By April 9, 2008 Read More →

Life Cycle

Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991.

Besides marriage and the attendant aspects of ritual purity, birth, puberty, and death
were also dealt with in the halakhic system. From biblical times on the newborn Jewish
boy was ushered into the Jewish people through the covenant of circumcision at the age
of eight days. This rite distinguished the Jews in the Greco-Roman world, according to
numerous pagan sources. Accordingly it was a requirement for conversion to Judaism.
The detailed laws regarding the performance of circumcision are spelled out in tannaitic
and amoraic sources. They are designed to ensure the procedure’s safety and its
performance in accord with the legal requirements. Circumcision is a commandment
which the father is obligated to perform for his son. By tannaitic times, specially trained
personnel were performing the ritual, but this development may have taken place earlier.
Circumcisions were accompanied by festive parties and special benedictions. In Seleucid
and again in Roman times, when circumcision was briefly outlawed for anti-Semitic
reasons, Jews risked their lives to fulfill this commandment.

Although Second Temple sources indicate that twenty was the age of majority among
some groups, the tannaim selected the onset of puberty, which they took to be twelve
years and a day for girls (bat mitzvah, literally “daughter of the commandment”) and
thirteen and a day for boys (bar mitzvah, “son of the commandment”), as the minimum
age for the obligation to perform the commandments. From this point on the child was
obligated to observe all the commandments. According to the tannaim, a small number of
commandments were obligatory even for children, but the amoraim saw these as
involving the parent’s obligation to educate the child. (The celebrations associated with
reaching the age of religious majority did not exist until much later.)

Tannaitic Judaism also sought to codify the various aspects of the end of life in this
world. Although the Bible provides little direct legislation in this area, the tannaim were
able to glean certain details, no doubt with the help of ancient customs. They required
that the body be washed and buried within three days. There were two forms of burial. In
one, the body was laid to rest in a hollowed-out niche where it remained for the first year.
Thereafter, the bones were gathered and reinterred in an ossuary. This procedure gave
rise to the celebration of the anniversary of the passing of close relatives. The second
method was direct burial in an ossuary. From the Bible the rabbis learned of seven-day
and thirty-day mourning periods. The tannaim ruled that a seven-day period of intense
mourning and a thirty-day period of lesser mourning must be observed following the
death of one’s parent, sibling, or child. A full year of mourning was required for parents.
Amoraic sources clarify many details of these rites, but their basis clearly rests in the
tannaitic period. From the amoraim we learn that Jewish tradition regarded the human
body as the repository of a God-given soul, and hence as possessing great sanctity. Over
and over the rabbis speak of the burial of the dead and the comforting of the mourners as
among the greatest o commandments.

Posted in: Uncategorized

Comments are closed.