by Rayzel Raphael
For millennia, the Jewish people and other religious groups have marked holy time. They have marked the passage of time with rituals, and have used ceremonies to formally acknowledge life cycle and important events. Rituals help people recognize and sacralize life experiences.
There are the traditional rituals for Shabbat and holidays, and life cycle. Yet, in this abundance of ritual, there is a noticeable absence of ceremonies stemming from women’s creative impulses and affirming women’s life experiences.
In the Bible, there are a number of examples of women’s life cycle ceremonies. The story of Hannah (Samuel 1:21-28) illustrates a woman’s weaning ritual. The women of the community go to lament the daughter of Yiftach (Judges 11:34-40) each year. A red thread is wound around a newborn (Genesis 38:28). Today we live in an atypical era with a lack of these types of women’s ceremonies. We feel the cravings in our souls. The forces of modernity and the predominantly (male) secular culture have obliterated the existence of authentic women’s rites.
Today as women’s status and power grow, women are reclaiming the right to ritualize their own life experience. The ceremonies are created as the need arises. Rituals are developed in response to life’s dramatic moments, such as reaching a 60th birthday, an adoption, a breast reduction, a miscarriage or menopause. Each of these contains a component for healing, to process the trauma or the complexity of the situation, and to acknowledge both the grief and joy each moment holds. What makes them authentic?—discovering, creating and sanctifying the holy moments of our lives; marking the loss and gain of the moment; recognizing the Divinity in each day.
There are many new, creative options to mark formerly private or unacknowledged moments. With a trained guide or spiritual counsel, each woman can create her own ceremony as needed. Women have produced powerful healing rituals for menopause, infertility, abortion, surviving breast cancer and, of course, joyous rituals for occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries are also prevalent. What healing ritual might we add to our lives? The options are as varied and limitless as women themselves.
Rabbi Rayzel Raphael is an “unorthodox” rabbi in private practice in the Philadelphia area. She serves as spiritual leader at Darkaynu in Warrington, an independent Jewish community. She counsels couples for weddings, families for bar/bat mitzvahs and helps individuals create their own healing rituals. For more information, visit Shechinah.com.