Contemporary Issues in Lifecycle Ritual
Contemporary feminism has been, arguably, the primary influence upon the recent flourishing of new rituals and the transformation of older ones. While concerns about sexism and women’s exclusion often critique tradition, they can also lead to a more fully developed tradition with which more people feel more comfortable engaging--and, many claim, which helps Jewish tradition itself reach its potential for sanctity.
· whether it is appropriate to create ceremonies not established by sages of a previous era;
· using the classical blessing format ("Barukh atah--Blessed are You, God…") and other liturgical forms too casually;
· whether new rituals are excessively focused on bodily changes and on the individual rather than new communal status; and
· the appropriate balance between contemporary insights and longstanding tradition.
For some Jews of many types, this balancing act is at the core of their religious lives and professional work. Rabbi Laura Geller, one of the first female Reform rabbis, tells a story from rabbinical school, when an instructor noted that "there is no important moment in the life of a Jew" for which Jewish tradition doesn't have a blessing or ritual. Her teacher's confident declaration stimulated her to think about the moments in our lives--particularly in the lives of women--for which she did not know of a Jewish rite of passage. Regarding her quest to create or revive Jewish lifecycle traditions beyond brit milah, bar/bat mitzvah, marriage, and death, Geller writes: "I discovered sources and stories that helped me both remember and invent new rituals for menarche, weaning, healing, growing older, and other significant transitions" ("Being a Mezuzah," Reform Judaism, June 2001).