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November 25, 1983 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

6 Friday, November 25, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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Medieval Circumcision Customs
Were Linked to Christian Rites

By JOSEPH GUTMANN
(Editor's note: This ar-
ticle is excerpted from a
lengthy book chapter on
"Christian Influences on
Jewish Customs" written
by Dr. Gutmann, who is
professor of art and art
history at Wayne State
University.)
Jewish involvement with
Catholic German society
roughly between the 12th
and 15th Centuries, as seen
in its life cycle ceremonies,
reveals a distinct pattern
that inextricably testifies to

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the complex interrelation-
ship of Ashkenazi Jews with
their medieval German
Christian neighbors.
Jews shared not only
Christian fears and an-
xieties, but also Christian
folk life, superstitions, and
customs which were ingeni-
ously adapted and trans-
formed for Jewish use.
Although circumcision is
one of the oldest and most
sacred Jewish rites —
marking the entry of the
male child into the covenant
of Abraham on the eighth
day after birth — several
customs introduced - by
medieval German Jews
were originally connected
with the sacrament of bap-
tism.
The shifting of the
Jewish ceremony from
the home to the syna-
gogue during the gaonic
(post-talmudic) period
helped expedite this pro-
cess.
From the time the Jewish
child was born until the cir-
cumcision ceremony, it was
deemed necessary in
medieval Germany to
safeguard the child against
demons, especially the
female demon Lilith, to
whom popular belief attri-
buted an eagerness to harm
the mother and the child. To
ward off her evil influence,
talismans and amulets were
hung on the child and
placed around a room of the
woman in childbed.
Anxiety was at its height
on the eve of the circumci-
sion day. This night was
considered the most
dangerous time of all, since

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it was believed that demons
and evil spirits would make
a final concerted effort to in-
jure mother and child. To
protect both mother and
child, a night vigil was in-
stituted in the Middle Ages.
This medieval Jewish
vigil was popularly known
as
Wachnacht
(night
watch). Relatives and
friends gathered in the
home to study (lernen) and
recite prayers during the
night so that the child
would not be bewitched (be-
nommen) or hurt; popular
belief held that Brit Mila
(the covenant of circumci-
sion) ended the power of all
evil spirits and demons.
A related ceremony
was employed by Ger-
man Christians the night
before baptism, as they
too believed that the
power of evil spirits and
demons held over mother
and child was broken
only with baptism.
Three days prior to cir-
cumcision it was customary,

expecially in the Rhineland,
to call out in the streets "Zu
der Judsch Kerz" (to the cir-
cumcision candle) in order
to summon Jewish women
to the house of the woman in
childbed. Assembled there,
they would usually prepare
12 small candles and one
large candle, all to be lit in
the synagogue during the
circumcision ceremony.
The 12 small candles
symbolized the 12 tribes of
Israel; the large candle was
called ner tamid (eternal
light). Among Christians, it
was also customary to light
12 small candles and one
large candle — in connec-
tion with Baptism. Here, of
course, the 12 symbolized
the 12 apostles and the
large one stood for Jesus.
Similarly, the child was
brought into the synagogue
through a special door,
known as Judsch Tirchen
(circumcision door) — while
a special church door was
also employed for the Chris-
tian sacrament of baptism.

Reconstructionist Body Issues
Guidelines on Intermarriage

PHILADELPHIA — Rec- Jewish spouses, especially
ognizing that rabbinic and when they express a desire
communal condemnations to maintain a Jewish
are no longer realistic home."
methods of slowing the
The guidelines state
trend toward intermar- that Reconstructionist
riage, the Reconstructionist rabbis should reach out
Rabbinical Association to intermarried couples
(RRA) passed "Guidelines that families both before
on Intermarriage," a docu- and following the mar-
ment outlining the RRA's riage. This would en-
philosophy on the issue.
courage them to pursue
The guidelines, which their identification with
were approved at the RRA's Judaism, their involve-
annual convention this past ment with the Jewish
March following almost community and their ob-
three years of debate, have servance of Jewish prac-
been released publicly and tices.
appear in the November
The RRA guidelines also
1983 issue of the "Recon- note that when mixed
structionist" magazine.
couples approach rabbis to
According to Rabbi Jacob officiate at wedding cere-
Staub, chairperson of the monies, rabbis should be
RRA committee on inter- more sensitive to the needs
marriage, "Jewish life of such couples, avoiding
flourishes best in families short, negative responses to
where both parents are such requests. The
committed Jews. However, guidelines suggest that a
our commitment to this rabbi who is convinced of a
ideal should not cause us to couple's sincere commit-
alienate the increasingly ment to establishing a
significant numbers of Jewish home and to raising
Jewish men and women children as Jews should be
who are choosing non- as supportive as possible.

Photos Depicting Jewish Life
in Russia Sought by YIVO

NEW YORK — The
YIVO Institute for Jewish
Research has embarked on
a project to collect and
catalogue photographs de-
picting Russian Jewish life
and culture.
The institute recently
completed a similar project
on Jewish history in Poland,
which led to a traveling
exhibition, book and film,
all entitled "Image Before
My Eyes: A Photographic
History of Jewish Life in Po-
land 1864-1939."
Organizers of the project
say they are seeking mate-
rials from the general pub-
lic related to all aspects and
eras of Russian-Jewish life.

Photographs from before
and immediately after the
Russian Revolution and
from World War II are par-
ticularly needed, according
to Marek Web, chief ar-
chivist at the institute.
To make a contribution to
the project or for informa-
tion, contact the YIVO In-
stitute, 1048 Fifth Ave.,
New York, N.Y. 10028.

The Star of David was
first used as an official
Jewish symbol by the
Jewish community of
Prague in the 17th Century.
It appeared as the official
seal of the community and
on printed prayer books.

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