Our dependent and delicious newborn, will be our self-assured and adventurous youngster, then our rebellious yet loving teenager. Our child will grow, our relationship with her will change too. But our wishes for her will stay the same always. We want her to be blessed with health and happiness. We want her to know how much she is loved.”Wishes For My Child, JewBelong Prayerbook (modified)
A New Baby
If you are expecting a new baby, or if you’ve recently welcomed a new baby, mazel tov! I would be honored to help welcome your child into the covenant of the Jewish people.
If your new baby is a boy, the bris (Brit Milah, the ritual circumcision) takes place 8 days after he is born. I can give you references for a mohel. Different mohels do the ceremony (and the procedure) differently. I can discuss those differences, and any role you would like me to play (which will not include me doing the procedure!). I will discuss any discomfort you might have about having your son circumcised.
If your new baby is a girl, a ceremony which includes the giving of a Hebrew name to the baby is often scheduled about 30 days after birth, although it can be scheduled at your convenience in your home, at a synagogue, or any other convenient and appropriate space. Recently we have seen parents who wish to have this ceremony provide the same entry into the covenant as would the ceremony for a boy, so they prefer the ceremony on the eighth day.
This ceremony, by which a Jewish boy is said to enter the Covenant of Abraham, takes place on the eighth day after birth unless health considerations advise against it, in which case it is postponed until a physician gives permission. Abraham was commanded by God to circumcise himself and all his descendants as a sign of the covenant with God. The Circumcision ceremony is so important to Jewish law and tradition, that if it is being performed on the eighth day, it may even take place on Shabbat and festivals.
The B’rit milah is more than just the surgical procedure of cutting the foreskin from the penis. The ritual confirms the circumcision as the symbol of the covenant that binds God and the Jewish people to each other. It is actually the parents who are commanded to circumcise their sons, but since few are qualified to perform this surgical procedure, they generally appoint a mohel as their agent. There are other important and honored roles and positions in the ceremony, and even and acknowledgement of the possible presence of Elijah (and you thought he only showed up for Passover). All of this will be discussed in advance, so everything will go smoothly.
Following the circumcision, the child’s Hebrew name is announced. This mimics the name change that Abram underwent to Abraham immediately upon his circumcision.
Brit or Simchat Bat
Amongst traditional Jewish families, the only rite recognizing the birth of a daughter was the naming of the baby. The father attended a synagogue service at which the Torah is read, and he receives an Aliyah (he is called up to make a blessing over the Torah). Then a special prayer is recited for the infant girl; it is in this prayer that the name chosen for her by her parents is announced publicly for the first time.
In recent years however, new ceremonies have developed. One is known as Simchat Bat (Rejoicing for a Daughter). A selection of readings, classical and otherwise, is chosen, prayers are recited for the infant baby girl and her name is called out. The Brit Bat (Covenent for a daughter) is the ritual for entering a Jewish baby girl into the covenant and giving her a name. Unlike b’rit milah for a boy, there is no requirement for a baby girl’s covenant ceremony to take place on a particular date. There is also no set ritual for a brit bat. But we like to do the ceremony with a ritual that represents the moment of covenanting. This is accomplished by ritually wrapping her in a talit, lighting candles, immersing her in water, or washing her hands and feet. At either of these ceremonies, as with Brit Milah, a festive meal is served, to honor the age-old Jewish tradition of never letting guests go hungry.
Other (Non-traditional) Ceremonies
Children enter our families in so many different ways, as newborn or later in their life. A child may come into your life without a determined gender. Or you may want a ceremony for a boy who is not being circumcised. You may come from different religious backgrounds and bring all the complexities of your families to this child. Whatever the circumstances, together, we can create a joyous and unique ritual. We can have a welcoming ceremony that honors you and your child as you become one family. I will be happy and honored to create a ceremony for a new child, be the ceremony Jewish, interfaith or non-sectarian. This ceremony can give you, as parents, the opportunity to explain the world your choice of the baby’s name, and its significance to you, and to share the joy with friends and family. We will bless this moment of transition as you start this loving journey.
If you choose to give the child a Hebrew name, we will discuss the connection to your traditions that have been honored by the name you picked. In Jewish tradition, as long as a person is remembered, it is said that he or she lives on. So, it is tradition (at least in the Ashkenazi community) to name children after deceased relatives. This does indeed become especially meaningful in an interfaith family. I believe (as do many progressive Rabbis) that a girl or boy who has one Jewish parent is entitled to be given a Hebrew name, and to become a full-fledged member of the Jewish people.