Baby Ceremonies

Why do we need ceremonies at all to welcome Jewish babies? A baby born to a Jewish mother (or in some liberal communities, to a Jewish father) or who is converted to Judaism is a Jewish baby, period. What is the purpose of a ceremony of welcome, of covenant, of naming?

Purposes of Ceremonies for Babies

Such ceremonies and their rituals serve many purposes. They initiate a lifetime of marking significant events in the context of tradition and community functions. They represent the fulfillment of mitzvot, of commandments or obligations, that require such ceremonies. They help us to avoid what Rabbi Harold Schulweis calls “riteless passages”–moments of significance that simply happen, without notice or celebration. They link us to the Jewish past and commit us to a Jewish future. They serve as an opportunity to reinforce central beliefs and symbols–for example, covenant, commandment, and community–that characterize Judaism and Jewish life.

Perhaps most significantly, as Rabbi Laura Geller notes, they effect transformation. Before a brit milah (covenantal circumcision ceremony) or a brit bat (covenant ceremony for girls), a baby is simply the child of particular parents–even referred to only as “the baby.” After such a ceremony, she becomes herself, he becomes himself, in Geller’s words, “a Jew linked through ritual to covenant and messiah, and transformed through ritual into so-and-so [the child of] particular parents within the context of the Jewish people.…The infant is transformed, named, given tribe and history, roots and purpose, baggage and wings” (Lifecycles, Vol. I, ed. Rabbi Debra Orenstein, pp. 61-62). The community too is changed, having once again engaged with our history and our future, and having welcomed another member into our midst.

Traditional Jewish sources can illuminate particular subjects such as:

· Why circumcision is necessary to “perfect” nature, and why it is such a significant commandment;

· The religious significance of building a family; and

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