Dear Tanta Golda,
In a few short weeks, our Rabbi and his wife are going to be blessed with their first child. One of my friends asked why the rabbi was being so tight-lipped about baby names. One of the members of my Havurah said it had to do with Lilith. Is this true, and who is this Lilith?
Dear Pondering One,
First, I wish the parents to be all the best for an easy delivery and a healthy birth!
Now for your question. When it comes to pre-birth preparations and baby naming in Judaism we have a mixture of traditions and superstitions. Their genesis is not much of a mystery. It estimated that at the turn of the 20th century (1900) 10%, or 10 of every 100, children in the US died in their first year of life. Tanta Golda isn’t quite that old, but she suspects that infant mortality rates were even higher during the Middle Ages when many of these superstitions were born. Infant mortality was a way of life. Worried parents then, as now, searched for ways to protect their precious ones.
The tradition arose in Judaism not to name a child—which included not sharing the name with friends—until the 8th day, when boys are traditionally circumcised during a Brit Milah and entered into the covenant. Girls, meh, they were named at Temple on the Shabbat after their birth.
Some say the naming tradition is based on the bubbe meises (old wives tale) that if the name is made public too soon some evil force or another would claim the child’s life. Tanta Golda has found that fingers are pointed to not one, but three culprits: The Angel of Death, a vague evil eye spirit, and Lilith.
Now, it came as a surprise to Tanta Golda to learn in her advanced years that some expectant parents go so far as to shun purchasing anything for the wee one in advance, which also means they don’t have a baby shower or set up the nursery prior to the birth. All to avoid BAD THINGS happening. Does it work? It is not Tanta Golda’s place to argue with her rabbi, but she was eager to set up her own nursery before her children came into the world and shared potential names with anyone foolish enough to ask. In spite of her blatant disregard for tradition, both her marvelous children were born healthy and argue with her like the scholars she raised them to be.
Where does this mysterious Lilith come into this you ask? There is a midrash that Adam had a wife before Eve. The midrash claims this is the reason there are two versions of Creation in the Torah. It is said that Lilith was created at the same time as Adam—not from his rib later on. She argued with Adam that since they were created at the same time, they were equal in all things. When Adam said, “You lie under me.” She replied, “No, you lie under me.” She shared her opinions freely, and in general, didn’t scrape and bow to Adam’s every whim. Adam complained to Hashem that Lilith was difficult, and Hashem nixed Lilith. This did not make Lilith happy and now she is said to roam the world killing newborn babies. Many pregnant Jewish women will wear an amulet or hang one over their infant’s cribs to ward off Lilith.
The name Lilith stems from the same root as lila, evening, and she is said to do most of her mischief at night. There are a number of other salacious tales about Lilith’s evil ways, but they don’t relate to your question.
Your rabbi is merely being a protective father-to-be. We wish them all the best.
Love as always, TG