Saturday, December 3, 2011

Naming Ritual for Girls

Dear Tanta Golda,
A cute young couple at our Temple recently gave birth to a daughter, and I was wondering what rituals there are for baby girls? I’ve heard something about a naming ceremony. Does it have to be done on the eighth day like the Brit Milah ceremony for boys?
Marveling at the Miracle of Birth
My darling Marveling,
Mazel Tov to the parents of the newborn! 
Let’s begin with some wisdom from the Rabbis. In the Torah it says that Abraham was blessed with “everything.” According to the Talmud (baba batra 16a) this means that Abraham had a daughter. Why does ‘everything’ mean he had a daughter? Because, according to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, a daughter represent the fullness of life. Celebrating a daughter is the celebration of Jewish survival.
The Talmud also says that an angel comes to every Jewish parent and whispers the Jewish name the new daughter will embody, so her name is divinely inspired! 
But you asked about rituals and ceremonies, which I will explain in two parts: Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions.
Among the Ashkenazi, it is tradition for the father to be called up for an aliyah (the honor of reciting the blessings before and after a Torah reading) at the synagogue the first Shabbat after a girl is born. At this time a Mi Sheberach prayer is also said for the mother’s health and the name of their daughter is recited. Since the Torah can only be read in the presence of a minyon (group of at least ten adults), the naming becomes an honor shared with the community.  Among the conservative stream, some additional rituals have developed. These may involve a) lighting 7 candles – representing the 7 days of creation, b) wrapping the girl in the four corners of a tallit, and/or c) lifting her up and touching her hands to a Torah scroll. In the Reform community, a baby naming ceremony involving both parents is often celebrated thirty days after the birth. Of course Tanta Golda’s sources all say something slightly different. One says that the congregation honors the parents with a kiddush (refreshments) after a service, while another says that it is customary for the parents of the newborn to sponsor a special kiddush for the congregation within the year. Both of these are a way for the parents to celebrate the gift they’ve been given and gives the community an opportunity to give their blessings to the child and family.
The Sephardic customs seem to be fairly similar. The ceremony is called a zeved habat  (literally - gift of the daughter.) A prayer of Thanksgiving is given either by or for the mother, the Song of Songs is receited - 2:14, and if it is their first daughter 6:9 is also said, then a slightly different version of the MiSheberach is said during which their daughter is named. This is often followed by a formal feast.
The biggest difference has to do with naming traditions. The Sephardic community has the custom of naming a child in honor of a living relative, in the hopes that the newborn will form a bond with their namesake and learn from their example. The Ashkenazi however, never name a child after someone living. So, it is very rare to find someone named after their father. Some of this is based on superstition - it is feared that the angel of death may be confused and come for the wrong individual! A child doesn’t necessarily have to have the exact same name. Sometimes the child shares the initial letter or sound with the relative being remembered. For example, Tanta Golda’s son is named Joshua after his grandmother Joan.
Please note that throughout I have used the word tradition.  There is no biblical injunction pertaining to the birth of a daughter. (Once again we see the male bias in the ancient world.) These are customs that have developed over time in response to a desire by parents and the community to honor the importance of welcoming daughters into the covenant. As the Talmud says, though not in so many words, without daughters there would be no continuation of the Jewish people.
May the couple’s newest addtion bring them more joy than tsuris (woe, aggrevation)! I hope the congregation has the opportunity to honor them (and her big sister) and welcome their daughter into the community soon.
Love, TG


  1. My darling Anonmous - I'm afraid that at her advanced age, Tanta Golda isn't up on all the latest memes and I haven't the foggiest what "c'x" means. Perhaps you'd care to clarify or expand your comment?


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