– Birth

Boys

Judaism welcomes baby boys with the ritual of Brit Milah. The Hebrew word Brit means “covenant”. The word Milah means “to cut”. Thus, circumcision is the covenant between God and and the Jewish people which links one generation to another.

Judaism views circumcision as a religious ceremony. It is strongly recommended that a Mohel perform the circumcision. A Mohel is a Jew who has been trained in the physical procedures of circumcision and understands the religious significance of the ritual. If one is not available, then a Jewish physician may carry out the circumcision. It is customary for the parents to invite the Rabbi to conduct the service. A brit milah may be followed by food and drinks with family and friends.

The Brit Milah is carried out on the eighth day of life. The day the boy is born counts as the first day, thus if the boy is born on a Wednesday, he is circumcised on the following Wednesday, assuming the birth is before sunset.

It is customary to honor family and friends to participate in holding the baby at various parts of the Brit. The highest honor is to be the sandak, who holds the baby during the actual circumcision. A minyan is not required at the Brit.

Pidyon Ha’ben literally means “Redemption of the Son” and applies only to the firstborn son if he is born by natural childbirth. Thus, if a daughter is the firstborn, no pidyon ha’ben is conducted. If the first son is born by Caesarean section, the ritual does not apply to that child (or to any son born after that son). If a mother’s first pregnancy ends in miscarriage after 40 days or more, a pidyon ha’ben will not be performed for any succeeding son. A pidyon ha’ben does not apply to members of the tribe of Levi, or children born to a daughter of a member of the tribe of Levi.

Originally, all firstborn sons were to serve as the priests and Temple functionaries of Israel. After the Golden Calf incident, God chose the tribe of Levi (they chose not to participate in the incident) to be the priests over the firstborn. Even though the Levites replaced the first born sons, the firstborn sons still retain a certain degree of sanctity, and for this reason, they must be redeemed.

The firstborn son must be redeemed on the 31st day (the day of birth being the first day). The ritual is not conducted on Shabbat because it involves money exchange. The firstborn son is redeemed by paying five silver dollars to a Kohen and performing a brief ritual.

There are no absolute religious rules or regulations regarding the naming of a Jewish child. The child may be named after any person, friend or relative, dead or living; or the child need not be named after any specific individual at all. By tradition, we name a Jewish child after a specific person to honor the memory of a beloved person.

Girls

Girls are welcomed into life in many ways, such as baby-naming ceremonies in the synagogue or at home. The baby-naming ceremony purpose is to officially present the girl with her Hebrew name. The ceremony is performed by the Rabbi who gives her her Hebrew name while she is held in her parent’s arms. There is no established time for a baby-naming, and some parents choose to name their daughter shortly after birth, while others wait a few months.

Parents of a Jewish baby girl are invited to have their daughter receive her Hebrew name at the Synagogue when we read from the Torah: Monday, Thursday, Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon. Some parents choose to have a less formal ceremony and name their daughters in their home. It is customary to invite the Rabbi to conduct the service. Family and friends may be invited to say a few words and the ceremony is usually followed by food and drink.

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