A big part of Judaism are the customs and traditions that bring families and communities together. Whether happy, sad, or a mixture of both, the occasions and events that mark the Jewish Lifecycle are important elements of both the spiritual and communal traditions of the Jewish faith.

Here is a brief overview of the moments marked in the Jewish lifecycle, and how death and mourning fit into this circle of life. Having an understanding of how each occasion is marked can help those in the deathcare industry better support families.

Birth: Bris and Baby Naming

When a baby of Jewish faith is born, there are two ceremonies that commonly occur.

The first is the Bris, or brit milah, which is the Jewish ceremony in which a baby boy is circumcised. The bris commonly occurs on the baby’s eighth day of life, and the circumcision is performed by a mohel – someone who is trained to perform a bris.

A baby naming is a brief ceremony during which the baby – boy or girl – receives their given Hebrew name. While the Hebrew name may be chosen based on its similarity to the English name, babies are often given Hebrew names of direct descendants. Ashkenazi Jews (those of European ancestry) may select a name that commemorates a deceased relative of the baby, while Sephardic Jews (those of Spanish and Middle Eastern ancestry) may name their baby after living relatives.

Coming of Age: Mitzvahs

When a boy or girl of the Jewish faith comes of age, they may mark this occurrence by having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Bar/Bat Mitzvah means “son of” or “daughter of mitzvah,” and is seen as a commandment from God.

While in Jewish tradition, boys become bar mitzvah at 13 and girls become bat mitzvah at 12, it is common in modern times for girls to have their bat mitzvah when they are 13 as well. Mitzvah ceremonies are traditionally marked by a child being called to the Torah, but also often include elements of Tzedakah, or taking care of the community.


A Jewish wedding is considered to be a joining of two families. While every family celebrates differently, there are some common elements that are often weaved throughout Jewish ceremonies. They include:

  • Chuppah: The bride and groom stand under a wedding canopy, which symbolizes the new Jewish home being created by the marriage.
  • Ketubah: A Jewish marriage contract, which outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. Often the family holds a Ketubah signing ceremony prior to the wedding.
  • Walking in circles: A custom in which the bride circles the groom seven times, symbolizing the creation of a new family circle and forming a “wall” of protection for the groom. It is becoming more common for the bride and groom to circle each other three times, and then complete the last circle together.
  • Drinking from a glass of wine: The bride and groom drink from a Kiddush cup filled with wine after a blessing has been said by a relative, friend, or the officiate.
  • Covered in tallit: During the final blessings, the bride and groom’s parents may wrap the tallit around the couple’s shoulders as a symbol of unity and love.
  • Stepping on glass: At the end of the wedding ceremony either the bride or groom (most commonly the groom) steps on glass as a reminder of the destruction of the Jewish temples.

Funeral and Remembrance

Just as with any other lifecycle event, Jewish families may have different beliefs, customs, and preferences when it comes to honoring and memorializing the dead. However, in Jewish tradition, there are certain elements that are commonly seen during this time.

The rituals and customs for Jewish burials provide that the body is buried in a plain and unordained wooden casket. According to Jewish law, the body is washed and not embalmed.

A traditional Jewish funeral service usually takes place in a synagogue or funeral home as soon as possible with a closed casket. The service is led by a rabbi and typically lasts between 15 minutes and an hour. It usually includes prayers; reading of psalms; a eulogy given by a family member, friend, or rabbi; and a traditional closing prayer.

At the graveside of a Jewish funeral, it is a common tradition for the mourners and friends to participate in the actual burial. Today, many people place a few shovels of soil onto the casket to symbolically follow this tradition.

After a Jewish funeral occurs, the immediate family, considered the mourners, begins sitting shiva. Shiva means "seven," and is a seven-day mourning period that is observed. The family remains at home, in a shiva house; prayers, including the Mourner's Kaddish, are recited; and traditional mourning practices, customs, and rituals are followed.

Jewish life is centered around the cycle of life, and therefore, marking these occasions helps bind the Jewish community together, and bring a sense of meaning and purpose to one’s life – and to their death.

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