Tag Archives: jewish


LG: “In the Jewish tradition, when someone dies, you are supposed to make a tear in your clothing to show that you’re in mourning. And the reason for that is, I guess, or the reason that tradition evolved is because people used to tear their skin, they were so anguished they would pull their hair out. Jews are not supposed to do that. It’s called Keriyah, you rip your clothes to show you’re in mourning.

[Jews are] not supposed to pierce or tattoo because your body belongs to God, so you’re not supposed to make marks on it or tears at it.”


The informant is my mother. She is a 57-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry who was born in California and currently lives in New York City. Her father was a German refugee who escaped Nazi persecution as a child and conveyed to his children the value of carrying on Jewish beliefs and traditions. She learned about this practice in the Torah study group she takes with her rabbi.

         She learned that this tradition was derived from a biblical story, Leviticus 10:1-7, in which the sons of Aaron light a fire in the temple to honor God despite His commands not to do so. As punishment, God kills Aaron’s sons. However, he also punishes Aaron by inhibiting him from mourning practices, which included tearing one’s clothing. LG said that because Aaron was specifically prevented from mourning because he dishonored God, people interpreted that they should tear their clothes as to preserve the meaning of God’s punishment.


There are many Jewish cultural traditions which take place when someone is mourning. These practices rely heavily on members of the community caring for the person who lost someone. I think that Keriyah is a visual symbol of mourning that indicates a person’s desire for support.

Moreover, grief is a visceral experience and confronting the futility of words in the face of it can lead people to hurt themselves as a way to communicate or express their agony. Tearing one’s clothes is a physical manifestation of grief that can substitute harming one’s body, which is sinful according to Jewish belief because one’s body belongs to God. However, I think that the practice is not merely grounded in piety, but also a practical way to care for the mourning, to make sure they don’t physically harm themselves. 


Background: Informant is a 19 year old, Jewish American college student from New Hampshire. They shared this story about their family and how it relates to their Jewish tradition and culture. The informant has been through Jewish education and experiences the holidays every year.

Informant: So, one really bizarre story is the story of Lillith. So, Lilith is rumored to be the first wife of Adam, and so it’s very controversial in Judiasm because Orthodox Jews follow what I’m about to share. So, Lillith escaped the Garden of Eden to gain independence so in some ways it’s been adopted by feminist Jews who see Lillith as regaining her independence. But, largely she’s seen as a sort of she-demon. So basically Lillith left the Garden of Eden and was not allowed back in because she was replaced with Eve. So we commonly know Adam’s partner to be Eve. So, she returns and is furious with men. So for this reason Orthodox Jews do not cut boys’ hair for an extended period of time because the idea is that in the night, if Lillith passes over and sees a child with short hair they see it as a man, so then Lillith will kill the baby boy. So, it’s this really intresting thing where she steals the children of Adam and Eve because she’s jealous and also a feminist twist. 

Reflection: This story was so intresting to me. As the informant told it and inserted some of their own opinions on it using a modern lens, I saw how folklore changes over time. This piece of folklore reflects people’s changing opinions on women, as Lillith is a woman who was demonized. Today, however, Jewish feminists have adopted the story as a story of a woman who they can look up to. It’s really compelling to see how folklore can change over time in it’s meaning while the content of the story is actually very much the same. 

Afikoman with a twist

Background: Informant is a 19 year old, Jewish American/Argentinian college student. They are from the Chicago area but now live in Los Angeles. The informant has a family tradition during the holiday of passover that inverts the common tradition of many other Jewish people. 

Informant: So, during passover (the Jewish holiday), there’s a tradition that most families do where the parents have to hide the Afikoman which is a little piece of matzah, an the kids have to find it and whichever kid finds it gets a special prize. But in my family we do the opposite. So, the kids have to hide the Afikoman and it’s my dad’s job to go look for it and find it. But the tradition and the joke is that he doesn’t get up from the Seder table, he sits in his chair when it’s time to go look for it and bribes us with money to tell him where it is. And that’s the kids prize it’s not like, you get a prize for finding it; you get a prize for revealing to him where it is. So for example he’ll be like, “5 dollars.” And we’re like, no that’s not enough cause’ it’s a really good hiding place. And he’s like, “10 dollars.” And then we always, like, talk him up and negotiate to like, 25 bucks. And this is without him getting up from the table to even look for it. 

Reflection: This story came from the informants family flipping a traditional Jewish tradition on it’s head. In Jewish tradition, looking for the Afikoman is something that kids do in the ages before 13, so having the parent who is an adult search is a funny twist on it. Beyond that, there is an aspect of the tradition that is capitalistic as the kids are putting monetary value on the hiding place of the matzah, focusing on how they can bargain with the adult to receive the most money. This reflects an American twist on a Jewish tradition, as it adds American values of capital and money into Jewish culture.


Background: Informant is a 19 year old student. Their parents both grew up in Venezuela. Their mom’s side is Spanish and Italian and their dad’s is Spanish and Israeli. Informant is from Texas and Miami and now resides in Los Angeles. They identify as Latin American and Jewish.

Informant: My Jewish family, everytime we’d move or anytime we’d go somewhere new, like before we came to our new house we’d say this prayer: “Shehecheyanu.” Which is a Jewish prayer for gratitude whenever you experience something new and you need to bless it. So everytime we did something for the first time we’d say it together as a family. 

Reflection: This was a really nice one to hear as it had both cultural and familial significance for the Informants life. This prayer is unique as it is said in different places and at different times to check in with the world and remember to practice gratitude. I loved hearing how the informant has used it throughout their lives, specifically when moving to a new place so they can bless the home.

Passing the salt

Background: Informant is a 19 year old student. Their parents both grew up in Venezuela. Their mom’s side is Spanish and Italian and their dad’s is Spanish and Israeli. Informant is from Texas and Miami and now resides in Los Angeles. They identify as Latin American and Jewish.

Informant: So, ever since I was little, at the dinner table my dad has this superstition. And his whole family has this superstition that you cant pass salt directly. You have to place the salt shaker down on the table and the other person has to pick it up. If not, it’s bad luck. It’s like, a curse. Like if you pass the salt directly it’s a curse. I don’t know why, I don’t know what it’s about but my dad has always been like that. If he’s like, pass the salt and I try to hand it to him he’s like “no put it down on the table,” like he won’t accept it. At all. And when I go to my aunt’s house for a high holiday or something it’s the same thing. It’s like, in his family, so now we all do it obviously. And also if someone spills the salt, you get the salt and throw it over their shoulder because that’s also bad luck. 

Reflection: This story is a great example of superstitions in people’s culture. The informants dad enforces this superstition and it’s completely backed up by his family as they all believe in it together. I thought it was interesting how the informant described how this superstition was highly specific to their family, but this is actually a very common superstition that many have. It shows how people’s folklore becomes very personal to them even when it’s so universal.