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40 years of active presence

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    RELIGIOUS LIFE the cycle of life – part b

    The purpose of marriage was always to produce children. For forty days following a birth, the new mother and her newborn child were protected from evil spirits, especially from Lilith, with various customs and talismans to ward them off. In the Romaniote community of Ioannina, as in every traditional community, the birth of a boy called for a great celebration. His circumcision, or Berith Milah, took place eight days after his birth and was followed by his naming ceremony. This ceremony takes place in the home, is led by the mohel, and symbolises the confirmation of God’s Covenant with the Jewish people. There was a uniquely Romaniote custom that was observed in Ioannina. It was the writing of the Alef, the certificate of circumcision, which was decorated with wishes and prayers written in beautiful script and served the purpose of a charm for both mother and child as it hung on the wall along with a broad ribbon and florins threaded on strings. The most usual edible treat among Romaniote Jews at the circumcision celebration was the so-called fnaroh, a sweet made of eggs, sugar and honey. A small family celebration would be held at home after the naming ceremony of girls.

    At the age of 13 boys became adults in the eyes of their religion. From that time on they were equal members of the community with responsibility for upholding the Law and also for their own actions. The event was celebrated with a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue. After the ceremony the young ‘men’ were given presents, called tefilin, which would be leather cases containing verses of the Torah, a tallit, or prayer shawl to be worn at the synagogue, a kippah or prayer cap and a siddur or prayer book for everyday use.

    Finally, death is marked by simple preparations in accordance with Hebrew law, which are undertaken by the Hevra Kedoshah, a Holy Brotherhood of a voluntary and honorary nature. The close family observes a seven-day period of mourning, called the shivah. A candle lit in memory of the deceased in the home of the mourners is kept burning for a whole year.

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