In Baby Frenzy, British Royals Show 'Jewish' Restraint

No Name and Sparse Details Typical of Orthodox Births

The Jewish Way: The media were in a frenzy over the impending birth of Britain’s royal baby. But the royal family seemed to be taking a studious approach more typical of how Jewish families traditionally approach giving birth.
getty images
The Jewish Way: The media were in a frenzy over the impending birth of Britain’s royal baby. But the royal family seemed to be taking a studious approach more typical of how Jewish families traditionally approach giving birth.

By Jillian Scheinfeld

Published July 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

(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.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, says the superstitions surrounding pregnancy and birth are not based in Jewish law and may even contravene them.

“As Jews, we are supposed to believe that God protects us, and sometimes these superstitious practices rely on forces other than God,” Lopatin said. “It’s almost in the category of magic.”

Historically, magic and superstitions were a way for expectant mothers to deal with the complicated, unpredictable and dangerous process of pregnancy.

While technology has eliminated some of those unknowns and dangers, pregnancy is still a fraught process, and superstitions have persisted, says Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University.

“Pregnancy superstitions remain a combination of fear of evil wishes and a very practical response to medical realities,” Fishman says.

Today, many Jewish women say superstitions have no place when it comes to pregnancy. Many plan full baby showers without concern about whether celebrating before the birth tempts fate. Others hold smaller celebrations, such as tea parties, that do not involve gifts.

Jewish educator Sarah Wilensky, a mother of two, said she did not want a baby shower when she was pregnant with her daughter, but her sister-in-law insisted on a party so she relented.

“But I told her no gifts for the baby – just casual brunch for friends and family – and that if people really wanted to bring gifts, maybe something small for me and my husband to enjoy while we were waiting for her arrival,” Wilensky said. “It ended up being lovely and I received many gifts.”

Connecticut-based Jewish blogger Cara Paiuk said she told her close friends and family immediately when she discovered she was pregnant with her first son. She did the same for her twins, who are nearly 3 months old.

“I firmly believe in sharing with your friends and family,” said Paiuk, who blogs for Kveller. “If, God forbid, something went wrong or was going wrong, it gives them the opportunity to love and support you rather than be in a vacuum where no one knows and you feel isolated and lonely.

“I had some complications with this pregnancy and I was very open about them. The community and friends rallied. They brought food, kept me company, looked after my son when I was in the hospital.”

Jordana Horn, a journalist, lawyer, blogger and mother of five, says she holds on to some superstitions.

“I would never buy things for the new baby before the baby was born and keep it in my house,” she said. “But I have five children, and I like to find out what the gender is when I can – in no small part to tell the older sister or brother what is coming to them. It’s fun to get excited.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.