Home Living Jewish Welcoming your girl or boy into Jewish life – part two

Welcoming your girl or boy into Jewish life – part two

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Mazel Tov. It’s a boy!

Mazel Tov. It’s a girl!

Births of a girl or a boy are both wonderful simchas which have been marked by different religious observances. As we saw last time, a boy will have a brit milah, perhaps preceded by the Shalom Zachar (“Welcome to the Baby Boy”), a party held on the first Friday evening after the birth.

But what about the girls?

Traditionally, the baby girl is named on the next day that the Torah is read. The father is called to the Torah, special prayers and blessings are recited on behalf of the mother and the newborn baby. And at that point, the baby’s name is formally announced.


Brit Bat: Jewish Traditions for Welcoming a Baby Girl

But why there isn’t a corresponding ceremony to the Brit Milah for girls? An essay at Circumcision.net suggests “Tradition holds the Jewish woman in the greatest esteem. It is the Jewish mother who conveys the Jewish status and birthright upon her child, ensuring the future of the entire Jewish people. Tradition tells us that a newborn girl is considered ‘complete’ with regard to the spiritual benefits attained through a Brit Milah.”

However, in recent years, many parents have felt a need to hold more elaborate ceremonies for their newborn Jewish daughters. As noted in “Thank Heaven for Little Girls: Finally, a Wholehearted Welcome for Half the Jewish People,” these baby-naming celebrations have various names including Brit Bat (the Covenant of the Girl) and Simchat Bat (Celebration of the Daughter).

The article points out that “there are no prohibitions to prevent religiously observant parents from honouring the birth of a girl baby. Thus, this fledgling ceremony has taken its first tentative steps into Jewish households across the religious spectrum… Some read a loving note to their newborn or give her a gift of a kiddush cup or Shabbat candlesticks. David and Leslie Mirchin of Cambridge, Massachusetts taught those assembled at their Simchat Bat the Hebrew song El HaMaayan — ‘to the fountain of water’ — in honour of their own new fountain of joy, Maayan Levy Mirchin.”


Simchat Bat of Yael Vered Kaplow

While Ashkenazi Jews may not have a strong tradition of ceremonies welcoming their daughters, other Jewish communities do. Sephardim observe Seder Zeved HaBat (Gift of the Daughter). On the first Shabbat after her birth, the father is called up to the Torah and “the rabbi offers the family congratulations on their new arrival and offers a MiSheberakh, a prayer for the girl’s well-being. Then the words ‘avi habat,’ or ‘father of the daughter,’ are called out. That is the congregation’s cue to start singing traditional songs for welcoming girls.” Other welcoming ceremonies include Las Fadas (Medieval Spain), Simchat Torah Welcome (Yemenite) and the Cradle Ceremony (Southern Germany).

For No’a Gorlin, the Zeved HaBat allowed her “to reach beyond my Ashkenazic boundaries and absorb how other Jewish communities — particularly the Sephardic Spanish and Portuguese communities — celebrate the beauty and richness of the covenantal process.

“A covenant sustains elements of the personal and the national. We are welcoming a new Jew into our midst, creating a link in the historical chain of our people. And, by doing so, we are also connecting to something far greater than our own narrow familial confines.”

Debra Nussbaum Cohen has recommendations for the elements of the ceremony including the shehecheyanu blessing which “is often recited when an individual or family reaches a new occasion. Some might say this at the moment of their daughter’s birth. [Another] traditional blessing ending with the words hatov v’hameitiv (the One who is good and renders goodness) is said upon hearing good news, or when something wonderful happens to an individual or to the community.”


Simchat Bat of Tirzah Eliora Salkind

If he is healthy, a boy’s brit milah should take place when he is eight days old. Otherwise, as soon after that as possible. But what about girls? Cantor Philip Sherman suggests that a celebration is appropriate any time before her first birthday. “Parents may wish to have a special gathering at a later date to afford the new mother and baby the opportunity to share in the celebration. On Shabbat, a Kiddush or luncheon may be held in the synagogue following services. In addition to the meal, the new parents may offer a few words describing their feelings about the birth of their daughter, perhaps including an explanation of the baby’s Jewish name(s). No event such as this is complete without a D’var Torah, a brief exposition relating to the portion of the week or other relevant Jewish themes.”

Greg and Carolyn Priest-Dorman timed their celebration to coincide with the Birkat HaLevanah, the blessing preceding the appearance of the New Moon, which they “felt achieved the perfect balance of traditional Jewish ritual with the almost universal human equation of women and the cycles of the moon.”

A month after Tova Gabrielle Wilensky was born, her family celebrated Tova’s arrival. The ceremony concluded with the hopes that all Jewish parents could echo: “We dedicate our child to Torah, to a never-ending fascination with study and learning. With a book, she will never be alone. We dedicate our child to chuppah, to never-ending growth as a human being capable of giving and receiving love. With a loving friend, she will never be alone. We dedicate our child to ma’asim tovim, to a never-ending concern for family and community, justice and charity. If she cares for others, she will never be alone.”

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