Judaism teaches us that time itself is sacred, and that each moment is to be cherished as precious and unique. Yet certain days mark our lives forever. The community of Kehilat Gesher supports its members as they pass through life’s transitions, be they filled with joy or rife with sorrow.
“Monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never pass away”
Joshua Abraham Heschel
The arrival of a new baby in one’s home is an occasion to celebrate the miracle of creation. However, new parents are not always prepared for the responsibility of raising a child. They can make an appointment with the rabbi to discuss their questions and concerns.
The covenant of circumcision marks a baby boy’s entrance into the alliance with Israel. Unless a medical condition prohibits it, a boy is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. A mohel, a trained specialist, performs the circumcision with sterilized instruments. It is a benign operation that lasts a few seconds. The mohel also says prayers and may be accompanied by the rabbi. The ceremony may take place at home or at the synagogue, preferably in the presence of a minyan. The Brit Milah can take place even if one of the parents is not Jewish, as long as they both agree to raise their son as a Jew.
This ceremony marks a baby girl’s entrance into the alliance with Israel. Like a boy’s Brit Milah, the ceremony is arranged on the eighth day after the birth. The prayers are the same, but instead of circumcision, the baby’s feet are dipped in water in remembrance of when Sarah and Abraham welcomed strangers in the Book of Genesis. This type of ceremony existed a century ago in Alsace, where the rabbi would recite a benediction over the cradle of a baby girl. In North Africa, this type of ceremony was called a simchat bat (“the joy of a girl”) or zeved bat (“the gift of a girl”). The integration of this ceremony is important because it shows that the birth of a girl is as important as the birth of a boy in the Jewish tradition.
More than the actual ceremony, it is the preparation and learning that precedes the Bat or Bar Mitzvah that gives this rite of passage its meaning. Attending Talmud Torah (religious school) is essential to learning the fundamentals of Judaism, including its history, philosophy, principals, rites and significance. By learning how to read and write Hebrew, the boy or girl can lead the services on the day of the ceremony, which is spread over two or three days (Thursday morning for the laying of the tefilin, Friday evening for the Kabbalat Shabbat service and Saturday morning for Shabbat). If the young person starts his or her studies after the age of 11 years old, the date of the ceremony will be delayed until he or she is ready. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah can take place from 13 years old and onward, including adults who did not have the opportunity to have one earlier.
It is a mitzvah to marry and live with one’s spouse in a relationship where each becomes the complement and partner of the other. Along with the synagogue, the Jewish home is a site of transmission of Jewish values. We celebrate chuppa and kiddushin (the Jewish marriage ceremony with a signed ketubah) when the couple has been married under civil law, when both partners are Jewish and when the union does not run counter to the progressive halacha. When a couple that has had a civil marriage cannot have a religious marriage (if one of the couple is not Jewish or one of the couple has had a civil divorce but has not received a get, for example), we acknowledge that according to civil law the couple constitutes a household, but do not consider it a valid union according to Jewish law.
In the case of a definitive break between spouses, a religious divorce is possible. When the couple is divorced under civil law, a get (a religious divorce document) may be issued. The get process cannot begin until the civil divorce is declared. When the get is requested, the Beit-Din of the French Fédération du Judaïsme Libéral recommends the nomination of representatives who will act in the name of the parties concerned and receive the get in their name. Once this procedure is undertaken, a certificate is issued and the actual get stays in the archives of the Beit-Din. If one of the couple refuses to deliver the get the Beit-Din sends three letters. If there is no response, or a refusal is based on the desire to take advantage financially or otherwise, the Beit-Din acts in the absence of the person concerned and issues the appropriate certificates. We recognize any get issued by a qualified authority.
Contrary to common preconceptions, Judaism has always been open to conversion, and there are numerous biblical and rabbinic texts that refer to welcoming converts. All sincere requests are considered. The candidate must take into account the fact that he or she will be asked to integrate Jewish practices into their daily lives, will become a part of our congregation, and must expand their knowledge of Judaism so they can lead a Jewish life. The minimum study period is 12 to 14 months. A meeting with the rabbi is required before starting the conversion process. The candidate will then start a Mekhina, or preparation course, for two months during which he or she will learn to read and write Hebrew. For twelve months, the candidate will follow Judaism classes, which detail the major elements of Jewish history and life, explain the holidays and practices in terms of their evolution through history, and explore Jewish literature, symbols and ethics. At the end of the process, the candidate is presented to a Beit-Din of the French Fédération du Judaïsme Libéral, made up of three rabbis who verify his or her knowledge, assimilation into the Jewish people and desire to live a rich and full Jewish life. Once the candidate affirms that he or she is ready to conform to the ways of our Tradition – kabbalat ol mitzvot (acceptance of the yoke of the commandments) – the Beit Din welcomes the candidate as part of the people of Israel. For a man, circumcision follows, and for all candidates, under the care of the Beit-Din, a tevilah is undertaken in a mikve. Our Beit-Din’s conversion certificate is accepted by the French Jewish Agency, the Israeli government and progressive congregations around the world. We recognized all conversion certificates issued by a qualified authority. Conversion for marriage is welcome and possible as long as the candidate develops his or her own interest in Judaism. The Jewish partner’s participation is required to support the candidate’s process and to help establish a Jewish home for the couple.
Judaism gives much importance to the respect and dignity of a person that passes away. The rituals and ceremonies around death and burial are designed both to honour the dead and to help mourners deal with their grief and face the prospect of life without their loved one. At Kehilat Gesher, we will give you support as you go through the mourning process: the funeral (levaya), shiva (seven days of mourning), sheloshim (30th day memorial service), tomb stone setting and the yearly anniversary of death (yahrtzeit/Shana). If you have suffered the loss of a dear one, please contact the office.