A new life cycle ceremony was introduced at the National Havurah Summer Institute in Bryn Mawr, PA last summer — a rite of passage for those turning 40. Developed at the request of Herbert Levine, a professor of literature at Franklin Marshall College who was to turn 40 during the week of the institute, the ceremony was enlarged to include everyone turning 40 during the year.
No one under 40 was permitted in the room. Those being inducted, about 10 in number, sat in a circle in the middle of the room.
A psychologist from Philadelphia began with secular stories about the impact of turning 40. Humor was followed by study. A scholar of Chasidism provided the following commentary: “At five years old, one is fit for scripture, at 10 for Mishnah, at 13 for fulfilling the commandments, at 15 for Talmud, at 18 for the chupah (marriage), at 20 to pursue a trade, at 30 for strength, and at 40 for discernment… !’ Other people noted that when one reaches the age of 40, she may begin the study of Zohar, the deepest of Jewish spiritual texts.
Those inducting the newcomers to the age of 40 stood behind them, first placing hands on the inductees’ hips. “At 18 you operated here, searching for a mate’,’ they chanted. With hands placed on the inductee’s back: “At 20 your energy was here, learning to carry your weight in the community!’ With hands placed on the inductees’ shoulders: “At 30 you had the strength to carry your children, to support a community!’ Continuing they placed their hands on either side of the inductees’ head, “Now at 40 you are welcomed into the society of ‘Bina’ (discernment). Having learned to relate to the world from your loins, your back, your shoulders, now learn to relate from both sides of your brain and see the world as it really is, and discern your place in it!’
The ceremony concluded with appropriate blessings.