Rethinking the Jewish Life Cycle: From Birth to Death
Celebration of life-cycle events must now be rethought because of the Shoah, not so much for the specific manner in which they are celebrated, but for the rationale behind their celebration. For some among us, no longer can this or that life-cycle event be celebrated or sanctified for the historically traditional reasons previously supplied. Though the actual practices themselves may not vary one iota from previous patterns of behavior, the "whys" and "wherefores" in light of the Shoah now demand a degree of intellectual consistency, coupled with theological integrity, not necessarily required in Judaism's and Christianity's long past. No longer can the ritual of Brith Milah, the "covenant of circumcision" of an eight-day-old Jewish boy, for example, now be understood as his parents' entering that infant into a covenant directly with God, when some among those already committed to that covenant realized its impotence throughout Nazi-occupied Europe and transmitted such, oft-times not in words but in feelings and expressions, to their offspring and beyond. To continue such notions only perpetuates the pain. New words are needed to address new realities; if not new words, then new interpretations of old words, not for all, but certainly for those among us for whom the old ways can no longer be maintained or resurrected because of the historically traditional reasons previously given.
The life's journey shared by all humanity, regardless of faith community, is the same. What separates us from the lowered ordered species of the animal kingdom is our ability to "mark the moments" of the journey in celebration or in sorrow. It is, therefore, to the enduring credit of all historic faith communities, and evidence of their continuing genius, that the carefully crafted rituals and ceremonies created for these moments have found responsive audiences in their communities, despite specifically changing practices over the course