A boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah

A boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah


Rites of Passage

From Roman times, a child has been recognised as Jewish if born to a Jewish mother. Generally, if only the child’s father is Jewish, the child is regarded as Jewish only when it formally converts; but some Reform Jews in the USA now recognise the child automatically.

A new-born boy is circumcised eight days after birth, a tradition dating back to Abraham, and additionally is “redeemed” (because it “belongs” to God) at 30 days. There are no equivalent ceremonies for girls, although Reform Judaism has ceremonies of thanksgiving by the mother and blessing of the child.

A boy comes of age at 13, marked by his reading the Torah publicly in synagogue for the first time. This is Bar Mitzvah (“Son of the Commandments”). In recent years, Reform Judaism developed Bat Mitzvah for 12-year-old girls.

Judaism recognises both betrothal and marriage. The former is celebrated by the groom giving the bride-to-be a token (usually a ring) which she accepts in silence; two blessings are spoken and a cup of wine is drunk. Marriage takes place under a canopy with 7 blessings recited; again, the couple shares a glass of wine; the groom traditionally smashes a glass as a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem. Marriage to a non-Jew is discouraged and cannot take place in a synagogue.

Orthodox Judaism insists on burial for the dead, in sacred ground dedicated for that purpose. Soil from Israel is often thrown into the grave. Reform traditions allow cremation. The next-of-kin observe mourning rites for a period after the death.


The Chaplaincy to the University of Glamorgan provides the following information from its own researchers. Each page has been checked by the chaplaincy advisor from the relevant faith group. Within every major religion, there are differences of opinion between leaders, and between leaders and followers. We only aim to provide an overview.