Jewish Newborn Ceremonies 101
Just as the longstanding tradition of brit milah for boys inspired the creation of parallel ceremonies for girls, the creative approach to tradition that has marked simchat bat ceremonies has in many cases shaped the way that brit milah is celebrated, for example, with fuller involvement of the mother, and an emphasis on themes equally applicable to girls and boys.
A ceremony and celebration for a Jewish baby is often planned in a hurry after the baby is born. Fortunately, there are many resources available to parents and families to help with the planning a brit milah or a simchat bat. Those attending such an event have a special role to play as family and community members. Enjoying the festive meal (or seudah) is considered a sacred obligation. Families may mark the occasion with a tzedakah (charity) donation or other social action project, or continue the ancient custom of planting a tree in honor of each child.
Jewish tradition mandates a ceremony in which first-born Jewish males (those who are the first to "open the womb" of their mother) are "redeemed" from the service of the ancient priests. It is usually a small, private ceremony in which someone who is believed to be a descendant from the priestly class (a cohen) symbolically releases the child back to his parents. It is mainly practiced today by traditionally observant Jews.
The encounter between tradition and modernity, and between different Jewish customs, raises interesting questions about ceremonies of welcoming, naming, and covenant. What are the connections and differences between ceremonies for girls and those for boys? Is there a move toward standardization or diversity in ceremonies for girls? And what happens when Jewish tradition collides with contemporary debates about the morality and effects of circumcision? Finally with a large percentage of Jews marrying non-Jews, some couples debate what faith tradition to raise their child, and if both, then how are newborn ceremonies reflecting those decisions?
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