Mikvah and Taharat Hamishpachah

The family is the foundation of a Jewish home. Of particular importance is the Shalom Bayit — peace in the home. Husband and wife are to live together peacefully and happily, in accordance with the directives of the Torah.

The holiness of the family comes through observing a set of laws called the laws of Taharat Hamishpachahfamily purity.

Included in these laws is mikvah attendance. A mikvah is a pool of water constructed according to Jewish law. Married women attend a mikvah on a regular basis. Every community must have a mikvah.

Circumcision — Brit Milah

Eight days after a male child is born, [even if the eighth day is Shabbat], he is circumcised by a Mohel [a qualified Jewish surgeon]. At the Brit [circumcision], the child is given his Hebrew name. The order of a Brit is as follows:

1) The baby is brought in by a married couple called Kvatters. The Mohel announces “Baruch Haba”— blessed is he who has entered.

2) Two chairs are arranged side by side. One chair is designated for Eliyahu Hanavi [Elijah the Prophet] and the other for the Sandek [the man who holds the baby at the time of the circumcision]. The baby is brought in and placed first on Elijah’s chair, and then on the knees of the Sandek.

3) The Brit is performed. The father makes a special blessing during the Brit.

4) The baby is then placed in the hands of a Sandek[who stands] and the Rabbi makes a blessing over wine and announces the Hebrew name of the child.

5) After the baby is taken out by the Kvatter, a festive meal is served with challah, fish and meat. Special inserts are made at Grace after Meals.

A girl is given her Jewish name at the Reading of the Torah and a special celebratory Kiddush is made on the Shabbat after her birth.

Pidyon Haben— Redeeming [First-Born] Sons

Before G‑d took the Jewish people out of Egypt, he struck the Egyptians with ten plagues. The tenth plague was the killing of every first-born child. During this plague, G‑d “passed over” the Jewish homes — thus the name of the festival Passover.

From that time on, the firstborn child was to be consecrated to G‑d. They were “His” children since He saved them from the plague. The Torah states that on the 31st day after the birth of a Bchor — a firstborn male — the father must redeem the child from a Kohen who acts as a representative of G‑d. It is as if the father is buying back his son from G‑d. In this service called Pidyon Haben the father gives a Kohen 102 grams of silver [usually in silver coins or block] and redeems his son from the Kohen. A festive meal is served. A Pidyon Haben may not take place on Shabbat or a festival. Kohanim and Levites are exempt from Pidyon Haben, (and this includes the firstborn son of a daughter of a Kohen or Levi even if his father is an Israelite) and so is a boy born by Caesarean section.

Chinuch— Education

Every father is obliged to teach his children the Torah as soon as they can speak. The first verse a child should know is “Torah Tzeeva” and then Shema Yisrael, [see chapter 15]. Although children are not obliged to keep the mitzvot until they are 13 [boys], and 12 [girls], they should be trained to keep them. This is called Chinuch which means education. “Educate a child young so that when he or she grows up they will keep to the path.”

Children should be well rewarded for learning.

Opsher— The Age of Three

Many parents do not cut a boy’s hair until he is three years old and at three they cut his hair leaving the peyot — sidelocks. This is called an opsher. From the age of three, parents must educate a boy to cover his head with a Yarmulka, wash his hands in the morning and before meals and wear Tzitzit. From the age of three, girls should start to light Shabbat candles and be trained to be modest in dress. Both boys and girls should be trained to make blessings over their food.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah

A boy on his 13th birthday, and a girl on her 12th birthday become of age that they are obliged to keep all the mitzvot.

On the boy’s 13th Hebrew birthday, a festive meal is held, at which it is customary for the boy to say a Dvar Torah — a Torah thought. Friends and relatives gather to bless the boy and give him their best wishes that he should grow to be a fine Jew. It is customary to give the boy a present.

On the first occasion the Torah is read after his 13th birthday, the boy receives an Aliyah. On the Shabbat after his 13th Hebrew birthday, it is customary for the boy to read Maftir and Haftorah.

Two months before his Bar Mitzvah, a boy should start to put on Tefillin every weekday, and on his birthday, he may officially be counted in a minyan and have an aliyah.

A girl will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah with a festive meal at which she delivers a Dvar Torah. It is customary to give the girl a present.


When a Jewish man and women decide to marry, they will first become engaged. After the engagement, preparations will be made for the wedding. A Rabbi should be consulted as to the date of the wedding.

On the Shabbat before the wedding, the Chattan[groom] is called up to the Reading of the Torah. This is called the Aufruf.

The wedding should take place under a Chuppah — a bridal canopy. Under the Chuppah, the Chattanplaces a golden ring on the Kallah’s [bride] right index finger and says: “With this ring shall you be married to me according to the Law of Moses and Israel.” The marriage is witnessed by two witnesses and the Rabbi will recite the blessings for marriage over a cup of wine.

The Ketubah [marriage contract] is read and the ceremony is concluded by the Chattan smashing a glass under his heel, after which the congregation shouts Mazal-Tov [congratulations]. The smashing of the glass is to remember the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. After the Chuppah, a wedding feast is held with a band and dancing.

At the end of the meal, Grace after Meals [Birkat Hamazon] is recited followed by Sheva Berachot, seven marital blessings, made over wine. These Sheva Berachot are repeated for seven consecutive days after the wedding at each festive meal made in honor of the newly weds. [A minyan must be present to recite the Sheva Brachot].

Chanukat Habayit— Consecration of a New Home

After moving into a new home, it is customary to “consecrate” the new home with a house warming party. If the mezuzot have not yet been fixed, they are affixed at the Chanukat Habayit, and the house is dedicated to be a home of Torah, Mitzvot and good deeds.


It is a mitzvah to visit the sick and dying. One should always pray for the sick even if the situation is bad. Once a person passes away, the Chevra Kadisha [lit. Holy Society] Burial Society should be contacted. They will prepare the body for burial. Before the body is interred, it is washed and clothed in Tachrichim — shrouds, and a Tallit, and then placed in a wooden coffin. It is a great mitzvah to belong to the Chevra Kadisha.

It is a great mitzvah to accompany a dead person to his or her final resting place. Accompanying the dead is called Levaya. Burial is called Kevurah. The Torah tells us that if a person loses a father, mother, brother, sister, wife, son or daughter, they must observe the laws of mourning. Before the funeral, the mourner should make a small tear in their clothes to indicate their grief. This is called “tearing kriah”. At a Levaya, the family and friends usually assemble in a prayer hall where a eulogy [Hesped] is delivered. The coffin is then taken out and lowered into the grave. Those present then take turns to fill the grave with earth.

For seven days, the mourner then sits at home and people come to the home to comfort him or her on their great loss. This is called “sitting Shiva”. The mood at a Shiva house should be somber, and one should take into mind the broken heart of the mourner.

It is customary that prayers [Shacharit, Minchah, Maariv] are held at the home of the mourner and remembrance prayers are recited [see Siddur]. Candles are lit and all mirrors in the house are covered. Kaddish is recited by the mourner. Kaddish is a beautiful praise of G‑d [it does not mention the dead] which is said by the mourner at certain parts of the daily service [with a minyan] for 11 months after the death.

The mourner should not wear leather shoes, only slippers etc [like Yom Kippur] and not shave or have a haircut. The first meal a mourner eats after the Levaya is bread and a boiled egg prepared by a neighbor.

The first three days of the Shivah are for “crying”, i.e. the mourner is grief-stricken, and visitors should not open a conversation with the mourner unless the mourner speaks first. Some have the custom not to eat in the house of a mourner, and one should definitely refrain from laughter and joking.

One usually comforts the mourner with the following words: “May the Almighty comfort you together with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.

Jews believe that after the soul departs from this world, it enters the World to Come and the best way of helping the soul up there is to do a mitzvah down here in memory of that person. It is customary to learn Mishnah [which has the same letters as the word Neshamah [soul] in memory of the deceased. One should also give Tzedakah in their merit.

The period of mourning for a parent is 12 months [although Kaddish is only recited for 11 months]. The anniversary of the death is called the Yahrtzeit. On a Yahrtzeit one recites Kaddish and lights a candle.

The Resurrection of the Dead

In the Messianic Era, the dead will again return to life in this world. The body will be reconstructed from the Luz bone [the coccyx], which is nourished by eating the Melave Malka meal on Motzei Shabbat [Saturday night]. Burial is essential, and Jewish Law forbids cremation.