Mazel Tov! You are expecting the birth or adoption of a child. Among all of the other preparations you are making to welcome this new member of your family into your lives, you also want to have your child welcomed into the Jewish community. The Jewish tradition provides moving rituals for each stage of our lives, from birth through adolescence, marriage, to death. Our rituals for welcoming a child into the Jewish community by entering him or her into the Covenant (“berit” in Hebrew) can be especially beautiful and meaningful.
At Congregation B’nai Israel, we wholeheartedly subscribe to the principle of gender equality, which is one of the ideological pillars of modern Reform Judaism. We celebrate the birth or adoption of daughters as joyously as we do that of our sons, and our joy is reflected in our Berit ceremonies.
Berit Milah: Welcoming Our Sons
The oldest of our Covenant traditions is the ceremony of Berit Milah, the ritual of circumcision. The Berit Milah is a joyous occasion, which we celebrate with friends and family as we enter this new member of our community into the Covenant of our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Judaism acknowledges and affirms that time is sacred, and so we mark this occasion on the eighth day after the child is born (Genesis 17:7f). The rite of circumcision should be postponed only if the baby has health issues which necessitate a delay.
The procedure is performed by a mohel (also called a moyel), a person trained and certified by a reputable Jewish organization like the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which is the central organization of the Reform Movement, or an organization of one of the other Jewish Movements, in the medical procedures required as well as in the religious rituals that accompany the procedure. In fact, the URJ will only certify as mohalim individuals who are medical professionals.
You can visit the website of the program established by the URJ to learn more about its program for training and certifying mohalim. Click here for more information and to learn about all the aspects of the Berit Milah ceremony. We can provide you with a list of mohalim in the Bridgeport-Fairfield-Trumbull area, several of whom are physicians as well.
The Berit Milah Ceremony
Members of liberal and progressive Jewish communities, as well as many other Jews, usually have the Berit Milah ceremony performed in their homes. This makes it easier for the new mother as well, although you may have heard that in very traditional communities the Berit Milah ceremony may be performed in the synagogue.
The child is brought from his mother by the kvater or kvaterin to the sandek, who has the honor of holding the child for the mohel. All rise and welcome the child by saying “Baruch Habah — blessed is the one who comes.” The mohel then performs the procedure in a medically approved fashion. Use of one of the medically trained mohalim permits the use of an anesthetic, which is not prohibited.
If, for health or other reasons, the child has already been circumcised, the mohel will perform a procedure known as hatafat dam brit: the drop of blood of the Covenant, drawing a drop of blood which affirms that the prior circumcision is now sanctified.
Once the procedure is completed, the parents recite the blessing for circumcision: “Blessed are you Adonai, our God who makes us holy with commandments and has commanded us to enter our sons into the Covenant of our ancestors.” Either the mohel or the parents will then offer him blessings for well-being and a life enriched by lifelong study, a loving partner sanctified in marriage and the performance of deeds of kindness and righteousness. The child’s name is announced, and parents are invited to speak about the individuals for whom the child is named. Blessings are said over wine, and it is then traditional to share a festive meal.
If You Are Adopting
The performance of our rituals for entering an adopted child into the Covenant of our Ancestors is deferred until the adoption is legally completed.
Please contact one of our Rabbis to discuss whether the child will require a circumcision, or if the child had been previously circumcised, whether the ritual of “hatafat dam brit” (as described above) will be appropriate. In addition, you will want to discuss an opportunity to take your newly adopted child to a mikveh to complete his (or her) conversion if the child did not have at least one biological parent who was Jewish.
Berit Chayim The Covenant of Life: Welcoming Our Daughters
We enter our daughters into the Covenant of our Ancestors with a ceremony we call Berit Chayim, the Covenant of Life, rather than simply a “baby naming,” for our tradition is a tree of life, it is the source of our joy and the foundation upon which we build our lives.
In the spirit of egalitarianism, some families choose to enter their daughters into the Covenant of Life on the eighth day after her birth, just as with their sons. Nevertheless, our tradition has not handed down a specific time for this ceremony, and there are other options. Several traditions have evolved, for instance, doing it on Rosh Chodesh, and others are still evolving. However, we urge you to have the ceremony as early as possible.
The Berit Chayim Ceremony
The child’s name will be announced, and her parents will be invited to tell the congregation something about the individuals for whom she is named. They and the Rabbi will offer her blessings for well-being and a life enriched by lifelong study, a loving life partner sanctified in marriage and the performance of deeds of kindness and righteousness. The parents may also be invited during the Torah reading for an aliyah (Torah blessings).
We have a number of models you can refer to for help in putting together a service that reflects your family’s unique qualities. There are many ritual elements from our tradition that can be incorporated into the Berit Chayim ceremony. Our clergy can help you decide which ones meet your family’s spiritual needs best. Ritualwell is a very helpful website.
Your daughter will be blessed by her parents and her name will be announced and explained to the community assembled for the occasion. It is customary to follow the ceremony with a festive meal.