Miscarriage

A ritual in recognition of the author's miscarriage emerged from a year of studying about the infertile Hannah, who eventually had a child.

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In addition, the tefillin [phylacteries] and mezuzah [parchment scrolls in containers placed on doorposts in a Jewish home], which contain Hebrew prayers, may be seen as types of amulets protecting those who use them. Thus, I believed that the study of Hannah's story might protect me from further loss and offer some guidance in becoming a mother.

Ritual Grows From Hannah's Silent Prayer

Hannah's silent prayer became the basis of the ritual. It represented the silence of all those who had experienced such losses and could find no place within Judaism to mark them. By studying Hannah and identifying with her, I became another link on a chain of women who had had difficulty in conceiving or had lost children. This chain included all the matriarchs and extended back as far as Lilith (Adam's first wife, who was condemned to lose all her babies as they were born because she refused to submit to Adam's will). In this ritual, giving voice to the silence would be my goal.

I first sang and told the story of Hannah in my Rosh Chodesh [the beginning of a new Jewish month] group composed of women only, a safe forum for the initial public exposure of my experience. Then on the one-year anniversary of the pregnancy loss, I performed the story as the haftarah [prophetic reading] on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the time when Hannah's story is traditionally read.

Presenting my midrash in public before a group of men and women meant the experience was no longer my burden and my husband's alone. At last, I understood my compulsion to develop a ritual where there had been none. Ritual places personal experience in the public realm where it may be witnessed, dealt with, and shared. The loss of a child, potential or real, becomes bearable when the person sitting to your right and the person sitting to your left experience it with you and can say, "Finally I understand."

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Penina Adelman

Penina Adelman is a writer and folklorist. She is the author of Miriam's Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year (Biblio, 1986) and The Bible from Alef to Tav, a book for families. A book for Jewish pre-teen girls is forthcoming. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.