Alternative Rites of Passage

New Jewish rituals give meaning to formerly private moments and integrate the ritual-maker into the Jewish community.

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Other Life Passages Inspire New Ceremonies

The new ceremonies use Jewish texts, themes, and prayers that resonate either with the ritual's content or the emotions it evokes: The biblical story of the infertile Hannah reflects the anguish of infertility or miscarriage. The theme of human beings as God's partners in creation honors the choice to become pregnant. The way King David dealt with the illness and death of his son encapsulates the need to live again after an abortion. The birth experience of the Jewish people at the Red Sea is echoed in the birth of a baby or in the new self-awareness that follows a coming-out ceremony.

Sometimes a new ritual will reinterpret an existing ceremony for a new context. A Rosh Hashanah Tashlikh ceremony in which sins are symbolically cast into the water may reappear as a means of casting away hope for successful infertility treatments or of guiding the irresponsible child within into a more mature awareness. Mourning customs may express sadness. A Havdalah (Sabbath-concluding) service may distinguish between past sorrows and future hope. A "seder" may celebrate the stages of life, culminating in the most recent one attained, that is, menopause.


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Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann is the Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University. She teaches and lectures widely on Jewish feminism, rabbinical ethics, the relationship between religion and education, and social justice.