Pregnancy is a frequent occurrence for the Jewish women due to the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. The Jewess (female Jew) is especially careful about eating kosher food, adding in prayers and guarding herself from anything thought to be unholy while she is carrying her child. Pregnancy is honored as a sacred time to draw down blessing to the unborn child through good deeds; most women are careful about the mizvot (commandments) they perform.
According to Jewish Law, whenever a woman's womb is open, she and her husband do not have martial relations or any physical contact. After her bleeding has ceased and she has immersed in a ritual bath (mikvah), the couple is reunited in martial harmony. Therefore, women do not rely on the physical support of their husbands in labor. Most women bring another woman with them for labor support. Many women pray for The Redemption during labor, and for other barren women or sick people especially during crowning, which is believed to be the time when G-d is most present and available to hear the birth prayer. It is also believed that any suffering a woman feels in labor is atonement for any sin. A women's husband usually stands behind a curtain or a door during the actual birth and says special prayers for the mother and child. There are many customs and 'charms' Jewish women use to help in birth.
Mother and baby are tended to by their husbands and community after birth. There are special organizations called 'Shifra and Puah' (code names of Yochevead and Miriam, two ancient Hebrew midwives) run by the women of the community to provide meals to the family for a least week, sometimes as long as a whole month. Some women do not leave the house for 30 days. There is a custom that the baby's first outing should be to go to synagogue to hear the 'prayer of the angels (kedusha)'. Husband and wife do not reunite until bleeding has ceased the woman has gone to the mikvah (ritual bath)
Some have the custom to ritual wash the baby's hands after birth and say the 'Shema' (cardinal Jewish prayer) after birth. Some place mystical prayers in or over sleeping place for protection. If a baby boy is born, he has a bris mila (ritual circumcision) at 8 days old and is given his name then. If a girl is born, the customs varies as to when she is named. A party is usually held in honor of her birth.
Family is the central role of Jewish life. Shalom Bais (Peace in the Home) is an outstanding commandment and thus much emphasis is place on relationship and family harmony. Children are taught Torah from a young age and most of their activities are centered on doing the commandments with joy and learning about their heritage. Large families are common and there are always many family celebrations and events.
Chana Luba Ertel, CBE, CD (DONA) facilitator of BirthRite labor support service began her practice 5 years in Israel through The Misgav Ladach Birthing Hospital in Jerusalem. Chana has worked extensively in the Jewish communities of Brooklyn and now lives in Amherst Massachusetts with her family. BirthRite's childbirth classes focus on educating and empowering women to make their own informed choices and learn how to work with and know their laboring bodies. With Chana's supportive classes and doula services, women discover and arouse their innate birthing abilities and utilize the spiritual potentials of birth to insure a beautiful experience.
Contact Chana Luba Ertel, CD (DONA) of BirthRite Labor Support Service in Amherst Massachusetts at (413)549-4089 or firstname.lastname@example.org