Initiation or Hatunah Bezei?r Anpin
El Hi Ani ? All Rights Reserved
Moroccan Jews introduce their children to Torah learning at very early stages of their lives. One very special ceremony known as ?Hatunah bezei?r anpin? or a small symbolic wedding takes place around the age of three, most often in conjunction with the Festival of Shavuo?t or Pentecost. The ritual is also called ?al ktab? in Arabic, meaning contract or engagement.
Usually, a group of children about three years old are called to the Torah podium as if they were ?grooms.? The march of the children towards the Torah is accompanied with chants (piyutim) and the children are showered with candies. The ritual, which is said to wed the youngsters to Torah, aims to introduce toddlers to learning at a very early age. It appears to be an initiation ritual geared to integrate the newborn into the community at a very young age at least in a symbolic manner, hence the symbolic marriage to the Torah in the synagogue.
Shavuo?t was also called the ?Festival of Promises? because Moroccan Jews used to ?wed? their children at least symbolically on the occasion of ?Hatunah bezei?r anpin.? Parents occasionally exchanged promises that their children would be wedded in due age. Occasionally, these promises came through.
The symbolic weddings of toddlers to Torah and learning or between young boys and girls clearly intended to integrate new members into an initiated community while at the same time strengthen family ties.
Other rituals take place around the same time to fulfill similar functions. A ritual of a similar character takes place, this time outside of the synagogue, in a private home. Toddlers, about three years of age, are brought together to a small celebration during which they are introduced to the Hebrew alphabet, which is engraved on a wooden board laced with honey. The youngsters are blessed on this occasion as follows: ‘May Torah teachings be as sweet as honey in your palate’. They are also showered with candies, almonds and raisins.
Similarly, toddlers who have been initiated to learning are often brought into the home of a newborn just before his circumcision. In this case the toddlers symbolically bring into the home of the newborn their own ?blessedness? as newly initiated learners.
Moroccan Jews believe that ?hatuna bezei?r anpin? has its roots in ancient Talmudic traditions and that it has latent cabalistic symbolism. The ceremony was common mostly in the interior of Morocco, i.e., in the Tafilalet region, the domain of the ancient Jewish inhabitants of Morocco (toshavim). According to local traditions, both covert and overt significance link between the individual and the Torah. The ?zivug? (coupling or matching or assembling) between children on one hand and the Torah on the other hand are part and parcel of the desire to commit youngsters to the process of completion of creation (tikun hakelim). Learning and good deeds and marriage are part of the process of bringing creation to completion and thereby becoming like the Creator and submerging into the domain of divinity. It is interesting to note that the process of ?zivug? (matching) is not enough to bring about ?tikun? (reparation) because ?zivug? is but a material assembly of parts. For ?tikun? (reparation) to occur, it is expected of the assembled parts to acquire or fill themselves with Torah, i.e., meaningful learning or holy spirit. Hatuna bezei?r anpin or the symbolic wedding intends to make the coupling of the parts sacred. This explanation, conveyed to me by my grandfather, Mordecai Elhiany, seems compatible with the school of Rabbi Yaacov Avihatsira, where he acquired his rabbinical accreditation. It is also congruent with the teaching of Ha Ari in the Ashkenazi tradition.