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.

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Are there any specific prayers included in the book that you find particularly meaningful?

There's one called [Birkat]Gomel, which is a prayer of thanksgiving after coming through a life-threatening experience. Having been through childbirth now three times, I never feel more vulnerable, physically and spiritually, than I do when I'm about to have a baby. It's like no other experience that I've ever had. A tremendous sense of awe and fear on a basic physical level, as well as a mental level, for the child and myself. Saying this brief blessing, which is traditionally said upon going back to synagogue for the first time after having a baby or after returning from overseas or after surgery, has been very meaningful for me.

Having a baby can be a time when many Jews who aren't affiliated return to Judaism. Did you have that in mind when writing this book?

Definitely. I wanted to appeal to people of every affiliation, or non-affiliation. This is definitely one of those moments when people who are not necessarily very engaged with Jewish life have a deep desire to reconnect, or connect for the first time. I really hoped to make the book very user-friendly and accessible. There are five sample ceremonies, which appeal to five different orientations toward Judaism. Having a welcoming ceremony for their daughter makes a statement to themselves and to their family and friends about their hopes and intentions for raising their daughter with some awareness of her Judaism.

You mentioned putting the grape juice on the baby's tongue. Are there any other elements that are common between a simchat bat and a brit milah?

There's much that is parallel. The order of it is similar, and the naming blessing is much the same. And the party. Some people even hold their daughters' welcoming ceremonies on the eighth day.

Did you do that?

No, I don't feel that it's necessary. I feel that as males and females, we have different roles. They're coequal, but they are different. And while we have a commandment to transition boys into the covenant, I take the traditional view that girls are already born into the covenant, so they don't need a ritual transition into it. For me, the rituals are to acknowledge her being part of it, rather than to change her status, which is what a brit milah does.

Have certain parts of the book been especially important to your readers?

I know someone who is part of a lesbian couple who felt grateful that there's a short chapter addressing the needs of gay/lesbian families, because they are often not included. There's a longer chapter on adoption, which is such a reality in the Jewish community today, about acknowledging the culture of origin of the baby, which is sometimes not the culture of origin of the parents.

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Rebecca Phillips is a producer at Beliefnet.com, the multifaith religion and spirituality website. She lives in New York City.