Development of Brit Bat

The past three decades have seen the development of this ceremony with ancient roots and contemporary wings.

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While Orthodoxy, by definition, has historically been less open to ritual innovation than more liberal Jewish streams, it didn’t take long after the very first contemporary welcoming ceremonies were created for many Orthodox Jews to adapt the idea to their own theological and liturgical perspectives.

The first was probably the ceremony that Joseph and Sharon Kaplan created to welcome their daughter, Micole, in the winter of 1974. Until then, traditionally observant Jews had welcomed their daughters with the standard blessings in synagogue and, sometimes, a festive kiddush reception after services.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a relatively small number of knowledgeable Jews, both laypeople and rabbis, welcomed their daughters with s’machot bat (the plural of simchat bat, one of the common names for a ceremony for a baby girl). Each family created its own ritual, delving deep into Judaism’s primary sources to excavate traditions and texts from the past and adapt them to their contemporary sensibilities.

It was during this time that the practice began taking root among a widening circle of people, and the printed programs from girls’ welcoming ceremonies began getting passed from one hand to another. People interested in Jewish ritual and feminism kept files full of them at home.

The Second Jewish Catalog, by the Strassfelds, was the earliest published instruction for a girl’s welcoming ceremony. The first published collection of examples was contained in a booklet put out in 1978 by the Jewish feminist group Ezrat Nashim: Blessing the Birth of a Daughter--Naming Ceremonies for Girls.

The mid-1980s saw a more extensive discussion, for the first time, in Susan Weidman Schneider’s Jewish and Female: A Guide and Sourcebook for Today’s Jewish Woman, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the idea of welcoming ceremonies for girls began to be widely adopted.

Rabbis’ manuals and liturgical guides for laypeople began to include examples and guidelines for girls’ welcoming ceremonies, starting with the Reconstructionist and Reform movements in the early 1990s. The 1998 edition of the Conservative movement’s rabbis’ manual includes several possibilities and, by the end of the decade, in 1999, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance had published a booklet of ideas oriented toward the traditional Jewish community.

In the same decade, examples and discussion of brit bat or simchat bat found their way into other books about Jewish women’s ritual, including Lifecycles Vol. 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages & Personal Milestones, edited by Rabbi Debra Orenstein and published in 1994, and Rela Mintz Geffen’s 1993 book Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism.

Even so, in the early 1990s, a simchat bat in someone’s home was still somewhat unusual. Many people had not yet heard of it. But just a few years later, by the late 1990s, the trend had picked up steam and had become far more widely practiced.

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.