A New Welcome for Jewish Daughters
An interview with the author of the only book on welcoming ceremonies for Jewish girls reveals much about contemporary Jewish life.
You mentioned the letters you received from people about their simchat bat ceremonies, and you mention in the book many ceremonies from other countries. How did you go about doing the research?
I have been to quite a few [simchat bat ceremonies], those of friends and in my community. I researched it by putting a query out. It spread all over the world, mostly electronically, and people sent them [the ceremonies] to me from everywhere. I researched traditional welcoming ceremonies through scholars' work. But there's actually not a lot written.
It's an area of recent scholarship. But there have been welcoming ceremonies in different Jewish cultures for hundreds of years. It's not a new phenomenon. But it is a phenomenon that kind of got forgotten in America.
What did you do for your own daughter’s welcoming ceremony?
When my second daughter, Elana, was born, I was a lot more knowledgeable about this, and the book was going to press as I brought her home. I had been so immersed in it for the last year and a half or so that I didn't even want to have one for her at first, but my husband talked some sense into me.
Elana’s welcoming ceremony was based on the five senses that God gave us to appreciate the world. And through each of them, we talked about our hopes for her and our dreams for her, and her relationship as an individual to her family and her community.
For sight, we held her up so the community, our 80 nearest and dearest in our living room, could see her. Then we lit a really pretty candle, a havdalah [ceremony that ends the Jewish Sabbath] candle, and showed her the flame. For touch, we wrapped her in my tallit [prayer shawl] and talked about wanting her to feel the embrace of her family and the Jewish people, and also her growing to become an adult, capable of embracing both a partner and her commitments as a Jew. For taste, we put some grape juice on her tongue, which is also done at a bris. For hearing, we sang a traditional Jewish song. And then we ended with the seven blessings, the sheva brachot, the traditional end to a Jewish wedding. And then of course the best part, we ate and had a fun party.
In the book there are many different examples of prayers and songs to choose from. Are there any absolute essentials that you feel should be included in a ceremony?
The bones of the structure are really important. It is a traditional liturgical structure. A Jewish welcome, a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving. A formal naming, with a naming blessing. And also a welcome into the Jewish people, and a welcome into a relationship with the creator. Some people feel more comfortable with the God part, and some people feel less comfortable, so it can be emphasized or de-emphasized or even adapted to secular humanist sensibilities.
Even though a daughter is new, she has a story, and simchat bat is a way to tell the story--talking about who she's named for and acknowledging how she arrived in your family, whatever route that took, by adoption, [or] by birth.
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