Ceremonies celebrating various life-cycle events, such as circumcision, bar-mitzvah and marriage, took place wherever there were Jewish communities. These ceremonies - and their accessories - were characteristic of the community, also reflecting bygone traditions and contemporary taste.
Circumcision, the first commandment practised by the Patriarch Abraham, is one of the pillars of Jewish identity: "You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days"(Genesis 17:11-12). The circumcision ceremony involves a variety of customs, special furnishing implements and sets of instruments. A special chair for the ceremony, 'Elijah's Chair', was typically made with a double seat in Ashkenazi communities, It stood In the synagogue; the sandak (godfather) sat in one seat, holding the infant on his knees; the other seat was left vacant for the Prophet Elijah, who, according to legend, is always present at a circumcision. Some communities used two separate chairs or set apart a small, symbolic chair for Elijah. A special custom, apparently originating in northern Italy in the 16th century, was common in German and other central European communities. The piece of linen upon which the infant was laid during the ceremony was later cut up and sewn into a long strip, on which the child's name and date of birth were embroidered or painted, together with the prayer recited during the ceremony: "May the Lord raise him unto Torah, wedlock and good deeds, Amen Selah." This cloth was dedicated to the synagogue an the child's first visit there, and the Torah scroll from which he read the Torah at his bar-mitzvah was wrapped in it.
"At thirteen [the age is reached] far [fulfilling) the commandments [mitzvot]" (Ethics of the Fathers 5:21). Traditionally. Jewish boys reach religious maturityat the age of thirteen. From that time on boys begin to lay tefillin (phylacteries). in the synagogue, the boy is called up to read the Torah for the first time, on Sabbaths also reciting the Haftarah (reading from the Prophets), thereby publicly demonstrating that he has joined the community and has the same responsibilities and privileges as any adult member.
Besides the synagogue ceremony, a festive banquet is often held during which the bay delivers a sermon and receives gifts associated with his newly assumed duties: tefillin, a tallit (prayer shawl), books and so on. These gifts generally include a bag tar the fault and for the tefillin, on which the boy's name is embroidered [similar gifts are given to a fiance or a bridegroom).
The Jewish marriage ceremony is based on ancient traditions, It is associated with more customs than any other ceremony in Judaism. A central part at the ceremony is known in Hebrew/Aramaic as kiddushin, meaning "sanctification" - an expression of the sanctity of the bond being forged between the bride and groom. The prophets and, later, the rabbis used the term as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the people of Israel, Israel and the Torah, Israel and the Sabbath.
Beneath the wedding canopy, in the presence of at least two witnesses, the groom, places a ring on the forefinger of the bride's right hand and the two are pronounced man and wife. The ketubbah - the marriage contract - is signed; seven benedictions are recited; and the groom smashes a glass, a sign of mourning for the destruction at Jerusalem. In same communities, the pieces at shattered glass are believed to bring good fortune; the glass is therefore wrapped in a cloth, so that not a fragment is lost.
Today the groom breaks the glass by stamping on it with his foot. However, books of customs from 16th-century Germany describe the groom as facing the synagogue and smashing the glass against a special stone, the "marriage stone," in the upper part at the synagogue wall. Such stones were generally carved in the shape at a star with "horns ot plenty" and inscribed with the initial letters of the Hebrew verse, "The sound at mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride."