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40 years of active presence

Sunday, October 1, 2023

    RELIGIOUS LIFE the cycle of life – part a

    The Jewish identity is kept alive through specific customs pertaining to the three most important milestones in the lives of people in the community; marriage, birth and death.

    The Romaniote Jews of Ioannina maintained the demographic balance of their community by upholding strict customs regarding intermarriage which also applied to nearby communities like those of Trikala, Preveza and Corfu until the mid 20th century. In the 19th century marriages had often been arranged by young people’s parents, while until 1940 marriages made through a matchmaker were more common, with lots of comings and goings between the homes of the future bride and groom. As well as a sum of money, the dowry would include everything that necessary to set up a new household, and these things would be displayed at the bride’s home on the Thursday before the wedding. The reading of the wedding contract, or ketubbah, was a very important moment in any Jewish wedding. The document was drawn up by special assessors and as well as giving a detailed description and evaluation of the dowry, it also made a clear statement of the marital duties of each spouse.

    It was also customary for the bride and groom to exchange presents. The bride was usually given a long gold chain. Weddings took place within the first two weeks of the lunar month when the moon was waxing, but not during important religious feasts. The bride-to-be had a ritual bath, called a mikva, on the day before the wedding. It was one of the most important obligations a woman had because it left her spiritually cleansed and pure. Romaniote homes in Ioannina often had a cistern in the basement which served as a bath, or mikva. Weddings took place in the synagogue and were usually held on Sunday afternoons. The couple stood under a huppah, a canopy made of white cloth or a tallit stretched over four poles, symbolising the new household and the sacred roof.

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