modern Jewish studies along with the new fields of anthropology and folklore. These disciplines only slowly gained legitimacy among Judaic scholars over the course of the 20th century, while detailed attention to life cycle rituals at times appeared in other research disciplines: rabbinic law (halakha), often complemented by the attempt to elucidate accepted customs (minhag); social and more recently cultural history; and Kabbalah (mysticism). A milestone in the study of life cycle events in general was Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 formulation of the notion of rites de passage (rites of passage). Only in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have some Judaic scholars sought to engage theoretical concerns in the analysis of ritual, including those linked to life cycle developments.
The first comprehensive coverage of the life cycle among Jews was by Leopold Löw, who was a leader of the movement toward religious reform in Hungary. Löw 1875 is based largely on rabbinic literature viewed through the lens of historical scholarship and was not systematically linked to any emergent discipline like folklore. Schauss 1950 provided the first attempt of this nature in English, and Gutmann 1987 demonstrated the importance of material culture and art in life cycle rituals. With time studies of Jewish sources incorporated perspectives from anthropology and other socially oriented research paradigms. Vaux 1997 brings together texts and insights that yield a picture of biblical society. Rubin 1995 is the first of three books that comprehensively present Talmudic and later rabbinic material on life’s beginnings, marriage, and death. Zimmels 1996 provides a broad picture of rabbinic discourse demonstrating extensive variation regarding life cycle practices. Marcus 2004, building upon the author’s own earlier work on an entering-school ceremony in medieval Ashkenaz, demonstrates the value of anthropological modes of analysis across the time span of Jewish history. Goldberg 2003, more than previous overviews, puts an emphasis on Sephardic and Middle Eastern communities along with those in Europe, while Sabar, et al. 2006 focuses specifically on family life and rituals outside of Ashkenaz during the last several centuries.
Goldberg, Harvey E. Jewish Passages: Cycles of Jewish Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
This anthropological perspective links normative texts with knowledge deriving from ethnography and historical sources. It develops the subject of pilgrimage as a life cycle event and gives expression to feminist trends by considering new ritual forms while reexamining traditional male-centered rituals.
Gutmann, Joseph. The Jewish Life Cycle. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1987.
Part of a series on the iconography of religions, this is a concise but detailed survey of Jewish life cycle rituals accompanied by visual materials, such as the ornamented paraphernalia used in rituals and artistic representations of life cycle events.
Löw, Leopold. Die Lebensalter in der Jüdischen Literatur. Szeged, Hungary: Druck von S. Burger, 1875.
Utilizing traditional Jewish sources, this book begins with basic questions, such as how stages of life or notions surrounding birth were perceived at different phases of Jewish history. There is some comparative perspective through references to the classical world.
Marcus, Ivan G. The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage from Biblical to Modern Times. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.
Introduced as an update of Schauss 1950, this comprehensive overview is informed by a sophisticated approach to how Jewish practices interact with Jews’ cultural environment. It indicates how external influences become Judaized, reflecting a process of “inward acculturation.” See also Marcus 1996, cited under Ancient and Medieval Studies.
Rubin, Nissan. Reshit ha-hayim: Tikse ledah, milah, u-fidyon ha-ben bi-mekorot hazal. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1995.
A broadly conceived discussion of materials viewed together through the lens of sociological and anthropological understandings of ritual with attention to current historical research relating to the contexts of ritual activities. See also Rubin 1997, cited under Ancient and Medieval Studies.
Sabar, Shalom, Elah Arazi, Avri’el Bar-Levav, and Roni Weinstein. Ma’agal ha-hayim: Kehilot Yisra’el ba-mizrah ba-me’ot ha-tesha’ ‘esreh veha-‘esrim. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2006.
A carefully documented and richly illustrated work that does not focus on a specific community but reveals the range of traditional and changing aspects of family life and rituals across the Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish worlds.
Schauss, Hayyim. The Lifetime of a Jew throughout the Ages of Jewish History. Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1950.
Accepting a conceptual dichotomy between “spurious customs” and “the laws of the official Jewish religion,” this book is based on classic rabbinic sources along with some modern descriptions.
Vaux, Roland de. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. Translated by John McHugh. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
First published in French in 1958 by a major biblical scholar, it stresses institutional analysis of the materials in the Hebrew Bible. Part1, on family institutions, discusses life cycle rituals.
Zimmels, H. J. Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa. Rev. ed. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1996.
A learned and in-depth comparison, based on rabbinic sources, of Ashkenazic and Sephardic laws and customs, including a chapter on life cycle events.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Abraham Isaac Kook
- Agudat Yisrael
- Ahad Ha' am
- American Hebrew Literature
- American Jewish Artists
- American Jewish Literature
- American Jewish Sociology
- Ancient Anti-Semitism
- An-sky (Shloyme Zanvil Rapoport)
- Anthropology of the Jews
- Anti-Semitism, Modern
- Apocalypticism and Messianism
- Archaeology, Second Temple
- Archaeology: The Rabbinic Period
- Art, Synagogue
- Austria, The Holocaust In
- Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867-1918
- Biblical Archaeology
- Biblical Literature
- Bratslav/Breslev Hasidism
- Buber, Martin
- Bukharan Jews
- Central Asia, Jews in
- Chagall, Marc
- Classical Islam, Jews Under
- Cohen, Hermann
- Culture, Israeli
- David Bergelson
- Dead Sea Scrolls
- Death, Burial, and the Afterlife
- Debbie Friedman
- Dietary Laws
- Dubnov, Simon
- Early Modern Period, Christian Yiddishism in the
- Eastern European Haskalah
- Environment, Judaism and the
- Ethics, Jewish
- Ethiopian Jews
- Folktales, Jewish
- Frank, Jacob
- Germany, Early Modern
- Graetz, Heinrich
- Hasidism, Lubavitch
- Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) Literature
- Hebrew Bible, Blood in the
- Hebrew Bible, Memory and History in the
- Hebrew Literature and Music
- History, Early Modern Jewish
- History of the Holocaust
- Holland: 17th-18th Centuries
- Holocaust in France, The
- Holocaust in Germany, The
- Holocaust in Poland, The
- Holocaust in the Netherlands, The
- Holocaust in the Soviet Union, The
- (Holocaust) Memorial Books
- Holocaust, Philosophical and Theological Responses to the
- Holocaust Survivors, Children of
- Humor, Jewish
- Ibn Ezra, Abraham
- Indian Jews
- Isaac Bashevis Singer
- Israel Ba'al Shem Tov
- Israel, Religion and State in
- Israeli Economy
- Israeli Film
- Israeli Literature
- Israel's Society
- Jewish American Women Writers in the 18th and 19th Centuri...
- Jewish Bible Translations
- Jewish Culture, Children and Childhood in
- Jewish Economic History
- Jewish Folklore, Chełm in
- Jewish Genetics
- Jewish Names
- Jewish Studies, Dance in
- Jewish Territorialism (in Relation to Jewish Studies)
- Jewish-Christian Polemics Until the 15th Century
- Josephus, Flavius
- Kibbutz, The
- Languages, Jewish
- Late Antique (Roman and Byzantine) History
- Latin American Jewish Studies Latin American Jewish Studie...
- Law, Biblical
- Law in the Rabbinic Period
- Life Cycle Rituals
- Literature Before 1800, Yiddish
- Literature, Hellenistic Jewish
- Literature, Holocaust
- Literature, Latin American Jewish
- Literature, Medieval
- Literature, Modern Hebrew
- Literature, Rabbinic
- Magic, Ancient Jewish
- Maimonides, Moses
- Maurice Schwartz
- Medieval and Renaissance Political Thought
- Medieval Anti-Judaism
- Medieval Islam, Jews under
- Meir, Golda
- Menachem Begin
- Mendelssohn, Moses
- Messianic Thought and Movements
- Middle Ages, the Hebrew Story in the
- Minority Literatures in Israel
- Modern Germany
- Modern Jewish History
- Modern Kabbalah
- Moses Maimonides: Mishneh Torah
- Music, East European Jewish Folk
- Music, Jews and
- Nathan Birnbaum
- New York City
- North Africa
- Orthodoxy, Post-World War II
- Palestine/Israel, Yiddish in
- Palestinian Talmud/Yerushalmi
- Philo of Alexandria
- Poetry in Spain, Hebrew
- Poland, 1800-1939
- Poland, Hasidism in
- Poland Until The Late 18th Century
- Politics and Political Leaders, Israeli
- Politics, Modern Jewish
- Prayer and Liturgy
- Purity and Impurity in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism
- Rashi's Commentary on the Bible
- Reform Judaism
- Ritual Objects and Folk Art
- Rosenzweig, Franz
- Russian Jewish Culture
- Sacrifice in the Bible
- Sarah Schenirer and Bais Yaakov
- Scholem, Gershom
- Second Temple Period, The
- Sephardi Jews
- Sexuality and the Body
- Shmuel Yosef Agnon
- Shulhan Arukh and Sixteenth Century Jewish Law, The
- Sociology, European Jewish
- South African Jewry
- Soviet Union, Jews in the
- Space in Modern Hebrew Literature
- Spinoza, Baruch
- Talmud, Narrative in the
- The Druze Community in Israel
- The General Jewish Workers’ Bund
- The Modern Jewish Bible, Facets of
- Theater, Israeli
- Theme, Exodus as a
- Tractate Avodah Zarah (in the Talmud)
- United States
- Weinreich, Max
- Wissenschaft des Judentums
- Women and Gender Relations
- World War II Literature, Jewish American
- Yankev Glatshteyn/Jacob Glatstein
- Yemen, The Jews of
- Yiddish Linguistics
- Yiddish Literature since 1800
- Yiddish Theater
- Ze’ev Jabotinsky
- Zionism from Its Inception to 1948