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Babylonian Jewish Customs

Vol. I & II out of III

by Dr. Abraham Ben-Yaacob

Reviewed by: Mrs L. Levy

This book describes the Jewish annual life in Babylon in the last generations. One example which illustrates the tradition is birth and the celebrations which follow.

Until W.W.I all births were handled by midwives at home. The first Jewish hospital in Baghdad was opened in 1910. The midwife was respected, very well paid and received a lot of gifts.

Pregnancy (HABAL)

When a woman became pregnant her parents sent her a big tray of sweets and goodies like:

LOOZINA (Quince confectionery)

KAND (Loaf sugar)

HALKUN (Turkish delight)

MLABAS (sugared almond)

KIZIBRA (dried coriander) and also small items of Jewellery.

The pregnant woman had to be supplied with all the food she desired. She was not allowed to scratch any part of her body, because scratching would produce a child with birth mark.

At the start of the seventh month of the pregnancy, the women starts to sew the baby's clothes. When the nine months commences, her parents would send her 10 kg of rice, one rooster and two hens.

One hen "KAPARA" for an easy birth. A rooster "KAPARA" for a boy. Another hen "KAPARA" for a girl. Rice was cooked with pieces of chicken, almonds and raisins and sent to friends and family.

A rice dish was cooked and given to the poor.

After the Birth the mother's mother took care of her daughter for forty days and helped her with all her tasks.

On the fifth day after the birth the midwife came home and sewed small packages filled with items which were considered helpful against the evil eye. Items as: garlic, little buttons in blue azure (DIHASHE) , blue beads and muschel (WADA).

These small packages together with plates of sweets were sent to family and friends houses.

Forty days after the birth the midwife took the baby to the "Linen Bazaar" and showed him around so that no evil spirit would enter him (KABSA).

A boy was preferred to a girl. The reasons were: It is easy to marry off a son and he received a dowry; The son carries the family surname for ever. There is an old saying: "The son of your son is your son, the son of your daughter is not;" When the parents got old, their son supported them.; The son says "KADISHE."

For all the above reasons, when a son was born there was joy and many celebrations. And when a girl was born it was a big disappointment.

The first celebration for a boy and the only one for a girl is called: The sixth night - SITI.

There was a big celebration and a feast on the sixth night after the birth. A crockery dish was smashed. Into every piece Saffron water was poured. Young boys took the pieces and threw them onto the yard's floor and shouted "SHASHA" "SHASHA."

There was a band of singers with drums and flutes. Everybody danced and sang. The most common food was popcorn (THOUGHA) which is called also "SHASHA," since there is no sixth night celebration without it. The midwife put her finger in Saffron and made a spot on the baby's and mother's forehead against the evil eye.

Trays with sweets were sent to family and friends houses.

When a SITI was organised for a girl, the midwife announced the chosen name. Usually the girl was called after one of the grandmothers who died.

For the SITI the mother's parents sent gifts for the baby: gold bracelet with little bells to wear on the ankle, or a gold palm (KHAMSA).

Another celebration was the ALIYAH LATORAH.

On Shabbat before the circumcision (Brit Mila) the father's father was called up to the reading of the Torah.

In the Synagogue a band sang verses from the Torah and poems. The women sang "HILIHIL" and threw candies and flowers.

After the Synagogue a feast was served at home.

There was another celebration on the seventh night, the celebration of the MYRTLE (Aqd Elias). (The celebration of the chain).

The night before the circumcision a big feast was held. Family and friends were invited . The chair of ELIYAHU HANABI (the Prophet Elija) was brought home from the Synagogue and decorated with myrtle leaves. The 5 books of the Torah and a copy of the "ZOHAR" were placed on the chair.

"ABOU LE SHBAHOTH" (the choir master) blessed the baby, and was in charge of the celebration. The men danced and sang around the chair. The women sat by the mother's bed.

The Circumcision - (Brit Mila)

The circumcisers (Mohalim) were not paid. Many of them circumcised also Muslims. The most famous Mohalim were: The Chief Rabbi Ezra Reuben Dangoor; The Rabbi Moshe Bar Eliyaou and the Lyricist David.

The poor celebrated the Mila in the Synagogue where food was not permitted, so they were not obliged to serve a meal. The rich celebrated at home or at the Jewish hospital.

The custom for everybody was to eat big bagels, baked especially for the occasion (Ka'kat) and HALKOON candies.

The circumcision took place in the morning. During the ceremony everybody had to stand up.

Three candles were lit. The custom in Baghdad was that the mother of the father brought the baby to the Synagogue and handed him over to his father.

Usually, the father was also the godfather (SANDAK). Sometimes the grandfather was honoured.

Before the Brit, the baby was with his mother. The singers stood near the women and sang songs about the Mila and then called the father to the circumcision. The Mohel blesses the wine, drinks a quarter, and puts some drops in the baby's mouth. (It is believed that this wine has special virtue for women and brings BERAKHA) blessing.

After the Kiddush, the Mohel announces the baby's name. After the Brit and then all the participants get big bagels HALKOON and MLABAS.

In the afternoon, a "MITZVA" feast was offered to family, Rabbis and "HASIDIM." The meal was called: "The feast of Abraham Avino."

The rich sent plats of cakes, HALKOON and MLABAS to family and friends. Some sent very special sweets "MANIL SAMA (manna)."

Redemption of the first born son (Pedion Haben). A big celebration of the 30 day after the birth of the first son. Again, a big feast is offered to family, friends and especially Rabbi and Torah students. The money the Rabbi received was donated to the Synagogue.


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