When you have a brit milah for a boy, the planning is pretty simple–if you like, you can just do what the mohel tells you to do and arrange for some lox and bagel platters. When preparing to welcome a daughter, what, how and when you’re going to do it is all in your hands (along with your rabbi, cantor or others you call upon to help plan and lead the ceremony). This can be both fun and stressful–below are some of the things that will make your planning a little easier.
The Big Picture
The first thing to do is to sit down with your spouse, partner, or other close family member or friend, and get a general picture of what you want. Is your goal a big party or something more intimate? Is your home the place you want to have your daughter’s ceremony, or a synagogue? Do you have a rabbi or knowledgeable friend in mind to lead it, or is that something you want to do yourselves?
Do you have older children who you’d like to involve, and what would you like them to do? Having them give a meaningful Jewish gift to their new sister–like a tzedakah box– is always a sweet moment, especially if it’s something that they can make themselves, with your assistance, at a paint-your-own pottery place or even out of arts and crafts materials.
What and When?
Of course, the two central questions you need to answer are what you want to call it, and when you want to have it.
There are lots of different possibilities for names for this event. Simchat bat, which means “Rejoicing in a Daughter” or “celebration for a daughter,” is the most popular and general term for such a ceremony. If you are focusing on the covenantal aspects of the ritual, you may want to call it a brit bat, or “daughter’s covenant.” As the Sephardim do, you can call it a “zeved habat,” or “gift of a daughter.” Other choices include chag hachnasat la-brit, or “celebration of bringing [her] into the covenant,” and brit banot yisrael, “covenant of the daughters of Israel.” (Then again, you can simply call it a Day of Blessings and Celebrations, or a baby naming, in English.)
The next thing to consider is timing. Unless the baby is ill, a boy’s brit milah is held on the eighth day of his life, even if it falls on Shabbat or Yom Kippur. For girls, the choices are open-ended. If you wish to parallel the timing of a brit milah (and are either very organized or already prepared for the birth of a daughter!), you can choose to schedule this event on the eighth day of her life.
But don’t feel pressured; you can have it after 14 days (in the Torah, a mother’s ritual impurity after a daughter’s birth lasted two weeks); when she is a month old (echoing the ancient belief that a child was only viable after 30 days); or after 80 days, the length of time that the Torah tells us a woman had to wait after birthing a girl to bring the sacrifices to the Temple.
Having it on at the beginning of a new Jewish month has a nice tie to the Jewish calendar and a particularly female association, since Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month) is traditionally a minor holiday set aside for the enjoyment of women (and observed by many contemporary feminists). Or, like many families, you can wait until the first convenient Shabbat (which has its own covenantal meaning) to hold her welcoming ceremony, or even a Sunday, ensuring that your extended family and community members (including those who are traditionally observant and do not drive on the Sabbath) will be able to join you.
Once you’ve decided when and where to have it, you need to set it up. If it’s at synagogue, the ritual will likely be in the sanctuary with a catered reception held in the social hall. If it’s at home, you’ll probably want to use your living room and then move to the dining room where you can set up a buffet of lox and bagels, deli, foods reflecting your family’s culture(s), or whatever food is easy to pull together. It’s always nice to have a real birth-day cake for the baby, too. Ask friends or relatives to pitch in with the set up on the big day.
If you’re having it at home, clear out the living room to make room for your guests, with a staging area at the front. Most people will stand during the ceremony itself, but remember to arrange plenty of seating, especially for older folks, and for others during the meal
The Ceremony Itself
Next comes consideration of the heart of the brit bat: the ceremony itself, usually including a central ritual. It’s time to think about the content. Do you want your ceremony to be focused on the meaning of this girl’s arrival in your particular family, or more oriented toward her role as another link in the chain of Jewish history and peoplehood? Do you want her ceremony to feel traditional or modern? How comfortable are you with innovative rituals? Or, do you prefer to stick to prayers and blessings which have long ties to Jewish tradition?
Good resources to help you figure out the answers to those questions include other articles on this website and at www.ritualwell.org, books like Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant and The New Jewish Baby Book, and of course, your rabbi. In addition, if you are in a large and/or active Jewish community, people you know may have files of other people’s ceremonies, including a wide selection of prayers, readings, and rituals.
If you plan to utilize Jewish ritual objects as part of the ceremony, be sure assemble them before the big day. If you want to wrap the baby in a tallit (a prayer shawl), for example (to symbolize the embrace of the covenant, her family, and community) you may only need to take it out of a drawer or borrow it from a relative. If you want to have a wedding canopy suspended over your family during part of the ceremony, you’ll have to dig yours out of storage, borrow one from a synagogue, or use a tallit.
If you’ll be lighting candles, you’ll need to them on hand along with candleholders and matches. You should also have ready challah, a challah cover and knife, and, if you plan to have a blessing over wine as part of your ceremony, a ritual goblet for wine or grape juice.
You’ll want to have something special for your baby daughter to wear, and, if holding it at home, supplies in order to festoon the place with flowers, crepe paper, and other festive decorations. It’s great to involve your new daughter’s siblings and cousins in that part of the planning; get them to paint or draw signs of welcome that you can hang up.
One of the most important things to have ready is a program guide for your daughter’s welcoming ceremony. Distributing a printed program to your guests isn’t necessary, but it does help everyone follow along and makes a wonderful keepsake to share with your daughter later in her life. It’s also nice to send a copy to loved ones who can’t make it to ceremony
The program need not be fancy, and can be something that you type up on a computer and have reproduced at a copy shop. If your computer can’t handle Hebrew, you can input the English text and leave space for the Hebrew on each page. Then you can either cut and paste the Hebrew prayers and text from a prayerbook, one of the books cited above, or other sources, or write it in by hand.
A brief list of the central cast of participants at the front of the program guide can be useful. It’s a nice thought to including photocopied pictures of the people for whom your daughter is being named.. Another meaningful element some families choose to include is a family tree, either composed by hand or on a computer, showing your daughter’s roots.
On the cover, include your daughter’s name (if you’re comfortable revealing it before the ceremony–some people follow the tradition of not “pre-releasing” this information), the title you’re giving to her welcoming ceremony, the date, and the city. Include Hebrew, if you can, and a decorative motif–perhaps from your daughter’s baby announcement.
Don’t worry about making it look like a professionally created document. Part of the charm and individuality of these booklets is their homemade look.
Finally, most parents let somebody else actually run the show–even those who are themselves rabbis, cantors, or ritual experts. Allow yourselves the luxury and joy of being participants and parents, as you would with other lifecycle events.
Pronounced: breet mee-LAH, Origin: Hebrew, literally “covenant of circumcision,” the Jewish circumcision ceremony for an 8-day-old boy, marking the covenant between God and the Jews. Also known as a bris.
Pronounced: KHAH-luh, Origin: Hebrew, ceremonial bread eaten on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: tzuh-DAH-kuh, Origin: Hebrew, from the Hebrew root for justice, charitable giving.