Jewish Newborn Ceremonies 101

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A baby is born or adopted into a Jewish family, and through that, into a covenantal community. From the ancient tradition of circumcision to contemporary, innovative ceremonies, a new Jewish boy or girl becomes a focal point for ritual and celebration. The choosing of a name becomes an opportunity to connect with people, stories, events, and associations that are significant to the parents.

History and Development

The practice of circumcising baby boys (brit milah, or "the covenant of circumcision") has its roots in Abraham's circumcising the male members of his household, as recorded in the biblical Book of Genesis. It is a deep and persistent symbol of covenant and continuity for the Jewish people.

A parallel ceremony for girls (often called a simchat bat, "celebration of a daughter," or brit banot, "daughters' covenant") is a contemporary development with historical and cultural predecessors, inspired by Jewish feminism, and practiced in most liberal and some traditional communities. Families and communities have also acknowledged and celebrated the arrival of babies in many other ways throughout Jewish history, and in different Jewish traditions throughout the world, with a variety of home and synagogue rituals of celebration and naming.

Liturgy, Ritual, and Custom

For boys, the ceremony for brit milah (also known as a "bris") traditionally takes place on the eighth day of life, and includes words of blessing, the circumcision itself, and the giving of a name. Traditionally the responsibility of the baby's father, the act of circumcision is usually performed (according to prescribed custom) by a mohel, an individual trained in the practice and its rituals. For many girls, the much newer simchat bat or brit banot (frequently referred to in English as a "baby naming") can take place on a variety of days. It often follows a similar structure as the brit milah, with one of several covenantal or welcoming acts (e.g., candlelighting, footwashing, or being wrapped in a tallit) as the ritual centerpiece. Some families follow the simpler and longer-standing custom of having their new daughter receive her Hebrew or Yiddish name during a synagogue Torah-reading service, rather than holding a freestanding simchat bat.

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