Life Cycle Events
In the cycle from birth to death and mourning, Temple Sinai observes the sacred occasions in the lives of our families. Just as we celebrate joyous occasions, like baby-namings and weddings, we also support our families in times of grief and suffering.
B'rit Milah (Bris) is the ritual for circumcising a Jewish baby boy and giving him a name on the eighth day of life (including the day of birth). B'rit milah is more than just the surgical procedure of cutting the foreskin from the penis. The ritual includes blessings that affirm the circumcision as the central symbol of the covenant that binds God and the Jewish people to each other. The sign upon the reproductive organ is appropriate for a covenant that connects each generation to generation that follows. If you are expecting a baby boy, contact the Rabbi to arrange for a b'rit milah in your home or at the Temple.
Rabbi Jeff on B'rit Milah: Brit Milah; Lech L'cha: Be Perfect!; Ekev: Cutting Away the Foreskin
B'rit Bat is the ritual for entering a Jewish baby girl into the covenant and giving her a name. Unlike b'rit milah for a boy, there is no requirement for a baby girl's covenant ceremony to take place on a particular date. Most families observe the brit bat about a month after birth. There is also no set ritual for a brit bat. Some families celebrate their daughters by naming her during a Torah aliyah, ritually wrapping her in a talit, lighting candles, immersing her in water, or washing her hands and feet. After the birth of a baby girl, call the Rabbi to arrange for a brit bat ceremony at the Temple or in your home.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the status of a Jewish boy (bar mitzvah) or girl (bat mitzvah) when he or she comes of age. Since mediaeval times, Jewish boys have celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah at age thirteen by coming up to the Torah in the synagogue for the honor of an aliyah. Traditionally, Jewish girls come of age without ceremony at twelve years old. Today, most Reform congregations celebrate a girl becoming a bat mitzvah at age thirteen with the identical ritual as for a boy. Coming of age in Judaism means accepting the obligation of fulfilling the Torah's commandments. That is why a boy is called a "bar mitzvah," in Aramaic, "a man of mitzvah," and a girl is a "bat mitzvah," Hebrew for "a woman of mitzvah." At Temple Sinai, students begin intensive preparation for the about twelve months ahead of the service at which they are the bar or bat mitzvah. The congregation takes great pride in the way our students lead a large portion of the service.
Rabbi Jeff on Bar/Bat Mitzvah: Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Holy Bar Mitzvah; Writing a Word of Torah
Confirmation is the ritual created by the Reform Movement in the 19th century for young men and women graduating as a class from their religious school studies. Confirmation is often celebrated on or near Shavuot by students at the conclusion of 10th, 11th or 12th grade. The early Reformers believed that high school was a more appropriate time than age thirteen for students to make an informed and thoughtful declaration of their fidelity to Jewish values and identity. Today, most Reform congregations celebrate both bar/bat mitzvah and confirmation. At Temple Sinai, the Confirmation class of tenth graders meets weekly with the Rabbi and leads the Confirmation service on the evening of Shavuot. A trip to Washington or New York City is one of the highlights of the Confirmation year.
Rabbi Jeff on Confirmation: Confirmation Class Trip; Kayaking and Being There
Weddings. Jewish weddings are more than a ceremony announcing a change in status from single to married. The wedding ceremony turns the couple into a symbol of the first love in the Garden of Eden and a symbol of the promised redemption of the world. The wedding couple stand under a chupah, a canopy that symbolized the Jewish home they will create together. Wedding witnesses sign a Ketubah, a marriage contract that describes the pledge of loyalty and love made under the chupah. The traditional ceremony is actually two rituals in one – the couple drink from one cup of wine to declare their betrothal and a second cup to declare their marriage. Contact the Rabbi or Cantor to plan a wedding ceremony at Temple Sinai or other locations.
Rabbi Jeff on Weddings: Weddings
Conversion. Jews are simultaneously members of a religion, a culture, and a nation. As such, people born to Jewish parents are Jewish from birth. Yet, Judaism also permits non-Jews to join the Jewish people through the process of conversion. Most conversion candidates spend a year or more learning about Jewish beliefs, living Jewish practices, being part of a Jewish community, and developing a personal Jewish identity. At the end of that process, candidates appear before a beit din, a rabbinical court, to share the story of their spiritual journey. They then immerse themselves in the waters of a mikveh to emerge as Jews. Male candidates also undergo circumcision or its ritual equivalent. Once conversion is completed, the new Jew is considered the equal to a born Jew in every way. If you are interested in exploring the possibility of conversion, contact the Rabbi to set up an initial appointment. Adult education classes throughout the year are also a great resource for people in the conversion process or considering it.
Rabbi Jeff on Conversion: Nine Students, a Baby and a Wedding
Illness. Visiting and caring for the sick is considered a mitzvah of unparalleled importance in Jewish tradition. The entire community takes responsibility for making sure that the sick and elderly are not left isolated and alone. Please contact the Rabbi or Cantor if you know of someone who is ill and in need of visitation.
Rabbi Jeff on visiting the sick: Contrast and Commonality
Funerals. Jewish tradition demands that the body of a dead person be treated with the utmost respect. The dead person is considered to be in the most vulnerable situation possible and, therefore, must be treated with great care. The body is washed in the ritual of taharah and placed in a plain wooden casket, for all are equal in death. Jewish tradition requires speedy burial, usually within two or three days. The funeral service itself is brief and usually includes a chesped, a eulogy, that paints a positive but realistic picture of the person's life. Those attending the funeral are invited to participate in the burial of the dead by placing earth on the casket. Most funeral services in the Rhode Island Jewish community take place in one of our Jewish funeral homes and Jewish cemeteries. Contact the Rabbi immediately in the case of a death or when death is imminent.
Rabbi Jeff on funerals: Funerals
Mourning. Jewish tradition defines a flexible roadmap for those traveling through the process of grieving a death. Immediately after hearing of a death, a Jew recites the blessing, "Blessed is the Judge of truth," an act of acceptance of the reality of the cycle of life and death. During this time before the funeral, close relatives are excused from all responsibilities not related to preparation for the funeral. Offering words of condolence to mourners during this period is considered futile. Immediately following the funeral, friends and other relatives are encouraged to offer their sympathy and to comfort mourners in the period of shiva. During shiva, mourners remain at home and members of the community care for them and provide for their needs. Mourners during shiva are treated as guests in their own home and the community becomes their hosts. The period of shiva ends on the seventh day following the funeral (including the day of the funeral). (Click here for a guide to visiting mourners during shiva) Mourners then enter the period of sheloshim, the thirty days following death. Traditionally, mourners do not indulge in entertainment or frivolous activities during sheloshim. During the eleven months following death, close relatives recite the Mourner's Kaddish in memory of their loved one. Each year on the yahrzeit, the anniversary of death, mourners again recite the Mourner's Kaddish in the synagogue. Temple Sinai takes great pride as a community that supports people in times of loss. Contact the Rabbi to arrange for shiva, grief counseling and visitation.
Rabbi Jeff on mourning: Va'eira: When We Cannot Be Joyful