Sisterhood Blog

Jewish Baby Rituals, Revisited

By Deborah Kolben

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When my uncle died at 60 from a stroke last year, my aunt, who is not particularly religious, threw herself into reading about the Jewish rituals around death. Among the many edicts were instructions not to go to movies or parties, during the 30 days after a loved one’s death. And my aunt quickly found out why. When she tried to go to a large fundraiser at a fancy hotel, she got as far as the door — just the sound of glasses clinking and muffled laughter was enough to send her running; it’s depressing to be around joyous, drunk people when your own world has just collapsed.

I thought about this as I read Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s Sisterhood blog post about the superstitions around childbirth.

Jews traditionally do not acquire anything for the baby until it is actually born. Bassinets, onesies and wipies are all supposed to be delivered after the birth. And this is understandable, for all of the reasons that Debra so eloquently points out. Whatever you think about the Evil Eye, how depressing to come home to a nursery with baby socks and an empty cradle if, God forbid, something happened to the baby.

But in this case, if something does happen, having a cradle to dismantle is the least of your problems. My own baby is due next month and thanks to modern technology, I’ve seen her on an ultrasound monitor no less than a dozen times. I’ve seen her squirm and wiggle; I’ve seen the shape of her nose and lips. And regardless of whether I have a nursery, it would be devastating to lose her.

On a financial note, having a baby is pricey. To follow the Jewish traditions would mean ordering everything I need for the baby and then having it delivered after she is born. But instead of buying things, I’m cobbling together as many hand-me-downs as I can from friends and neighbors.

While I do agree that we have these guideposts — call them what you want, “superstitions” or “rituals” — for a reason, sometimes we must also adapt these traditions to the realities of our modern lives.

Elizabeth Fri. Sep 18, 2009

Give me a break and ignore the baby-industrial complex. You do NOT need very much on hand (besides a car seat) when a newborn comes home from the hospital (for example, they can sleep perfectly well in an empty bureau drawer lined with a clean towel for the first couple of days). That pricey stroller you linked to? Probably not safe for a newborn anyway. (we didn't bother with a stroller for our baby for the first few months--we just carried her around town in a $30 sling, which kept her warmer anyway).

Friends and neighbors who are willing to give you hand-me-downs are usually willing to hang on to them until the baby is home. If you're using disposable diapers, you can pick them up on the way home from the hospital.

diane Fri. Sep 25, 2009

I agree with Elizabeth. You need a few onesies, blankets, and some diapers and that's about it. Modern technology fools us into believing that we are in control but we're not and I know of several highly educated women like myself who lost their baby right before or during childbirth due to a ruptured placenta or a cord around the neck. I only give baby gifts when the parents have seen the whites of the baby's eyes and heard her lungs work. I felt the same about my own pregnancy and had almost nothing until my son was born, and thankfully, he was healthy.

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