Interfaith Baby Namings

Planning a ceremony when your family is multi-faith or multi-cultural.

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The birth of a baby can have a marvelously healing effect on relationships, and it is the right time to be as inclusive as possible. At the same time, this is a Jewish child being welcomed into God's covenant with the Jewish people with a specifically Jewish ritual, and so there are roles which are appropriate only for Jews to fill, like reciting Jewish prayers and Hebrew blessings.

A child’s birth is a time fraught with intense emotion. If this baby has non-Jewish family members, her or his ceremony--potentially a time of great healing, but also of great complexity--may be one of the very first Jewish rituals in which they’re being involved.

The occasion may force the baby’s parents to examine seriously, for the first time, which religious community they intend to be part of as a family. That is a discussion best begun--and concluded--long before the baby arrives. While agreeing to raise their child in a Jewish home, the non-Jewish parent may also feel a deep sense of loss, even if they haven’t been particularly religious themselves.

For non-Jewish grandparents, as painful as the marriage of their presently or formerly non-Jewish child to a Jew may have been for them, even that may not have had the sense of permanence for them as does a ritual making clear that their grandchild will be raised as a Jew--and not in their own tradition or faith. If non-Jewish grandparents feel ambivalent about this new child being raised as a Jew, those feelings may well come up during the planning of the child's ceremony.

Be prepared to handle their concerns with compassion and sensitivity. You don’t want difficult feelings to get in the way of the joyous celebration of your new daughter’s arrival. At the same time, if you and your spouse have made a commitment to raising your child as a Jew, there isn’t room for the birth-related rites of passage, like baptism, of another faith. Simply acknowledging the grandparents' ambivalence and feelings of loss may be helpful.

This event is an opportunity for non-Jewish relatives to see the beauty of the religion to which you have committed your family, and also an opportunity to involve them and, in the process, demonstrate that choosing a Jewish life for your children does not mean severing family ties with them. For a non-Jewish parent, this may be the first time that you are making a public statement about the way in which you intend to raise your family, and can serve as a  joyful affirmation of the commitment you have made to your new--and growing--family.                         

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.