Tag Archives: jewish tradition

Washing One’s Hands After a Funeral

Main piece: There’s a tradition of washing your hands after a funeral so you don’t bring death into the house. If you’ve been near a dead body, you want to get the death off your hands. You don’t want to bring death into your house. Even after my dad’s funeral, friends of my mother, who had stayed back to help with the catering and the flowers, they put a pitcher outside. I was impressed by all that actually. It’s what you do. Some cemeteries have a water fountain. Outside Jewish funeral homes there’s a place to wash your hands. 

Background: My informant is a 51 year-old Jewish woman. The majority of the funerals she has attended have been in Jewish cemeteries with Jewish burial practices. She doesn’t remember where she learned the practice exactly, but she recalls vividly seeing the pitcher of water outside a Jewish funeral home at her aunt’s funeral when she was fourteen. The logic makes sense to her, and she has partaken in this ritual many times before. 

Context: I was talking to my informant about Jewish traditions, and this was the first one that occurred to her. 

Analysis: This practice makes a lot of sense. A funeral is a liminal space, as it is the final celebration of the life of someone who is now deceased. With that comes a lot of uncertainty, and fear that death can come for anyone else next. By washing your hands before entering a home, you don’t cross the doorway between a graveyard or a cemetery – a place of death, and your house – a place where you live/where life happens. This also promotes the idea that death can linger/cling to a live person, and having a ritualistic cleansing of death from your hands encourages a sense of protection, and that it won’t come for you next. 

The Wedding Band in Jewish Marriage Ceremonies

Main piece: Before my husband and I got married, we went to see the Rabbi that was set to perform the ceremony, and he said that among the objects we had to have for the ceremony was a different wedding band. Because the engagement ring I had on had diamonds, and traditionally, Jews don’t wear diamonds to their own wedding. He also said the ring had to be large enough to fit on the index finger of my right hand, because, according to him, this has the blood supply that is closest to your heart. So I borrowed my mother’s platinum wedding band, which was large enough to fit on my index finger because my mother’s hands are much larger than my hands. And if you watch the video of my wedding, you’ll watch my husband placing my mother’s wedding band on the right index finger. After the ceremony, I gave my mother back her wedding band, and I slipped my own diamond engagement ring back on the fourth finger of my left hand, which is the traditional place people wear wedding rings. 

Background: My informant is a fifty-three year old Jewish woman from Los Angeles, California. She and her husband were married by Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am in Beverly Hills, CA in 1999.

Context: The first my informant heard of this tradition was during the meeting with the Rabbi at their meeting leading up to their wedding. While she honored the Rabbi’s wants, and believes that the maybe the index finger has the blood supply that leads closest to one’s heart, she has been wearing her wedding rings in the Western tradition (fourth finger of her left hand) for as long as she has been married. 

Analysis: Interestingly, the origins of the Western custom of putting a ring finger on the fourth finger of one’s left hand has the same belief as the Rabbi’s custom – that the ring finger has the “vena amoris”, or has a vein that runs directly to the heart. This has been biologically disproven; there is no one vein in one’s that leads to their heart, and the vasculature in one’s hands is all pretty much the same. However, in Jewish tradition, there is no talmudic evidence that a couple even needs wedding rings to sanctify or represent a marriage, and in fact the groom could give the bride anything of value as a representation of their intimacy (books and coins were traditionally used). The only rule was that the object be “whole and unbroken”, which could explain why there are to be no stones set into the metal. Gold is preferred; in Judaism, gold is symbolic of the glory of God, so in a ceremony or ritual as important as marriage, it is a way to represent monogamy and sexual intimacy within the bond of God – that there is a religious or divine promise the wife makes to her husband. As for the right index finger, it seems that Rabbi had the same belief in the “vena amoris” as many Westerners had, but it could also be because the index finger is more frequently used (as it is the pointer finger), and therefore the ring/symbol of their marriage is more prevalent. Additionally, in Jewish and Roman tradition, the right hand is used to perform oaths.

Lamm, Maurice. “The Marriage Ring in Judaism.” Chabad.org. Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. Accessed May 3, 2021. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/481776/jewish/The-Marriage-Ring-in-Judaism.htm. 

Sephardi and Persian Seder Traditions

Sephardi and Persian Seder Traditions:

Main description:

AB: “What kind of Jewish traditions can you tell me about?”

AA: “Ok well we always go to our family friends house for Passover Seder and one tradition Sephardi and Persian Jews have is to run around and hit each other with celery or large green onions during the song dayenu, which is about liberation from slavery and appreciation or gratitude. And some people think the hitting with celery is to symbolize slavery and whipping but it’s become a fun thing and I think it’s more about celebrating liberation from many things.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “How do you see this tradition? What does it mean to you?”

AA: “It feels more celebratory to me. As a kid, I used to think of it as a game and as I’ve gotten older it’s fun to revisit that inner child. And I think perhaps more importantly it feels like physically letting go and like a physical manifestation of liberation—not necessarily from slavery, but from oppression, harmful thought patterns etc. Passover in general is about escaping a “narrow place” and to me it’s a way to communally perform that liberation and also to acknowledge what oppressive systems exist now and how can we escape them or help others escape them if that makes sense. In short, I love the vegetable violence thing.”

Personal interpretation:

Freedom and liberation appear central to this tradition. The informant notes that the tradition itself mimics the violence of slavery but emphasizes that it’s a celebratory tradition rather than a mournful one. By mimicking slavery in a harmless way, those who practice the tradition can call upon a shared past of oppression and celebrate survival rather than mourning what was lost.

Good Luck Shower at Bat Mitzvah

Main piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a phone conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: So when I was 13, is when I was Bat Mitzvah’ed. Like, coming into my womanhood or whatever. It’s a big deal that all Jewish girls go through. There’s an hour and a half long service, I read from the Torah, I chant my prayers, I wear a really pretty dress.

Interviewer: And you get to choose the dress?

Informant: Oh yes, and getting a dress you want is a big deal. I got to choose my own. Anyways, all of my family and friends are there and there’s a baller party after. But after the service, there is tradition that the congregation will “shower me with good luck and sweetness.” What that means is everyone in the synagogue throws gummy candy at me. It’s supposed to be a loving act but people usually throw to hard and it ends up hurting a little.

Interviewer: What kind of candies were thrown? And is there significance in the types of candies?

Informant: Not really, it was a random assortment of candies. I specifically remember Jolly Ranchers hurting the most, because you know, out of the gummies they’re the hardest. I got hit in between my eyes with a grape flavored Jolly Rancher, and I avoid that flavor even till this day.

Interviewer: Is there any bad intent in throwing these candies hard? Or is it strictly an act of showing blessings and kindness?

Informant: I think it comes out of good means. It’s just that anytime little kids and throwing any objects is involved, and especially when the target is your friend, they tend to get jokey and try to throw it hard. But it’s a light hearted prank, kinda like cake-facing someone at their birthday.


My informant is a 19 year old college student who comes from an Ashkenazi descent. She grew up in a family which practiced the religion, and she was exposed to the culture from a very young age. Her three siblings also practice the religion with her, and Judaism is a big part of her family tradition. She comes from a large family with plenty of Jewish relatives, so Bat Mitzvah for her was a big deal.


I was aware of the general concept of Bat Mitzvah, but I was never sure what specifically went down during the process. I had asked my informant to describe the most interesting thing that happened at her Bat Mitzvah, and this shower of good luck was her choice. The conversation happened over phone, where I was in Los Angeles (2:00 pm PST) apartment while the informant was in South Carolina (5:00 pm EDT) in her house, in her room.


Learning about this tradition reminded me of how different cultures utilize candies to represent good luck. My mind went immediately to piñatas, Trick o’ Treat, and Easter egg hunts. Candies are sweet, and it’s that sweetness that makes humans associate it with good luck and a ‘sweet life’. Imagining being a 13 year old getting showered with candies by my loved ones, it definitely made me happy.