Dividends of Meaning: Jewish Rituals for the Financial Lifecycle

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic, we invited Rabbi Jen Gubitz to share an excerpt of the chapter that she wrote.

When Hyman retired from his job, he gathered with his community and rabbi to ritualize this major transition in his life. This Jewish ritual began as many do —his wife Ann placed a kippah on Hyman’s head, they lit candles, and blessed wine. Then Hyman put his briefcase down on the ground and asked aloud: “As I enter the years of retirement and aging: Will I be bored or stimulated? Will I feel useless or valuable? Will I be lonely or involved with others? Will I feel despair or hope?” “Only the years to come can answer those questions,” the rabbi responded, “but tonight we can do several things to help Hy through his transition.

  • First, we have brought seven gifts.
  • Second, we can follow the traditional Jewish custom of offering tzedakah in Hy’s honor. The money will be given to the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
  • Third, we can scare away the demons as our ancestors did with the blast of the shofar.”

Upon the conclusion of a final shofar blast, Hyman was declared a Bar Yovel, a “Son of the Jubilee,” released from professional employment with the opportunity to move on to a new stage in life.[i]  To mark his new status, Hyman also took on an additional Hebrew name.

A donation dedicated to the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, a briefcase, candles, and the shofar: From the mundane to the holy, these are the ritual items used to mark a financial and life transition. This category of ritual does not celebrate the eight-day old baby, a child entering Jewish adulthood, or the beloveds under their wedding canopy, but the retiree, enhancing a significant moment of the secular financial life cycle. In addition to celebrating retirement, Jewish ritual and wisdom has the means to frame and celebrate seemingly amorphous and mundane financial moments, from opening a bank account to getting a first credit card, from purchasing and owning a car, to the first or the last mortgage payment on the place called home; from receiving a scholarship to remitting that final student loan payment to submitting a final tuition payment for a child’s education; from cutting up credit cards to tackling debt to earning money through labor and investments, and accruing money through saving; from retiring from a primary career to transitioning to a second or third.

However, a personal survey of literature and clergy’s stories among various faith traditions revealed surprisingly few rituals, prayers or poems to mark these significant moments in life. The distinct transitional moments of the financial life cycle clearly lie beyond the arc of the traditional framework of Jewish ritual and its marking of loving relationships, childbearing, welcoming, learning, illness, and loss. Judaism brims with ritual and recognition of the formal family life cycle, yet these days many of us live longer, causing the gap in time between classic Jewish life cycle events to increase dramatically.  Moreover, the only experiences in life we all have in common today are birth and death. Many of us do not even aspire or are able to reach or mark the traditionally ritualized moments of the Jewish life cycle that happen in between, causing a dearth of ritual in progressive Jewish life.

There is tremendous opportunity to broaden the scope of private and communal Jewish ritual to encompass moments of the life cycle in connection to money and finances. With sensitivity to the many in our midst who work endless hours and years without reaching the financial milestones that would relieve them of their crippling debt or acknowledge their life’s investment, this type of ritual innovation can have a transformative impact on the Jewish community, particularly on the demographics of people least attracted or immediately connected to Jewish living, such as millennials and baby boomers. Money and its impact on our lives is part of the reality of living in the world. We are not, yet, allowing Judaism to permeate this part of our lives, bridging the realities of secular living and Jewish practice. That said, over the last 20 years Jewish ritual has been the subject of many innovations, and some of our new rituals do attempt to make our financial life cycle part of our spiritual lives.

[i] This Ritual of Retirement was adapted from a “Life Cycle Passages” class at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1983. The ritual is published online at

Rabbi Jen Gubitz serves Temple Israel of Boston.  She is also a contributor to CCAR Press’s forthcoming book, The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic