–Searching for a way to celebrate the birth of a Jewish girl–
There is no arguing that the Jewish baby boy who comes into this world is given a grand and meaningful welcome. The Hebrew word for circumcision is Brit Milah, and it means covenant. The newborn boy is welcomed into the ancient covenant that binds the Jewish people and their Creator. In recent times young Jewish families have expressed a desire to welcome their baby daughters in an equally meaningful way. Although there is no commonly accepted ceremony to answer this need, we do not have to look too far into our Jewish past to uncover beautiful customs and traditions centered around the celebration of the birth of a baby girl.
–Ancient Jewish customs–
According to the Jewish Life Information Center (itim.org.il), in the Middle Ages some Ashkenazi communities performed the ‘Choyl-Kreish’ ceremony. In this ceremony, the women of the community gathered in the baby’s house and candies were distributed to all the young girls, who would dance around the baby’s cradle, calling out ‘what will be the baby’s name?’ In response, the mother would loudly pronounce the baby’s name, and those present would lift the cradle, a symbolic act that validated the declaration.
Certain Sephardic communities, for many generations have been celebrating a Zeved Habat. This is performed in the home, in the presence of both parents and the entire congregation. The baby is publicly named and special verses and liturgical hymns that relate to daughters, gratitude, and blessing are recited. Many Jews of Sephardic origin continue to hold a Zeved HaBat to celebrate the birth of their daughters.
–Giving new meaning to old customs–
Noa Choritz, a nurse and a young mother, was very inspired by a Sephardic Zeved HaBat that she attended. So when
her own daughter was born she drew upon much of the traditional Sephardic formula in structuring her own ceremony… “I felt very strongly that I wanted our daughter to be welcomed with the same importance that our son was welcomed, both as a message to our community that daughters are no less important than sons, and as a message to our children that our daughters are just as special to us as our sons.”
Noa and her husband are just one couple among many that have been seeking to provide a meaningful welcoming ceremony for their baby daughters. In recent years, Simchat Bat (joy of girl), Zeved HaBat (gift of girl) and Brit HaBat (girl-covenant) ceremonies have become more popular and widespread. Families wanting to mark the birth of a baby girl will find that there are actually many advantages to the fact that there is no proscribed service! This means that the family can build a ceremony based on their own personal expression and creativity and combine traditional elements which are significant to them.
–The maternal chain of generations–
Shoshana Kordova, a journalist and translator, recalled telling the guests at her Simchat Bat ceremony that “newborn boys are traditionally welcomed into the Jewish community during the Brit Milah, and while it can be argued that girls implicitly become part of the community just by being born, we wanted to adapt the Zeved Habat ceremony to give our daughter an explicit welcome, not just an implicit one.”
Shoshana and her husband Warren chose to read traditional and contemporary Jewish texts reflecting the birth of a daughter and psalms that expressed gratitude and praise to God. It was very important to them to perform the priestly blessing as Warren is of priestly descent (a Cohen) and he performed the blessing himself. They chose to recite the traditional blessings from the Sephardic Zeved HaBat service.
It was important for Shoshana to express the significance of the maternal chain of generations which her baby girl was joining. The baby was brought into the room by her sister, and then handed to Shoshana, who in turn handed the baby to her mother, who held her throughout the ceremony. The women of the family were given the honor of reciting many of the traditional blessings.
–A double Simchat Bat–
Rachel Wachtfogel, a teacher, celebrated a double Simchat Bat for her twin girls at the end of a physically and emotionally difficult pregnancy. “It was very important to my husband and me to express joy, as well as gratitude to God for the miracles that we had been through. Every birth is a miracle, and we had twins after a complicated pregnancy. We really wanted to recognize the miracle together with friends and family.
“We read a psalm which we related to, both because it conveyed gratitude and because it mentioned the names of our two daughters (Hallel and Hodaya). I found this in a compendium of women’s prayers from the 18th Century. This prayer really spoke to me. I modified it and used it. It expressed thanks for what both I and the babies had gone through, as well as prayers for the future. I wanted to thank God for bringing us this far and to express hope that He would be with us for the rest of the way, watch over my babies and help me be a good mother to them.”
–Rejoicing with beautiful customs and a great spread!–
There are numerous beautiful customs and symbolic acts that can be performed to bring meaning to the occasion, ranging from reclaiming the Talmudic custom of planting a tree in the babies honor (the JNF did not come up with that idea), to washing the girls feet (a biblical gesture of welcome), to inviting the immediate family to bless the girl under a prayer shawl canopy (huppa).
No Jewish simcha would be complete without a festive and bounteous array of food! The guests back at Noa’s Zeved HaBat enjoyed the meal, and also expressed their enjoyment of the meaningful occasion… “We received lots of comments from our friends on how they wished they had done something like this for their daughters, or others who had not yet had children thought that they would like to do something like that one day.
“This was another part of our message, that the Zeved Habat ceremony should be reclaimed, by both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, so that it is not a unique ceremony but as commonplace as a Brit Mila.”