Children and Rituals in Early Modern Ashkenaz
Abstract

The study of rituals has been the focus of anthropologists and historians for a long time. Scholars from both disciplines, among others, acknowledge the importance of rituals and celebrations of life cycle events and festivals to all societies. Nevertheless, scholars have given little attention, if any, to the participation of children in rituals. This article describes and analyzes the role of children in rituals and life cycle events in Jewish communities of early modern Europe. It reveals the important role children took in these events and their necessity to the conduct of certain rituals. In the article I examine two types of events: “rituals of childhood,” in which the rituals were enacted upon children, and other rituals and life cycle events in which children took part to various degrees. Both types of rituals serve to manifest the important and central role of children in early modern Ashkenazic society as a whole, and reveal much about the understanding of children and the concept of childhood, educational methods, gender roles, and the connections between family and community.


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