Monday, May 14, 2012

Birthing Rituals in Traditional Judaism: A Guide for Birth Professionals

Welcome to Childbirth Today's 2012 Blog Carnival - honoring the busy month of May and all of the celebrations of midwives, nurses, doulas and childbirth educators...AND mothers!  Today's blog carnival entry features a post by Jodi Green MSW, MAJS, CD(DONA), DaL of Bridgeport Connecticut as she shares traditional Jewish birth rituals. 

Birth is a blessed event.  Judaism places a high value on children and every family should aim to “be fruitful and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28).  With that in mind traditional Judaism has a religious framework to guide a couple in their family planning.  The set of laws most applicable are the Laws of Family Purity.
When a married woman menstruates, or has any uterine bleeding, husband and wife separate and will have limited to no physical contact.  During this time the relationship focuses on verbal communication rather than physical.  Seven days following the end of her flow, she will immerse in the mikvah, or ritual bath, thereby ritually purifying her soul and allowing the couple to resume their physical relationship.  While visiting the mikvah is about a woman’s relationship with G-d, it is hard to ignore that by the time she goes to the mikvah, she is around the time of ovulation.  When a couple reunites, they may conceive. 

If a baby is conceived then she does not need to visit the mikvah during her pregnancy as long as she has no spotting.  At the end of nine months, when her bloody show occurs or at some point in her labor if it has not yet occurred, husband and wife will once again separate and will have no physical contact.  Many traditional couples will hire a doula just for this reason.  Any woman attendant would not be held to the family purity laws as they are only for the married couple.  She can assist the mother in any way needed and is generally seen as a critical support person.  While her husband can be in the room and can speak to her, offering words of encouragement, he cannot be a physical support to her.  A doula can fill that role.  A doula who is versed in the Laws of Family Purity is an asset to couple as she understands how the couple will and will not interact during the birth and will know that her husband may step out of the room to say certain prayers, may stay until pushing begins and then leave, or may stay throughout the birth but will probably not watch the birth itself, but instead stand near his wife’s head and encourage her. 

He may or may not accompany her in the operating room if a Cesarean section is required.  At any point during the labor, he may desire a phone consultation with his Rabbi so he can be as involved as possible while still being true to his faith.  Traditional couples take these laws very seriously and the woman will want her husband to adhere to the laws even if it means a further separation from her.

After the baby is born, traditional couples will not announce the baby’s name.  A formal naming will happen in their synagogue if the baby is a girl or the naming will be part of the brit milah or bris (ritual circumcision)  Regardless of your feelings about circumcision, this a tradition that is thousands of years old and is the way a baby boy is welcomed into the religion.  Respect for the tradition is of utmost importance for the birth professional. 

There are few other things to know about attending tradition Jewish couples during birth.  First, never congratulate a Jewish couple on the pregnancy.  Instead say B’sha’a Tova, or “in a good time.”  The congratulations are reserved for after the birth.  The Hebrew expression is Mazel Tov!  Secondly, the father may pray during the birth.  Try not to interrupt him unless it is critical.  He is doing his part to help his wife have a safe birth.  Thirdly, when the mother is breastfeeding the father may leave the room.  Seeing her naked is not allowed until after she visits the mikvah.  

In summary, always remember is to respect the traditions, ask the couple about anything you are not clear about, and understand that all couples adhere to these laws in varying degrees.  Some may be quite strict and many will not adhere to them at all.  Sometimes just being there with an open heart is enough to put the couple at ease.

About the author:
Jodi P. Green, MSW, MAJS, CD(DONA), DaL, is the owner of CT Birthing Services and a member of WOW: Women of Wellness, a network for prenatal and early family care.  She has been a birth doula for six years and helps moms and couples achieve their birthing goals through comprehensive prenatal meetings, birthing and breastfeeding support, and post partum follow-up.  During prenatal meetings, she aims to listen as much as she talks and wants to understand what is important to each mom/couple.  She is an Observant Jew, and resides in Bridgeport, CT with her husband who is the Cantor of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, and their three boys, one born in a hospital and two born at home.  She can be reached at (203) 505-5795, or at

1 comment:

Keisha said...

Thank you for sharing! Very informative!