(JTA) — When the news broke Monday that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William, had gone into labor, it seemed that London could not have been more prepared.
For weeks, reporters and photographers had been camped out in front of the maternity ward at St. Mary’s Hospital. The choreography of how the royal baby’s name would be announced was well-known: A car would drive from the hospital to Buckingham Palace, where the new name would be posted on an easel.
Yes, some crucial elements were missing surrounding the world’s most highly anticipated birth since Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had their twins in 2008.
Kate, now known as Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and William had said they wanted the baby’s gender to be a surprise, so nobody knew whether to expect a prince or princess. Prince Charles, heir to the throne and the expectant grandfather, did not rush to the hospital’s Jewish-funded wing when the news came that Kate had gone into labor. Instead, he stuck to his planned schedule with a visit to the National Railway Museum in York.
It was a restraint that seemed, well, Jewish.
Like the royals, Jews traditionally have shunned pre-birth celebrations, and many stick to traditions in which they try to say and reveal as little as possible about their pregnancy until the baby’s arrival.
In the haredi Orthodox world, most women don’t even announce their pregnancies at all out of a reluctance to trumpet good news – for reasons of modesty and superstition.
“Jewish women feel conflicted because it’s incredibly helpful to prepare for the baby’s birth, but they still feel strange and think it will invite the evil eye if they celebrate their pregnancy,” says Deborah Kolben, editor of the Jewish parenting website Kveller.com. “When you try to talk about superstitions rationally they seem ridiculous, but it’s something that has been passed along and makes you feel like you have control over something when in reality you don’t.”
Some women wear amulets during pregnancy to stave off the evil eye, or “ayin hara.” In Jewish medieval mythology, the figure most threatening to a woman, Lilith, is notorious for strangling babies, robbing mothers of their children.
Jewish folklorist Howard Schwartz says the day his mother found out she was pregnant with him 69 years ago, she and her husband were planning a trip to the zoo. Her grandmother, hearing of the zoo excursion, warned her daughter not to look at the monkeys.
“Whatever you see before you’re pregnant can affect the baby,” she told her daughter, according to Schwartz.