The following are some of the Biblical and Talmudical details touching the birth of children:In the Bible.
The child might be brought into the world with or without a midwife (Gen. xxxviii. 28; Ex. i. 15 et seq.; compare Mishnah R. H. ii. 5; Oh. vii. 6). The expression in Gen. xxx. 3, "she shall bear upon my knees," and similar phrases fire to be taken literally (see Ploss, "Das Weib," and compare the sayingin Gen. R. lx., "'Twixt wife and midwife the child of the poor woman perishes"; see also Dukes, "Blumenlese," p. 128). Immediately after birth the infant was bathed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in swaddling-clothes (Ezek. xvi. 4 et seq.). Josephus ("Contra Ap." ii. 26) says: "The law does not permit us [the Jews] to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby to occasion drinking to excess." The child was usually suckled by its mother, but sometimes by a wet-nurse (Gen. xxxv. 8; II kings xi. 2, 3; III Mace. i. 20). Thirty-three days after the birth of a male child, and sixty-six after that of a female child, the mother offered up a sacrifice of purification (Lev. xii. 2 et seq.; see Circumicision and Redemption of the First-born). The weaning, often long deferred, was accompanied by sacrifices and festivities.
The cradle is said to have been first used in Isaac's time; it occurs in similes, as with Homer (Gen. R. liii. 10; lxix. 3; Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor., pp. 126, 344). On it were hung bells, which generally were employed together with amulets in order to guard children against demons ("Monatsschrift," 1900, p. 382; compare Blau, "Zauberwesen," pp. 90, 160; "Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," v. 75, note 5, Hamburg, 1900).
A woman during confinement is recommended to particular attention; and her death is ascribed to negligence of the duties specially prescribed for Jewish women (Shab. ii. 6; concerning the origin of leprosy among children, compare Lev. R. xv. 5). New-born children, according to the Talmud as well as the Bible, were sprinkled with salt (Shab. 129b; compare Jerome and Galen in Wiesner, "Scholien," ii. 248); those that made no sound were rubbed with the afterbirth (Wunderbar, in "Orient. Lit." 1850, p. 104; Hamburger, "R. B. T." ii. 256). Air was breathed into those born apparently inanimate; and a beaker filled with hot coals was held near the mouth of one that refused the breast, to stimulate the action of the facial muscles (Shab. 134a). Operations to assist birth were known (compare Rabbinowicz, "La Médecine du Talmud," l. 29). It was considered a heathen custom to fasten a piece of iron on the bed for the protection of the woman (Tosef., Shab. vi. [vii.] 4), as well as, on the night before circumcision, to place on the table viands which should not be touched (Shulḥan 'Aruk Yoreh De'ah, 178, 3, gloss; 179, 17; Compare M. Schuhl, "Superstitions et Coutumes Populaires du Judaïsme Contemporain," p. 6). The use of a Torah scroll as a charm for easing birth (Pithe Teshubah on Yoreh De'ah, 179, 9) and for the protection of the child (Yoreh De'ah, l.c.; Maimonides, "Yad" Hil. 'Akkum, xi. 12) seems to be of early date; and the origin of the ceremony of lighting candles on the "watchnight"—i.e., the night before circumcision—is to be ascribed to the Talmud (Yer. Ket. i. 25c; Sanh. 32b).Customs and Superstitions.
In Rumania, as soon as the labor-pains of the woman begin, all the female inmates of the house loosen their hair. In Poland, for the purpose of easing birth, all knots in the woman's clothing are untied; and she wraps herself in a "mappah" or "wimpel"; that is, the band which is wound around the Torah. In the Caucasus the woman is held in the strictest seclusion. For seven weeks prior to her expected accouchement no one, except the midwife and the female relatives, is allowed to see her. On the night of birth the door of the lying-in room is locked; one light burns near to the mezuzab, and another next to the hearth (Chorny, "Sefer ha-Massa'ot be-Ereẓ Ḳauḳaz," pp. 196, 296). Despite the repeated prohibition of their rabbis, the Caucasian Jews practise the superstitious custom of mixing in a glass of water some earth from the grave of one deceased within the last forty (days, and giving it to the parturient woman to drink. If it is not effective the dose is repeated with earth obtained at a greater depth.
In Poland and Galicia the custom still obtains that once prevailed in Germany, of making a chalk-mark around the lying-in chamber or of describing black circles on the wall. It is also the practise in many places to hang Psalm-verses over the woman's bed (the same custom obtains among Christians in Germany; see L. Löw, "Lebensalter," pp. 75 et seq.). Sometimes. Ps. xx. 2 is inscribed on the door, and the following invocation is recited: " May He who harkened to thy mother, harken to thee also!" InHesse a circle is drawn with chalk on the floor, and the verse, "My help cometh from the Lord," etc. (Ps. cxxi. 2), is written within it. In Kurdistan and elsewhere in the Orient, sweet-smelling herbs are burned in a censer, with which first the synagogue and then the lying-in room are perfumed. In Poland the Book of Raziel is laid under the head of the woman, and white cloths are hung at the windows and around the bed.
In older Jewish recipe-books ("Mitteilungen," v. 58 et seq.) the following directions are given:Recipes in Old Books.
Whisper into the ear of the woman in travail: "And Moses spake unto the people, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee; and after that I will go out. And he went out" (Ex. xi. 8; compare Raziel, 43a). Or write on a "Ränftel" (head) of cheese to be given her to eat, "Satur arepo tenet opera rutas" (made up of "Sator [are] poten [ter] et opera[re] r[ati]o t[u]a s[it]"; compare Steinschneider, " Hebr. Bibl." xvii.60; idem, "Cat. Bodl." No.100). Orwhisper in her right ear: "He went up on Mount Sinai and heard a calling and a crying. And he spoke unto the Lord: 'What meaneth this calling and this crying that I hear?' The Lord answered him: 'It is the voice of a woman in labor. Now go and say unto her: "Get thee out! The earth demands thee!" And all these thy servants shall come down unto Me and bow down themselves unto Me. saying, "Get thee out, and all the people that follow,"'" etc. Or mix the fat (or milk) of a bitch with water and give it to the woman to drink. Or stand at the door next to the mezuzah and read the "Hafṭarah Shofeṭim" (Isa. li.); then say Gen. xxi. 1, and pronounce the Lord's name thus, (= "Get thee out!"). Or strew ground black pepper under the woman in labor; . . . or place a ram's horn in her hand, or the skin of a snake on her heart: . . . or the eyes and bladder of a salt herring; or let another woman put her hand on her and say with her Ps. xix. 6; or lay upon her a clay vessel on which is inscribed: ; or write on a kosher parchment the magic square (compare Abraham ibn Ezra. "Yesod Mora," ed. Creizenach, p. 125), and lay it on the spot where the tefillin are laid; or place between her teeth a silver ring on which has been inscribed with a new gravingtool: (compare "Mitteilungen," iii. 67, No. 123). If the child dies in the womb, the gall of an ox should be mixed with water and given to the woman.
It is further stated in the same recipe-books that Sannui, Sansannui, and Samangaluf ( ) are known as the great and noble angels whom men call upon to protect women in labor against Lilith, and whose names written in any locality, even if on the wall, serve to exorcise Lilith's brood therefrom. Therefore, it is effective to write these names in the four cardinal points near the woman, especially at an opening, as at a door or window." This prescription against the beautiful Lilith, Adam's first wife (compare second part of Goethe's "Faust"), was zealously observed (see the satire of Isaac Erter in "Kerem Ḥemed," iii. 106, and Flögel-Ebeling, "Gesch. des Grotesk-Komischen." p. 14).Lilith and Amulets.
Older amulets for the lying-in chamber contained the following (see illustration to Amulet; compare "Mitteilungen," ii. 79 et seq.; v. 61, 47; on "Zakar," ib. v. 35): "Adam and Eve," within (compare ib. i. 91; "Am Urquell," ii. 144, 196; iv. 95); "Lilith and the first Eve," without, "Sannui, Sansannui, Samangaluf, Shumriel, Ḥasdiel." The text continues: "In the name of the Lord God of Israel, who reigns over the cherubim, whose name is mighty and fearful, Elijah the prophet—may he be mentioned for good!—once went upon his way and met Lilith, with all her kith and kin. And he said unto Lilith, the fiend: Thou unrivaled in impurity, and ye, ye goodly crew, whither are ye going?' She answered: 'My master Elijah, I am going where I may find a woman in travail. I will cause a deep sleep to come upon her, and I will rob her of her new-born child. I will drink its blood, and suck its marrow, and devour its flesh.' And Elijah—may he be mentioned for good!—spake angrily: May God, blessed be He! banish you hence! May you become stiff and stark as stone!' Lilith replied: 'For God's sake, spare me, and I will get me hence. I swear to you by the name of the Lord God of Israel, I will desist from my intent upon the woman and her child; and whenever I hear my name called I will go away. Now I will tell unto you my names; and whenever they are spoken, neither I nor those that are mine will have the power to do harm or to go to the house of a woman in labor, or to do her any evil. These are my names: Lilith, Abitu [compare "Mitteilungen," v. 80, of the Mandæans); I. Wohlstein, "Dämonenbeschwörungen aus Nachtalmudischer Zeit," pp. 52, 57, Berlin, 1894; "Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Verwandte Gebiete," ix. 136], Abihu, Amsarfu, Hagash, Ores, Iḳpodu, Iylu, Tatrota, Abhanuḳtah, Satruna, [probably to be compared with ; "Mitteilungen," v. 57]. Ḳahkatasa, Thilathuy, Piratsha. . . .'"
Amulets such as are described in " Mitteilungen," i. 91 et seq., and others having inscribed on them "Magen David," the signs of the zodiac, and Ps. lxvii., are still in use and may be obtained at any Jewish book-shop. When travail is difficult a Torah-roll is brought into the room.
Old representations show the employment of delivery-chairs (compare Müller-Schlossar, "Haggadah von Sarajevo"). In Rumania the child stays in the bed with its mother as long as she remains there, and a sefer (any holy book) is placed under its pillow. Into its first bath are put pieces of bread and sugar. In Poland the rocking of an empty cradle is avoided. If any one comes with a basket into a house in which there is a new-born child, a piece is cut from the basket and laid in the cradle, in order that the infant may not be robbed of sleep and rest. For the same reason care is taken not to remove from such a house utensils of any kind, especially such as hold burning coals.Customs After Birth.
If the child is born with a caul, the latter is taken as a sign of good luck (the same is the case in Iceland; compare Grinim, "Märchen," ii 59), and is preserved for a talisman. A boy is welcomed into the world with the words: ("A boy is born to the world; a blessing has come into the world"), but at a girl's birth the walls weep. It is a belief in Rumania that until the completion of the first year of its life the child speaks with God and the angels. The latter show it golden fruit in its sleep; if it can grasp the fruit, it laughs; if it can not, it weeps. Elsewhere a child's laughing in its sleep is said to betoken thatit is playing with the angel of death; therefore it is recommended that the child be lightly tapped on the mouth.
A child should not be kissed on the feet, since this is the custom at the "meḥillah prayer"; that is, on asking the dead for forgiveness. A child must not be held before a mirror, else a second child will be born within the year. If the hair be cut, the child will get an elf-lock. Scurf ("pareḥ"; compare Lev. xiii. 12) gives promise of beautiful hair (compare "Mitteilungen," i. 81 on "ḥalaḥah"). The woman who has been delivered must not be left alone. Under her pillow or under the mattress is laid a knife, without which she may never leave her bed. Or a dagger is stuck in the ground near her head; and daily for thirty days it is carried three times around her couch. In northern Germany this serves to guard against the werwolf (Wuttke, "Der Deutsche Volksaberglaube der Gegenwart," p. 260), or, according to Grimm ("Mythologie," xc.), against the wicked fairies (for the customs among the Romans see Pliny, "Historia Naturalis," xxxiv. 44). While making the circuit with the dagger about the bed the following verses are sung:
"Ich mache einen Kreis Den Gott wohl weiss. . . . Also mancher Ziegel ist auf diesem Dach, Also mancher Engel bei uns wach!"
I make a circle (Which God well knows): As many tiles as are on this roof, So many angels keep watch o'er us!
At a hard labor three or four women pray:
"Auf meinem rechten Fuss tret' ich, Gott, den Herrn, bitt' ich, Dass er entbind."
I press upon my right foot, God, the Lord, entreating, That He may deliver!
During the same thirty days in which the dagger is carried about the bed the school-children recite the evening prayers in the lying-in chamber, in order to keep off the "Benemmerin" (pixies); that is, elves. In Hamburg, for the protection of mother and child a skein of red silk is bound about the child's wrists (see "Am Urquell," iv. 96). Of efficacy against "Frau Holle" is the "Holle Kreisch" (compare Löw, l.c. p. 105; Bodenschatz, "Kirchliche Verfassung," iv. 73; "Mitteilungen," iv. 146, v. 7). Here may be mentioned the custom existing in Breslau of scattering almonds and raisins on the first Simḥat Torah after birth. The night before circumcision (watch-night or wheat-night), and in Palestine every night between birth and circumcision, for the protection of the child the people in the house "study" (compare Grünbaum, in Winter and Wünsche, "Die Jüdische Litteratur," iii. 587). At Salonica a ballad is sung on the watch-night (compare "Rev. Etudes Juives," 1896, ii. 138 et seq.). In Palestine, on the night before the circumcision an oil-lamp with many wicks is brought into the house, and there is general rejoicing. In Upper Silesia the knife for circumcision must be in the house the night before the ceremony. The Friday evening before circumcision ("Zakar") a feast is spread, to which every one is welcomed. In Hamburg, peas with pepper, whisky, and cake are provided; among the Portuguese, nasturtium seeds; in Poland, "fristtlech" ("faworiski"; that is, a thin pastry mixed with oil), round peas, and mead ("Mitteilungen," i. 100).
Most of these customs and superstitions are not of Jewish origin; but, as a review of Grimm's "Mythologie" and Wuttke's work (see bibliography below) shows, they have been borrowed from neighboring peoples.
For parturient women the regulations are the same as for the Niddah. At the birth of a male the bath (miḳweh) may not be taken before the expiration of eight days; at the birth of a female, not before fifteen days, provided clean white linen has been put on and the seven days of purification have taken place within that time. Where it is the custom for the women to visit the miḳweh at the end of forty days after bearing a male, and fifty after bearing a female, regulations are made accordingly (Yoreh De'ah, 19, 4).
- A. Lewysohn, Meḳore Minhagim, Berlin, 1846;
- L. Löw, Die Lebensalter, Szegedin, 1875;
- Luncz, Jerusalem, i. 21 et seq., Vienna, 1882;
- Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, Hamburg, 1898 et seq.;
- S. Rubin, Gesch. des Aberglaubens, German translation by I. Stern, Leipsic;
- Schudt, Jüdische Merkwürdigkeiten, 1714, ii. 6 et seq.;
- M. Schuhl, Superstitions et Coutumes Populaires du Judaïsme Contemporain. Paris, 1882;
- J. J. Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot be-Ereẓ Kaukaz, St. Petersburg, 1887;
- Winer, B. R. s.v. Kinder;
- Wuttke, Der, Deutsche Volksaberglaube der Gegenwart, Berlin, 1869;
- S. Schechter. The Child in Jewish Literature, in Studies in Judaism, pp. 343-380, 434-436, London, 1896.