A Jewish Weaning Ceremony

The celebration of an infant's weaning goes back to the feast Abraham held for his son Isaac.

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Reprinted with permission from The Second Jewish Catalog, edited by Sharon Strassfeld and Michael Strassfeld, and published by the Jewish Publication Society.

Nursing an infant is a beautiful experience. It sensitizes one to the work of creation. It is indeed a miracle that a woman's body is able to sustain her offspring. Nursing provides benefits to both mother and child. The mother receives great personal satisfaction from the physical closeness she feels to her baby. The mutual regulation of the mother's and infant's bodily needs is an important step in the development of trust and psychological well-being. The child, of course, receives the health benefits of the mother's milk. Weaning is the end of a unique relationship between mother and child.

 

Isaac's Weaning

"And the child grew up, and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned" (Genesis 21:8).

jewish weaning ceremonyVayigdal ha-yeled vayigamal vaya'as Avraham mishteh gadol b'yom higamel et Yitzhak.

From the biblical text we learn that there was a celebration at the time of Isaac's weaning. We suggest that this custom be reintroduced in our day with special blessings for the occasion. Weaning a child is an important time for both the family and the child, and there should be a Jewish ceremony to mark the event.

Roles for Father & Mother

We believe that a Jewish ceremony should be created for this occasion that would be significant for not only the mother, but also the father. The mother can celebrate her ability to provide sustenance to her child. It would be appropriate for her to recite a blessing for having been able to nurse. In addition, a weaning ceremony provides a way for the father to express his appreciation for the care of the infant. Having witnessed this miracle of nature, he might express gratitude for God's loving-kindness. Finally, it is also a time for both the mother and father to recognize their new responsibilities as Jewish parents.

It seems to us that the Shabbat following the actual weaning would be an appropriate time for a ceremony. The mother might be honored with an aliyah [being called up to recite blessings over the Torah reading] at the Torah service. It would be nice to bring the baby to the bimah--the platform where the Torah is read--at that time for a Misheberakh [a blessing in honor of a special occasion]. The father should be responsible for the "feast," which could be held as the second or third Shabbat meal. At this time selections from Psalm 104 could be said (it is traditional to read this Psalm on Shabbat afternoon between Simchat Torah and Pesach):

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Mel Silberman

Dr. Mel Silberman is a professor of adult and organizational learning at Temple University and an internationally known expert on teacher training. He is the author of numerous books in his field, the latest being Working PeopleSmart.