What an amazing gift a new life is. In the Jewish tradition, a new baby is not just a blessing, but also a new expression of God's grace on earth. Jewish tradition teaches that each new life has the possibility of helping to bring about the Messianic time and so it is with great joy that we celebrate each and every new child.
While baby boys have been welcomed into the Jewish family with brit milah (covenant of circumcision) since the time of Abraham, girls celebrations are relatively new. Old or new, both are beautiful and both invite us to celebrate the gift of life.
Origins of Simchat Bat
Simchat Bat celebrations (also called Brit Bat) are barely a generation old. They are modeled after brit milah in that they provide a symbolic framework through which newborn baby girls are entered into the covenant of the Jewish people. There are many different simchat bat ceremonies: Foot washing, touching a Torah scroll, lighting candles, and being wrapped in a tallit are some that have become popular.
What to Expect
Because there are many different symbols and rituals that can be used in the context of a Simchat Bat celebration it is impossible to describe exactly what you can expect. Instead I’ve chosen to describe one of my favorite types of celebration: Candle lighting.
Once your friends and family are settled, the celebration begins with an introductory song such as “Hinei Mah Tov.” After a few words of welcome, the baby can be brought in to the room by a family member. Upon arrival all gathered should welcome her with the words: ברוכה הבאה B’rucha Ha’ba’a - May she who comes be blessed!
This may be followed by singing “Heyveynu Shalom Aleichem.” Like at a brit milah, here too we invoke the presence of the prophet Elijah. We do so by having a special chair set aside as “Elijah’s Chair” and setting the baby in this chair (just for a moment.) Doing so symbolizes our belief that each person has the potential to help bring about redemption and the Messiah (Messianic Age.) The child may then be handed to another relative to carry during the brit (covenant) ceremony.
In preparation for the ceremony family members, each with a candle, form two lines through which the baby may pass. This is reminiscent of the brit ben hab’tarim that Abraham took part in (Genesis 15:9-21). As the baby is carried between the lit candles, a niggun (word-less tune) or song may be sung and candle-holders may offer quiet blessings to the baby.
The parents should be the last two people in line each with a candle. As the baby passes between them and is handed to them, both parents should bring their candles together to light a single candle - representing the new life that they have created together. (It is particularly beautiful to use this symbolism on a Saturday night (after Shabbat) when the single candle can be a havdalah candle. A havdalah candle is, of course, one candle made up of two or more wicks.)
After the single candle has been lit, the parents may share some version of the following blessing:
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, whose mitzvot (commandments) add holiness to our lives and who gave us the mitzvah (commandment) to bring this child into the covenant of Abraham, our father and Sarah, our mother.
The leader or parents may then ask all gathered to share in the three-fold blessing:
As she has entered the covenant, so may she enter the blessings of Torah (life-long learning), huppah (a loving-relationship), and ma’asim tovim (good deeds.)
The Simchat Bat concludes with a blessing over a cup of wine:
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, creating the fruit of the vine.
While the Simchat Bat ends here, the celebration continues with the naming of the child. Click here to learn more.
Origins of Brit Milah
Brit milah (often called a bris) means “Covenant of Circumcision.” A bris takes place on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life unless medical conditions require it be postponed. Brit milah is so important in Jewish tradition that it is performed even when the eighth day falls on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday. The origin of brit milah is found in the book of B’reisheet (Genesis) chapter 17:
Abram was 99 years old. God appeared to him and said, 'I am God Almighty. Walk before Me and be perfect. I will make a covenant between Me and you, and I will increase your numbers very much.' Abram fell on his face. God spoke to him [again], saying, 'As far as I am concerned, here is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a horde of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram. Your name shall become Abraham, for I have set you up as the father of a horde of nations. I will increase your numbers very, very much, and I will make you into nations — kings will be your descendants. I will sustain My covenant between Me and between you and your descendants after you throughout their generations, an eternal covenant; I will be a God to you and to your offspring after you. To you and your offspring I will give the land where you are now living as a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan shall be [your] eternal heritage, and I will be a God to [your descendants].' God [then] said to Abraham, 'As far as you are concerned, you must keep My covenant — you and your offspring throughout their generations. This is My covenant between Me, and between you and your offspring that you must keep: You must circumcise every male. You shall be circumcised through the flesh of your foreskin. This shall be the mark of the covenant between Me and you. 'Throughout all generations, every male shall be circumcised when he is eight days old. [This shall include] those born in your house, as well as [slaves] bought with cash from an outsider, who is not your descendant. [All slaves,] both houseborn and purchased with your money must be circumcised. This shall be My covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant. The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant. (Genesis 17:1-14)
A brit milah is performed by a mohel who is trained both in the medical and religious aspects of this ancient tradition. Some families choose to have the bris performed in the hospital before the eighth day. While this choice is understandable, it is important to know that with a properly trained mohel, there is no cause for concern about the safety of a brit milah performed outside of a hospital.
What to Expect
On the day of the brit milah the mohel will arrive a bit early to meet the baby and talk with the parents. Once the mohel is set up and family and friends have gathered, the baby will be brought into the room as all gathered welcome him with these words:
B’rucha ha’ba - May he who enters be blessed
At every brit milah, we invoke the presence of the prophet Elijah. We do so by having a special chair set aside as “Elijah’s Chair” and setting the baby boy in this chair (just for a moment.) Doing so symbolizes our belief that each person has the potential to help bring about redemption and the Messiah (Messianic Age.)
The child will then be given to the Sandek (the companion of the child) to hold for the brit. The honor of being the Sandek is often given to grandparents or other family members. Since it is technically the parents’ (some, just the father’s) responsibility to have their son circumcised, the Mohel will ask for authorization to perform the brit on their behalf before beginning. While some parents do choose to participate in the brit with the Mohel, others simply grant permission to the Mohel to perform the brit.
The Mohel will then recite a blessing:
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, whose mitzvot(commandments) add holiness to our lives and who gave us the mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision.
Before you know it, the brit will be complete (it’s very quick) and the parents will be asked to read some version of the following blessing:
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, whose mitzvot (commandments) add holiness to our lives and who gave us the mitzvah (commandment) to bring this child into the covenant of Abraham, our father.
The Mohel may then ask all gathered to share in the three-fold blessing:
As he has entered the covenant, so may he enter the blessings of Torah (life-long learning), huppah (a loving-relationship), and ma’asim tovim (good deeds.)
The brit concludes with blessings for wine and for the covenant:
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, creating the fruit of the vine.
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the universe, who sanctified our beloved patriarchs from the womb, who brings law and flesh together, sealing our offspring with the sign of the holy covenant. Therefore, living God, our Rock and our Portion, command good health for this child by virtue of Your covenant, so integral to our lives. Praised are You, ADONAI, who establishes the covenant.
While the brit milah ends here, the celebration continues with the naming of the child. Click here to learn more.
What's In A Name?
Since Biblical times, a Jew’s name has been more than just what she or he is called. The name given to a Jewish child has symbolized the dreams and wishes of the baby’s parents; it has spoken of his or her budding personality and character; and has often kept alive the names of loved ones - living and deceased.
In traditional Jewish families a child will often be given one name that will be used as both his or her Hebrew and secular name. In other Jewish families, a Hebrew name is chosen independent of the secular name. While some secular names do have corresponding Hebrew names (Samuel and Sh’muel), others do not. In these cases the two names may be linked by the sound of the first letters of the names (Morris and Menachem) or not at all.
There are no rules when it comes to choosing a Hebrew name. There are, however, customs in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Ashkenazic Jews often choose the name or a similar name to that of a loved one who has died. In doing so we hope that this new born child will embody all that was good about the deceased. Sephardic Jews will sometimes name a child after a family member who has died, but will also name a child after a family member who is still living.
In addition many parents look to Biblical names for inspiration (Sarah, David, Avraham).
Here are some wonderful books to guide you in your search:
The Comprehensive Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names by Alfred Kolatch
The Complete Book of Hebrew Baby Names by Smadar Shir Sidi
What to Expect
In traditional communities a baby boy’s naming takes place immediately after the brit milah. Girls are named in traditional communities in the synagogue on aShabbat after birth. The parents (in some communities it is just the father) come up for an aliyah after which the baby is given her Hebrew name. Very often though, a girl’s naming happens in conjunction with a simchat bat.
A naming, either in synagogue during services or in conjunction with a brit milah or simchat bat, usually consists of the announcement of the name by a rabbi, cantor or shaliach tzibur (prayer leader) using a formula similar to this:
Our God and God of our ancestors, sustain this child. Let him/her be known among the people Israel as ______________, son of _______________ and ________________. May his mother be blessed with regained strength and may both parents find joy in their child. With love and with wisdom may they be privileged to teach him/her the meaning of the covenant which he/she has entered today, and may they inspire him/her to seek the truth and the ways of peace. Through their example, may his/her heart be open to the Torah and its ways. May this child, ____________, grow into greatness as a blessing to his/her family, to the Jewish people, and to all humanity. As he/she has entered the covenant, so may he/she attain the blessings of Torah(life-long learning), huppah (a loving relationship), and ma’asim tovim, good deeds. And let us say: Amen
Either before or after the name is given many parents share the significance of the Hebrew name they have chosen. In some naming celebrations family members are invited to offer prayers and readings of thanksgiving. Very often the rabbi offers a spiritual gift as well.
Brit Milah, Simchat Bat and naming celebrations all include a blessing over a cup of wine and the She’he’che’yanu blessing.
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Praised are You, ADONAI our God, who rules the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us and allowed us to reach this moment.
It is traditional to have a seudat mitzvah (a celebratory meal) following any or all of these s’machot (joyous occasions.)