New Ceremonies: Being Pregnant

In a world where pregnancy is a choice, we should ritually acknowledge those who undertake it.

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Revisioning Jewish Themes to Create New Rituals

Creating such liturgy is a challenge, for if we do not want to perpetuate an arbitrary and outmoded split between Jewish women's social and biological experiences, we must create liturgy that is distinctly Jewish. Otherwise, we might as well enact our rituals in a coven or an ashram (at both of which we are likely to be sharing with other Jewish women) as in a synagogue or a Rosh Chodesh group [women's group that celebrates the beginning of a new Jewish month]. We must attempt to expand Jewish thinking into new directions, while staying in harmony with the rest of the religion's teachings and practices. The way to do this is to delve into the sources and mine Jewish literature for those nuggets of insight that were written there, with no intention of being relevant to birth or other "female" concerns. These can be reinterpreted and recombined to bring female experiences into the sanctified realm of Judaism.

In considering childbearing, two Jewish themes seem to cry out for such reinterpretation. One is the biblical notion of covenants sealed in blood, both the blood of the covenant of circumcision, and the sprinkling of the people with the "blood of the covenant" as they accepted the covenant of Sinai (Exod. 24: 7-8). Menstrual blood should also be seen as a sign of a covenant, the covenant between God and woman. by which women become and continue to be the bearers and shapers of new life. God affirms this covenant in the blood of menarche, and women affirm it as they undertake a pregnancy.

In their willingness to bear the child, both the man and the woman become "partners in the work of creation." This is an old and significant concept, for Judaism considers the work of God's creation to be unfinished, and it is part of humanity's task to continue this labor, to become "shutafim le-ma'asay be'reishit," "partners in the work of creation." We may do so liturgically, for "everyone who prays on Friday night and says '[And the heavens and the earth ] were finished,' Scripture considers him to have become a partner of the Blessed Holy One in the works of creation" (BT Shab. l19b). And we may do so socially, by working to improve social justice and to repair society, for "every judge who judges a righteous judgment even once, Scripture considers to have become a partner of the Blessed Holy One in the works of creation" (BT Shab. 10a). And there is another, obvious way in which we can be partners of God in creation: by helping to create new lives.

The following ritual is an acceptance of this covenantal role, a declaration of willingness to be God's partners and to accept unstintingly whatever hardships and sacrifices this might entail. Even though the decision to bear children is a personal family choice, the setting of this ritual is in the synagogue rather than the home. As a Jewish people, we consider it our obligation to become parents, we welcome new lives, and we actively worry about our declining or static birth rate. As a Jewish community, we should affirm each couple's choice to have children, witness their acceptance of their duties, celebrate their decision, and offer communal support and encouragement for their endeavors. Every birth is an occasion for rejoicing, and every joyously accepted pregnancy sanctifies all of us.

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Tikva Frymer-Kensky

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1943-2006) was a professor of Hebrew Bible at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She was the author of many works of biblical scholarship and spirituality. She was a foremost assyriologist, biblical scholar, and feminist.