Jewish Families, Children and Bar Mitzvahs

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20120505-Passover Preparing_fishes_for_Passover.jpg
Preparing fishes for Passover
The family is the most important social unit in Judaism. Most important Jewish festivals are celebrated at home not in the synagogue.

Judaism is essentially a patriarchal religion. Senior males have traditionally exercised authority over women and children. Although a Jew is defined as a child of a Jewish mother they have traditionally been described as the sons and daughters of their fathers, i.e. “Isaac son of Abraham “ or “Dinah daughter of Jacob.”

Membership to the Jewish community has traditionally been determined by whether or not the mother was Jewish and was passed down over the generations along matrilineal lines. Among American Reformed Jews’since 1983 — patrilineal descent is also recognized.

The nuclear family is the main domestic unit. In Israel in the 1980s, the average family size was 4.7 among Jews of Oriental origin, versus 2.8 for Ashkenazim. Extended kin groups based on descent are not important among Jewish Israelis. Kinship is bilateral. Remnants of other patterns—for example, patronymic kin groups ( hamula pl. hamulot )—can be found in some moshav communities settled by North African Jews. Kin terms conform to Western (cognatic) systems, translated appropriately into Hebrew. Inheritance, like all matters of personal-status law in Israel, falls for Jews under the jurisdiction of rabbinical courts that apply (sometimes controversially) rabbinic law. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures]

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; ; Jewish Museum London

Jewish Laws Regarding Family

Inheritance in Jewish law favors males. Traditionally, sons and their descendants inherited from their fathers; daughters only inherited when there were no sons. A husband can inherit from a wife but a wife can not inherit from her husband’s estate. If a man has no children his brothers inherited his estate. The first born son has traditionally received double what other sons received.

Hasidic family in Brooklyn
Mitzvot (Jewish Laws) related to Family according to Maimonides, the 11th Century Jewish Thinker
P210 — Honoring parents
P211 — Fearing parents
P212 — Be fruitful and multiply
P213 — The law of marriage
P214 — Bridegroom devotes himself to his wife for one year
P215 — Circumcising one's son
P216 — Law of the Levirite Marriage
P217 — Law of Chalitzah
P218 — A violator must marry the maiden he has violated
P219 — The law of the defamer of his bride
P220 — The law of the seducer
P221 — The law of the captive woman
P222 — The law of divorce
N318 — Not cursing parents
N319 — Not smiting parents

In the old days, corporal punishment, including bastinado (feet whipping), was used in schools. Sometimes fathers took their children to teachers to discipline them. Girls were disciplined at home by their parents and older siblings. Sons traditionally kissed their fathers on the hand.

Paul Mendes-Flohr wrote in the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: Although the Bible sanctions polygamy, the ideal marriage, as projected by the story of Adam and Eve, is monogamous. To marry and to bear children are supreme religious and social values in Judaism. As the rabbis observe, the first commandment issued by God was addressed to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply …" (Gen. 1:28). But God created Eve as Adam's companion, not only as a partner for procreation. Male and female are bonded in companionship in order to create a family, to become husband and wife as well as father and mother to their common offspring. Marriage is thus regarded as a covenant. Indeed, the union of man and wife often serves as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel. Divorce is permitted by Jewish law, although a rabbinical court sanctions divorce only if it is convinced that the breakdown in the marriage is beyond repair. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

Jewish Rites of Passage

For Jews, the cycle of life within the Jewish community has been marked by certain rites of passage that marked certain period in their lives. These included birth, maturity into an adult, marriage, raising a family and death, which are all addressed in uniquely Jewish ways. According to Talmudic tradition girls reach maturity and achieve the status of full religious responsibility at the age of twelve years and one day; boys, thirteen years and one day.

Paul Mendes-Flohr wrote in the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: Eight days after birth a Jewish boy is received into the covenant of Abraham through the rite of circumcision (Brit Milah). Conservative and Reform Jews have introduced a parallel ceremony for girls, without circumcision, called Brit ha-Bat (covenant for a daughter). A male convert to Judaism undergoes circumcision, followed by immersion in a ritual bath (mikveh), while the conversion of a woman is marked by a ritual bath only. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13, marking the beginning of puberty, he is held be intellectually and spiritually ready to assume full responsibility for his actions and hence obliged to observe all of the commandments of the Torah. He is thus said to be "bar mitzvah," that is, a "son of the commandment." Until contemporary times no special ceremony was held to celebrate girls achieving full religious responsibility. Increasingly, however, many congregations, especially those associated with Reform and Conservative movements, have introduced a ceremony for girls, called bat mitzvah,

Reform Judaism has introduced the rite of confirmation as supplementary to the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. Whereas the latter mark a technical change in status, confirmation, which is preceded by an extended and systematic study of Judaism, is held to reflect knowledge and thus a deepened sense of personal commitment. The rite, generally a group ceremony for boys and girls who have reached the age of 15, is usually part of the Shabuoth service.

See Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitvzah Below

Jewish Baby Rites

Father and siblings of the famous rabbi Yosef Ovadia

According to the BBC: “Like some other religions, Jewish baby rites differ for male and female babies. Any child born to a Jewish mother is considered a Jew. A Jewish girl does not have to go through the same initiation ceremony as a baby boy. The Brit Milah (circumcision ceremony) is an important initiation rite for young Jewish boys. [Source: BBC, July 24, 2009 |::|]

“Circumcision is a religious obligation on Jews recalling the covenant that God made with Abraham. Ordinarily circumcision ceremonies take place when the child is eight days old but it can be delayed for medical reasons. The Brit Milah is usually attended by men. The child is placed on the lap of a male friend or relative who has the honour of being the Sandek. He has the responsibility of holding the child still whilst the circumcision is performed by a Mohel. |::|

“Naming the baby: Baby boys are also given their names at their circumcisions; it is customary to keep the name a secret before the ceremony. It is traditional for the child to receive his or her name at the first public gathering, so if the child is a girl, then she will be named at the first public reading of the Torah at the Synagogue. There are other Jewish traditions but these are more to do with superstition than having any real religious significance; for example pregnant women must not visit cemeteries.” |::|

Biblical-Era Firstborn Son Ceremony

In 2021, an ancient ceremony was performed on the great grandson of a well-know Hasidic rabbi. Associated Press reported: Shortly after sundown, Yaakov Tabersky presented his firstborn son on a silver platter to a Jewish priest in a ceremony harking back to the biblical exodus from Egypt. “The ceremony, known as “pidyon ha-ben,” or redemption of the firstborn, was held in an ultra-Orthodox community in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. The ceremony had added significance because the baby is the great-grandchild of Aharon Biderman, the chief rabbi of the Lelov Hassidic dynasty. [Source: Associated Press, September 20, 2021]

“Firstborn sons originally made up the priesthood of the ancient Israelites. As described in the Book of Exodus, they were spared from the final plague brought upon the pharaoh, in which God was said to have wiped out the firstborn sons of Egypt, an event commemorated every spring at Passover. However, the Jewish firstborn later lost that privilege when the Israelites joined in the worship of a golden calf, after being delivered from Egypt, in defiance of the prohibition against idolatry. The priesthood was then transferred to the descendants of the prophet Aaron, who did not participate. Tradition holds that Jews should redeem their firstborn sons to a kohen, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron.

“The ceremony is held 30 days after the birth of the mother's first son and accompanied by a festive meal attended by family and friends. Participants dress in their finest attire and adorn the baby with jewelry to celebrate the blessing. The rite is mainly observed by the ultra-Orthodox. The father presents the baby on a silver platter to the kohen, symbolically returning his firstborn son to God. The kohen then offers to accept five silver coins instead of the child, and once the payment is made the son is redeemed. The kohen then raises a glass of wine and recites a prayer.


Bar Mitzvah in the Western Wall tunnel
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the double layer of skin and mucosal tissue covering the end of the penis, which is referred to as the foreskin or prepuce. The foreskin protects the penis and has a sensory and sexual role. In a hospital-performed circumcision, an infant’s legs and arms are restrained in a special chair; the penile area is cleaned and an anesthesia is injected into the end of the penis; a clamp or plastic ring is s attached to the penis; and the foreskin is cut away. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes. Afterwards, petroleum jelly is applied to the wound and the penis is wrapped in gauze and heals in between a week and 10 days.

Jews and Muslims have traditionally practiced circumcision but Christians traditionally have not (although many Christians are now circumcised in Western countries for “health” reasons). Circumcision among Jews is performed eight days after birth. For most Muslims it is kind of coming of age right generally performed when a boy is six or seven, and is usually done at least before the onset of puberty. In a few Muslim communities it is done shortly before marriage. But not all Jews and Muslim practice the practice. There is even a group in the U.S. called Jews Against Circumcision.

Bar Mitzvah

At the age of 13 Jewish boys are initiated into the adult world and declared a “bar-mitzvah” (“son of the commandment:), which means they are old enough to accept responsibility for obeying the commandments and becomes a full-fledged member of the synagogue and Jewish community. The event’s central moment is when the boy called to read Hebrew texts from a Torah scroll during the Sabbath morning service. To do this takes a lot of studying and preparation.

Age of 13 marks the beginning of puberty for a Jewish boy. According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: He is held be intellectually and spiritually ready to assume full responsibility for his actions and hence obliged to observe all of the commandments of the Torah.

The bar mitzvah ritual has it origins in the Zohar, a foundational work of Kabbalistism (mystical Judaism) written in the 13th century. The word bar means "son," and in both Hebrew and Aramaic, the word mitzvah means "commandment," For many boys the bar mitzvah period is simply a time when they have to memorize a bunch of Hebrew passages they don’t understand, get a sort of glorified birthday party and hopefully get a lot of cash and presents.

Bar Mitzvah Ceremony

Bar Mitzvah Party
On the Sabbath following his 13th birthday a boy is called up to read publicly the proper passage from the Torah, thus becoming bar mitzvah. From that time on, he is obliged to fulfill all the commandments. Although this status is automatically achieved by virtue of age, it is customarily marked by a ceremony held in the synagogue. The boy is called upon to read or chant a passage from the Torah and then a portion of the book of Prophets, determined by the liturgical calendar for that particular day. Often the boy is honored by being invited to deliver a discourse on the passages he has read, thus displaying his intellectual responsibility to be a learned and spiritually conscious Jew. The ceremony is followed by a festive party. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

For their bar mitzvahs, boys rhythmically chant memorized sections of the Torah in Hebrew. The boys sometimes have a tefillin, or phylactery, strapped to their head and bound to one arm with a leather belt . A tefillin is a black leather box with passages from the Torah coiled inside. Jews who wear these ascribe to the command from Exodus: “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

A boy who has been "bar-mitzvahed" can be one of the ten adult men required to be present during a Jewish wedding.

Contemporary bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies can be elaborate and the parties can be full on. These are modern innovation and not required by the Torah. Boys typically recites the blessing over the Torah, chants numerous prayers, and makes a speech that traditionally begins with the words "Today I am a man." It has become common for the Temple service to be followed with a celebration and feast that is as elaborate as that found at weddings.

A bar mitzvah is often celebrated with a big party and the presentation of cash and expensive presents to the boy. Although the boy is now considered an adult the “bar-mitzvah” is only one stage in his development, and his education in Judaism continues after it is over.

Bat Mitzvah

Under Orthodox rules, girls do not undergo a coming of age ceremony because they are not expected to keep the commandments as boys are. The Reform and Conservative presides over bar-mitzvah-like ceremonies for 13-year-old girls in a synagogue. These are called a bat mitzvah (“Daughter of the Commandments”). Sometimes the ritual for boys and girls is called the “b’nai mitzvah” .

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: Girls reach the status of full religious responsibility at the age of 12. Until contemporary times no special ceremony was held to celebrate this. Increasingly, however, many congregations, especially those associated with Reform and Conservative movements, have introduced a ceremony for girls, called bat mitzvah, that replicates bar mitzvah. Most Orthodox congregations, which adhere to the ancient practice of separating the sexes in prayer, object to women reading from the Torah in the synagogue, although they may allow special worship services for women, at which time a bat mitzvah may read from the Torah. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

Bat means "daughter". The bat (or sometimes "bas") mitzvah ceremonies are similar to Christian confirmation ceremonies. Before the age of 13, Jewish children are not required to obey Jewish law, although they are encouraged to do so as much as possible. After reaching 12 they they acquire all the rights of Jewish adults but also have take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Reform Judaism has introduced the rite of confirmation as supplementary to the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. Whereas the latter mark a technical change in status, confirmation, which is preceded by an extended and systematic study of Judaism, is held to reflect knowledge and thus a deepened sense of personal commitment. The rite, generally a group ceremony for boys and girls who have reached the age of 15, is usually part of the Shabuoth service.

High Cost of Jewish Living

Jack Wertheimer wrote in Commentary Magazine: “Adding things up, an actively engaged Jewish family that keeps kosher and sends its three school-age children to the most intensive Jewish educational institutions can expect to spend somewhere between $50,000 and $110,000 a year at minimum just to live a Jewish life... The high cost of Jewish living is evident even from so mundane an item as the grocery bill. Families observing the dietary laws must expect to pay a premium for kosher food. Poultry slaughtered according to Jewish ritual law costs 50 to 100 percent more than its nonkosher equivalent, and when it comes to beef, prices rise by many multiples. Monitoring the spending of an observant family in Houston, a recent CNN report noted the high kosher price differential. Among the anecdotes: a brisket purchased at a kosher store was over seven times more expensive than the same cut of beef at the nearest nonkosher supermarket. Even canned and bottled items sold at many supermarkets can cost several-fold more if they bear a kosher certification on their label. Prices routinely surge around the Jewish holidays, with no time more costly than Passover, an eight-day holiday that can set observant Jews back by many hundreds if not thousands of dollars owing to the numerous dietary practices. [Source: Jack Wertheimer,, March 1, 2010 ^|^]

“Then there are membership fees. Synagogue dues can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $3,000 for the purposes of supporting a staff of professionals and maintaining physical facilities. (Some synagogues set the “suggested dues” for families earning more than $250,000 at $6,000 a year.) In addition, they impose a range of payments to help defray expenses for special programs, school tuition, and building funds. When all was said and done, the Jewish family in Houston featured on CNN expended $3,600 a year at its synagogue, which happens to be Orthodox—the Jewish subgrouping that tends to charge the lowest congregational dues. To this we might add a hidden cost: more traditionally observant Jews must live in easy walking distance of a synagogue because they will not drive on the Sabbath and holidays, precisely the days they are most likely to attend religious services. In a Jewish variation of the first law of real estate—location, location, location—the values of homes near synagogues tend to be more expensive.^|^

Bat Mitzva in Alexandria, Egypt

Father's Admonition: a 12th Century Jewish Ethical Will

The mid-20th-century scholar Jacob Marcus wrote: “Many Jews were in the habit of writing wills, in Hebrew, in which they imparted instruction of an ethical and religious nature to their children and to their descendants. Such ethical testaments were not uncommon among Moslems and Christians at this time. Many of these Jewish ethical wills, such as A Father's Admonition, which follows, are valuable for the insight they give us into the cultural and social life of the individual Jew of some particular land at some specific period. Others, such as the Testament of Eleazar of Mayence [Mainz], are valuable in that they reflect the moral and ethical views of a pious Jew. The texts here are excerpts. [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 309-316. Later printings by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978,]

“The Admonition of Judah ibn Tibbon (1120―about 1190) is thus particularly important because it throws light on the intellectual interests of a cultured Spanish Jew. Judah ibn Tibbon was born in Granada; he migrated to Lunel, in enlightened southern France, probably because of the religious bigotry of the fanatical Moslem Almohades He was the "father of translators" from Arabic into Hebrew His son, Samuel ibn Tibbon (about 1150―about 1230), for whom this lofty yough rather querulous Admonition was written, succeeded in becoming an even greater translator than his father. Samuel's most valuable piece of work is the translation from Arabic into Hebrew of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed.

Father's Admonition: The Ethical Will of Judah ibn Tibbon, France, about 1160―1180: “My son, list to my precepts, neglect none of my injunctions. Set my admonition before your eyes; thus shall you prosper and prolong your days in pleasantness! ....You know, my son, how I swaddled your and brought your up, how I led your in the paths of wisdom and virtue. I fed and clothed your; I spent myself in educating and protecting your. I sacrificed my sleep to make your wise beyond your fellows and to raise your to the highest degree of science and morals. These twelve years I have denied myself the usual pleasures and relaxations of men for your sake, and I still toil for your inheritance. [After the death of his wife the father devoted his time to Samuel, his son.]

“I have honored your by providing an extensive library for your use, and have thus relieved your of the necessity to borrow books. Most students must bustle about to seek books, often without finding them. But you, thanks be to God, lend and borrow not. many books, indeed, you own two or three copies. I have besides made for your books on all sciences, hoping that your hand might find them all as a nest. [The father probably compiled reference books for the use of the son.]

“Seeing that your Creator had graced your with a wise and understanding heart, I journeyed to the ends of the earth and fetched for your a teacher in secular sciences. I minded neither the expense nor the danger of the ways. Untold evil might have befallen me and your on those travels, had not the Lord been with us!

“But you, my son! did deceive my hopes. You did not choose to employ your abilities, hiding yourself from all your books, not caring to know them or even their titles. Had you seen your own books in the hand of others, you would not have recognized them; had you needed one of them, you would not have known whether it was with your or not, without asking me; you did not even consult the catalogue of your library....I enjoin on your, my son, to read this, my testament, once daily, at morn or at eve. Apply your heart to the fulfillment of its behests, and to the performance of all therein written. Then wilt you make your ways prosperous, then shall you have good success.

Advise in Father's Admonition: a 12th Century Jewish Ethical Will

Polish Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur

Father's Admonition: The Ethical Will of Judah ibn Tibbon (about 1160―1180) continues: “Therefore, my son! Stay not your hand when I have left your, but devote yourself to the study of the Torah and to the science of medicine. But chiefly occupy yourself with the Torah, for you have a wise and understanding heart, and all that is needful on your part is ambition and application. I know that you wilt repent of the past, as many have repented before your of their youthful indolence. . .

“Let your countenance shine upon the sons of men; tend their sick and may your advice cure them. Though you take fees from the rich, heal the poor gratuitously; the Lord will requite your. Thereby shall you find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Thus wilt you win the respect of high and low among Jews and non―Jews, and your good name will go forth far and wide You wilt rejoice your friends and make your foes envious. For remember what is written in the Choice of Pearls [53:617, of Ibn Gabirol]l: "How shall one take vengeance on an enemy? By increasing one's own good qualities."....

My son! Examine regularly, once a week, your drugs and medicinal herbs, and do not employ an ingredient whose properties are unknown to your. I have often impressed this on your in vain....My son! I command your to honor your wife to your utmost capacity. She is intelligent and modest, a daughter of a distinguished and educated family. She is a good housewife and mother, and no spendthrift. Her tastes are simple, whether in food or dress. Remember her assiduous tendance of your in your illness, though she had been brought up in elegance and luxury. Remember how she afterwards reared your son without man or woman to help her. Were she a hired nurse, she would have earned your esteem and forbearance; how much the more, since she is the wife of your bosom, the daughter of the great, art you bound to treat her with consideration and respect. To act otherwise is the way of the contemptible. The Arab philosopher [probably Al―Ghazali, 1058―1112] says of women: "None but the honorable honors them, none but the despicable despises them."....

“If you would acquire my love, honor her with all your might; do not exercise too severe an authority over her; our Sages [Gittin 6b] have expressly warned men against this. If you give orders or reprove, let your words be gentle. Enough is it if your displeasure is visible in your look; let it not be vented in actual rage. Let your expenditure be well ordered. It is remarked in the Choice of Pearls [1: 3] "Expenditure properly managed makes half an income." And there is an olden proverb: "Go to bed without supper and rise without debt." Defile not the honor of your countenance by borrowing; may the Creator save your from that habit! ....

“Examine your Hebrew books at every New Moon, the Arabic volumes once in two months, and the bound codices once every quarter. [Arabic and Latin were the languages of science in Spain, the Provence, and southern Italy.] Arrange your library in fair orders so as to avoid wearying yourself in searching for the book you need. Always know the case and the chest where the book should be. A good plan would be to set in each compartment a written list of the books therein contained. If, then, you art looking for a book, you can see from the list the exact shelf it occupies without disarranging all the books in the search for one. Examine the those leaves in the volumes and bundles, and preserve them. These fragments contain very important matters which I collected and copied out. Do not destroy any writing or letter of all that I have left. And cast your eve frequently over the catalogue so as to remember what books are in your library.

“Never intermit your regular readings with your teacher; study in the college of your master on certain evenings before sitting down to: read with the young. Whatever you have learned from me or from your teachers, impart it again regularly to worthy pupils, so that you may retain it, for by teaching it to others you wilt know it by heart, and their questions will compel your to precision, and remove any doubts from your own mind.

“Never refuse to lend books to anyone who has not the means to purchase books for himself, but only act thus to those who can be trusted to return the volumes. [Before the invention of printing each book was written by hand and was therefore expensive.] You know what our sages said in the Talmud, on the text: "Wealth and riches are in his house; and his merit endures for ever." [Ketubot 50a applies this verse, Psalm 112: 3, to one who lends his copies of the Bible.] But, [Proverbs 3:27] "Withhold not good from him to whom it is due," [you owe it to your books to protect them] and take particular care of your books. Cover the bookcases with rugs of fine quality, and preserve them from damp and mice, and from all manner of injury, for your books are your good treasure. If you lend a volume, make a memorandum before it leaves your house, and when it is returned, draw your pen over the entry. Every Passover and Tabernacles [that is, every six months] call in all books out on loan.”

Testament of Eleazar of Mayencel An Ethical Will from 1357

Jacob Marcu wrote: The Testament of Eleazar of Mayence, parts of which follow as the second selection, is the work of the simple and frank German Jew, Eleazar ben Samuel Ha―Levi of Mayence [Mainz], who died in his native city on the first day of the Jewish New Year of 1357. [Source: Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 309-316. Later printings by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978,]

Testament of Eleazar of Mayence, Germany, about 1357: These are the things which my sons and daughters shall do at my request. They shall go to the house of prayer morning and evening, and shall pay special regard to the tefillah [ the "Eighteen Benedictions"] and the shema [Deuteronomy 6:4]. So soon as the service is over, they shall occupy themselves a little with the Torah [the Pentateuch], the Psalms, or with works of charity. Their business must be conducted honestly, in their dealings both with Jew and Gentile. They must be gentle in their manners and prompt to accede to every honorable request. They must not talk more than is necessary; by this will they be saved from slander, falsehood, and frivolity. They shall give an exact tithe of all their possessions: they shall never turn away a poor man empty-handed, but must give him what they can, be it much or little. If he beg a lodging over night, and they know him not, let them provide him with the wherewithal to pay an innkeeper. Thus shall they satisfy the needs of the poor in every possible way....

“If they can by any means contrive it, my sons and daughters should live in communities, and not isolated from other Jews, so that their sons and daughters may learn the ways of Judaism. Even if compelled to solicit from others the money to pay a teacher, they must not let the young of both sexes go without instruction in the Torah. Marry your children, O my sons and daughters, as soon as their age is ripe, to members of respectable families. [Boys of thirteen and girls of twelve were considered ready for marriage.] Let no child of mine hunt after money by making a low match for that object; but if the family is undistinguished only on the mother's side, it does not matter, for all Israel counts descent from the father's side. ...

“I earnestly beg my children to be tolerant and humble to all, as I was throughout my life. Should cause for dissension present itself, be slow to accept the quarrel; seek peace and pursue it with all the vigor at your command. Even if you suffer loss thereby, forbear and forgive, for God has many ways of feeding and sustaining His creatures. To the slanderer do not retaliate with counterattack; and though it be proper to rebut false accusations, yet is it most desirable to set an example of reticence. You yourselves must avoid uttering any slander, for so will you win affection. In trade be true, never grasping at what belongs to another. For by avoiding these wrongs-scandal, falsehood, money―grubbing-men will surely find tranquillity and affection. And against all evils, silence is the best safeguard

“Be very particular to keep your houses clean and tidy. [These ideas are interesting coming from a man who lived through the Black Death of 1349.] I was always scrupulous on this point, for every injurious condition and sickness and poverty are to be found in foul dwellings. Be careful over the benedictions; accept no divine gift without paying back the Giver's part; and His part is man's grateful acknowledgment. [Pay God for His blessings by blessing Him.]..

20120505-Bar_Mitzwa Oscr_Rex_-_.jpg
Bar Mitzva
“On holidays and festivals and Sabbaths seek to make happy the poor, the unfortunate, widows and orphans, who should always be guests at your tables; their joyous entertainment is a religious duty. I et me repeat my warning against gossip and scandal. And as you Speak no scandal, so listen to none; for if there were no receivers there would be no bearers of slanderous tales; therefore the reception and credit of slander is as serious an offense as the originating of it. The less you say, the less cause you give for animosity, while . [Proverbs 10:19] "in the multitude of words there wants transgression ." .

“I beg of you, my sons and daughters, my wife, and all the congregation, that no funeral oration be spoken in my honor. Do carry my body on a bier, but in a coach. Wash me clean, comb my hair, trim my nails, as I was wont to do in my lifetime, so that may go clean to my eternal rest, as I went clean to synagogue every Sabbath―day. If the ordinary officials dislike the duty, let adequate payment be made to some poor man who shall render this service carefully and not perfunctorily. [The dead were washed by Hebra Kaddisha, "Holy Brotherhood"]

“At a distance of thirty cubits from the grave, they shall set my coffin on the ground, and drag me to the grave by a rope attached to the coffin. [This is a symbolic punishment to atone for sins committed during lifetime, and, probably to anticipate the punishment of hell, hibbut ha-keber] Every four cubits they shall stand and wait awhile, doing this in all seven times, so that I may find atonement for my sins. Put me in the ground at the right hand of my father, and if the space be a little narrow I am sure that he loves me well enough to make room for me by his side. If this be altogether impossible put me on his left, or near my grandmother, Yura. Should this also be impractical, let me be buried by the side of my daughter.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine,, London, Library of Congress, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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