Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main

The four milestones in Jewish life

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The four milestones in Jewish life
Brit milah pillow, Germany, late 17th century, linen cover decorated with the Sacrifice of Isaac

Brit milah pillow, Germany, late 17th century, linen cover decorated with the Sacrifice of Isaac

The naming ceremony for a newborn girl usually takes place at the first Shabbat service attended by the mother after birth. At this service, the father will be called up to read the Torah. After the Torah section has been read and the father says the concluding blessing, he adds the blessing for deliverance (birkat ha-gomel) as a prayer of thanks to God for the health of the mother. The cantor or rabbi then says a blessing for the child and her mother which includes the child’s name.

Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah

Bar mitzvah, ‘son of commandment’ and bat mitzvah, ‘daughter of commandment’, describe both the beginning of a boy’s religious maturity when he turns 13 years old and a girl’s when she turns 12 years old (in liberal Jewish thought 13 years old), as well as the ceremony itself and subsequent festivities. The ceremony is based on the point in time under Jewish law when a boy can take responsibility for observing and keeping the commandments. When a boy or girl becomes bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, he or she can then fulfil religious tasks. For the boys, this includes wearing the tefilin and fasting at Yom Kippur.

The custom of celebrating this point of religious maturity in a festive ceremony only goes back slightly more than six hundred years. With this first ‘call up to the Torah’ the bar mitzvah and in reform communities the bat mitzvah as well, are integrated fully into the service and welcomed into the community and the covenant of Abraham. The ‘son’ or ‘daughter of commandment' are required to have a knowledge of the Jewish religion and the ability to read Hebrew.


Marriage is one of the cornerstones of Jewish life and considered a divine commandment. The wedding ceremony, led by a rabbi, does not have to take place in a particular location, although it is usually held under a canopy supported by four poles (chuppah). At the wedding, the groom traditionally wears white as an expression of purity and sincerity. The bride wears a veil covering her face, indicative of her total trust in her husband-to-be.

View of the exhibition

View of the exhibition

Jewish Funeral Rites

On the day of a funeral, the presiding rabbi rends the garments of each family member of the deceased, as a sign of mourning. At home, a candle is lit which will burn for 7 days. The burial should be arranged within twenty-four hours after death. If a person dies on the Shabbat, the funeral takes place the next day. The Jewish faith does not normally allow cremation.
The preparations for the funeral are carried out in the buildings on the cemetery which house all the necessary equipment. The body is undressed and washed, following strict religious laws and customs, and clothed in a simple shroud comprising a white shirt, trousers and a head covering. The burial shroud symbolises simplicity and the erosion of all social differences after death. Men are also wrapped in their tallit (prayer shawl) with the fringes of the shawl cut off. Afterwards, the body is placed in a simple casket.
At the funeral service, the cantor or rabbi reads from the psalms, recites a memorial prayer and reads a eulogy in honour of the deceased. After the casket has been placed in the grave, all those present at the graveside throw three shovelfuls of earth into the grave saying: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return!” Only when the casket is completely covered by earth does a son of the deceased or another male relative say the Kaddish prayer. Kaddish is not actually a prayer of mourning, but expresses the magnificence, sacredness and sovereignty of God.
The mourners now start the second stage of mourning named shivah (seven days) after the period it lasts. During these seven days, none of the mourning family should go to work. The men are not allowed to shave, and should sit on low stools when praying. On Shabbat the following week, the mourning family do not go into the main synagogue sanctuary to take part in the service, but sit outside in the lobby. From this day on until the end of the eleventh month, the male relatives will say Kaddish for the deceased in front of the congregation at every service. The mourning family wear their mourning clothes for thirty days after the funeral. The gravestone is only put up one year after burial. A memorial candle is lit at home every year on the anniversary of a close relative’s death, and burns for twenty-four hours. The grave of the deceased is also visited, Kaddish is said, and a small stone placed on the grave.

Tzedakah box; master's mark: Leo Horovitz, Frankfurt am Main, c. 1910; silver, engraved; loan from I. Bubis

Tzedakah box; master's mark: Leo Horovitz, Frankfurt am Main, c. 1910; silver, engraved; loan from I. Bubis

Calendar of events
February 2018 zurück weiter
* Jewish feasts

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Frankfurt am Main
Last change: 2013, August 02

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