So you're going to have a baby!
Mazal tov! Congratulations! When are you due? Boy or girl?
The questions begin. Some are obvious and well-meaning; others rude and intrusive. All are part and parcel of this joyous occasion. But if you're Jewish and, perhaps, first time parents, you may have some questions of your own.
For a sample booklet of a baby naming ceremony, click here
What's In a Name?
What shall we name "it"? Some couples spend the full nine months agonizing over this decision. Although you won't find it mentioned in the Bible, Ashkenazic Jews have been naming children after deceased relatives for a thousand years. Sephardim, however, name after the living, often choosing a paternal grandparent for the older child, maternal grandparent for the second baby, then other close relatives for succeeding children.
Keeping the Hebrew or Yiddish name of a deceased loved one honors that person's memory and often is easier than agreeing on a secular name. Although many couples try to retain the first letter of the Hebrew name, it's not necessary. Find a name similar to the translation of the Jewish name or a name that reflects the character of your relative.
Some names might trigger preconceived notions about a particular type of person. Just, please, make your decision before the child is born. You'll be busy with other considerations when the little one is at home.
Sing at Your Shower
If someone offers to throw a baby shower for you, smile and accept. You'll have a happy time and walk away with a bounty of gifts that could include Jewish children's books, a tzedakah (charity) box, a mezuzah for the doorpost of the nursery and a host of other beautiful religious items. If you like, register ahead.
Let's Plan a Bris
You have been blessed with a son. To bring him into the covenant of Israel, the child is given a physical sign of the bond between the Jewish people and God. This is a brit milah, the covenant of circumsion, a religious obligation performed on a male child.
Be aware that a medical circumsion is not considered a brit milah because it is not done with a religious intention or in a spiritual atmosphere.
The brit milah takes place on the eighth day of a healthy baby's life, regardless of Shabbat or even Yom Kippur. It may be postponed in case of illness or weakness but cannot be rescheduled on holidays or the sabbath. Mornings are customary for the event so the mitzvah is not delayed and guests can attend before going to work.
Although guests should be welcome, the only people actually required are the parents, who are responsible for their son's brit milah, the baby, the mohel and the sandek, often a grandfather whose function is to hold the baby. Other ceremonial roles, such as carrying the baby from and back to the mother, may be distributed among family and close friends. As the infant is carried in, everyone should greet him with Baruch haba (Blessed is the one who comes). The rite can be as simple (as brief as five minutes) or as involved as you like.
A busy mohel may need advance notice of the approximate time and day he is needed, so call ahead to see if he is available a week after your due date. Recommendations from friends, family, rabbis and cantor are a reliable way of finding a good mohel. If you respond to an ad in a Jewish publication, ask for references. Also ask the fee of any mohel you contact.
In the case of an adopted infant son, circumcision should be as soon as possible. If the child already has been circumcised but is not Jewish, the mohel must draw a drop of blood at the site of the circumcision before he is taken to the mikvah (ritual bath).
In all cases, a blessing is recited before and after the circumcision.
Once that is finished, a kiddish or blessing over the wine is made and the baby is given his name. At that point, the parents might want to explain the reason for naming the child as they did.
Next comes party time, but we'll discuss that later.
Congratulations! It's a girl!
If you want to confer rite of passage on your brand new daughter, you want a brit habat which allows you to plan almost any appropriate ceremony you prefer. You are not locked into eight days after birth but can schedule a time most convenient for family and friends (not to mention mother and daughter).
This can take place at home or at the synagogue on Rosh Hodesh, Shabbat or Havdalah.
The infant is greeted with Brucha haba'a (Blessed is she who enters) after which prayers and readings may be recited before the kiddish is chanted. Then the baby daughter is entered into the covenant, followed by the wish that she take on the mitzvot of Torah, huppah and righteous actions.
At that juncture, the baby's name is announced and explained. More prayers and readings may ensue. Any variety or number of candles may be lit with accompanying readings or in silence.
Finally, we come to the celebratory meal and party, the s'eudat mitzvah, appropriate for both boys and girls.
It's a Party!
Even if you don't observe kashrut, it is wise to serve foods that won't discomfort the rabbi, mohel or some of your guests. All fruits and vegetables are fine. Don't combine meat dishes with milk-based dishes.
Lucky you if friends offer to bake goodies or make a suitable casserole. That can reduce your time preparing and your expense and make them feel an integral part of the celebration.
To honor a loved one, ask him or her to make the motzi (blessing) over a large braided challah at the start of the meal.
The rituals are over. The baby is home. You're a family now. Delight in the touch, the smells, the smiles of your baby. Be patient with the cries in the night.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Every day ask yourselves the question, `What is there about me that deserves the reverence of my child?'"
Make sure you have an answer.