After checking dozens of books we have learned that there are three customs related to dirt, grass and stones at the end of the burial service or after visiting a grave. We shall present them in chronological order with the sources and explanations we have found for each custom:
Within ancient Hebrew manuscripts, scattered among libraries throughout the world, one can find some surprising treasures, like previously unknown and unpublished pieces of writing. The unusual midrash we will examine here is one of these. It appears in a manuscript that is part of the Firkovich collection, which resides in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.
I am officiating at the wedding of a young couple in the near future. In preparing the ketubah [marriage contract], I learned that the groom’s father was born Jewish, but the groom converted at age four, along with his mother. The groom would like his name to appear in the marriage contract as “X the son of the names of his two parents,” since they are all Jewish now; but his father would like it to appear as “X the son of Abraham and Sarah,” since that is how his son was named at his conversion. What is the halakhah in this case?
Asked by Rabbi Rachel Schwartz on the behalf of a pupil at a Hebrew school in the United States: Why is the kittel worn on the High Holy Days? When were Torah scrolls first dressed in white for the High Holy Days and what prompted this change?
May an uncircumcised Jew have an aliyah, serve as a sheliah tzibbur, have a Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish wedding or burial? Does it make a difference if he or his parents refused to circumcise him for ideological reasons or if he was prevented from having a brit milah [circumcision] by outside forces, such as the Soviet regime?
At the Schechter MA graduation ceremony in Jerusalem a few months ago, the master of ceremonies, Jacky Levy, a well-known Israeli media personality, asked a poignant question in the context of the awarding of the Rabbi Marc and Dr. Henia Leibhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance in Israel, of which he himself is a recipient. The Liebhaber Prize was established 18 years ago in the wake of the political/religiously motivated assassination of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
How should a young Jewish Israeli girl celebrate her bat mitzvah? The answer to this question is clear to members of the Conservative and Reform movements. The young girl will celebrate the same way her brother does his bar mitzvah. She will learn the blessings for being called up to the Torah, and may also learn the cantillation marks for reading the haftarah and perhaps the Torah portion. She may write a bat mitzvah address to be given on the Shabbat morning when she is called up to the Torah, or at the party. The aliyah can be seen as a recapitulation of being present at the revelation at Mount Sinai, and by being called up to the Torah, the bat mitzvah, like the bar mitzvah, expresses her commitment to Jewish tradition and to the Jewish people.
From the story of a life on its last journey, from words of family members gathered around the grave, rises terrible pain but also a great light. Notes from Mt. Herzl
Is it permissible for a child to practice reading the Torah from aSefer Torah [Torah scroll] in preparation for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony? A rabbi wrote to me that “there is a problem halakhically to take a Torah out when it’s not for the need of thetzibur [=congregation]”. Any thoughts on whether this is forbidden?
How we wish we could go back in time and stand at Sinai – to experience those three days of excited preparation, the sounds and the lightening, the heavy cloud, the loud blow of the shofar, the smoking mountain, God in the descending fire, Moses and God speaking to one another. If we could only, even for a brief moment, hear the voice of God, Master of the Universe, our Father, speaking to us to say: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt from the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”[note]Exodus 22.[/note] We yearn to merit the experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai directly from God: “Not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger. The Holy One, blessed be He, did it in His glory by Himself!”[note]Pesach Haggadah.[/note]