This ceremony uses a red cord brought back from Israel that had been wrapped around Rachel's tomb. Rachel is the matriarch who suffered years of infertility, bore two children, Joseph and Benjamin, with great difficulty, and died giving birth to Benjamin. In Jewish tradition she has become our mater dolorosa, our mother of tears and the prime intercessor for women suffering infertility. Women seeking children visit Rachel's tomb, near Bethlehem, where they wrap a red cord around the tomb. The cord is then cut in pieces and each piece is entwined around the wrist of a woman in need.
The pregnant woman gathers in the midst of a group of women friends that stands around her holding a red cord brought from the Tomb of Rachel. She then recites this prayer for herself:
"Merciful and gracious Creator, have compassion on your loving handmaiden, [her own name Bat/daughter of her mother's name], that she may give birth to her child safely and in good health. May the merit of our holy foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah and the merit of our great leaders Miriam, Deborah, Hannah and Judith sustain me through my time of danger. May You help me avoid unhealthy acts and stay far away from any drink, smoke, or food that may harm the precious life within me. May this child be born through spacious straits, with room to spare. As You opened the Red Sea so that the children of Israel could pass through unharmed, please open me so that this child is born safely and without pain. May this little one grow to be a righteous person, always walking in the path of Torah and in the pursuit of ma'asim tovim [good deeds]. And may the Jewish people merit true redemption in this one's lifetime. Amen."
The women then help wrap the cord around the pregnant woman in the center, all the while heaping blessings upon her.
All then partake in the ceremonial meal laden with round foods.
Used with permission of Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman, an expert consultant on moral education for diverse families. She serves as the Rabbi Educator of Congregation Beth El and has published numerous articles on feminism, gay rights, and creative liturgy. You may reach her at JaneLitman@bethelberkeley.org or through Askarabbi@aol.com.