New Rituals for Welcoming Daughters

Some ways to symbolize a baby girl's entry into the covenant of Judaism.

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It's a girl!
 
Now what?
 
While Jewish tradition is clear about the ceremony for welcoming a baby boy, there is no set ritual for welcoming a baby girl. In more traditional communities, the father of the baby takes an aliyah to the Torah on the first Torah-reading day after the birth. A misheberakh (prayer for well-being) is recited for the mother and the child, and the baby girl receives her name. Often the rabbi or parents speak about the name.
baby daughter jewish
In more progressive communities, this naming might occur on a Shabbat during the first few months of the baby's life, and the mother, and other family members, might receive an aliyah as well.

Beyond these basics of naming a daughter, many families are also developing new rituals that, much like a baby boy's circumcision, symbolize their daughters' entry into the Jewish covenant.

Rituals Involving Water: The most common of these new rituals involve water--either dipping the baby's feet or other body parts into water, often a mikveh, or pouring water over her feet. Other families choose to fully immerse the baby girl (one should check with a pediatrician before doing so). These rituals are sometimes called Brit Mikveh (covenant of the ritual bath) or Brit Rehitzah (covenant of washing).

At a Women's Rabbinical Alliance Conference in the early 1980s, nine progressive women rabbis developed the idea of a washing ritual for daughters, and they hoped families would adapt it to meet their own needs. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, likes to recommend a feet-washing ritual for reasons both spiritual and practical: the ritual evokes biblical imagery, it is performed on the baby girl's body, and it can take place even if the baby is crying, he explains.

Water rituals are meaningful and symbolic in a number of ways.

Covenant: Rain water--and especially rainbows--recall God's covenant with all of humanity, which followed the biblical story of Noah and the flood. In Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea is a powerful water scene which leads the Israelites to freedom and the start of a new, covenantal life. The Meiri, a 13th century French commentator, spells out the water-as-covenant connection, when he writes that the forefathers entered into the covenant with God through circumcision, and the foremothers entered this covenant through immersion in the mikveh (see comments to Yevamot 46a-b).

Creation / New Beginnings: Water holds powerful symbolism as the source of life. It figures prominently in the creation story in Genesis, when it is separated first from the heavens and then from the land to initiate the creation of all living things, and is an appropriate medium for celebrating new life.

Feminine Connection: Biblical women have a special connection to water. Sarah brings water to the three guests who visit her and Abraham in the desert, Rebecca is found at a well while giving water to both people and animals, and Miriam is associated with wells. Rabbinic Judaism legislates monthly visits to the mikveh for married women, strengthening the women and water connection.

Immersion: Besides sitting in a sukkah, mikveh is the only mitzvah whose observance fully surrounds those observing it. For babies, immersion mimics the safe and protective environment of the womb from which they emerged.

Welcoming: In the Bible, Abraham washes the feet of the three guests who visit him in the desert as a welcoming gesture (Genesis 18:1-4). Parents can wash the feet of their newborn daughter to welcome her to the world and to the Jewish community.

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Rachel Lerner

Rachel Lerner is a doctoral student in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in NYC with her husband, Aaron, and their daughter, Lily.