Cutting the Cloth: A Sephardi Celebration of Pregnancy by Michelle Klein

Ashkenazi Jews in the shtetl believed that proud talk when a pregnancy was barely established would invite catastrophe. Like other Jews, they feared the Evil Eye, expecting it to do harm when their affairs were prospering… [Even today, many] buy nothing for an expected infant until after the birth.[1]

In contrast, Sephardic Jews have often celebrated a first pregnancy. This celebration has been named kortadura de fashadura (in Judeo-Spanish) or tekti'a el g'daouere (in Judeo-Arabic), meaning "the cutting of the swaddling clothes."

At the Fyesta de Fashadura held in honor of the expected baby of Ece Mizrahi.
Photo: Laurence Salzmann*

The ceremonial cutting of cloth to make the baby's first costume, which is the same for a girl or a boy, is an old Sephardic custom still continued by some Jews in Istanbul. When a Jewish woman reaches the fifth month of her first pregnancy, her family invites all her female relatives and in-laws, as well as friends and neighbors. Liqueurs and chocolates, tea, cakes and sugared almonds are set out on the best china, on hand-embroidered tablecloths. The cloth is of excellent quality and traditionally comes from the expectant woman's dowry. A relative who is herself a mother and whose own parents are still alive (a good omen for long life) receives the honor of making the first cut in the cloth. At the moment of the cut, the pregnant woman throws white sugared almonds on the cloth to symbolize the sweet and prosperous future she wishes for her future child.[2] … In Morocco, the midwife cut the cloth into swaddling clothes in the presence of women friends and relatives who offered their good wishes and shared tea and cakes.[3]

On a recent trip to Turkey, culinary researcher and cookbook author Claudia Roden found that the fashadura, is still being celebrated. The menu featured Borekitas de Berengena — Eggplant and Cheese Pies, a dish unique, in Turkey, to the Jewish community.[5]

Apparently, this was a very festive occasion, for in 1904 the rabbi of Sefrou decreed against the ostentation displayed at these celebrations.[4] When the conception followed a period of barrenness that had been cured by a pilgrimage to the tomb of a famous rabbi, the pregnant woman returned to the tomb for a celebration of cakes and arrak, and she distributed charity to yeshivah students and the poor. By the middle of the twentieth century, a few Jewish families still continued these traditions, fearing bad luck if, by abandoning them, they omitted the blessings and good wishes for the future child.

footnotes [1] Goshen-Gottein, E. Marriage and First Pregnancy (London:Tavistock, 1966). [back]
[2] Lorenzo and Ayse Salzmann, and Eti Alkanli of California, personal communication. [back]
[3] Ben Simhon, R., Yahadut Marocco (Lod: Orot Yahadut Magreb, 1994) pp. 19, 28-29. [back]
[4] Barnes and nobles linkOvadia, D. Kehillot Zafro, (Jerusalem: 1975), vol. 1, p. 293. [back]
Claudia Roden. The Book of Jewish Food,. © copyright 1996 Claudia Roden (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), pp. 283-84. [back]

From: Michele Klein, A Time to be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth. copyright 1998 by Michele Klein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America), pp. 70-71. Permission of the author and Jewish Publication Society of America.

JPS link
sources Photograph courtesy of photographer Laurence Salzmann, Blue Flower Press.



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