A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth

A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth

A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth

A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth

Synopsis

Psychologist Michele Klein's book, unlike any other book on childbirth, drawers on prayers, folktales, folk remedies, Jewish mystical literature and many historical and religious documents to explore childbirth in a Jewish context. Expecting parents, grandparents, Jewish community workers, even obstetricians and midwives will find the book a helpful and informative one about Jewish attitudes, customs and hopes during this special time.

Excerpt

The birth of a child is not necessarily a mere physiological sequence initiated by sexual intercourse and culminating in birth. It is a long process that can have religious and spiritual significance for those involved, whether or not they adhere to a religious tradition. There is something wondrous about the kicks a pregnant woman feels in her belly, and about the first cry that turns the newborn from blue to pink. There is something miraculous about how a sperm merges with an ovum to grow into a full fledged baby and eventually into an intelligent, thinking human being. However much is explained by microscopic cameras and genetic codes, the birth of a child makes one realize the existence in our universe of a power, or even a world, beyond our understanding. Judaism calls this power "God." Childbirth is the prerequisite for perpetuating God's world. In this sense, it is religiously significant. In Jewish tradition, fertility is a divine blessing and God is a partner in conception, supervising pregnancy and the safe arrival of a child. Childbirth is a spiritual experience for those who recognize this partnership. In addition, the birth of a child is significant for Jews not only as individuals, but also as a people, because the arrival of a new child promises their continuity.

HOW THE PROJECT BEGAN

The idea for this book came to me as my neighbor and I were discussing our recent experiences of childbirth. Both of us had given birth a few months earlier, each to our third child, and we were discussing the emotions of our pregnancies. My neighbor pointed out that the books she had read about pregnancy and the medical treatment she had received had ignored this aspect of her pregnancy. We agreed that most contemporary, nonreligious childbirth literature makes no mention of the mystical experiences aroused by the discovery of having conceived, by feeling the baby kick, by holding the baby for the first time in our arms, or at any or every other moment in the childbearing process. I then realized that most of the Jewish literature on childbirth similarly ignores the emotional and spiritual aspects of this process.This literature is mainly in the Orthodox domain, concerned with the Jewish laws regarding pregnancy and birth. This is not what I, my neighbor, or the large percentage of Jewish parents who do not adhere to halakhah (Jewish Law) relate to when thinking about childbirth. Nor do the many books on Jewish ethnography and folklore go into much detail on childbearing other than the topic of circumcision, which is amply documented. For these reasons, I resolved to explore in depth the emotions, beliefs, customs, and traditions of childbirth among Jews.

INTERVIEWEES

I set out to research the attitudes toward childbirth held by Jewish women and men, born in all corners of the Jewish Diaspora and in Israel, as well as their family customs and community traditions, by interviewing two hundred people--pregnant women, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and elderly midwives--living in Israel.

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