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Thread: Jewish Pregnancy Customs

  1. #1

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    Default Jewish Pregnancy Customs

    Ok, I'll post the first thread (I'm not Jewish tho, just curious). I read this recently:

    The following are some other pregnancy and birth related customs which are practiced by various Jewish communities:
    • Some have the custom to keep a pregnancy secret from friends and acquaintances until the onset of the fifth month, unless it becomes plainly apparent... This restriction does not include close family members.
    • Some have the custom for the husband to open the synagogue ark before the Torah reading during the last month of pregnancy. The Zohar says, "When the congregation takes out the Torah Scroll, the Heavenly Gates of Mercy are opened, and G‑d's love is aroused." The husband opening the Gates of Heaven hopefully elicits G‑d's merciful blessing that the birth be easy and without complications.
    • In certain communities it is customary for the pregnant woman to immerse in a mikvah sometime during the ninth month of pregnancy. Speak to your local rebbetzin or "mikvah lady" regarding planning and preparations. It is advisable to consult with your OB/GYN before going to the mikvah.
    • During the term of pregnancy, both mother and father should increase their recitation of Psalms.
      Before going to bed, it is customary for the husband to recite Psalm 20. When finishing, he should repeat the second verse of the Psalm.
    • The home's mezuzahs should be inspected by a scribe during the months of pregnancy. If one does not have mezuzahs on all the home's doorways, now is a great time to purchase new mezuzahs.
    • A pregnant woman should endeavor to be exposed to spiritual and holy sights and sounds. To this end, whenever possible she should avoid gazing at non-kosher animals (trips to the zoo can wait until after birth...) and listening to gossip, slander, or other unsavory talk.
    • In many communities, pregnant woman do not visit cemeteries. Perhaps this is to avoid settings which can lead to negative emotions.
    • There is an ancient custom for the pregnant woman to sew a sash (know as the gartel or wimple) for a Torah scroll. If the newborn is a son, the sash is used on the Torah from which he receives his Bar Mitzvah aliyah, and then once again the aliyah on the Shabbat before his wedding.
    • It is customary to have a copy of Psalm 121 on hand during birth.
    • If possible, during the final stages of labor and delivery, the husband should recite these Psalms: 1, 2, 3, 4, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 33, 47, 72, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93, 104, 112, and 113 through 150.
    Do jewish people still do these things? And are there any others? What is the reason behind them?
    Imagine reciting all those psalms during the final stages of labour. I think I might tell my husband to shut up if he started doing that!!
    Anyway, I was just curious about pregnancy customs in different religions.
    Do these things still apply to Jewish women today, or is this just an unreliable website I was reading?? lol.

    Last edited by BellyBelly; September 18th, 2007 at 06:24 PM. Reason: links removed

  2. #2

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    I'd love to find out more about the jewish faith - my maternal grandfather was jewish.

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    Very interesting SJ Looking foward to replies too. I wish my faith had some guidelines for pregnancy... I think it would have helped me draw some strength during a stressful time.

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    We do follow a lot of these

    I will try to be back on (hungry pregnant lady here), later to explain them

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    Unfortunately, Bath, Christianity in it's current form, post-Middle Ages, takes a dim view of women and their natural processes! Don't even think about enjoying birth...it's supposed to be painful so that we can atone for original sin...
    I like that Judaism incorporates the daddy into the pregnancy, if the article is anywhere near accurate

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    I'm not sure I agree with that Mayaness, but then, this isn't even the Christianity thread so I'll digress.

    That's an interesting topic SaraJane, looking forward to Yael's answer. Are there many other Jews around on the forums?

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    I forgot to qualify (actually, had a wriggly child on lap when last posting)...
    I was raised a Christian, mainly in Baptist churches, going to youth groups, Sunday School etc, went to Catholic primary and secondary school (my dad's Irish and this was the compromise for not being baptised...I'm such a heathen!).
    At school I had an ace RE teacher who knew that I was genuinely interested in these other theological questions, so sent me to an 'open day' at a synagogue in St Kilda, which I thoroughly enjoyed and reported back on. We used to come head to head in RE class all the time and I still can't believe that he respected me enough to send me on that great trip, where I really developed a deep respect for Judaism (and since have also done with Islam and Buddhism).
    So, my comments about Christianity and women come from my varied and many experiences within the Christian context. More power to you if you never had to hear this diatribe about a woman's curse etc! I did, and that is my experience. I let go of it long before I fell pregnant and feel better for it.
    That's way OT, and just giving background to also wanting to know if this article is a good reflection of the general Jewish approach to pregnancy.
    It's the social anthropologist in me

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    Sorry Mayaness, I didn't mean to belittle your experience or anything! Thoughtless moi. Interesting topic, perhaps I'll start a topic on 'Christianity and women'. Could be exciting.

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    Don't give it another thought, Nelle! It just occurred to me that this was my first foray into this forum and I hadn't prefaced my background! It could otherwise seem like I was stirring!

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    About birth in the bible:

    The Bible clearly teaches that giving birth is a blessing to women. Although some women have pain in labor and birth for a variety of causes, there is nothing in either the Bible or the Jewish Talmud to indicate that such pain is either necessary or normal.
    The so-called "curse of Eve", cannot be traced to the Scriptures or to early Judaism. It is first found in distorted Christian teachings of the third and fourth centuries A.D. Christian teachings promulgated that abstinence, even in marriage, was the way to salvation. A woman had to groan in labor to atone for her "sin" of marital sex. This teaching persisted for over a thousand years. When chloroform was discovered by Sir James Simpson in the early 19th century for use in cases of difficult childbirth, there was an outcry from the Christian church. This was construed as a blasphemous attempt to rebel against the curse that God had laid upon Eve. Even Queen Victoria in the late 19th century was criticized heavily for having used anesthesia, for having gone against the dictates of the "Christian" teachings with the birth of her 8th child.
    Pain during child birth was actually a rare occurrence in our ancient ancestry. Pain and death was not associated with childbirth until the 16th and 17th century when people began to flock to the cities. Midwives, or wise women, were burned at the stake and falsely accused of witchcraft throughout Europe, especially if they administered any form of pain relief. They were admonished to make the women suffer. The masses of people no longer lived off of the blessings of the land, but used coin to trade for food, goods and services. The decline in health and sanitation until the 1940's, and the epidemics of child bed fever as women began delivering in the "houses of charity" (the precursor for the modern day hospital) created unhealthy conditions for our great great grandmothers to birth in.
    The Bible does not degrade womanhood. It does not label child bearing as a curse. It is the interpretation of the words in the Bible that we must look at.
    Genesis 3:16 is the passage commonly quoted by those who believe women have been "cursed to give birth in pain". That it is Eves punishment for having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
    The word translated as "sorrow" or "pain" is the Hebrew word estev. This word is also used when God curses Adam. This word is accurately translated as sorrow. Let's look at this Bible verse from the New Revised Standard Version. Genesis 3:16-17:To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply your pangs (estev) in childbearing; in pain (estev) you shall bring forth children."
    And to the man He said, "...cursed is the ground because of you; in toil (estev) shall you eat of it all the days of your life..."

    When the Hebrew word is translated as "pain" for the woman and "toil" for the man, it is clear that the translator's cultural beliefs have biased his judgment as a scholar of the text. The best description of giving birth is toil, or labor.
    Estev is also translated as "toil" in Proverbs 5:10, 10:22, Isaiah 68:3 and elsewhere. Again, it is translated as "toil" in Chronicles 4:9, which is the only verse in the entire bible that uses estev in connection with the actual birth of a child. To be consistent with other usage of estev in the Bible, Genesis 3:16 should be translated as toil.


    And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez (which means "Height"), saying, Because I bare him with toil (estev).

    Estev is used 16 times throughout the Bible. And not once does it convey the meaning of pain for which we are made to believe in Genesis 3:16. Rabbi Hirsch says: "Estev is only a mental pain and hurt feelings or worry...The root is...a modification of forsaken...the feeling that we have to give up something that we would have liked to keep, or to have attained."
    This prevailing thought that child birth is a curse did not originate in Judaism.
    Those of us who are already mothers know what we have given up. Our bodies are fatter, we have stretch marks, we lose sleep, we put our needs second to our offspring's wishes and desires, and our children, while an immense joy who cultivate our depth of love, try our patience and find ways to grieve our hearts. Perhaps this pain of childbirth is not the day spent in labor, but the life time of nurturing a child and letting go as that child reaches maturity and flies away from the nest. Perhaps it is the ups and downs of parenting with it's laughter and tears and merry-go-round of emotions.
    When Eve gives birth she announces it with Joy! Every account of birth in the Bible is one of joy. Leah praises God at the births of her children. At the birth of Joseph, Rachel exclaims happily, "The Lord has given me another son!"


  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayaness View Post
    So, my comments about Christianity and women come from my varied and many experiences within the Christian context. More power to you if you never had to hear this diatribe about a woman's curse etc! I did, and that is my experience. I let go of it long before I fell pregnant and feel better for it.
    As was stated in the previous post, the bible does say that labor will be painful. I know of no woman who can honestly say that child birth was without any pain....it is why man has created drugs for sale during such times

    With that said, I do not agree with any individuals/organizations religious interpretation that says there can be no enjoyment in childbirth. I believe pain and enjoyment are not directly tied together - if it was no one would be having children or at least not beyond the first. I believe God still left enjoyment in the entire process from start to beginning, but with the fall of man came a side of childbirth never intended for man kind (i.e. pain WITH enjoyment).

    Just my input for what its worth.

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    SJ's post sums up what I have gathered about modern Christianity's approach to the whole deal. I have also read this elsewhere. I never say 'the Bible' doesn't support women enjoying their bodies and processes, I say 'Christianity' as a tradition, as an institution.
    And, honestly, Dustmite...nothing I would honestly call pain in my birth! I know women who enjoyed their births more than I enjoyed my DS's...so there :P
    Also, I just can't abide by the thought of birth being relegated to a hardship - it just doesn't align with my experience and those of people I know!

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    It could be too that hardship is more in reference to PG's that go bad, still births, hardship in getting PG, etc. The bible is not very clear to what extent hardship refers to, but obviously from a Christianity/biblical perspective the process we experience today is not the perfect process God had originally provided and or wanted for us. Again that does not mean zero enjoyment just not the level that God intended for us.

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    Hey guys,

    Sorry it took me a while to get back to this! Every time i tried to start like 100 things would come up.

    Ok, i'll talk about what custom's we observe, and might have to come back to the original intention of pain and labour and all of that in a bit!

    SaraJane, i'm pretty sure that you got that information off a Lubavitch/Chabad website, based on some of their custom's? Anyway, within the orthodox community there are hundreds of different groups, that are all pretty similar (i.e. they all eat kosher food, keep festivals etc), but they all have slightly different traditions based on their local area and the Rabbi that led/leads them. Most are named after the towns in Europe where the groups came from. Lubavitch is a small town in the middle of Russia for example.

    I'm not Lubavitch (its one of the largest groups though, so plenty of my friends are), and there are some customs (in Hebrew minhag or minhagim (pl) ) that we don't do. There are some pretty universal ones between groups

    Some have the custom to keep a pregnancy secret from friends and acquaintances until the onset of the fifth month, unless it becomes plainly apparent... This restriction does not include close family members.

    Every group that i know of will keep pregnancy private until 3 months (except from parents). Some people then tell other family members (i.e. siblings) between 3 and 5 months. Others will tell everyone (friends etc) after 3. Lubavitch don't tell friends until after 5.

    We are in the extreme minority, we basically don't discuss or tell about pregnancy for the whole 9 months. We tell our parents, but ideally we don't even tell siblings. For us practically, we end up telling our siblings around 5 months, only because they don't keep the same tradition as we do (my husbands family got a lot more religious, so each of the siblings ends up following a different Rabbi and hence a whole different set of customs). And when we didn't for the first, it ended up in a whole bunch of fights, which is not the intention of this tradition, and keeping the peace is more important. But i never tell my friends, obviously when they see me they work it out (and for those that live overseas or interstate, got a very suprising phone call after I had DS), but i won't actually make an annoucement.

    Most people won't discuss due dates either. Some will. I just say if people ask me "after XXX (our religious holiday), or early Nov etc". I'm really supposed to say to people that i don't discuss these kinds of things, but most people get upset and demand they have a right to know about my life, so i do try to take the path of least resistance that will get people off the topic of my pregnancy earlier.


    Some have the custom for the husband to open the synagogue ark before the Torah reading during the last month of pregnancy. The Zohar says, "When the congregation takes out the Torah Scroll, the Heavenly Gates of Mercy are opened, and G‑d's love is aroused." The husband opening the Gates of Heaven hopefully elicits G‑d's merciful blessing that the birth be easy and without complications.

    My husband did this last time, and i'm assuming it will be the same this time. To open the ark (where the torah scrolls are kept) during a service is considered an honour, so each week different people get this honour, so soon somebody will give it to him again.

    In certain communities it is customary for the pregnant woman to immerse in a mikvah sometime during the ninth month of pregnancy. Speak to your local rebbetzin or "mikvah lady" regarding planning and preparations. It is advisable to consult with your OB/GYN before going to the mikvah.

    This again is more of a chabad/lubavitch custom. I didn't last time, but i do want to check about it with my Rabbi just to make sure.

    During the term of pregnancy, both mother and father should increase their recitation of Psalms. Before going to bed, it is customary for the husband to recite Psalm 20. When finishing, he should repeat the second verse of the Psalm.
    The home's mezuzahs should be inspected by a scribe during the months of pregnancy. If one does not have mezuzahs on all the home's doorways, now is a great time to purchase new mezuzahs.


    I do try to say extra prayers, especially after lighting candles (to usher in the sabbath) on Friday nights, i say a special long one for pregnancy. I know my husband prays for me, DS and the baby every single day.

    It's a very lubavitch thing to check mezuzahs, (to make sure the writing is intact.. they put a lot of significance on it if particular words (and hteir meanings) and cracked or getting blotted out with age)... It's not something we really do, we check it 2 times every 7 years (as requried by Jewish Law), but we don't really place any extra significance on it. But there is a tradition that hardships etc can be related to particular parts of the mezuzah not being intact, and hence the quote above.

    Oh, a mezuzah is a little scroll you see on each doorway in a Jewish house (except bathrooms). Inside are verses from a particular part of the Torah. It is written by hand on parchment, and after time, some of the letters crack and have to be fixed or replaced.

    A pregnant woman should endeavor to be exposed to spiritual and holy sights and sounds. To this end, whenever possible she should avoid gazing at non-kosher animals (trips to the zoo can wait until after birth...) and listening to gossip, slander, or other unsavory talk.

    Every person is commanded not to listen to gosip or slander 24/7 (there are many laws about proper speach and what you can and can't believe etc), so i don't know why that is specifically in there. Lubavitch have this whole big thing about non kosher animals, we have nothing about this in our tradition. My friends won't put an outfit on their children if it has a picture of a non-kosher animals, or have soft toys or books etc with them in it.. we don't do this, so i have no problems going to the zoo or dressing my children in an outfit with a lion on it etc...


    In many communities, pregnant woman do not visit cemeteries. Perhaps this is to avoid settings which can lead to negative emotions.

    We don't go to cemeteries when pregnant. I missed a few months ago the unveiling of my FIL tombstone, but i will go after i have had the baby. I will have to clarify the exact reason for this (i do know it, but don't quite know how to write why we do this).

    There is an ancient custom for the pregnant woman to sew a sash (know as the gartel or wimple) for a Torah scroll. If the newborn is a son, the sash is used on the Torah from which he receives his Bar Mitzvah aliyah, and then once again the aliyah on the Shabbat before his wedding.

    Never heard of this (well, i think i've heard of it on the internet), but do not know any single group that do it. It may be the tradition of a different type of Jewish people (from Africa, middle east etc), but i don't know too much about their traditions.

    It is customary to have a copy of Psalm 121 on hand during birth.
    If possible, during the final stages of labor and delivery, the husband should recite these Psalms: 1, 2, 3, 4, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 33, 47, 72, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93, 104, 112, and 113 through 150.


    I have a book to take for labour. Last time i spent some of it more in personal prayer, the rest i was concentrating too much to pray during it. I know my husband did do a lot of praying (and a lot of helping me), throughout. This time i'll try and get through as many of them as i can.

    The other major one that isn't mentioned, is that almost all groups won't buy anything for the baby until it is born. So we literally got everything afterwards (but during the namings which are in the first week depending on boy or girl you get a lot of presents anyway, as we obvioussly for point #1 don't do baby showers etc). We basically believe there is no true happiness until the baby is born, and thats when we have big celebrations. Until then, pregnancy is more of a private and personal thing between husband and wife.

    Hope that explains a bit... feel free to ask any questions you want!

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    Wow, thanks for all that Yael. I feel like I'm taking up all of your time with all of my questions, lol.
    I don't remember what site I got it from, whatever came up when I was looking for different customs in different religions.
    That's really interesting about not telling anyone about the pregnancy. I don't know how you do it!! I would be so excited and wanting to tell everyone, lol. And not buying anything until after the baby is born, that would be so hard to resist.
    That sounds really special about your husband opening the ark too!

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    I LOVE the idea of not telling anyone the due date, or even that you are UTD! We kept the due date pretty under wraps for the most part, and will even more so next time because I don't intend to have scans
    Sounds all pretty earthy to me, so I like it, thanks Yael!

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    Yael - what is the basis of the tradition of keeping the PG as well as the due date a secret? Is it merely an emphasis on personal family, or is there something else that drives the tradition/law?

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    Thankyou Yael oooh I agree: not telling anyone about your pregnancy/due date etc sounds wonderful.... the more I think about it the more it appeals to me... think of all the QUESTIONS that would be avoided! And I just like the idea of living a more private life. I also have had a preference not to buy gifts for a baby until it is born... I've just done that intuitively as it just didn't feel right. I would however buy a gift for the mum if there was a baby shower or other event where gifts were being given.

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