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The Jewish Life Cycle

rites of passage from biblical to modern times

Ivan G. Marcus

Publication Year: 2013

This original and sweeping review of Jewish culture and history examines how and why various rites and customs celebrating stages of the life cycle have evolved through the ages and persisted to this day.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

At the invitation of the University of Washington, I delivered the Samuel and Althea Stroum Lecture in April and May 1998. I want to thank Robert Stacey for the invitation, and my host, Naomi Sokoloff, and her colleagues for ten enjoyable and memorable...

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pp. 3-29

This book is a comprehensive guide to Jewish rites of passage that mark off special days of the individual’s life. Here I explore the many collective meanings that Jews assigned to these events throughout history. It is written for the general reader and for the scholar. In scope and design, it is meant...

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1. Birth, “Bris,” Schooling

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pp. 30-81

In the Hebrew Bible, fertility is a blessing, and barrenness a problem that requires divine assistance. In the Code of Hammurabi and rabbinic Judaism, barrenness was a justification for a man to divorce his wife and take another.1 In narratives such as the birth of Isaac to Sarah...

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2. Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation

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pp. 82-123

Twenty, not thirteen, marks a biblical Israelite male’s time of maturity, responsibility, and adulthood.1 Even after the rabbis introduced age thirteen for the first time, along with signs of physical maturity, twenty continued to be significant as the minimum age for buying and selling...

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3. Engagement, Betrothal, Marriage

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pp. 124-192

When we consider a wedding today, we usually think of a public ceremony as a transition when a man and woman leave their childhood homes or singles pads and join together to form a new family unit, first as a couple, and later as parents. More realistically, a couple that has been living together for some...

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4. Aging, Dying, Remembering

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pp. 193-248

The recognition of death is universal, but each culture interprets and mediates it in unique ways accompanied by many types of rituals. It is a personal event, and it is also a profoundly social and cultural moment that expresses the fundamental values and beliefs of a community. The rituals of death...

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pp. 249-253

As we have seen, the Jews have developed a rich variety of life cycle ceremonies. The Jewish life cycle contains powerful rites that have shaped Jewish lived experience for centuries and been modified by it. Some, like infant male circumcision, began in biblical times and were renewed...


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pp. 255-259


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pp. 261-300


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pp. 301-345


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pp. 347-370

E-ISBN-13: 9780295803920
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295984414

Publication Year: 2013