The welcoming of a child into the family and the Jewish community is a joyous time for everyone. We celebrate new life and the hope and wonder babies inspire. A covenant within the family and to the Jewish people is forged and we each happily anticipate creating a new bond with the little one in our midst.
My rabbinic role in this celebration is a precious responsibility and incredibly fun. Whether a baby is fussy or sleeping, or a child is placid or squirming, we are all meaningful engaged in the transmission of our collective and personal legacies, tenderly offering them to this new generation.
What exactly is a baby/child naming?
Jewish “naming” ceremonies are a time when family and friends gather together to participate in a service in which the baby is formally welcomed as part of the Jewish people and the baby is given a Hebrew name. The baby’s age at the time of the ceremony varies. Naming ceremonies are for an infant, toddler or child. Sometimes siblings (in addition to twins) are named together. It is not unusual that a baby’s first birthday includes their naming ceremony.
Initially in the 1960’s and 70’s, this kind of ceremony served as a celebration to welcome infant girls into the covenant of Israel as a meaningful ritual akin to Brit Mila for infant boys. These ceremonies have been called a “Brit Bat” or a “Brit HaChayim” (a daughter’s covenant, or a covenant of life), among others. Many parents choose a ritual circumcision (Brit Mila) for their infant sons, and sometimes I co-lead these ceremonies with a mohel or physician. However, other parents prefer to celebrate their son’s birth with a separate naming ceremony, and thus a baby naming service is appropriate for a child of any gender.
Parent(s) are an integral part of the ceremony from planning and creating the service with me to speaking at the ceremony. I provide a template or “working document” for the parent(s) and together we shape it to best fit the needs and preferences of the family. An essential aspect of this ceremony is including family and friends to participate in the rituals and readings. This is a real and symbolic first step for the extended family to share in caring for and cherishing this new life and family.
Parent(s) are active participants throughout the service, and they reflect upon the meaning of the English and Hebrew names (often one and the same) they chose for their child. If the baby is named after family members, the parent(s) also express their hopes that their child will share the positive qualities that they deeply value(d) in those loved ones. Siblings are also welcome to participate in the ceremony in a variety of ways, depending on their age and comfort level.
The ceremony concludes with a final blessing during which the new family is embraced in a tallit held by grandparents or other family members. This final ritual expresses how each new family is enriched and strengthened by the love and support of their family and friends.